The Official Kiandra to Dead Horse Gap Report
Andrew Wilson, 1997
Well, it all began with the idea of going for a bit of a ski. Then the thought arose, ‘why not ski from Dead Horse Gap to Kiandra?‘ Oh Yeah! Various local gurus were eagerly consulted. One said, “why the hell would you want to do a thing like that”, most said “go for it”. One wise expert advised to go start at Kiandra, “you avoid the hills at the start!” So plans were laid in place. Equipment checked for suitability and condition, and where necessary corrections made. Serious thought had to be given to a menu. Food taken needed to be as light as possible while being as energy suitable as possible. I generally prefer slow burn ‘dense’ foodstuffs to the sweeter stuff. Some variety is always appreciated out in the field instead of having to eat the same thing every day. Gear needed to be only what was essential and reliable for although there were several bailing out points along the route in case of severe problems, we wanted to avoid using them if at all possible. Reduction of weight is probably the biggest problem and the one most time and effort is devoted to prior to the trip (other than thinking out a likely route).
The other issue to be resolved from the start of planning was who else would be keen to do the expedition. I discussed the possibilities with Ian Nerrie and Mark Garrett. They were very eager to come along. Three others were likely to come along from another club, but unfortunately this never eventuated.
Having been dropped off at Kiandra by my ever helpful parents, the three of us proceeded on foot along the Tabletop fire trail up the hill. From time to time remaining patches of snow would have to be stomped through (in the Four Mile hut area). It would not be until after lunch that skiing would be possible. The incredible thing was that only a week earlier it had been possible to ski straight off the Snowy Mountains Highway, but rain had washed all the snow away in this section. Apart from the fact that I realised at lunch that I’d forgotten the cheese (the only item that had to come out of the fridge) everything was going well. So far! The issue of the cheese will crop up later – by about day eight in fact. We had an enjoyable afternoon’s skiing. The only real problem being a pack that I found to be a little too heavy for skiing (alright for walking) due to the raised centre of gravity caused by the extra food. It was heavier than I had previously been accustomed to when skiing.
lan directed us with absolute pinpoint accuracy straight onto Broken Dam hut. This was a special hut for me since I hadn’t seen it before and as I can now officially announce (fanfare can be heard in the the background) this was hut fifty! Some club members will no doubt be aware that another particular hut (the expedition details of which will remain unmentioned!) was intended to be the big ‘5’ ‘0’. Well it was important to me anyway, only another sixty or so to go. Then there’s the Victorian huts, hmm, now let me see….
Day One ended with the weather closing in as we made camp in the northern saddle adjacent to Mt Tabletop. Rain set in just as we were preparing dinner so a hasty retreat to the tent was in order. Dehydrated meat, pasta and cous cous – cooked on a metho stove. and a cup of herbal tea, yum yum, after a hard day’s slog!
Overcast and tending to snow was how the day began. It had lightly snowed overnight. We were initially unable to ski due to lack of snow and the overnight snow was insufficient to make any significant difference. Within six hundred metres and with skis and stocks stowed on the side of our packs we began a very steep but relatively short climb straight up Tabletop. The wind was getting stronger and snow falling more consistently as we crossed the top. it was down the relatively less steep southern side that I discovered just how treacherous soft under snow covered with a thin but icy crust can be. Falling over going down Tabletop was a regular event – made worse depending on how one fell. It would become necessary to unstrap the pack completely in order to be able to stand up.
The afternoon was a walk down Arsenic Ridge, followed by a dog leg along Happy Jack’s Road and then up and along the interfluve beside McKeahnies Creek. The tents were again put up just in time before evening rain. A thunder storm subsequently passed over the area with very loud thunder rolling across the ranges and great flashes of lightning. One bolt was estimated at 350 metres from our position. That was close enough for me.
Day three was probably the most tortuous and definitely the most challenging of the tn’p. The morning started nicely enough with a bit of a stroll up a hill through light scrub to join the Grey Mare fire trail. Turning south we followed it to Mackey’s hut and were able to ski along about half of it. Mackeys is always a nice hut to visit – more so because club members are very actively looking after it – but also because as we arrived the weather was turning nasty. The wind was picking up, it was snowing and there had been a temperature drop. For a while there we had horizontal snow! In truth, saying when ‘we’ arrived is somewhat of a misnomer. Due to differing views of whether to ski or walk approaching the hut and different philosophies of stream crossing we each arrived separately. I arrived at the log bridge on Tibeaudo’s to find it a foot under water with quite fast flowing water. I decided on a running leapt to cross the torrent wearing my pack with skis and stocks on the pack and all but made it. except for my toes. Arriving at the hut l was flabbergasted to discover that Ian had just before me walked across the submerged log with his Yeti snow gaiters on. My amazement was nothing compared to both our amazement when Mark turned up several minutes later and announced he had fallen in to his waist while attempting to hop across with his skis still on!
