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50 years ago today. Main Range avalanche kills Roslyn Wesche.

Discussion in 'Backcountry' started by Bogong, Jul 12, 2006.

  1. Bogong

    Bogong Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    At 7:20 am on 12 July 1956 an avalanche swept down Mt Clarke on the Main Range of the Snowy Mountains. It destroyed Kunama Hutte, a ski lodge built by the Ski Tourers Association in 1953 on a small knoll at the base of the mountain.

    Eleven people were in the lodge when the avalanche hit. A kitchen table saved some skiers from being crushed when the beams supporting the roof fell in. The lodge manager Peter Kelly said, ‘I really don’t know how we got out of it. We really should have all been killed… I was sitting on the edge of my bunk and all I noticed was the deathly silence. After the wind and noise of the previous night it was uncanny. I heard a sort of a whine like the wind might make and then, bang, we got it. The Hutte started hurtling downhill and tipped forward. People were being thrown around everywhere, and beams and furniture were falling down from the top. As soon as I could, I called the roll and everyone answered but Roslyn. Then we all knew that something was wrong.’

    The survivors found refuge a few hundred metres away in the tow house of the Mt Northcote Ski Tow which also had beds. A message was radioed to Charlotte’s Pass and the ski patrol sent out a rescue party.

    Roslyn, ( I think she was aged 20) was the only child of Venn Wesche, an enthusiastic skier whose writings on the snow were widely published.
    [​IMG]
    Kunama Hutte 1953-1956
     
    #1 Bogong, Jul 12, 2006
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 11, 2013
  2. Graeme

    Graeme First Runs Endless Winter

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    RIP
    just thinking that it was no namby pamby resort there - off Northcote starts really steep and the gradient gradually eases off into the glacial cirque. Clarke is not far different, north facing rather than east to finish at the same spot. The only area in Oz used for speed skiing to my knowledge
     
  3. Bogong

    Bogong Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    Yes I suppose the central Main Range really was a small resort 50 years ago. The buildings were dispersed, but there was a long ski tow, three lodges (Albina, Kunama and the Northcote Tow House) as well as a few huts which were used for accommodation including Seaman’s (which still had bunks) and Rawson’s Hut (which really should be rebuilt, if only for safety). I understand that some of the more gung-ho skiers staying at Charlottes Pass also used to wander over for the day.

    The Ski Tourers Association, soon got tame and started building in the resorts. As they changed into a downhill ski club, they changed their name to the Australian Alpine Club. Roslyn Lodge at Thredbo was named in memory of Miss Wesche, although it is no longer affiliated to the A.A.C.
     
  4. mr

    mr Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    nice post bogong. I looked up 'kunama', knowing it was a lodge at buller, but it is also the smallest ethnic group in eritrea and the name of the school mag at cooma. Do you guys know where the names' from?
     
  5. janus

    janus One of Us

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    My great uncle was a keen skier, did a lot of touring in the 60s and 70s I believe.. (would've been a fair bit different back then to today I guess).

    I think he was in KAC (Kosciusco Alpine Club) or something like that.

    Would've been great when there were more huttes etc around to stay in [​IMG]

    RIP Roslyn.
     
    #5 janus, Jul 12, 2006
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  6. Graeme

    Graeme First Runs Endless Winter

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    Does anyone know what circumstances lead to the avy? Was there a big dump preceding it? Presumably not a wet snow slide at that time of year, unless alot of rain.
     
  7. buckwheat

    buckwheat One of Us

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    Graeme,

    3 years ago in the peak of August, we camped in the most amazing rain storm I've ever seen. Thredbo had 114mm of rain in 24hrs, and we were on the western side of the range, so presumably got alot more.

    So alot of rain is definitely possible!

    I skiied with a guy a couple of years ago whose Dad was the guy who brought Roslyn back. I think she was 17.
     
  8. climberman

    climberman CloudRide1000 Legend Ski Pass: Gold

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    Graeme - a big, deep cold southerly system, much light snow. It slipped (cornice?) then was funneled pretty much stright into Kunama. I have the magazine with the descrption in it (well, a p/copy) somewhere (just moved 'gongward so much stuff in boxes !). Will dig it out if I come acrosss it over the next week or so.

    Nice post Bogong.
     
  9. otw

    otw First Runs

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    rain - is that what it was........
     
