Dayna's Blog

Holidays, walks and who knows what


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Crunching the trails at Lake Mountain, Victoria – 2 August, 2015

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

In the queue to enter Lake Mountain Resort

In the queue to enter Lake Mountain Resort

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!

Ski fields are very colourful places - just remember to mind your step!

Ski fields are very colourful places – just remember to mind your step!

Setting off at last

Setting off at last

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.

Pretty good use for old skis - Snowshoe trail marker at Lake Mountain Resort

Pretty good use for old skis – Snowshoe trail marker at Lake Mountain Resort

This style of snowshoe makes for easy walking - MSR Revo Explore

This style of snowshoe makes for easy walking – MSR Revo Explore

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.

Stand aside, they're grooming the trail

Stand aside, they’re grooming the trail

'Cordoroy' - easier to walk on, but much noisier and less fun

‘Cordoroy’ – easier to walk on, but much noisier and less fun

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.

Lake Mountain Trail Map

Lake Mountain Trail Map

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).

Winter vs summer - Echo Flat trail

Winter vs summer – Echo Flat trail

I've never seen an iced-over pond before

I’ve never seen an iced-over pond before

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.

'The Camp' junction was pretty busy today, too

‘The Camp’ junction was pretty busy today, too

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.

Other snowshoers heading off into the mist

Other snowshoers heading off into the mist

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!

Magnificent Mountain Ash - driving through Black Spur

Magnificent Mountain Ash – driving through Black Spur

🙂

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Snowshoeing at Mt Baw Baw – July 2014

Have you ever wanted to go to the snow but haven’t, because skiing (for whatever reason; cost, long lift queues, ability, or potential injury) isn’t your thing?

If you think paying a small fortune for accommodation on a snowfield just to watch other people ski and snowboard is a wasted opportunity, I agree – and here’s the solution…

Snowshoes on, ready to go! (These ones are Yowies)

Snowshoes on, ready to go! (These ones are Yowies)

Snowshoeing!

Forget the tennis racket image. That’s ancient history!

Let me tell you about our day trip to go snowshoeing at Mt Baw Baw the other Sunday.

Leaving home at 8:40am was a little later than planned, but we’re pretty bad early starts at the best of times, although the aim had been to avoid arriving at the same time as everyone else.

Last time (2 year ago) we took the route via Seville. If you’ve got the time, and it’s not out of your way, it is a nice drive although it’s a little bit longer. This time we took the highway to Druin before turning north. It’s pretty easy to follow the signs to Mt Baw Baw from there. The roads get pretty windy from Noojee and there are plenty of potholes to avoid too (so you won’t miss out, even if you haven’t chosen the Seville option), keeping the driver alert behind the wheel.

We got to the turn off to Baw Baw Alpine Village from South Face Road at around 11:00, and saw the first snow on ground – that hadn’t just fallen off cars driving down the road. Unexpectedly everyone was being asked to put chains on. We weren’t sure why because the road was clear… So much for keeping our chains in pristine condition, then!

There were staff helping people who had ‘forgotten’ how to put chains on their cars. The main thing you need to know is whether your car is front or rear wheel drive – and if you don’t, someone else there is bound to be able to tell you.

Chains on, we crept up the last 2.5km to carpark 4. It felt like we were driving a tank. You’re not s’posed to drive with chains on a cleared road…

Arriving at the carpark we saw why we needed chains. There was snow and slush. Some of it was white, but it was getting browner by the minute as the convoy of cars drove in.

Stephen lifted the windscreen wipers (in case it snowed while we were gone) and we donned our hiking boots, gaiters, beanies, gortex jackets and gloves, shouldered our backpacks (valuables, spare clothes, water and lunch) and joined the line of people making their way up to the village where the fun starts.