The afternoon was initially a walk along a very conveniently placed water race on the southern side of Tibeaudo Creek heading in the direction of the Cesjack fire trail and then proceeding to Cesjacks hut. This, as it turned out was a excellent idea for the closer we got to Cesjacks, the more severe the wind became. Mark had another go at passing navigational responsibilities around by ‘throwing’ his map away in the strong wind. having already dropped his compass walking along – which was subsequently picked up. lan made a incredible lightning dash to retrieve it’. Mark and I never thought he could move so fast. Cesjacks was very welcome considering the weather conditions we were in, and as it turned out was our only hut stay during the trip.
The day was showing some promise with good sun and little wind – in sharp contrast to the previous evening’s weather. Cesjacks was the start of continuous ski travel which was to last all way to within 20 metres of Dead Horse Gap. We headed along the fire trail towards North Bulls Peak and. set up a base camp adjacent to the west of the peak. It was from here that we set off for a day Ski to Mt Jagungal. The snow was soft and prone to breaking through to the vegetation underneath initially but steadily improved as we gained height climbing along the Toolong Range.
The view from the top was as incredible as ever with the weather good but showing some potential for possibly a damp end to the day. One other party of skiers reached the top as we did and were the first people we had seen on the trip. Mark said something while standing around at the top about skiing off the top but I thought he was only joking. We decided to leave and Mark was the first to have his skis on. The next thing we knew was he had skied off the top, literally straight down the fall line. As lan will attest, may describe but hopefully not recount, my running commentary of Mark’s descent was ‘quite colourful’. After a twelve second descent time, Mark fell over while attempting to turn because as he put it ‘I was running out of mountain’. It was one of those amazing feats that people tell their grandchildren when they’re old and grey. ‘
The afternoon was spent practising turns and relaxing a little before heading back to base camp. None of us could have suspected what was to happen and what was to be possible in the coming days.
This was the start of four days characterised by very fast and icy snow in the mornings and brilliantly sunny and warm days with just a touch of wind to stop us overheating. They were perfect for fast travel and fast navigation. Day five saw us travel from North Bulls Peak between Mailbox and the Cup and Saucer, along the Brassy Mountains, via Tin hut, over Gungartan Pass (With a quick side journey to Mt Gungartan), and across Schlink Pass to a campsite at 1900m 1 kilometre south west of Schlink. lan gave yet another superb demonstration of telemarking managing consecutive telemarks from Gungartan Pass down the valley leading to the road just north of Schlink Pass – incredibly falling over just two metres short of the bottom! As he put it at the time ‘my knees were getting tired’. Mark also put in a credible performance of telemarking. I decided that telemarking wouldn’t be for me this trip as it was relatively long with a heavy pack and I was
favouring my left knee due to a downhill skiing accident several years earlier.
Day six’s weather and snow conditions were a repeat of the previous day’s seeing us travel across the western edge of the Rolling Grounds (a relatively rare event in fine weather for me), across Consett Stephen Pass, over Mts Tate, Anderson, Anton, Twynam, Carruther’s Peak, Mt Lee and Mt Northcote. We were exceedingly lucky to do the higher more exposed sections of the expedition in fine weather and with relatively good snow conditions. If the wind had been gale force and the ice like plate glass, then clearly a lower, more sheltered route to the east of Northcote, Clarke and Lee would have been necessary. Our campsite on day six was in the basin in the triangle between Seaman’s hut (which was in view), Mueller‘s Pass and Rawson’s Pass.
We were eager to get up to Kosciuszko as soon as possible in case the weather changed. Skiing up to Rawsons was not as easy as it looked due to the steepness of the ascent and the early morning ice. However with a steady approach, all made it with little drama. Leaving our packs at Rawsons we ascended Kosciuszko in brilliant sunshine but with a cool wind blowing at the top. The view, as most club members will know, is always impressive whenever weather conditions permit. It was intriguing to look back towards Jagungal, the crouching lion, which looks to be so far away, to think that only two days earlier we had been standing there too. Winter skiing, when the conditions permit is so incredibly fast when compared to summer walking.
