Snowy mountains, NSW, Australia. March 2016, Distance : 20km, Time: 2 days
I mentioned to my Dad that I was heading back to the Snowy Mountains to finish the walk I began last year. I spotted a twinkle in his eye so I invited him along. Poor Bugger had no idea what was ahead of him! Neither did I for that matter.
After driving five hours from Sydney we stayed the first night in a cheap cabin in Jindabyne. When I say cheap I mean constructed in the 1960’s and not touched since! It needed a bit of work but it didn’t matter as we settled in for the night with a bottle of whiskey and lots of reminiscing.
The alarm went off at 4:30am. Sigh… the previous tenant had set it. Dad swore like father O’Reily as he tried to shut it off. It took three minutes. I laughed from my bunk. I couldn’t get back to sleep so as sun rose I took a stroll along the lakefront. Jindabyne was a lovely place – I could easily live there. I saw a fisherman head out early. He seemed happy. Finally dad woke up and we headed into the visitors centre to pick up and emergency beacon. There was a short off track component to the walk and I have a poor track record to date of picking the right route (still do…).
The walk began at Charlottes pass. Dad was looking in horror at the climbs ahead of him, I was looking in horror at the state of his pack! He borrowed my wife’s pack so it was a tad too small to begin with but he had so much hanging off it that he looked liked the raggedy man! An old yoga mat was strapped to one side to serve as his sleeping mat, and his $12 tent was strapped to the other side. He tied his jacket to the top of the pack and was unable to close it due to the size of the pan he brought to cook with (it was the smallest of the 4 piece set that he had wanted to bring…). Inside the pack was a car camping cooking stove. Huge but I couldn’t knock it as it was well put to use.
The moment we set off, his tent fell off his pack. I tightened everything up before heading off for real. A steep descent led us to a set of stepping stone that crossed the snowy river and club creek. We handled that without a wet shoe and started back up the hill.
I think this is the point that reality set in for Dad. This was going to be hard! And it was. I was expecting to go slower but had a couple of little side trips in mind. I wanted to climb the three highest peaks in Australia. I could see that I would have to give up two of them as I had to consider and adjust to suit the capability of my new hiking buddy. No loss. The views were amazing.
The climb was broken up by views of Hadley tarn, Blue lake and the expanse of the great dividing range to the east. It was beautiful! Dad congratulated himself out loud and I agreed with him. For a 73 year old to be up there at all was amazing. To be up there and seeing such vistas was astonishing.
I did try to drag my Dad up to Mount Twynam, even leaving our bags lower down but I soon came to my senses and resumed the main range circuit. I didn’t actually want to have to use the emergency beacon!
The next climb was a killer. A very steep ascent took us to the top of Caruthers Peak, the eleventh highest mountain in Australia. The views of the crags to the east were spectacular. We rested and ate our snack food. Although there was more climbing to do, we had broken the back of it, I told him. There was a construction crew up here laying some new stones for the track. I said to one that I hoped he was putting in a ski lift because that last climb was a killer! He laughed. Dad said something about how hard it was and that his son was leading him up here, and I shouted back that I was working on getting my inheritance….
We pushed on, enjoying a downhill section but knowing full well that down leads to up! We soon passed club lake and could see both mount Kosciuszko and mount Townsend in the one view.
Mount Townsend used to be called Mount Kosciuszko and was believed to be the highest peak in Australia,but when precision measurements were made and it was realised that the mountain next door was actually the highest, the Aussie map makers just swapped the names rather than try to reeducate the public on which was the tallest! A very Aussie solution.
The walk took us along a ledge which soon passed alongside Lake Albina. The initial view was not very impressive, but as the walk proceeded the angles worked out such that it looked like the lake was spilling into the valley beyond. It was magical and I took many a picture. We also stopped to eat some tinned salmon and beans for lunch. Tins- yes I know controversial but it worked.
Dad kept asking about the campsite and thankfully it was near. It was mid afternoon and our pace meant that any lingering thoughts I had of climbing mount Townsend were pushed aside. There would not be enough daylight. We were to stay the night at Wilkinson creek after a short off track walk. I had misread the trip notes (I had the wrong one open on the phone- had the mount Townsend version open) and left the trail as soon as I saw some rock cairns. I thought these marked where to head down to the creek and also to Mount Townsend, but in reality there was a second exit for the creek. So we hit some rough terrain and Dad was grumbling loudly. I could see the creek but I couldn’t find an easy path down. After a couple of slips we soon noticed an old overgrown trail and I realized that we should have been following this. So we made our way over to it and sure enough there was an easy route down to the creek and a perfect campsite. Dad was tired so I dropped my pack and searched around for the best place to set up camp. We found a nice flat area not too close or too far from the creek and started setting up the tents.
After a few grumbles we had the tents up and we put the kettle on. Yes Dad had brought a kettle along too..
We gathered water from the creek and boiled it for dinner (roast chicken with gravy and mash potatoes ). We then washed up and boiled more to use for drinking water. I also gave my Steripen a whirl for my bottled night drinking water. Still not sure if I trust the Steripen so I may invest in a Sawyer Mini. After a last hot chocolate and a chat we drifted off to sleep. First night I’ve ever camped with just my Dad.
Now, I’m quite responsible when I head out for a walk. I always check the weather alerts and always check the regional alerts for bush fires, track closures and whatnot. So it was quite a surprise when the early showers turned into a full blown storm! I had no reception on my phone so I had no idea a weather alert had been issued shortly after we had set out.