There was a  shuttle bus (mini van) option if you didn’t want to walk up to the village, but it wasn’t a long walk to where we needed to buy a day pass (Carpark 1). We didn’t do it online before arriving because it wasn’t cheaper, I but think we might next time – not because of a queue, but because you’ve now got to create an account. This will supposedly make it faster next time as I log in using just my mobile number and a 4 digit pin I chose (which can be SMS’d to be if I forget it by next time), but we’ll see how that goes… Note though, that if you want to make payment (cash or eftpos) to a person at the resort office, it costs $5 extra. Oh, and you’ll need to know your car’s registration number, so if you’re coming in a hired car your options of paying in advance may be limited.

Just past the village entrance, we found a jolly, and very realistic looking Santa on the way to the ski hire shop (Christmas in July is big here in the southern states) so took the opportunity for a photo.

Happily we didn’t have to wait long to pay for equipment hire. On the form you complete that details what you’re hiring out, it’s pretty telling that snowshoes aren’t listed as an option to tick. Come to that, they’re not prominently advertised on the website, either. The girl at the counter just wrote ‘snowshoes’ across the columns on both rows. Second clue was the blank look I got when I went to the counter to collect them. Fortunately the cashier girl was able to point the counter girl in the right direction and hey presto – two pairs of snowshoes!

Queueing to hire snowshoes and poles

Queueing to hire snowshoes and poles

Lastly; stocks. As these are collected from a different counter – where skis and boards are dispensed – we had to wait a while as staff adjusted boot fittings and things for snowboarders.

Snowshoes and stocks finally in hand we ventured forth! Now, please be considerate and don’t put them on as soon as you exit the building – there’s not that much room just outside the door! Stephen insisted on being so considerate we walked half way down the main street toward the end of the runs to find somewhere convenient and out of the way to put our snowshoes on.

At Baw Baw they rent out Yowies. Not our preferred type of snowshoe, but since we haven’t bought our own yet, beggars can’t be choosers.

My suggestion is to undo all the straps (not hard since they’re velcro), place your foot in so all the straps will strap back up (if you have larger feet, you may appreciate what I mean), then strap your foot in as tightly as possible. When you’ve got both on, have a few test strides and see if they feel like they need adjusting. You don’t want your boots to slip out as you’re hiking.

I think my boot is a size 43 US (or 12 AUS), and I was glad that it wasn’t much bigger, as I wouldn’t have liked the middle strap that passed over my boot and gaiter to be any shorter. I don’t know if they have larger Yowies at Mt Baw Baw – they are only made in two sizes as it is.

Yowies on

Yowies on

Given a choice, I’d be wearing MSR snowshoes. They’re more streamlined and have more teeth for breaking through and holding you on ice.

That wasn’t likely to be an issue for us today, but check out the teeth that Yowies have. Stephen’s were good; mine were somewhat worn down, probably from people walking on rocks or on the road in them. (Yes, we need to buy our own…)

Victorian on-mountain snowshoe rental comparison

Heading off, we drew a couple of amused (or bemused) looks from people who evidentially haven’t tried this form of freedom for themselves.

A couple of cross-country trails start at the end of the main runs and where the kids learning slope is. That’s also where we found the huskies! I’d seen a sign on the main street advertising husky sled rides – and here they were!

There wasn’t much action happening with the dogs at present, so we headed off. We’d decided to follow the Summit Trail today as we didn’t have time for the longer Village Trail circuit.

It was pretty quiet on the track. Most people were downhill skiing or snowboarding. In fact, I think we only saw about half a dozen people on the trail all day – and 4 or 5 of them were in one family!

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m from Queensland or not, but I find the snow absolutely fascinating! So beautiful, so white, so enticing… And snow gums (Eucalyptus pauciflora) are just amazing with their beautifully coloured bark. That’s why we chose Mt Baw Baw over Lake Mountain – yes it’s a bit further to drive, but it’s higher (= more snow) and the trees are alive! (A lot of Lake Mountain was burnt in the King Lake-Marysville fires in 2009).