The weather was something to be appreciated, so we returned to our packs and headed off for Cootapatamba Hut and subsequently lunched high up on the valley side. We had chosen our lunch spot to allow a good view to watch the spectacle of snow boarders trying to kill themselves boarding the huge crevasses on the other side of the valley. I now hold a certain admiration for their tenacity to get back up to do it again after impacting into walls of snow at breakneck speed. It was a difficult decision to make but we spent a good two hours lapping up the sun and eating lunch. Mark had brought a tin of beetroot and was happy to share it around. So along with a gourmet selection of fish, cheese, bread and biscuits, we dined above Cootapatamba, yum yum. The sun was so intense that even with regular applications of lippy, my lips were being burnt. The afternoon was spent negotiating the Ramshead area and descending to our midway down the ridge campsite. Before descending, we climbed the peak with the trig point which lies in line with Deadhorse Gap and the Cascade track valley. This trig is navigationally very important and makes finding the correct ridge when approaching from above to take you down to Dead Horse an easy task (as long as you can see it of course.) Only three weeks earlier Ian and I whilst on Tony Garr’s overnighter on the Rams Head hadn‘t been able to see it at all due to whiteout conditions.
This last day was a very laid back affair. We were in no rush to get going since we had arranged an eleven AM pickup with my parents (via the phone whilst on Mt Kosciuszko). There is something about the last day of any trip and doubly so at the end of a longer one. The ski down to the ‘Horse is normally easy enough. however the combination of rock solid ice and inconsiderately placed trees (I’ll have to speak to the National Parks about that one) made the going a little tougher than I had expected. The very much lighter pack came in handy here. In the end and with the road within view it was easier just to walk the remaining distance.
Then came an hour of consuming all sorts of left over food we had been carrying in reserve. And it
was THEN that Mark admitted that he had been carrying a second block of cheese and two packs
of salami – along with the beetroot and assorted other goodies – it was no wonder he had had the
heaviest pack. Well that’s it I suppose and I didn’t mention my blistered heels even once, Ian!
This varied considerably from person to person since we had elected to carry individual menus
and we each had a stove – so here’s mine.
Breakfast – one cup of oats for porridge with sweetened condensed milk added prior to eating + a
cup of camomile tea.
Lunch – typically a combination of spreads on Lavash (flat bread). Toppings were peanut butter,
jam, cheese (after i did a trade with Mark) and tuna, ‘spicy’, curried and plain. The first three days
I had an apple as well.
Dinner- half a dehydrate meal pack of which there were 3 types (beef, chicken and spaghetti
bolonaise) to which was added a choice of fillers for bulk carbohydrate – consisting of pasta twists,
noodles, cous cous or good ol’ Deb + a cup of either peppermint or wildberry tea (depending on
what sort of mood I was in at the time). Soup on some nights was an added attraction.
In between meals – there was scroggin – consisting of sultanas, nuts & miscellaneous sweets. as
well as shortbread biscuits – for enroute munching.
Our equipment choices were varied but did have some commonality across the group.
A brief list:
2 x Macpac Olympus tents (Ian carried a separate bivouac bag as well)
2 x Trangia metho stoves, 1 x Coleman ‘pump ’em up’ style stove (in other words one stove each).
I carried 1.7 litres of metho for the eight plus one days.
Compressed foam bedrolls for insulation from the cold ground (or snow)- Mark used a Thermorest and his maps (one of several uses he found for his maps).
Expedition style packs 85 — 90 litres each.
Petzl head lamps – useful not only in fixed locations but when mobile.
A compass and a set of maps each.
Backcountry style skis with pattern and steel edge.
Heavy duty, reliable strength stocks and baskets- Ian used adjustable length stocks, useful when telemarking.
Heavy duty leather boots.
All members carried Goretex (or similar) uppers and lowers and poly-style underwear and thermals (not cotton) as well as either all polarfleece clothing or combination polarfleece and wool.
Suncreen + lippy, first aid kit with lots of elastoplast, penknife and sun glasses.
Generally we carried one litre of water each when on the move, with the capacity for two litres each for when we knew water would not be available.
Down sleeping bags (I would recommend a reflex or dryloft outer covering when snow camping).
Light and heavy gloves (Ian and Mark had goretex overmitts as well and often skied in these alone with no glove underneath)
Woollen explorer socks or similar – one pair for day use (wet most of the time), one pair for at night and one pair set aside for emergency use.
Mobile phone (digital) – a gross technological intrusion in the eyes of some or a lifesaver in the event of a serious emergency for others. Readers should also establish where their phone is capable of working since this is usually only on the higher ground where line of sight to Perisher, Thredbo or Blue Cow is ‘more or less’ present.
Critical pieces of equipment such as our sleeping bags and some clothes were individually wrapped in garbage bags.