  10. BrumbyJack

    BrumbyJack First Runs

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    Kunama is an Aboriginal name... there is also a place called Kunama, near Batlow.

    I was told it was something to do with snowy place or something like that.... which Kunama (both of them) often is.

    BTW, I believe the original pronunciation is started more with a G than a K, but it got anglacised.
     
  11. VSG

    VSG Crayon Master Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    One of the reasons Kunama Hutte was built.....

    Roslyn's passing is mentioned.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
    #11 VSG, Jul 13, 2006
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  12. 3decks

    3decks One of Us

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    Interesting read
     
  13. Bogong

    Bogong Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    Graeme. I think Climberman has it right. There was a big snow dump with cornices hanging off Mts Clarke, Northcote and Lee. Avalanches were considered when siting the lodge, which is why it was built on a small rise. No one ever thought an avalanche would fill the dip between it and the main slope.

    Kunama was the word for snow in the dialect of the local aborigines.

    The Ski Tourers Association also built Lake Albina Lodge in 1951, but they were evicted in the 1970's and the lodge was demolished in the 80's. They also restored and extended the derelict Pounds Creek Hut on the Snowy River, renaming it Illawong. It is the only remaining club lodge away from the resorts in the area.

    Roslyn Wesche's dad wrote a lot of very readable articles in ski magazines of the 1940's and 50's.
    I remember reading one where he says he can't wait until his only child is old enough to join him on excursions to the Main Range.

    The tragedy is that his daughter, who was the greatest love of he and his wife, was killed by the Main Range which was his other great passion.
     
  14. mr

    mr Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    Thanks for the kunama nomenclature. I wonder how many words for snow that group had?
     
  15. VSG

    VSG Crayon Master Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    The author of the article I've posted says Clarke was the main issue. Very unfortunate. It was knocked off its foundations? I think?
     
    #15 VSG, Jul 13, 2006
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  16. climberman

    climberman CloudRide1000 Legend Ski Pass: Gold

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    Bogong - the siting stuff sounds reasonable - directly southern events are pretty rare, compared with W and WSW events.

    If it is the articles from the journals of the 40's and 50's you are reading you may come across the one I have a copy of. Mine was located in the NSW State Library, fantastic institution that it is.

    Australian and New Zealand Ski Yearbook: SW Ski Council/KAC/Ski Club Australia I think ?
     
  17. Bogong

    Bogong Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    Yep, knocked off its foundations. I have a photo taken soon after and the outline of the building is still recognisable, albeit fairly skew-wiff.

    The Golden Eagle was awarded to those who did the half mile (about 800 metre) run from the top of the Mt Northcote cornice to near Kunama. The vertical was about 800 feet (c. 260 metres). They had to do it in 42 seconds except for instructors who only got 35 seonds for the run. Women got to start immediately below the cornice. Remember they were using leather boots, wooden skis and either cable or 'bear claw' bindings!

    Only 11 men and 3 women won the Golden Eagle from 1953 to 1960. The record for the run was 28.3 seconds by Lou Vozab in 1962 with a top speed of 100 mph (162 kph). But hopefully it was revived for the blokes in the article VSG has reproduced.
     
  18. WhiteSpider

    WhiteSpider First Runs

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    I think it is fantastic that they have revived the tradition of the 'Golden Eagle'.

    Would love to see more historic traditions revived!

    Any others like the Golden Eagle?

    WS
     
  19. WhiteSpider

    WhiteSpider First Runs

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    By the way what magazine was that article from?

    Thanks
     
  20. otw

    otw First Runs

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    revived?
     
  21. Bogong

    Bogong Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    Climberman, I’ll leave that assessment of snowfall patterns to you. I’m a Victorian and while I know the Main Range fairly well, I can’t say I know it as intimately as the regulars do.

    I’ve been reading old Ski Yearbooks and ancient Victorian monthly ski magazines like “Ski Horizon†and “Schuss†with a view to one day writing a history of skiing in this state ending in about 1970. I think that’s when things became pretty much the same as they are now, except that ensuites have replaced bunk rooms and chairlifts have replaced drag tows.

    From memory there was also a N.S.W. monthly ski magazine, at least in the post war years and Tassie had roneoed newsletters, as you’d expect in parochial Tasmania, one for the north and one for the south.

