Backcountry Skiing

My weekend was great. Admittedly we spent a fair chunk of the time in the car getting there, and even having to make adjustments to the plans because the first place we went, didn’t have any snow, making it hard to ski. So we drove further south about 2 more hours down along the Snowy Mountain range.

We finally ended up at a place called Dead Horse Gap, and they use the word Gap like I would describe a mountain pass. So there was some snow here, not lots, some of the grassy patches were sticking through, maybe about 5-6 inches at some of the deeper spots. Another thing that didn’t help was the horse apples left behind from the Brombies, the wild horses in this area.

Well this trip was described to me as having a “base camp” which in my mind means we park the cars, slap on our packs and skis and ski into camp a few km’s away… what they really meant was car camping. Not that my packing would have changed dramatically because I had to get myself and gear down from Newcastle to Sydney anyway, but it was more of an expectation thing I guess.

We didn’t get to the camp until about 3pm on Saturday, so we skied for an hour or so and came back and were racing the last drops of sunlight to get camp set up. Dinner was cooked in the fading dusk light as the sun sank deeper behind the mountains around us (although this Northwest US fella would really just consider these little foot hills).

There were five of us total, and Jonathan, who is one of the sons of the lady from whom I am boarding, was who I was sharing a tent with. He and I weren’t really tired come dark… the others, our guide Rob who has been exploring this area for about 50 years or so, the father-daughter combo of Ken and Larisa had hit the sack… Larisa who is 20 and studying art with a focus on ceramics liked to get to bed early and her dad Ken must have figured there was nothing else to do so he crashed as well.

Back to Jonathan and I (remember Jonathan?) we were amazed by the brightness of the waxing gibbous moon and how much light it put off! The fact that the snowy white ground reflected the moonlight making it almost like daylight… the full moon isn’t until the 3rd of Sep… there were heaps of stars out as well, and Mars to boot. So we explored the sky a bit, and it turned out I knew more about the southern sky than he did, so we talked stars for a while. Then we decided to get in the tent and ended up talking more once we got settled in. We were planning more camping trips in the future, including outings to Tasmania and such. Then Rob hollers over from his tent telling us he thinks we’ve talked enough… we were just getting started.. but we must have been talking for awhile. So now we’re lying there all quiet like and we hear this pot clanking where rob had left his stuff to hold until morning… we were surprised he did that, but it must have been a fox or something eating his leftover stew.

Later in the night the sound of heavy exhaling woke me up some and I found out later it was the Brombies right outside out tent! I was in that half awake mode so I didn’t really know what it was at the time nor did I think opening the tent up and having a look. Morning came around and Jonathan was the first out of the tent and found out the Brombies were just up the hill! So I scrambled out of the tent, grabbed my camera and headed up. We could only see two of them, a big white stallion and a chocolate brown one, smaller in size. We couldn’t get too close with out having them walk away from us. I got a few shots off, but these little 35mm camera were not meant for wildlife photography.

Once we had breakfast and got camp packed up and put in the car, it was about 9am and we strapped the skies on again and headed up the hill. Now we were climbing up the steeper side towards a peak called South Ramshead. A lone skier met up with us and we invited for him to join along with us.

The going was pretty steep and considering the rental skies we had, the scales on the bottom of the skies were all worn down so we had to be extra careful with our placement so we didn’t slide backwards, much. Ken and Larisa got a little tired just as we got above the tree line so they stopped and waited for the rest of us to get up to the ridge line, have a snack and come back.

The view was outstanding from up there. South Ramshead was right next to us, but because Ken and Larisa were waiting for us on the way down, we weren’t able to take the next hour to ditch our skies and climb to the top of the peak.. bummer. Jonathan and I figured it made for a good reason to come back.

I didn’t go into work on Monday, heck, I didn’t get back until Monday 1pm anyway. We got down from the mountain, which was a bit of a trick in its self. You see, the snow was still a bit icy in patches, and we had rented the cheaper skies that didn’t have steel edges, so we didn’t have much grip or control while on the icy bits. Anyway, we made it down safe, albeit covered in snow because of all the times we fell down. Part of the problem I had was I needed to put all my downhill skiing skills aside and learn how to control the skies even though my heal is not locked into the ski. So I learned that lesson the hard way a few times, trying to use my heals to turn the skies, only to have them slip off and hit the moving snow beneath me throwing off my balance and jerking my speed around such that 99% of the time I ended up wiping out.

So we got to the cars around 3pm again, and packed up drove to the town of Cooma to drop our rented skies off and continue back to Sydney, where we arrived at 10pm. The next train to Newcastle was at 11.17pm which would arrive around 1am. So I opted to crash at the Jonathan’s house and catch the train the next morning.

At work today (Tuesday) I had a meeting with the company big brass and it sounds like I’ve got this job for as long as I want it. Which is pretty nice considering the good pay and flexible hours due to the job I’m doing not being on any sort of time line or anything like that. It looks now like I’ll be taking next Friday off as well and going to the closer Blue Mountains to go hear Jonathan’s brothers band playing at a pub up there on Friday night. And on Saturday, I think I’m going to do a solo hike on the trails up there ’til Sunday and catch the train back Sunday night. We’ll see how the plans really turn out.

About the author

Adventure Correspondent Cameron L. Martindell is a freelance adventure travel and expedition writer, photographer and filmmaker who founded in 2000. He has contributed to Elevation Outdoors Magazine, The Gear Junkie, National Geographic, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Outside, Backpacker, Wired, Australian Geographic, and others. He has been to all seven continents and lived on five of them, including a four-month stint at the South Pole. Cameron has more than 10 years of mountain search and rescue experience, is an Eagle Scout, has been an Australian bush firefighter, competes in sailing regattas, plans national and international youth programs, guides Oregon rafting trips and Australian bush backpacking trips.

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