A DAY TO THE CRAGS DONE DIFFERENTLY
A regular winter visitor to committing ski terrain of Kosciuszko NP’s Watsons Crags, Steve Leeder decides to tackle the approach via unusual means.
Words: Steve Leeder
Photography: Aaron Dickfos
Most years, all my trips out to ski Watsons Crags on Kosciuszko’s Main Range would be overnight trips. But not this year. They have all been early alpine starts, and always more than 12 hours. For this trip, though, I had the ingenious idea of borrowing e-bikes from Sacred Ride and heading out to Charlottes Pass, ‘cause the approach from Guthega is a muddy bushwalk and I ain’t about that.We still planned for an early start, because everything I wanted to ski would be back in the shadows by mid-morning. But since when does anything go perfect… I pick the bikes up late after work and they aren’t charged; they’ve been out all day. But I don’t live in a bus anymore, so that’s easily fixed. Well not totally, bringing two bikes inside the living room of a share house isn’t the best way to stay in the good books. “Don’t worry,” I tell my roomies. “They’ll be gone before you wake up in the morning.” And that is my first hiccup of the day. I then I think, “I’ll put the coffee on and then load the bikes.” But that took longer than it’s meant to; when I came in thinking the coffee should be ready I realise I haven’t even turned the machine on. Doing stuff at 4:30 in the morning just isn’t right.
Once I’m finally on my way, things roll smoothly, just late. Oh well, the weather isn’t even meant to actually be great. I roll past Aaron’s house and he throws everything into the truck and we’re finally on our way. On the drive we start talking about plans if the light is bad, or things just totally crap out. When we pull up, though, it’s blue bird.
Heading out the road we’re stoked. The riding is so easy. The first downhill we hit 50km/h. We yell goofily. Right then, I decide I’m always riding bikes out there. About halfway we hit snow, but fortunately it’s rock hard from the overnight freeze and we keep on cruising.
Bikes locked and skis on, things are going awesomely…
Ha ha. Whoops, spoke too soon. The second crossing of the Snowy was kinda missing one of the main rocks so we hiked a bunch up the river before we found somewhere that was easier to cross.
OK, skins on and we are back on track. I have pretty much given into the fact that the line I really want to ski won’t have any light on it, which means it might be getting hard again. When we get to the final climb up onto the crags, we see a few people we haven’t see for ages. Lockdown means we see no one in town (Jindabyne, that is, where I live), but get into the middle of the mountains and you see all sorts. I guess it’s the place to be.
We all sort of skin up together, but not really; we’re totally socially distanced, of course. As I get to the top, I see my line still in the sun, so I don’t even stop for anything. Skins off, helmet on, radio check, and I’m off like a bat out of hell. There are hoots and hollers from the other crew, and devil horns thrown in the air, as I point ‘em down the ridge towards the top of my line. I suss the snow the whole way out, and I’m confident I’m going to have some soft stuff for most of it. Worst case would be chalk, that’s still going to be sweet to carve some turns in. There’s some really cool hoar frost making everything sparkle, and nothing is on my mind except how this is going to be rad fun to ski. The top of the ridge is corn. I’m getting really excited.
I get the call over the radio that Aaron was ready. 3,2,1 Dropping…
Holy crap balls! This ain’t soft at all! Well, there are a couple little tiny patches of windblown, soft snow, but not anything like I was expecting. I am so stoked I sharpened my skis last night. At the end of the line, I find a little spine that has a branch sticking out of it; I’m stoked. It means I can actually get my crampons on and skis on my pack somewhat easily. Back up to the top, cause you know me, ever the optimist. There’s more light, and it’s warmer, so the next line has to be heaps better. Nope. Totally the same. Well, not quite; there was definitely softer snow, just not heaps of it. The line was still fun as, though, because it was pretty steep.
Now most people would decide it is either time to go home or go find some soft corn. But me, I’m like, “Hey, remember that other side I told you about that had all those take offs and it gets the sun heaps later in the day?!? Yeah, let’s go there and check out some of those airs.” We start to look at angles to shoot a couple different ones, but where I wanted to land in the soft corn doesn’t make for cool shots. O, and the clouds have totally blown in. Maybe it’s time to head back…
Nah. I want to jump off stuff. And Aaron thinks the angle is going to be cool so, of course I’m in. I line up a couple times, cause waiting for the light to come really does a number on your nerves. But then I hear some hoots from the peanut gallery forming up on top of the ridge. Well, now I’ve gotta do it. One turn straight to the take-off launch, and crap, there’s that ice again. I do a little break dancing on my back down the gully, and finally find my feet and came to a stop. Far out that was a pretty sweet air. I’d better remember that one for next time, although maybe with a little less speed.
Ok time to get out of here. We harvest some corn, stroll up the long walkway to our bikes, and head home…
Ha! As if it was all going to be that easy. Well, yeah, the corn is epic, but riding a bike in slush is not. The back tyre is throwing snow, and the front tyre is digging and sliding all over the place. This actually sucks. We both think we could be skiing right now. Bikes were a bad idea. Then we have a light bulb moment: Why not slide along on the skis and push the bike. Meh, good idea but not great. Where the hell did all that ice go I was skiing on?!?
Eventually we make it to the tar, and everything is so much better. We cruise back to the truck, and, more importantly, to the two Pirate Life’s we have in the esky waiting for us.
Was it better on bikes? Well as soon as that road is cleared all the way I’m doing it all over again. Bike eight kms and then ski tour or three kms hiking in mud and then skiing? I’ll take the bike a million times over. I already can’t wait for the next trip!