Playing in the snow is fun; spending time waiting in queues is not.
How are the two related? If you live in Melbourne (as we do) and wish to visit the snow, this usually involves entering an alpine resort. The alpine area closest to Melbourne is Lake Mountain (named after Surveyor-General George Lake; there isn’t a lake there) in the Yarra Ranges, just outside of Marysville. But a visit to any alpine resort will generally mean queueing to:
– hire snow gear (chains, skis, poles, sleds, snowshoes, clothing, etc)
– enter the park/resort and pay entrance fees
– put chains on and, later when you’re exiting, take them off again
– be directed where to park
– resort facilities
– ski/toboggan runs
So it’s no wonder we are looking for ways to reduce the number of queues we need to join on our snow day. The answer was to buy all our own gear.
For us this didn’t mean shelling out a fortune because we’re not planning to go skiing. Having grown up in Queensland I have no skills in that area, and while Stephen’s background was almost the complete opposite, we’ve decided that snowshoeing is an activity that we can both enjoy in the snow with minimal practice. After having now shelled out only a small fortune for chains (for the car), snowshoes and poles, we’re set and ready to go. We didn’t have to buy a lot of extra specialised clothing since most of our hiking gear is adaptable to snowshoeing.
This was our first walk with our own snowshoes and poles. We’ve just bought MSR Revo Explore Snowshoes from Bogong in Melbourne’s CBD. We were very lucky to snag the last two pairs they had this season! While MSR aren’t the cheapest brand, and Revo aren’t the cheapest option in their range, I wasn’t settling for anything less. (See my previous post Snowshoeing at Mt Baw Baw for a comparison of snowshoes that we’re hired at various resorts in Victoria.)
Now fully equipped, we planned to go snowshoeing the very next day – a Sunday. We did our best to get our the door early. There are always more tourists of a Sunday, so we didn’t want to be at the end of the line. On the other hand, because the Mini is so neat and zippy we’ll always catch up to a convoy of cars eventually. Eh!
The least enjoyable part of a snow day is getting out of the car once you’ve arrived, and getting kitted up to walk. The cold is biting! And it’s doubly – triply! – cold if it’s windy, but we don’t wear our boots in the car – or all of our layers – so by the time we’re finally ready to lock the car and head I’m generally shivering (or nearly) despite wearing all my layers.
The sounds around the carpark remind me of a crèche or kindergarten. Lots of young children, most of whom are excited and impatient to get going, some of whom are content to play with the first snow they see, and then there are those who have changed their minds and don’t want to get out of the car. Voices – excited, petulant, upset, coaxing, calm, or quickly getting frustrated – hang in the air on every side. For someone unused to children, it provides extra impetus to get going quickly.
Up at the main buildings it’s like the shopping mall at lunch time during school holidays – people everywhere. Here is where we stop to strap on our own snowshoes instead of heading over to the building on the right to queue up to hire snowshoes and poles. Leaving the tobogganists and snowman-makers and snowball-fighters and other wanderers to their own devices we headed up main trail out of the village with a big sigh of relief!
Lake Mountain is popular because it’s close to Melbourne, and because it’s pretty family friendly. There are toboggan runs to keep kids amused for hours. If, like us, you’re looking to enjoy nature with half of Melbourne in your pocket, you can do that too. Once on the trail we quickly left the noise of the resort behind, and then the novice cross-country skiers. It was nice to go off (groomed) track when we found the snowshoe trail and walk on fresh, soft snow instead of compact trails.
Walking on fresh, uncompacted snow is not only more pleasant but sooo much quieter! All snowshoes create noise on ice when the mental teeth crunch through the icy crust or compact snow on the trail. Being made of a hard plastic, ours also flap noisily when walking on compact surfaces – on soft surfaces it’s almost more of a shuffle.
From Snow Gauge (trail junction) we chose Echo Flat Trail to continue up to Helicopter Flat. Despite some cold fronts coming through recently, the amount of snow did seem to be a bit low this weekend. Lake Mountain is only 800m above sea level, so as long as there’s something on the trails I guess we should be thankful.
Arriving at Helicopter Flat we were surprised at the number of people gathered – and the tent that was set up (sorry about the dud photo – didn’t notice until I got home). Turns out there was a cross-country race on that we’d stumbled into the middle of.
We waited for a break in the skiers – I think we’d come in towards the end anyway – and continued on along Echo Flat Trail to The Camp (junction).
The Camp was a busy junction. It has green (easy), blue, (more difficult) and black (most difficult) trails intersecting there. Standing out of the way we had a quick break for a snack, drink – and a couple of fungi photos.
Refreshed, we decided to stick with the easy-rated Echo Flat Trail. We’d seen other fresh snowshoe tracks, and shortly after leaving The Camp we caught sight of the snowshoers.
There were more in the group than we’d expected. We left Echo Flat Trail and followed after them for perhaps 30m or so, but the snowshoe track crosses the middle of the valley and they looked like they were going pretty slowly crossing the creek. After watching their slow progress for a few minutes we decided to back-track and stick to our original plan of following the ski trails.
Blue sky was starting to show as we reached The Gap. Pausing just long enough for a drink and a photo, we headed uphill to Triangle Junction.
Our initial aim was to walk the Panorama Trail and checkout the views from the lookouts (assuming it wasn’t cloudy), but although we hadn’t come far our feet were talking to us, so we instead decided to head back along Royston Trail – our first blue grade trail for the day, but as it was down hill all the way back it didn’t really matter. In fact, it was the best ski trail of the day because there was plenty of deep, ungroomed snow on the side of the trail. Perfect for snowshoers!
The cafeteria, shop, first aid, and public toilets and change rooms are all in the large building on the lower side of the village. We knew it would be packed inside; lucky we weren’t famished. We decided to stop in near-by Marysville to find lunch instead. It was interesting to see the old-style skis and snowshoes they had on display. How our equipment has changed!
There’s just one more photo I’d like to share – it’s from our drive back through (The) Black Spur. The road winds its way through a forest of fern trees which are dwarfed by giant mountain ash, standing straight and pencil thin, their crowns seeming to reach for the clouds. It’s not the safest place to be during storms or high winds, though – I’ve seen YouTube clips of trees falling across the road like a giant tipping over wooden building blocks – but unless you’re stuck in a painfully slow convoy, it’s a great drive!