In the winters of the 1920's and 1930's, no bigger snowfield contrast existed, than that between the formal dinners served in the Hotel Kosciusko and the Chalet Charlotte's Pass and those prepared in the huts on the Kosciuszko Main Range, that were frequently smoke-filled due to food being cooked over wood fires. The attention of the skiing community was drawn to these huts when, on 28 July 1927, Herbert Schlink, Bill Hughes, Bill Gordon, John Laidly and Eric Fisher skied out of Kiandra and headed for the Main Divide and Mt. Jagungal, with the Kosciusko Hotel their ultimate destination.
As recounted in the Third Installment of Australian Ski Heritage, Schlink's party followed the track from Kiandra past the Nine Mile Hut, lunched at Temperance Creek about 19 km from Kiandra, spent their first night in the Farm Ridge Hut (homestead built by A.J.Rial 1908), their second night was spent in Pounds Creek Hut (now the Illawong Lodge) and their third night was in the Kosciusko Hotel. (Their route is shown by the continuous black line in Map No.1below). The pre-trip preparations were not mentioned in the Third Installment. In the late Autumn of 1927, Bill Hughes had placed a stock of tinned food at the Nine Mile and Farm Ridge Huts. These supplies included "many cans and jars of bully-beef, stew, soup, peanut butter, chocolate biscuits and whisky. Some tinned New Zealand butter was included – when frozen it tasted like mild cheese." (Hughes in Hueneke, 1987).
Schlink's Kiandra – Kosciusko tour group was the first of many ski expeditions that travelled from hut to hut along the Kosciusko Main Range in Winter. These touring skiers were often called the Main Range Rats, in recognition of their ability to survive the very primitive conditions in some of these mountain huts. In 1927 there were several Main Range huts that, like the Farm Ridge Hut, had been built by the mountain cattlemen and also two purpose-built shelter huts (Pounds Creek and Tin). A number of small gold mines were scattered through the northern part of the Kosciuszko National Park and some huts remained at the conclusion of mining activities. The original hut at the intermittently-worked Grey Mare Gold Mine (mine finally abandoned circa 1949) was used by ski parties up to at least 1944 (see photo no. 11 in the Second Installment). The replacement Grey Mare Hut was built
in 1949 and is still used today by skiers and walkers. Other huts on the Main Range in 1927 included Broken Dam, Boobee, Wheelers and Dicky Cooper. Several more were built between 1927 and 1937, including Round Mountain (early 1930's), Mawsons (1930), O'Keefes [also known as Bogong Hut] (1934), Grey Mare (1934), Pretty Plain (1935) and Whites River (1935).
Ski tourers regularly travelled between huts during their winter holidays often having left food supplies in these huts the previous Autumn or early Winter. Elyne Mitchell (1942) mentions leaving biscuit tins of food in Whites River Hut and Grey Mare Hut. Food provisioning trips to mountain huts, if done in periods of benign weather, provided ski tourers with opportunities to familiarize themselves with landmarks along their proposed Winter route.
GOLD MINING HUTS IN THE KIANDRA AREA
Gold was first discovered in Pollock's Gully in Kiandra in November 1859. The Nine Mile gold deposit was discovered on 15 March 1860 and within one month the Sydney Morning Herald reported about 800 to 1,000 persons were at this new gold find on the southern limit of the Kiandra field. Wonderful yields of alluvial gold were initially obtained and the gold was traced back upstream along the Nine Mile Creek to a point where it disappeared under the basalt. Photo No.1 shows the various types of gold deposits at Kiandra. Deposit Types 2 and 3 occurred at several locations, including in the Nine Mile Creek and also within 2km of the Kiandra village.
The vast majority of Kiandra's total gold production had been mined by 1910 with the number of miners declining from 270 men in 1900 to about 20 men in 1910. The last year in which a significant amount of gold was mined was 1922, with 22 miners in work. In the 1920's, some gold was still being won to the south of Kiandra by small parties of miners and prospectors, whose huts have been used as shelter by passing ski tourers. In between his various ski trips, Bill Hughes was one of these gold miners. The gold mining huts near Kiandra, used by ski tourers past and present, include Four Mile (built in 1937), Elaine Mine (1925), Broken Dam (1927) and the Nine Mile (1890).