    Some of the old timers I’ve interviewed have terrific anecdotes going back to the 1930’s, but with others, well their memories aren’t what they used to be. I think it’s important that we record their memories before it’s too late. If you can, sit down with the veteran skiers and a tape recorder. Keep a copy for yourself and send a duplicate to the relevant state library.
     
  22. Graeme

    Graeme First Runs Endless Winter

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    I had a pretty fast run off Northcote last October, but I certainly wasn't straightlining it. Forgot my stopwatch, so I'm not valid for a Golden Eagle anyway.
     
  23. Untele-whippet

    Untele-whippet beard stroker Ski Pass: Gold

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    Having talked to someone on the rescue party who skiied in from Charlotte Pass, my understanding is that there was a weakness in the snowpack caused by a previous rain/freeze cycle which was loaded by a dump of snow. Classic slab avalanche conditions, triggered by the collapse of the cornice.
     
  24. climberman

    climberman CloudRide1000 Legend Ski Pass: Gold

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    Certainly rings a bell Mr Whippet. Do I know ye ?
     
  25. Untele-whippet

    Untele-whippet beard stroker Ski Pass: Gold

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    Aye, we've been know to have an ale or 2 deliberating ethics, beaurocracy & verticality!
     
  26. VSG

    VSG Crayon Master Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    Interesting. Did you read my repro article?

    [​IMG]


    And they ended up clocking 175km/h. On wet spring snow. They were lamenting the fact they could not easily reproduce the primo mid winter conditions, as they would have to walk in 100kg's of gear. They made a full movie out of the event. What happened to it, I don't know. ??? there was a website. Mid 1990s. [​IMG]
     
    #26 VSG, Jul 13, 2006
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  27. Graeme

    Graeme First Runs Endless Winter

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    (sigh)I am not in the same league as those guys - maybe I could have a golden chicken.
     
  28. VSG

    VSG Crayon Master Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    [​IMG]
     
    #28 VSG, Jul 13, 2006
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  29. Graeme

    Graeme First Runs Endless Winter

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    When I have been there Northcote doesn't have a vertical or overhung cornice - just a really steep slope dropping off from a distinct edge, transitioning smoothly into the face below - a prefect start for a speed run if you have the right stuff. I think Clarke is similar, but I have been there in spring when the snow on such northfacing slopes has deteriorated more. there might have been a small cornice on the other side of the valley, with ESE aspect.
     
  30. VSG

    VSG Crayon Master Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    Mr Evans has a pic from Clarke looking to Lee. Snow-less.

    [​IMG]
     
    #30 VSG, Jul 13, 2006
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  31. VSG

    VSG Crayon Master Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    And Mr Evans has a picture of the Hutte.. May 7 2005

    [​IMG]
     
    #31 VSG, Jul 13, 2006
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  32. VSG

    VSG Crayon Master Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    Northcote (L) and Lee (R)... so, I guess our Kunama speed run is somewhere in the middle... ??

    [​IMG]
     
    #32 VSG, Jul 13, 2006
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  33. VSG

    VSG Crayon Master Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    and zooming into centre of photo.. its astounding how an avvy from Clarke (over left shoulder of photographer in this and the full size pic).. could have demolished the hut, sitting on a 10m high knoll.... ??

    [​IMG]
     
    #33 VSG, Jul 13, 2006
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  34. VSG

    VSG Crayon Master Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    [​IMG]
     
    #34 VSG, Jul 13, 2006
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  35. Bogong

    Bogong Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    That makes more sense. The tow was called the Mt Northcote Tow, not the Kunama Tow. The map position of the lodge and the tow house look about right in relation to each other according to a photo I have. My scanner has blown up, but I'll see if I can get it scanned by someone else.

    Also remember that the Golden Eagle course was different to the tow line.
     
  36. Bogong

    Bogong Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    VSG, yes the article you reproduced on the previous page was fascinating. What I meant was I hope the formal presentation of the Golden Eagle as an award was revived. Tommy Tomasi was one of the 14 winners and his son was one of those who revisited the idea in the late 90's. It would have been nice if they got the medal too [​IMG]

    Although perhaps anyone attempting to win a Golden Eagle in the future should have to do the run in under 42 seconds wearing leather boots on wooden skis :p
     
    #36 Bogong, Jul 14, 2006
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  37. VSG

    VSG Crayon Master Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    Ah, got ya. Mr Bogong.

