The sunrises on the last day of our guided journey and the snow angels have left a parting gift overnight, a dusting down to 2000m. The all too familiar outline of the Mont Blanc Massif yet again shows another aspect of itself, the Aiguille Du Gouter’s face shimmering in all its glory. The north balcony, a walk we did on our day off, now white like someone had painted between the high peaks and lowland forest.
We didn’t think this year would come off with much of our snow season spent traveling in Europe. But with an unexpected reuniting with friends and a season extending into early October we found a date that worked and prayed the weather would be good and the snow would still be about. Something we didn’t need to worry about.
Usually it’s just Claire and I on these trips, it can be tricky to find hiking buddies that compliment your pace, ideals and hiking values. In catching up with an old friend we found that and for this trip Sharon joined us. Having lived in some cold parts of Canada, which bit’s aren’t, we were thankful to have her knowledge and experience of mountain hiking in snow conditions.
We’ve chosen to visit at a time where the crowds are generally less but the weather is not as predictable. This time last year many of the high passes were still snowed in and met many adventures with disappointment
This winter has been warmer and the snow in the high passes has already given way to melting but the weather this week is unsettled and as a result so is the schedule.
This morning’s breakfast announcement brings a switch and instead of mentally preparing for a tough hike up the face of the Aiguillette des Houches, we’re instead crossing the Col de Voza with today’s highlight being the swing bridge crossing of the Torrent Bionnassay and views of its Glacier.
Poking about in a little loft room, not much bigger than a pantry we enjoy our one night in Paris, setting up for the experience of a lifetime, exploring the valleys and passes of the Mont Blanc Massif. The train is on time and there are many other hikers assembling on the platforms, packs and equipment on backs. It’s been a year in the planning and to say I’m a little apprehensive would be an understatement. I love mountains, but not exposed heights, it a conundrum I’ve been working on over the southern summer, pushing into longer, steeper, higher and more exposed walks.
While train travel is a wonderful way to get around Europe there is no simple A to B routes and most require multiple trains, today its 3.
Well rested we wake to a crisp clear morning. The ground is dry and so is the tent, a bonus for pack up. I’m listening for the stampede of feet and surprised not to have been woken earlier. Peering outside the tent their is little activity, just a few murmurs from other campers. The runners are no where to be seen.
Today’s plan is an exploration of Howman Falls and Maddison’s hut ruins. Leaving Cleve Cole the tracks meanders down to camp creek, a beautiful clear source of water. Before crossing the creek is a little track to the right which heads down to the falls. But thinking we needed to cross to get to them, we rock hopped and started up the other side. Nothing looked like falls territory and before long we found ourselves in a beautiful little valley and three choices of trail. I’d stupidly left the GPS back at the hut, this was after all just an easy side track! Staying put another walker passed by and set us straight. Turns out we were at Maddison’s Hut ruins, but with so little of it left, we’d missed it.
In a previous post I wrote about my once in a lifetime experience with the Great Wall of China, a childhood dreaming. At the conclusion of the walk we pushed further north within 300km of the Mongolian border to a little village for lunch, all part of the tour.
It was close to Chinese New Year and there were signs of the impending festivities everywhere making great photo opportunities of the celebration preparations. zig zagging our way through the cars, people and bikes it was becoming very apparent I was no longer in “touristville” and somehow had become the attraction. It didn’t help I was in a private vehicle, sitting in the back like I was being chauffeured. I guess I was.
During the 70’s in the remote Northern Territory we had only the ABC, the government funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation to deliver us the news, soaps and educational viewing. As the 80’s dawned we started to receive commercial television courtesy of a set of videos flown in from Darwin and replayed locally. The news was a day or two late and so was the weather. Aside from these anomalies it opened up a whole new viewing experience and one of the programs that captured my imagination was The World Around Us.
It inspired a generation to explore our environment, with spectacular footage of the some of the most amazing places on earth. In one such episode the host adventurer was exploring the Great Wall of China. I was captivated by the history, the construction and most of all the environment, towering steep mountains and narrow ridge lines. I dreamt of walking it myself, stepping on its ancient stones and hearing the distinct music of China as I moved across the landscape.
It was just a pipe dream and I didn’t truly expect I would ever visit the far flung communist nation, but I could imagine. There were many documentaries throughout my teenage years that explored the Great Wall of China experience and I remained captivated by it.
You might recall an innocuous line in a previous post that went something like this, “With my temp gauge proudly hanging in a tree, it does little to comfort us that the day is indeed warming, stubbornly staying below the 5C mark.” if not you can read it here Mt Baw Baw snow, look don’t touch.
Well that one line set up a year’s expedition to recover a little piece of plastic that had far more sentimental value that it could ever have monetary value, let me explain.
At the conclusion of our first and very successful snow camp at Mt Baw Baw, I inadvertently forgot to collect my temp gauge out of the tree and didn’t realise this oversight until we were off the mountain and unpacking in the days following.
Egged on by the guys at church talking of their snow camps, I was enthused to try a very different hiking experience. Growing up in the Northern Territory snow was something that you only saw on TV and even then it was rare. I had become more acquainted with the white powdery or white wet stuff depending on your experience living in Connecticut, USA, near the ski fields of Vermont. However I’d never pitched a tent in it.
With safety our first concern and given our familiarity with the area we chose the Baw Baw Plateau as our destination and began the wait for some snow to fall. The ski season officially starts in June but it’s never guaranteed, most years August / September turn out to be best.
The logistical nightmare was getting time off work, where there was good snow prior to the weekend with reasonable conditions after. Following three failures to launch the perfect weather pattern that had been eluding us for weeks presented itself.
The plan was set in motion, we would drive to Erica, hire snow shoes at Erica Ski Hire, make our way to the Mt St Gwinear car park (it’s free to park there), walk over Mt St Gwinear, joining the Australian Alps Walking Track and then look to pitch up somewhere near Mt St Phillack.
Snow had been falling two days prior, one of the biggest dumps on record. Claire and I were musing over how much snow there would be. Hopefully a forest of white and enough to pitch the tent on. Careful what you wish for! Barely onto the dirt road and the snow made an appearance. Shy at first, just a dusting here and there, but as we climb the curtains pull back to reveal a thick coating, tree ferns weighed down by the unfamiliar site. I never thought we would need chains but sure enough we did and it was about to get worse and glorious all at the same time.
Rising early, rubbing my eyes as I peer out the window the morning looks like rubbish and I think our plans to walk from the Thomson River bridge to Eastern Tyers creek might be thwarted by the weather. Given our previous experiences with the cold up on the Baw Baw Plateau (Baw Baw, Too Cold for Comfort) I’m not keen to hike anywhere it’s going to be wet. I’m also really desperate to get out of civilisation and breathe in the forest air and get amongst the great outdoors and wide open spaces.
I convince myself the weather will be better at the trail head and if not we’ll still make a day of it, a reconnaissance trip or something. The route takes us out to Moe on the Princes Highway and then up through the hills to Rawson and onto the river. We discover a shortcut through Erica and over a bit of dirt road that the Astra handles well cutting 15 minutes off our 180 km journey from Melbourne.