Main Range Mt Townsend West Face

Discussion in 'Backcountry Trip Reports' started by sbm_, Oct 4, 2018.

  1. sbm_

    sbm_ One of Us

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    Being a Thredbo skier, clearly the most important thing to me is vertical meters, over and above other minor skiing concerns like snow quality, pitch, fall line, tree spacing, etc. When it comes to vertical, the backcountry skier researching the western faces of Kosciuzsko can't help but notice Mt Townsend - in particular the lower Lady Northcote Canyon runs off of Alice Rawson. And there is also, of course, the mysterious western face, hidden out of sight and out of mind off the back. It's a pretty far out area - most people are a bit stretched just getting out to the summit of Townsend, let alone adding another descent and climb off the back. It's also not epically steep, making it less "grammable". I've been wanting to ski this for a while, as Alan Andrews in Skiing the Western Faces talks about it as the longest and most desired run they skied out of the old Lake Albina hut, which must count for something. He called it the "Ne plus ultra" and "Ne plus supra" (which I had to look up, but means "the highest point" and "the lowest point"). It's certainly an obvious tour if you're skiing out of Lake Albina - up the Racecourse, ski the west face, climb back out, down one of the Canyon runs, back up to the lake.

    Another factor is the weather. Sticking out right at the western end of the Main Range with that huge slope up from the Geehi, Townsend often seems to make its own weather, if there is any cloud around at all, it seems to hang around the summit. I've been up there twice to find whiteout conditions, when almost everywhere else was in sunshine.

    I finally got clear skies and persuaded some partners/suckers to ski down there with me last weekend. We skied out from Thredbo, camped, skied some other stuff (I'll leave that vague, got to leave something to figure out!) and were on top of Townsend for lunch on the second day.



    So, which way to go? AA says they basically skied all of it. Having a good overview now, I reckon there are broadly two zones. The first is skiing straight down, into the broader bowl to the right of the prominent "knoll" (visible in the photo above). This is more of a north face. The second is skiing to the left of the prominent "knoll" into the headwaters of Kosciuszko Creek. This is the true west face.



    Both options look pretty bony from the above, with lots of rocks sticking out. However, I found there was always space between the obstacles, and what you get is actually a great natural slalom run. Here is a photo of the first zone



    So what we did though, was ski the second option. After descending about 100vm vertical on the north side, we traversed out to the knoll to get the lay of the land a bit. Then we skied the gully going down to the left (straight west), which is out of sight from the summit. I suspected this would have good cover and fall line based on the map, and was pretty much right. Then we slowly moved back right on to the spur below the knoll. We finished with about 100vm of skiing through glades (a rare experience on the western faces!) finishing at a natural flat beneath a shady tree at about 1700m.



    We would have needed to push a bit to get past the flat spot and go any lower - I actually think in hindsight, it would be easier to go lower in the first zone I mentioned. 1600m should be easily possible midwinter.



    Here is an unusual view towards Hannels Spur on the other side of Kosciuszko Creek



    Elyne Mitchell describes the climb out as "Generally not pleasant". I can only agree. One of the skiers in the party has completed the legendary Blue Mountains "Three Peaks" bushwalk, and they whinged plenty the on way up, which says something. It's a brutally sunny aspect and the sun makes a difference. I was pretty desperate for water, and twice tried clawing down some snow crevice next to a boulder with the shovel, after hearing some trickling water (I couldn't get to any. Luckily the others had extra). I'd suggest basically climbing out the way you skied down (and making sure you have a full water bottle before you start). Escaping to either the Townsend/Alice Rawson or Townsend/Abbott gaps will help a little. However all that said, it's probably a physically and technically easier climb than, say, Watson's Creek over at Twynam, just longer. I do reckon any desire I had to attempt Hannel's Spur in the green season is a bit dampened, just a bit.

    I'm gunna try and ski it again next season for sure.
     
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  2. sbm_

    sbm_ One of Us

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    The actual Hannel Spur route is the skyline in this photo I think.
     
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  3. crackson

    crackson A Local
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    Did you find him?
     
  4. Billy_Buttons

    Billy_Buttons One of Us
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    The Indian national?
     
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  5. Gimp

    Gimp One of Us
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    I think he was a Canuk eh.
     
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  6. Bloke

    Bloke One of Us

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    Awesome work! Thanks for the great write up, loved the lacings of our western faces history in amongst ur own story. Super keen to tick this one off one day.

    A while ago it was discussed on here that if anywhere in oz could offer 1000m vert it would be this area. After having visited do you see any spots that could potentially work in ideal conditions?
     
  7. Bogong

    Bogong Part of the Furniture
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    Like Bloke I appreciated both the trip report AND the historical references (Andrews and E. Mitchell both wrote terrific books).

    On a trivial note, (and I'm not really expert on the Main Range), but several times each season skiable snow falls below 600 metres in southern Victoria and I'd guess to a bit above 700 metres further north in Vic. So if the sole goal was to ski 1000 metres vertical in a single run, with no concern for actually enjoying skiing, it would probably be "doable" after a big dump at places like the top of Feathertop down Bungalow Spur or the summit of Mt Bogong down to Michell Hut and then the 4WD roads north east from there.

    The slightly higher snow line in NSW is more than compensated for by the greater height of the peaks. So if it can be done in Vic, it should be possible in NSW, IF there are any clear 4WD tracks from the Main Range heading through the snowgums with a consistent gradient down to 1000 metres.
     
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  8. sbm_

    sbm_ One of Us

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    Cheers. I think the main issue is getting stopped by the scrub and fire regrowth. The shady sides of the gullies were pretty clear and looked like they went down a long way.

    Going through the Alan Andrews chapter on this run again, they never really went below 1500m. He does suggest "you might even go lower, much lower". Ive heard a report of skiing out the bottom of Stanley's Gorge just below Thredbo during one of the big 90s snow years, but that would really seem to be the bottom limit of skiing natural snow on natural terrain in NSW. And thats a south facing slope. I think about 1400m would have to be a pretty hard limit...1350m if I'm generous...still 150m short. And it would have to be epic. So, i really don't think a natural 1K is possible. Nice to dream though.
     
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