The Four Mile Hut is 4km south-south-east of Selwyn Quarry on the Four Mile Creek (Deposit Type 3) which yielded great quantities of coarse gold in the 1860's. The small hut currently there was built in 1937 and all traces of older huts have disappeared. The Elaine Hut is located about 2km south-south-east from the Four Mile Hut and was built in 1925 by the Hughes Brothers as a base from which to tunnel towards a deep lead (Deposit Type 2). Mining in the Elaine Mine area ceased in the 1960's and little remains of the buildings that once stood there. About 2km south-east of the Elaine Mine is the Broken Dam Hut that was built in 1927, or possibly earlier, and rebuilt in 2007 after accidentally burning to the ground in 1998. South of the Broken Dam Hut is the location of the Nine Mile Gold Diggings and the Nine Mile Hut, where Bill Hughes had cached food supplies for the 1927 Schlink Kiandra to Kosciusko Hotel crossing. The mine workings are still visible, but all huts were derelict by 1953 and none had been rebuilt by 2013.
SOME KIANDRA – KOSCIUSKO CROSSINGS 1928-1960
Bill Hughes, Bill Gordon, Lennox Teece and Ashleigh Davy made the second known crossing in 1929. Starting from Kiandra, they headed for the Elaine Mine and overnighted in the Elaine Hut. Departing at about 2 am, they skied around the eastern side of Tabletop Mountain and tracked some kilometres east of Boobee Hut, through territory not then served by any huts, until in mid-afternoon they arrived at Tin Hut and spent the night there. The journey to the hotel was completed by travelling via the Rolling Grounds, Guthega River, Mount Perisher and then following the road to the Hotel Kosciusko. Most subsequent crossings followed this route to avoid the Happy Jacks Gorge south-west of Tabletop Mountain.
Hueneke (1987) reproduces Jean Moppett's account of another Kiandra to Hotel Kosciusko crossing made in 1936 with Oliver Moriarty and Tom Moppett. Oliver Moriarty "had been over the country from Kiandra to Kosciusko during the summer, and had left dried foods in some of the huts on the way, in preparation for our journey. In addition to our ordinary equipment, we carried bread and meat and rations, for which we were thankful, because on two occasions we didn't make the huts, and had to camp out in the snow. . . . When we set out from Kiandra I was carrying a pack weighing about 30 lb (14 kg) and the two men's packs weighing about 45 lb (20 kg) each. "
"We left Bogong (O'Keefes) Hut one morning and set out to climb Mount Jagungal, the highest mountain between Kiandra and Kosciusko, which is usually avoided by skiing parties. So far as I know, I am the only woman who has ever climbed it in winter. We got about a quarter of the way up, but found the blizzard far too strong to allow us to go any further, so we had to retrace our steps to the hut. The next day dawned just as badly, but at midday it was possible for us to leave again. Although the wind was strong and the visibility not good, we were able to climb to the top – about two hours journey from the hut. We were glad to use specially prepared sealskins, which we placed under our skis to give a better grip. These skins are only used for climbing. Once we had reached about two-thirds of the distance up, we were completely enveloped in clouds like a thick fog but, with the aid of a compass and Mr Moriarty's previous knowledge of the country, we were able, by careful maneuvering, to reach the top. Then we skied down the other side and across the rolling hills to Mawsons hut, arriving there at about 6pm.
"We were snowbound there for three days, the weather being so bad that we couldn't go out, so we sat in front of the fire and read. During the trip we twice had to dig our way into the huts, as they were completely snowed-up."
Jean Moppett then described their travelling in a blizzard with driving snow down the valley of the Whites River and wading across the Snowy River to camp overnight on its bank and to have their packs "frozen hard like boards". Next day they reached the Hotel Kosciusko to Chalet road and split up. Oliver Moriarty skied to the Chalet, whilst Jean and Tom skied to the Hotel. Jean wrote "If I had the time to make the Kiandra-Kosciusko trip again I would do so, even if I had to go through all the blizzard. It was the best holiday I have had and, although it was very tiring, I felt better afterwards than I had ever felt."
The vulnerability of ski tourers to the unexpected onset of blizzard conditions was underlined by the experiences of the July 1954 crossing party consisting of Keith Field, Douglass Baglin and Paul Reader. Paul Reader's account in the 1955 Australian Ski Year Book, does not describe the weather conditions for their departure from Kiandra Chalet (on the morning of July 4). Their initial route apparently was along the Tabletop Mountain Track which heads south through subalpine snow-gum woodlands. They appear to have left the Tabletop Mountain Track before it crosses the Happy Jacks River on the Happy Jacks Plain at about 1420m altitude, where the riverbanks are only a few metres high. Their crossing point was about 4km west of Schlink Route (which is shown by the continuous black line in Map No.1).
The Snowy Mountains Authority's (SMA) contract to build the Happy Jacks Dam and the Eucumbene – Tumut Tunnel had been let in April 1954, after two years of SMA investigations along the proposed tunnel route, which crossed under the Happy Jacks River. Major construction work was due to start in November 1954. As part of these investigations, a 4WD track was developed along the crest of the ridge that heads west from Tabletop Mountain to the Boltons Hill Hut, a small shelter hut on the rim of the Happy Jacks gorge, that existed in the 1950's and 1960's for members of the SMA field investigation team, which included surveyors, geologists and engineers.
