The Big 3: Best Winter Backcountry Trips In Australia

July 11th, 2018
  

Looking out the back of Thredbo Resort and across the NSW main range. Image:: Thredbo

Mountainwatch | Cam Walker

By now you’ve probably locked in lots of trips (here are some ideas of great BC related events if you haven’t already got a full schedule, and some ideas on getting backcountry skills if you need them). A bit of resort is fun. Weekend trips are great. But winter is not winter without at least one big outing. Here’s my shortlist of the best winter backcountry touring trips in the country.

If I had a spare month, a good snow-base, and a bit of good weather, here’s my must do backcountry hit list…

 

The Western slopes of the Main Range (NSW)

To really appreciate the incredible slopes along the western side of the Snowies, you need at least a couple of days. Ski in from Dead Horse Gap, Thredbo, the Skitube/ Perisher, Guthega resort or Guthega Pondage and treat yourself to the biggest alpine terrain in the country.

 

The Western slopes of the Main Range – Inviting and terrifying at the same time. Image:: Cam Walker/Mountain Journal

There is a huge mix of terrain, from the moderate to the desperate: gullies, chutes, cliffs, broad spurs, with the grandest section stretching along the range between Abbott Peak and Watsons Crags.

This is wild and windswept country, and hard to escape from when blizzards come in. Dig your camp in, and consider taking your human waste out with you. Don’t camp in the catchments of the glacial lakes. You can get avalanches on some slopes. Be prepared for extreme winds, and all snow conditions, from sheet ice to dry powder, and have an awesome time.

 

Mt Howitt (VIC)

Mt Howitt sits at the head of the Howqua, Macalister and Wonnangatta valleys. In winter it feels incredibly remote, even as you look across the valley to the lights of Mt Buller resort. It’s hard to get to, with the three key approaches (from Bluff hut via the Howqua in the west, Lake Cobbler to the north, or through Licola to the south) all taking several days. Climbing up and over The Bluff takes an extra day but adds a great ‘alpine’ dimension to the trip.

 

The renowned ‘crosscut saw’ and mt Howitt offering up some very skiable terrain. Image:: Jonos/ski.com.au

Highlights include untracked terrain, long touring on the approach, quiet snow gum forests, and The Crosscut Saw – the most impressive ridgeline in the state (OK, its probably a contest between the Crosscut and The Razorback). Vallejo Gantner Hut at Macalister Springs makes a wonderful base.

There are big slopes to ski or ride, and the snow gum meadows south of the hut towards Howitt Plains are incredibly beautiful.

There is a brief guide available here. 

 

The Ducane Traverse (TAS)

In solid snow conditions, I still think this is the most incredible mountain trip in the country. It’s located at the southern end of the Overland Track, and requires either a day and a half walk to get to the start (or a ferry hire on Lake St Clair) and half day walk up the Overland.

 

Geryon from a camp on Castle Crag. Image:: Cam Walker/Mountain Journal

Once you leave the Overland, it’s a two day traverse along a high rocky ridge over Mt Massif that connects to the Ducane Range. Thick rainforest and scrub and boulderfields can slow you down on the climb, but once you’re onto Falling Mountain/ Castle Crag, you then have the most incredible alpine terrain until you descend into the Pool of Memories in The Labyrinth. There can be dangerous conditions in the boulderfields and an exposed climb from Big Gun Pass. Snowshoes would be the best option for the crossing rather than skis/ splitboard (and easier for the sections through the trees).

It’s mind blowingly good. Here is a brief guide to the trip available here.

Other trips

Yes. There’s heaps of great country for longer winter exploring and touring that also offer great downhill runs, as well as some that are just epic in winter. Some obvious ones:

  • Any remote range in Tassie once it snows (mostly just epic rather than having skiing, although you can get lucky!)
  • The Cobberas area in eastern VIC
  • The Kiandra to Kosciusko traverse
  • Mt Jagungal
  • The Australian Alps Walking Track
  • Mt Bogong and Feathertop
  • The Overland Track in TAS (take snowshoes)

Long trips are good for the body, the mind and the spirit. Hope you can get at least one in this winter.

This article was originally published on The Mountain Journal, here.