The wind started picking up a 2am. I woke up and saw the buffeting on the tent. I could hear a few grumbles from Dad but he didn’t respond when I called out so I assumed he was sleep-grumbling. At around 6am the storm kicked up a notch with the wind starting to deform the tent and the rain pounding heavily on the roof. Dad came to the tent and told me his was leaking so he took shelter in mine. I shouldn’t have got the cheap tent for him and just let him use mine from the outset (I also should have got the cheapest walking poles – the looked quite rickety). We decided to wait out the storm for a few hours. By 9am it didn’t seem to be easing up. We agreed to stay till ten am then move on to the nearby Rawson’s pass toilets where we could boil some water for a cuppa and then onto the emergency shelter (Seaman’s Hut). I forgot really that my Dad’s hearing isn’t the best…
We ate some nuts and chocolate for breakfast then started packing up our things. I had my tent all packed and realized Dad was taking forever to do his – the man just love standing around in the rain! I helped him pack up quickly.And we started walking. Slowly.
The visibility was very low and I kept having to stop to ensure Dad was in view. The trail out was not very visible after a while and it soon disappeared completely. At one point I saw a small trail duck and looked around and there seemed to be two pools of water off to the left. After walking forward for a few more minutes we seemed to be getting lost so I have to stop and get my bearings. I knew the main track crossed a saddle before rising up the side of Mount Kosciuszko so I used the shape of the visible land and the direction from which we had come and a few other factors to determine the direction we should walk. The wind was so fierce now that we had to stop and hold ourselves up with our poles else we would be blown over. As we gained elevation the wind speed naturally increased. It really wasn’t pleasant and Dad was struggling. Secretly I was loving it. Soon enough we found the track and I realized that the two pools of water I saw a ways back were actually part of the track and the rock color was bluish in the low light levels. Never mind – we were on the track and would soon have shelter in the toilets!
We trudged on and the hulk of Mount Kosciuszko began blocking some of the wind so it was a little more bearable. Visibility was starting to fall though so I had to stop every few meters to ensure Dad was in sight. We passed the turn off to the climb to the summit – we can do that on a clearer day on the tourist path. Soon we reached the toilets, which also happened to be an intersection of trails and that’s where everything began to go wrong.
I felt certain that Dad was right next to me and I had been talking to him, but I opened the toilet door and turned around to find him nowhere in sight! There was two possibilities, either he had carried on along the track toward Charlotte’s Pass and just didn’t see me go to open the toilets, or he was walking along the Track down to Thredbo. I had heard what I thought was his poles hitting the ground just by me so I thought he had just passed me. So I called out his name and blew my whistle but I couldn’t hear him call back. I got worried he was on the Thredbo track so I dropped my pack and ran down the track a ways, again calling his name and blowing the whistle but I couldn’t see him. He couldn’t have gone much further. The visibility was down to maybe 30 meters so I was now in a spot of bother. So I ran back and checked the Charlotte’s pass route but again couldn’t see him. I decided to go to the toilet block and wait for him there. I waited twenty minutes before I reasoned he had probably reached Seaman’s hut by now if he was on the correct route. So I headed there only to find the hut empty. It was a lovely place with lots of firewood. I decided to actually take shelter here for twenty minutes more just in case. I made a cup of tea and ate some food. I thought I heard him outside at one point but it was just the wind.
Ok, what to do? I reasoned that he likely wasn’t on the correct route and was headed for Thredbo but that he was now probably an hour and a half of hiking away from me. The other possibilities started coming to mind that perhaps he could have turned around and actually begun walking back to Charlotte’s pass the long way around, or the he had slipped somewhere and was hurt. I decided to head for the car with the thought in mind of meeting him at Thredbo. I was a quick walker and reached the car in just over an hour. I had no battery left so I waited for it to charge. I began to worry that he would hit Thredbo and try to catch a lift off someone back to Charlotte’s pass. As soon as I had reception I called Mum and let her know where I was headed in case he called her, then began driving to Thredbo, peering in to the other passing cars in case he was in one.
The possibilities were starting to grow as to where he would be so as I neared the ranger station at Perisher, I decided I would stop in and see if they had heard anything. They had heard nothing and before I knew it they were arranging a search party to head up the mountain! Bloomin’ heck Dad! The police told me to wait at the ranger station and that I would be joining them on the Charlotte’s pass side. The lady at the station, Shawnie (I think), was awesome and made me a cuppa to keep warm. She was retiring soon she told me and were going to travel. After 40 minutes or so the police called through and said that a group of 70 hikers had found Dad at the top of the chairlift (closed for the evening) at Thredbo and had called it through. Dad had lit a fire to keep warm and was doing quite well though obviously disoriented.
I breathed a sign of relief, thanked Shawnie profusely for her help, mopped up the little puddle of water that had dripped off me in the station and headed off to Thredbo. I met the police at the Alpine Inn and they had brought Dad down from the mountain via 4WD and thanked them and gave Dad a quick hug. I also told the police that even though I knew it was illegal I would have to hit him for this!
We headed back to the cabin, saw some wild emu’s on the way (first time I’ve seen them in the wild) and showered and coffee’d to warm up. After an earlier text, I called Mum to tell her he was fine then grabbed some Thai food to help restore our energy. We ate every scrap of it! The whisky bottle was accessed too!
I sat there at night and realized that having to look after or consider others is one of the reason why I actually prefer the idea of solo hiking. If it goes wrong I only have myself to blame. It also occurred to me that I was actually the group leader on this hike and should have ensured his gear was better, that he actually had all the thing he said he had (he did not bring gloves) and that he was better prepared in general. I was carrying the emergency beacon but I wonder if that was the right move now – should it go to the least experienced on the team? I should have ensured that he had more food, more water, and a phone on him.