Paul Reader's party may have come across ski tracks or vehicle tracks in the snow and followed them to the edge of the Happy Jacks Gorge near Boltons Hill Hut, at a location where the Happy Jacks River at an altitude of about 1200m, flows over rapids in a gorge about 250m deep, with very steep (70 degree) walls, covered with large areas of rock scree. Their crossing site was in very rough country near Junction Shaft, south-west of Tabletop Mountain.
There was insufficient snow for the party to be able to ski down the steep slope to the bank of the Happy Jacks River and all took nasty falls as they scrambled down the scree slope in their ski boots, carrying their skis and packs. They set up camp on a large slab of rock on the river bank. It snowed overnight and was still snowing when Baglin, Field and Reader swam across the flooded Happy Jacks River the next morning (July 5). The width of the fast-flowing river was 16m and it took them 3 hours to float all their gear across it. All three men became victims of frost-bite and a fire was lit on the river bank to dry out their gear and thaw out their bodies.
For three days the visibility never exceeded about 400m due to the snow storm. On the fourth day (July 8) they emerged onto a plateau from which they could see Mt. Jagungal in the distance and accurately fix their location for the first time since July 4. They reached the summit of Mt. Jagungal on the morning of July 11 and arrived at Guthega late in the evening of July 12, after having experienced an additional navigation problem that led them to overnight (July 11) in a hut which they had mistakenly thought to be Kidman's Hut, but was actually Tin Hut (nearly 7km from Kidman's Hut).
The July 1954 Kiandra to Kosciusko Crossing Party showed that one needs more than a compass and a map to safely negotiate a poorly marked route in bad weather. At least one member of the group needs to have gained a good knowledge of the route and its landmarks from one or more previous visits.
REMOTE HUT-BASED SKIING HOLIDAYS
Tom Moppett also wrote about an aspect of their 1936 Kiandra to Kosciusko Crossing in the 1938 Ski Year Book. "We stayed at White's River Hut for one night. We arrived in a fierce blizzard, and the peace and calmness in the valley after the turmoil on top of the range, and the excellent ski-ing slopes, so captivated us that we all decided that we must go to Whites again." Tom Moppett explained that in the year following their 1936 Kiandra to Kosciusko crossing, looking for a quiet holiday, with not too much pack-carrying, they decided that White's River was just the place for a one week stay. After travelling from the Hotel Kosciusko via the Plains of Heaven, Pipers Creek, Snowy River and the White's River Valley, they arrived on 11th July 1937.
"For the most part we played in the valley around the hut, and went for short runs across to Dicky Cooper Valley and up onto Dicky Cooper Bogong and Gungartan; not bothering to go further afield. We also slept, talked, read, wrote up the diary, took photographs, cooked, ate, washed up, emptied the rubbish tin, drew water from the creek about twenty yards from the hut and brought in the wood we chopped down."
"Except that one usually does a lot more pack carrying, moving from hut to hut, the above is just about a complete list of what one does when "Main Range ratting", as it has been called. The term is, I gather, one of derision, but it is remarkable how comfortable an experienced party can make itself."
"Whites River Hut is in a very sheltered position, as it is protected by the whole bulk of the range from the blizzards which usually come from the south to west quarter of the compass. The south-western side of the valley above the hut is broken by small ridges and gullies running down to the river, is sparsely dotted with trees, many of them dead, and in winter is always covered with deep powder snow, partly blown from the top of the range."
Jean and Tom Moppett had demonstrated the high quality of the holiday that is available to a group of skiers that simply based itself in the one touring hut for about a week or two. As stated in the Fourth Installment, the Kosciusko Alpine Club (KAC) acquired an interest in Whites River Hut in 1937. Then in 1939, the Alpine Hut was built at an elevation of 1,670 m at the foot of the Brassy Mountain, in excellent snow country in the heart of the Main Range. "The hut owes its origin to the foresight and enthusiasm of Mr. Oliver Moriarty . . . . He formed a small no-profit propriety company known as the Alpine Hut Club Pty Ltd to finance and build the hut. The company consists of fifty enthusiasts, mostly members of the Kosciusko Alpine Club."
(1940 Ski Year Book).
