Hut Caretaker

This weekends adventure was with a group called the Squirrel Ski Club (SSC), but it’s not always skiing that they do. Like this time, it’s getting towards the middle of summer and there is not very much snow out there. Just in the few shady bits lie small patches, but we never got close to any of them. The objective of the SSC is to hike and ski around the snowy mountains and they are the care takers of one of the huts out there, Mawsons Hut.

It was originally built by the heardsmen who would drive their cattle up into the hills after the snow had melted off, moving from hut to hut. It has developed in to a pretty serious environmental issue. The logged vast amounts of trees to make room for grazing, but the removal of the trees has done something to the water table which has caused the salinity level to rise and is killing other plants. So the government is paying farmers to plant more trees and stuff like that is going on. There are snipits about it in the paper now and again.

But it’s still really pretty country out there. We stayed in one of the ski lodges Friday night so we could get right on the mountain Saturday morning. Since we are an official work party for the huts association, we had an access key to open one of the gates and drive on the national parks road. Which took about 28 km off of our round trip of hiking.

The Eucalyptus trees, snow gums, rocky soil and generally dry and semi-arid environment reminded me of the meditrainian climate. Low shrubs, the color of the dirt… all kinds of stuff, but it’s pretty cool to start to see the differences. Just a bit of a thought, sorry I can’t get the whole thing in words right now.

But just over the hill, or ridge… oh, that was the other thing… this is a very definaltly old geology. It’s a very mellow mountain range, rounded ridge tops, shallow valleys, gentile slopes… time has had it’s effect on this range. It’s not like the young and dynamic cascades, with peaks jettisoning out of the ground and cliff sides towering above, causing dark and lush valleys. It makes an interesting comparison, because the Blue Mountains just a few hundred Klicks up the road are about the same age, but have some very deep gorges. I don’t know if I believe that they are around the same age, but because the Blue Mtns are sandstone and the Snowy Mtns are granite, obviously plays a bit part in erosional speed and land formation. I’ll keep my eyes open to more such compare and contrast elements. I may be going up to Queensland in March of next year and checking out another range called the White Mountains… yet another part of the Australian Eastern range to check out and compare.

So, ridge, leads to the valleys, which are a bit swampy. The grasses and mosses that grow there are pretty cool. This time of year at least, you can walk through parts of the valley and keep above the swampy under dwellings, but you have to be careful. I’m glad I managed to avoid getting my foot all soggy. Also, the moss down there was so spongy! It was like being on an elevator at times because it would squish down to the next level, and spring back up when you step off. And it makes a great noise.

Slabs of stones standing on end, looklike a disshoveled grave yard with headstones of all sizes and shapes littered around the view, and the bleach gray-white skeletons of dead trees and their branches scattered on the valley floor add to the eerie graveyard effect. The sun was out in full force, with the occasional cloud, making for a great setup for a black and white photo… I’ll have to see what some of my pictures turn out, and strip the color content from them.

The only uncomfortable issue, was the flies. Lots of them, big ones, little ones… on your face, arms, legs, and like a dark glistening carpet hitching a ride on our backpacks. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I got any photos of that, but we’ll have to see how apparent the flies are just in the photos as they are. Rob, the trip organizer, says although the flowers are really beautiful later in the summer, the flies become unbearable. They didn’t bite at all this trip, but they do later.

When we got to the hut, we found it was pretty clean all ready. We had the afternoon off to do whatever. I took the first while to climb a few trees and explore the local area. Due north of us was Mt. Janiwal and closer to the Northeast was a hill called cup and saucer. I contemplated the thought of climbing to the top of cup and saucer, but was suddenly over come with a greater desire to lay down and have a bit of a nap. Of course when I woke, I wished I had made the climb, but I’m fairly confident I’ll be back and will climb it then. Mt. Janiwal was quite a bit further off, and would take a whole day to get to and climb the thing, again, another item for the next visit agenda. Gosh, and I haven’t climbed the highest peak in the continent, Mt. Kozioskio, a whopping 6500 feet or so… Our camp for the weekend sat at about 6000 feet.

After a nice day of napping, describing cloud shapes, and philosophizing about this that and the other thing, the long shadows of the horizon drifting sun started to cool the air, and the flies were yielding their daytime pestering post to the dusk loving mosquitoes. We all huttled into the cabin to brew up our individual dinners and chat some more. Around 7.30pm, still the glow of the setting sun in the sky, obscuring the stars, save the very bright Jupiter, most crawled into their tents to call it a night. The cabin, if you were wondering, has beds in it, but are not very comfortable and unless the weather is atrocious the soft grass and insulate pad are way more comfortable. I was pretty keen to see the stars of the southern sky. I didn’t bring a tent, just my usual tarp and bivouac shelter. With the clouds that painted their shadows on the graveyard having drifted away leaving the sky perfectly clear, I just laid my tarp out and slept on it, ready to wrap my self up like a tortilla incase the freak storm drifted in. Fortunately my bivouac shelter has a mosquito net. So, undisturbed I finished my book waiting for the sky to darken and the rest of the stars to unmask from the intrusive glow of our closest star.

The night sky was beautiful. Far far from the city lights and any other source of light pollution, every magnitude of light my eye could register came pouring upon me. Orion, just rising in the east, is one of my few familiar friends from northern hemisphere stargazing. I had my binoculars to check out the Gallieaon moons of Jupiter. They move so fast, in different positions every time I checked back. But with my eyes exhausted from reading earlier in the night (as it always does, reading is a sure way to put me to sleep) and the rigorous events of the day behind me, my stargazing quickly became snoozing, and the morning, along with the blanket of dew was soon upon me.

Today’s events were straight forward. Get up, eat, clean the cabin, inventory, Sunday School, and pack out. Cleaning of the cabin was fairly simple and straight forward. Taking the furniture out, and sweeping the floors, scrubbing the wooden table with metal brushes, to take all the grime out of the tracks of grain, and refitting the candles into bottle tops.

There was very little trash and about $20 of donations which will be used to get more candles and other items to leave in the cabin. We posted a new roster of the cabin caretakers and where to contact the group if things seemed totally out of order.

We hiked out a different way. I hadn’t realized the trailblazing and bush walking this outing had involved… the refined recreation hiking of the Cascades in the Northwest US, has just always put trail anywhere one would want to go, but my search and rescue training, has put me off trail to feel quite comfortable with plotting along the wild brush and terrain of the snowy mountains. Yes, I did say it was pretty mild before, but as always there are extremes of every instance and now the slope was semi steep with waist high brush at times and rarely a stable place to step. The elevator effect was much more in play now, riding the thick shrub and brush down the slope as we descended to the quarry where the cars waited for us.

It always amazes me how it takes me two days to get out here and I’m always shooting all the way back home on the last day. I guess it’s just the time I have to work with, all about getting used to being a weekend warrior, living the 9-5 life. Hopefully that will soon change.

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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