By Xavier Anderson
I stepped out of the car into the cutting cold. Skirts of light snow hitting me as I went for my jacket in the back seat. The few other people in the Dead Horse Gap carpark were more appropriately dressed for an altitude of 1,580 meters in winter; big puffer jackets; beanies and only a tiny sliver of exposure around their eyes and noses. I was beginning to doubt the adage “be bold and start cold”, which had been drilled into me during my time with the National Leadership School or NOLS in the US. It did mean that I didn’t waste much time getting ready, though.
As I hauled my pack over my shoulder, I went through a quick list in my head of things I packed. “Tent? Yep. GPS? Yep. Socks? Uhhhh…its too late now” I thought and then went over to Jason. He was also doing his final checks, his bag bulging with six days-worth of food and gear. When asked if he had forgotten anything he replied “It’s not like I can fit anything else in.” And true, our bags were bursting with not just sleeping bags, pots and stoves, but with packrafting gear as well.
We looked a bit out of place with lifejackets and paddles poking out of our packs. Especially when most people were taking skis off their roof racks. We had decided not to take skis or snowshoes on our trip. Today we would be in the snow, but the rest of the time we would be on the snow line or paddling, so it wouldn’t be worth it.
Besides, the trail looked good; icy but manageable. So, we bid farewell to Meredith and her daughter, who had kindly driven us to the trailhead, and took our first steps to the source of Australia’s longest river, the Murray.
For the first hour, the going was pretty easy, and we arrived at the Thredbo River crossing where the climbing began. Jason spotted some brumbies on the slope in front of us, making their way downhill through the snow. If only we had been smart enough to do the same thing.
As soon as I stepped off the footbridge onto the other side of the river, my foot plunged shin deep into the snow. I remember thinking, “A bit deeper than I expected, but it should be fine.” An hour later, we were post-holing to our thighs. It was perfect skiing conditions, if only we had the skis.
It was unbelievably draining. You wouldn’t know when your foot would stop plunging through the snow, constantly putting you off balance, waiting for your foot have something solid to push against for your next step.
Sometimes our feet would plunge all the way to the hip and send us teetering into the awaiting snow. With our heavy packs it was a whole process to get up as well. Movements had to be carefully thought out because every swing of the pack could send you flying back down.
Following a particularly grueling, thigh deep section, Jason and I stopped for lunch and decided to set our sights on a more achievable goal for the night’s camp: Cascade Hut, our planned lunch spot. We planned to be there at 12:00, but after three hours of hiking, we were nowhere close.
So, after lunch, we swung our packs on, ready for more death-march post-holing. It was with absolute relief that shortly after starting up, we could see the track poking through the snow.
I normally find fire trails a grind, but I have never been more ecstatic to see a long patch of churned up mud. I was suspicious of how long this patch would last, but as we rounded the bend into a valley, the patches of mud took over the snow. Along with lots of feral horses and their poo which lay in large piles every hundred meters or so. They are such beautiful animals, but it is hard to ignore the impact they are having on the area.