    What it all underlines is how precious our true alpine landscape is. That is, above tree-line, glaciated land that lends itself to activities like speed skiing. Unfortunately... with global warming.. the snows will retreat, like the glaciers have already done. [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    #37 VSG, Jul 14, 2006
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  38. Bogong

    Bogong Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    I’ve just looked up a bit more on Kunama. It was actually built in late 1952 from prefabricated sections that were trucked up the summit road and manhandled down to the site of the lodge. It was destroyed because:

    ‘Weather conditions had previously caused a hard icy surface to form on the snow and this was followed by a sudden heavy fall of 18 inches [46 cm] of dry snow coming from the south-east, instead of the west as is usual. The combination of the two factors built up a large cornice on Mt Clarke, which eventually collapsed and started the avalanche. Although Kunama stood on a knoll, the heavy fall of snow had filled up the depression and thus the snow-slide hit the building full on. The path of the avalanche was no more than 50 yards [45 metres] across.’
     
  39. VSG

    VSG Crayon Master Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    Knoll. Clarke to the right of this view. Gully filled up.. Snow slid straight down and into the hut. [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    Looking from the Clarke side, I'd proffer...

    [​IMG]
     
    #39 VSG, Jul 14, 2006
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  40. Graeme

    Graeme First Runs Endless Winter

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    I reckon this would be Clarke (L) and Northcote (R), with Lee off picture to the right. If so, the speed run would be straight down from Northcote, on he right side of the pic.
     
    #40 Graeme, Jul 14, 2006
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  41. VSG

    VSG Crayon Master Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    Well, Mr Evans, taker of pic, has confused us both. Because his commentary says... "Looking back at the route I descended. Northcote (left) Mt Lee 2105m, (right). "

    http://ehrenfest.anu.edu.au/~denis/Clarke_Northcote/Clarke_Northcote.html

    [​IMG]
     
    #41 VSG, Jul 14, 2006
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  42. buckwheat

    buckwheat One of Us

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    Cheers to everyone for some awesome info, history and piccies. Great stuff!
     
  43. Graeme

    Graeme First Runs Endless Winter

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    October 14 2005.
    Northcote R of pic, Clarke more sun exposed therefore less spring snow, to the left with summit well off the pic. Satanas finishing his run.
    [​IMG]
    No doubt in my mind that Mr Evans pic is of Clarke and Northcote (as in his URL tag). Remember also that the avy hit the hut form Mt Clarke not Mt Northcote according to info early in the thread.
     
    #43 Graeme, Jul 14, 2006
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  44. VSG

    VSG Crayon Master Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    Yes, I remember.

    [​IMG]
     
    #44 VSG, Jul 15, 2006
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  45. VSG

    VSG Crayon Master Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    [​IMG]
     
    #46 VSG, Jul 15, 2006
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  46. Snow Blowey

    Snow Blowey Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    Think i've located the cornice in question. Took this photo from Twynam mid August 2005. Clearly shows a cornice formed on the north side of Mt Clarke and another along the ridge between Clarke and northcote. I'm guessing the red dot on the right shows the location of the bit that took the hut out. Interestingly 2005 had that large event from the south east in mid July. Wonder if that had anything to do with the cornice forming up there. Will have a look when i'm out there next.

    Probably should add this was the day after the sea level dump and from memory it was a southerly system.

    [​IMG]
     
    #47 Snow Blowey, Jul 15, 2006
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  47. Bogong

    Bogong Part of the Furniture Ski Pass: Gold

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    There will be a talk with slides on Kunama Hutte, the avalanche and Roslyn Wesche tonight at Thredbo. It will also cover the Northcote Tow, Albina Lodge and Charles Anton, the founder of the Ski Tourers Association. The speaker will be Ian Curlewis and the venue is the Kosciusko Room at the Thredbo Alpine Hotel. Bookings via Christina Webb on 02 6456 2279. Sorry for the late notice, I’m in Melbourne and I’ve only just found out about it. Dave.
     
  48. frazels

    frazels One of Us

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    Anyone go?...
     
  49. Just passing by

    Just passing by First Runs

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    Does anyone know whether Venn Wesche is the same person as Venn Gordon Wesche (who seems to have been known as Gordon Wesche) who both played rugby and shot at Bisley for Oxford in the 1920s? He was from Parammatta (in NSW I think!) and was a lawyer, called to the bar in 1926. It seems possible they are one and the same person but then I don't know how common the names Venn and Wesche are in Australia.

    Thanks in advance