The Australian National University Mountaineering Club has a range of traditions, all novel and exciting for a new member to the club such as myself. There is the always classic trying-not-to-allow-any-water-to-splash-on-exposed-skin whilst kayaking on Lake Burley Griffin when the algae levels are high, the iconic bouldering on the National Library of Australia, the inevitable freezing in the gear store during a pre-trip meeting in winter, the getting in the nude in the wilderness for a certain photographer in the club. And then there is the Mid Winter Feast, now in its sixteenth year, which is another mug of glühwein entirely.
Of the nineteen people attending, the five skiers were the ones keen enough to wake up at 5am and set off towards the high country pre-dawn. We all needed the practice, and although the ski bags on the roof developed a frozen bow in the -7 degree conditions we were hurtling through, the day soon warmed to a ridiculous 12 degrees.
Appropriately, we played around on Australia’s first ski field, and the site of the world’s very first recreational skiing club, Kiandra, a now-abandoned gold mining town. The two boys on telemark skis were better skiers, and were able to practice turning, while the three of us on NNN-BC gear were soon pros at retrieving ourselves and our dignity from face-plants, sidewards plummets and backwards topples. Although the snowy landscape was beautiful, the tracks, burrows and pellets also revealed the startlingly large number of rabbits that inhabited the area.
Soon enough the snowshoers drove past, heralded by our fearless leader and naked photography enthusiast, who hurried us on towards the head of the fire trail. So after a brief (and random) photo shoot of two of us on skis by a drive-by photographer, we met the rest of the group at the carpark. The infamously hungry bushwalking officer parked himself down for lunch and the rest of the skiiers followed suit, while the snowshoers had an impressively comprehensive introduction to how to put on and use snowshoes before departing down the Gooandra fire trail.
Post a cheese, crackers and Promite lunch (I am, of course, as a follower of Vegemite, deeply and unforgivably ashamed of myself) I hefted on my 21 kilogram pack. For those of you who have seen my pack, this may sound particularly impressive: it’s not often that a mere 60 litre backpack can carry quite so much weight! Still, once loaded the weight was distributed reasonably well (though more of it was digging into my left shoulder blade than I was completely comfortable with), so we pushed on.
Any brumbies were long since warned off by the stomping march of snowshoers, so we only shared the trail with a flock of gang gangs (recognisable cockatoos from their splendid dark grey and scarlet plumage and distinctive ‘creaky door’ call). The 5km trip was lovely, though only spent half skiing, and half with skies strapped onto our packs because the snow cover had grown too thin.
The Gooandra Homestead is a dignified affair, a restored four-room timber home with a stone fireplace next to the oldest standing structure in the Kosciuszko National Park: the chimney of an 1860s miners hut. We set up tents in the snow beside it, Hillebergs well represented with three different models, and then settled in for the evening.
It was a magnificent feast. Entrees ranged from smoked salmon and cream cheese wraps, to bruschetta with generous lashing of fresh basil and cheese, to the particularly warming bread fried in butter. Entertainment was provided during this course by the bushwalking officer, who managed to set fire to the floor with a trangia.
I contributed three litres of my special white mulled wine, and made a fresh damper in the cast iron camp oven that my dear pack had been so burdened with. The mains were so plentiful that no one was even sure whether they had indeed tried the pasta and the curry and the quinoa and the beef bourguignon, but everyone was well satisfied. After a break from food, filled with wine and conversation, desserts were put on display, and none more so than the rich fudge brownie topped with raspberry sauce.
Even the locals were impressed, judging by the Agile Antechinus (a native mouse) that found its way into a rubbish bag.
Thus, needless to say, I slept exceptionally well that evening, buoyed by good food, spiced wine and snuggled into a warm sleeping bag on one of those decadent Exped down mats.
The dawn was a vivid wash of colour, and just as it was finishing a herd of brumbies emerged from the snow gums, paused to watch the few early risers watching them, and then cantered off once more. In spite of being just as feral and damaging to the delicate alpine environment as the rabbits, there is no denying the romanticism attached to the Australian wild horse. (These two very strong and very conflicting views lead to the heated Brumby debate.)
It was a lazy morning, given the short distance to return (and the much lighter packs), so people slept in, others played on the toboggan that had been lugged in by a dedicated snowshoer, and of course our leader had several discreet photography sessions with the latest batch of volunteers interested in the art of naked wilderness photography.
Eventually, three of the skiers stayed behind to get a group photo wearing only their skis, and the rest of us trudged on up the track. Once again, not being in front meant that I missed out on the brumby sightings, though I did enjoy the wombat-like snowman that a few of the fast walkers made when they stopped.
The eggplant nose was particularly satisfying.
Naturally, the Tasmanian and I paused for an encounter with a river that must have been close to freezing, and after some recovery swigging of Aldi apple schnapps (there was much Aldi love shared over the weekend by a few fellow fanatics of the German supermarket chain), we were ready for the drive back to the capital.
Ready to wait a year until the next Mid Winter Feast. (Which you can now read about here!)
More photos at Picasa – Mid Winter Feast XVI.