This is possibly my favourite photo from the walk:

Mt Baw Baw meets Narnia

Mt Baw Baw meets Narnia

The only downside to snowshoeing is the noise. You mightn’t think it, but walking over snow makes a fair bit of sound. The shoes on the snow, the stocks through the snow, your shoes against the straps (more so on MSR than Yowies, I admit). You really notice the difference when you pause to take a photo (or catch your breath)!

In one of these pauses we noticed some tiny birds picking over the frozen leaves and around the bark of the trees. It’s tricky to photograph birds that move so quickly. I am pretty certain they are Striated Thornbills (Acanthiza lineata).

We planned to stop for lunch at some picnic tables close to the summit, known as Downey’s picnic area. Two years ago, we did this walk in August when Australia was having a decent, if somewhat delayed snow season. This year’s snow season is on time and even better!

So there wasn’t much choice but to eat standing up. We didn’t want to disturb the perfect mounds of snow on the tables.

It was also a good chance to get some Bigfoot – or more accurately in this case, Yowie – footprint photos.

Yowie tracks!

Yowie tracks!

Lunch over, we continued up to the summit where Baron Ferdinand von Mueller’s “The Cairn”, built as a survey reference point, is there to admire. Von Mueller was Government Botanist of Victoria in 1853 and later appointed director of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, but his work was also recognised and honoured nationally and internationally. It is believed he was the first European to climb Mt Baw Baw.

A little further on is Mueller’s lookout. On a winter’s day, you mightn’t get to see very far.

Muellers Lookout - can't see much today

Muellers Lookout – can’t see much today

We haven’t been in summer, but Mount Baw Baw Alpine Resort’s website shows the view in summer is quite nice.

Muellers Lookout in summer - via mountbawbaw.com.au

Muellers Lookout in summer – via mountbawbaw.com.au

From the summit, the ice on the trees started to get a bit… wild.

Not content with just settling as snow on horizontal surfaces then icing up, the snow gums on this side of the summit have their hackles up, and fins on. Yep, they’ve gone feral.

As the trail drops down from the summit, the forest relaxes once more and it’s an easy downhill walk along the cross-country ski trail.

If you walk the Summit Trail in an anti-clockwise direction as we did, you’ll come to an area called ‘The Five Ways’ where the Summit Trail ends and you have two choices – Muellers Track (walkers only) or Village Trail – that will take you back to the village.

Last time we chose Muellers Track, skirting all of the ski runs to the north, and certainly appreciated why it was a walkers only trail.

This time, for something different, we thought we’d try the Village Trail that- as far as we could make out on the map – slips down between ski runs and finished back at our starting point.

The Village Trail meets the ski slopes

The Village Trail meets the ski slopes

I didn’t take any more photos after this until we were safely at the bottom because I was mostly scared about being caught in the path of a skier, and then, as the slope got steeper, also a bit worried that I might go for a slide myself! Although conditions weren’t particularly icy, I was concerned that the teeth and grip of my Yowies weren’t doing as good a job as they should be…

We were passed by a snow patrol skier who only made a comment on the weather, so we were reassured that we weren’t somewhere that we shouldn’t have been, but the path down wasn’t clear to us. I was really glad when we made it to the bottom and out of the way of skiers and snowboarders. We chose snowshoeing to avoid injury, after all!

Since we were back at the start we decided to have another look at the huskies. It just so happened that a team was being harnessed up for a run! And yes, they were all very excited about that!

With that we were done, and a hot chocolate as the Village Restaurant seemed in order – as soon as we’d returned our snowshoes and poles.

The Village Restaurant decorated for Christmas in July

The Village Restaurant decorated for Christmas in July

By now it was well after the lunch rush so getting a table wasn’t a problem.

As it was getting late, we didn’t linger. We knew the queue of day trippers leaving the resort would be long, and it would be dark by the time we arrived home.

It was a great day though!

Here’s a some stats and a couple of maps from this walk if you’re interested:

Elevation graph, stats & map - Mt Baw Baw

 

: )

Have you been snowshoeing? Where abouts and with whom? I’d love to hear from you : )