Your Cart is Empty

Peak Bagging in the Australian Alps

August 24, 2023 4 min read

Peak Bagging in the Australian Alps
This month we caught up with Ben C, adventure racer and part of the BMX Bandits adventure racing team, to find out what he’d been up to lately.

The BMX Bandits have a friendship forged in Type 2 fun, (fun once it’s over), and our annual backcountry ski trip tradition is no exception. While originally established to celebrate Bandit Dave ‘Action Man’ Ellis’s birthday, this year we celebrated Dave in absentia as he is off searching for fresh adventures with a move to Canada’s Rocky Mountains.

Ice sculptures at sunset from Mt Kosciuszko.
Climbing Etheridge Ridge for sunrise.
Ice sculptures at sunset from Mt Kosciuszko. Climbing Etheridge Ridge for sunrise. 

When you’re searching for adventure down under, you can’t look past touring the Main Range - the very top of Australia - and its mighty western faces - the steepest, gnarliest slopes in the country. With a bit of luck and good conditions, the plan was to put my new alpine touring ski setup to the ultimate test with four days of steep skiing down, and even steeper climbing up, committing lines around The Sentinel and Watson’s Crags.

In terrain as serious as this, conditions can make or break a backcountry skiing trip. While there is definitely the risk of avalanches, the much more present danger in the Australian Alps involves ice, requiring crampons and ice axes for safe travel. Eagerly watching the snow forecast and reports in the lead up to the trip, there was a roller coaster of emotions with record snow falls in May, a very bare June, and then a pretty big dump a couple of weeks out. Sadly, this dump was followed by a bit of rain and, combined with cold temps and strong winds, transformed the alpine landscape from a skiers' delight to an icy nightmare.

With the resources of Mountain Safety Collective and some local knowledge, we scaled back our planned route and decided to head out from Charlottes Pass to Seamans Hut as a base, and see how many of the ten highest peaks we could bag. Traveling mainly along the ridges, we could avoid the real hazard of sliding to our death on the steeper slopes.

The reports of widespread ice danger were accurate, and travel was challenging to say the least. For the 6km out to the hut laden with a heavy pack I felt like a newborn deer as my skis slid on the crusty surface. Even with our skins on, which on regular snow, make up hill travel on skis a breeze, the frozen landscape sculpted by wind and rain made for tough going.

Adding in the challenge of new boots for Chris made it even more desperate and his feet blistered in protest.

After arriving at the hut, we spent the afternoon journeying south to tick off the first peaks of our list, Rams Head (2190 m) and Rams Head North (2177 m), returning via Etheridge Ridge Peak (2180 m) for sunset.

The skiing Wiggles on Rams Head. Sunrise from Etheridge Ridge Peak, 2180m.

The skiing Wiggles on Rams Head.

Sunrise fromEtheridge Ridge Peak, 2180m.

The next day we had seven peaks to go, and clear, still blue skies. Abandoning all hopes of getting any skiing done, we set off from the hut with crampons on our touring boots opting to leave the skis behind to travel fast and light. In less than 100m the sun warming our skin made us rethink that decision, and we strapped the skis to our packs to avoid a lengthy slog, post-holing through the soft snow on the way home.

Skis didn’t get much use, but the crampons got a work out.
At least I was warm and comfortable in my ioMerino carrying skis for 50km.
Skis didn’t get much use, but the crampons got a work out.

At least I was warm and comfortable in my ioMerino carrying skis for 50km.

Setting off towards the second highest peak on our hit list, Mt Townsend, we enjoyed the views of Mount Clarke and Mount Northcote, before stopping for a warm cuppa on Mueller's Peak. Here Chris worked up the courage to take the strapping off his foot to inspect the damage, and the red weeping wound made it clear he wouldn’t be making it up the rest of the summits. Moving to plan C, we cut the two most northern peaks of Carruthers and Mt Twynam from our agenda, and carried on to Mt Townsend and Alice Rawson peak. This was the highlight of the trip, with a magnificent ice sculpture garden that mother nature had created for our viewing pleasure. After a tour of the art gallery, we made our way over to Mt Kosciuszko for sunset, and capped off the day with dehydrated meals and Limoncello to celebrate Dave’s birthday.

Sunset from the top of Australia (Mt Kosciuszko, 2228m) The blister that made Chris’ trip Type 2 fun.

Sunset from the top of Australia (Mt Kosciuszko, 2228m).

The blister that made Chris’trip Type 2 fun.

Backcountry skiing is a sport where the consequences of getting your clothing choices wrong can be life threatening. We had winds up to 60km/hr on the first day, making the wind chill severe, but were still sweating while working hard up the hills. Our Altitude tights were perfect under shell bibs, offering the perfect amount of warmth, but wicking the sweat away quickly. When the going was tough, we opened the side zips of the shell pants to regulate the temp, but had to quickly zip up again when we stopped. Up top, the Ultra Zips, with or without a shell over top, offered the same great combo of warmth and moisture management, but is a bit more durable under the load of heavy packs. The generous neck zip also helps with temp regulation, and the collar helps keep the harsh sun at bay.

At the end of the day the temp drops rapidly, and they key to keeping warm in the backcountry is quickly changing base layers to a spare set. Rounding out the ioMerino kit was my Outsiders wool cap for the perfect combination of warmth and sun protection, Chaser gloves as liners, and Altitude neck warmer

A winter wonderland of ice along Alice Rawsons peak, with a view over Victoria.

A winter wonderland of ice along Alice Rawsons peak, with a view over Victoria.