In spite of its name, the Australian National University Mountaineering Club actually does very little mountaineering. Summer weekends are filled with trips to the coast for kayaking, winter adventures are prepared with snow shoes and NNN-BC or telemark skis for the high country, and all year round the climbers climb… well, everything (including the National Library of Australia, which surely has the most perfect accidental bouldering feature wall ever constructed).
So although the first Introduction to Mountaineering weekend for 2013 had been held whilst I was in Africa (summitting Kilimanjaro and on safari), I pleaded my way into the second installment, and was thus bound for Kosciuszko National Park less than a week after my return to the country. The weather was inclement, so it was unanimously decided that instead of arriving at our destination in the mountains at midnight, we would set up the unofficial ANUMC Winter Headquarters on the floor of a house in Jindabyne. Fortunately, said house had been abandoned (perhaps not coincidentally) for the night by the housemate of one of our mountaineers, and his floor hosted us as snugly as a basket full of puppies (and – as I discovered when trying to get from one side of the room to the other – none too dissimilarly).
Pre-dawn we drove onwards to the Main Range, and parked at Guthega – the ski village and hydro electric dam conveniently located within Kosciuszko National Park. Not so convenient for some was the still-locked toilet facilities, as although our destination of Mount Twynham is outside the Blue Lake water catchment area, for minimal impact reasons human waste is better off being carried out in some sort of per-arranged poo pot. Four of the nine us had chosen snow shoes to access Mt Twynham, as carrying both mountaineering AND ski boots seemed like too much hassle.
The apparently 5km trek took longer than expected, and the sun sensitivity from Doxycycline (the anti-malarial that I was still on post Tanzania) meant a constant reapplication of sunscreen. Still, the rain of the previous night had left some wonderful patterns in the snow, and I was delighted by the bridges that we crossed.
We lunched and set up camp, which was my first experience digging a flat platform for a tent, and burying pegs in the snow. The Hilleberg Jannu tent that I was sharing is infamously capable in such conditions… yet building up a small wall around it was just so satisfying that the snow shelter became much more extensive than strictly necessary. The afternoon was then spent learning about mountaineering skills. Mountaineering, out of interest, is simply the broad term for the activities of climbing or traversing icy peaks, which can entail skiing, ice climbing and rock climbing. My prior knowledge of the sport was derived entirely from the Banff Mountain Film Festival and some clips on Youtube, so I was very enthusiastic when we learned about snow anchors and put the knowledge into action. In pairs, with 60 metres of rope holding us together, and a heavy, late afternoon fog between us, we ascended the admittedly not terribly impressive Mount Twynham. It was a great way to learn about how slow setting anchors and belaying your partner is, and we barely made it back to camp by sunset.
Dinner was taken in the communal Hilleberg (seriously, this company produces what are often considered the best available 4-season tents), where benches for sitting and for cooking had been dug into the snow. The nine mountaineers were sharing the camp with seven fellow ANUMCers on a skiing trip, so the tent was soon lovely and warm with body heat, conversation and marshmallows decadently melted into chocolate and sweetened condensed milk.
The next day we trekked out to Blue Lake, descending down the saddle using the anchors we’d practiced the day before. I was amazed at the stability and grip of crampons, and soon moved from hesitantly and individually placing each foot down to casually strolling the steep slope. We were also able to learn about ice screws, though the ice was too poor and the day grown too long for much play.
Lunch at camp, dismantling the Hilleberg Jannu and other sleeping tents, and then we returned to Guthega. Dinner was taken at Jindabyne’s Banjo Patterson Inn, giving us the opportunity to discuss all things mountaineering over a Sunday roast. Mention was made of a mountaineering course in New Zealand, as well as funds available to epic trips in the club… but there was no rush to organise the next adventure immediately.
After all, there is always something happening in the Mountaineering Club.
For a fuller selection of photos, see my Flickr album.