LAKE ALBINA, ILLAWONG & KUNAMA LODGES
Being located about one hours travel from the nearest ski resorts, these three lodges also offered the possibility of skiing holidays of several days / weeks duration, as well as overnight shelter for touring groups. All three had large stocks of basic foodstuffs for use by Winter residents. This food was carried in by the members of that lodge each Summer. The presence of this food in each lodge significantly reduced the weight of food in the rucksacks of intending residents skiing to these lodges in Winter. The long-life food that was available sixty years ago lacked the variety of what is currently taken on overnight trips by bushwalkers and ski tourers. Thanks to Frank Leyden's ski diaries, we have the list of the food that was stored in the Lake Albina Lodge in 1953. This list is reproduced at the end of this Appendix.
Unfortunately Kunama was destroyed by avalanche in 1956 and Albina was compulsorily acquired by the Park Authorities in 1969 and later demolished. Ski touring from the huts at Whites River, Alpine and Lake Albina is described in some detail in the Second and Fifth Installments and the Appendix to the Fifth Installment of this Australian Ski Heritage Series. Will Semler and Leon Smith described some of their ski touring experiences at the Lake Albina and Alpine Huts in the Appendix to the Seventh Installment.
DECLINE IN SKI TOURING 1960 TO 1980
The skis most frequently used prior to 1960 had cable bindings that could be adjusted to allow the ski boot heel to rise from the ski when traversing gently undulating country. Long and or steep climbs in snow-covered country were often negotiated by strapping seal skins (or a synthetic equivalent) to the soles of the skis. The skins allowed the skis to slide forward over the snow but arrested any tendency for the skis to slide backward, particularly when climbing up a snow-covered incline. Photo No. 3 shows the typical ski touring equipment used in the early 1950's.
As Australian understanding of ski wax performance increased, some ski tourers used ski waxes instead of skins in gently undulating terrain, which had the advantage that, provided the appropriate wax had been applied, the skis did not need to be taken off to allow the skins to be either fitted or removed. The correct wax for the conditions would allow the skis to climb and, once the crest of the slope was reached, the skier simply rubbed the skis backwards and forwards a couple of times on the snow to warm the wax. The skis would then be able to glide freely on flat ground or run downhill.
Commencing about 1960, new boots were both heavier and more rigid and consequently less suited to ski touring than the previous models. Whilst the cable bindings widely used in the 1950's provided two alternative positions for the cables, one of which allowed the heel to rise for ease of climbing, the new "step-in" ski bindings were primarily for downhill skiing and shuffling short distances in ski-lift queues. As the use of the more specialized downhill skiing equipment became widespread in the 1960's, there was a noticeable decline in the number of ski tourers who were skiing beyond the limits of the resorts.
However, a boom in ski-touring using cross-country Nordic skis, was only a few years away, as indicated by the sales figures for Nordic skis by the Paddy Pallin shops. In 1962 only eight pairs of cross-country skis were sold. In 1969 the number sold by Paddy's shops was 284 pairs.
Due to declining winter use, the company that owned the Alpine Hut was wound up in 1968. The Kosciusko Alpine Club (KAC) has remained the caretaker for Whites River Hut.
SKIING KOSCIUSZKO'S WESTERN FACES
Elyne Mitchell's book Australia's Alps had alerted Australia in 1942 to the existence of long steep ski runs on the western faces of the Main Range. Elyne described runs from the summits of Mt. Townsend, Carruther's Peak, Mt. Anderson, Mt. Twynam and Twynam West Spur. Hueneke (1987) published Alan E.J. Andrew's comprehensive map of the runs (reproduced as Map No. 1). The closest accommodation to these runs is in The Charlotte Pass Resort and also Illawong Lodge on the Snowy River, both situated at least 4km to 5km from the start of the various primary runs shown on Map No. 1. Alan E.J. Andrews' book Skiing the Western Faces Kosciusko published by Tabletop Press in 1993, describes these runs in detail.
References: Hueneke (1987) Kiandra to Kosciusko. Tabletop Press.
Food in the Lake Albina Lodge in September 1953 included:-
12oz cans of Watsonia pressed corned beef
16oz cans of baked beans
3lb tins Arnott Sao biscuits
12oz containers of Allowrie butter concentrate
4 gallon tins of dried assorted vegetables, such as onions and peas
1.0lb glass jars of Allowrie honey
1.5lb containers of IXL marmalade and of IXL plum jam
12oz tins of Kraft cheese
1.0lb tins of dripping
18oz jars of IXL pickles
24oz packets of Parsons Rapid Oats
8oz packets of Cadbury's Red Label drinking chocolate
14lb packet of custard powder
14lb packet of rice
16oz cans Imperial camp pie
6oz jars of vegemite
4oz tins of Marshall's sardines
1.0lb tins of Edgell mixed vegetables and also tins of Edgell carrots
1.0lb tins Heinz spaghetti
1.0lb cans Imperial braised beef steak stew
1.0lb tins Bellbird stewed steak