Sunday, 6 January 2013

Mount Ngauruhoe & Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Recently Natahl and I travelled to New Zealand to attend a wedding of one of my cousins. As it has been a while since we have been for a walk we took this opportunity to take a stroll along one of New Zealand's so-called "Great Walks"; the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

This walk is one of New Zealand's most popular with over 65,000 people doing it every year. It climbs up from the Mangatepopo Valley towards Mount Tongariro, ducking and weaving its way across volcanic craters and over their associated rims, past lakes and then descending to the north. Total length is just under 20km.

Due to recent volcanic activity the northern part of the crossing is closed, effectively turning the journey into a return walk terminating at Emerald Lakes (near the half way point). As there is limited car parking at the start of the walk this meant we had to catch a shuttle bus both to and from the walk at $NZ35 each.

We set off from the carpark (1120m) around 6:45am in an attempt to beat the worst of the crowds. It was the largest party I've walked with for quite a while, comprising 10 people in total (two cousins, my parents, an aunt and uncle, my sister and her husband and Natahl and myself).

The track starts off gently for around an hour before climbing up from the valley to the Mangatepopo Sadde (1650m). Most of the climb is across old lava flows and hence is devoid of vegetation.

Just below the saddle my cousins Adrian and Tyler and I turned off the track to climb Mt Ngauruhoe. This peak is a near perfect cone and the stereotypical volcano. There is no vegetation on its slopes, which are graced with plenty of scree and hence are difficult to climb. During the ascent we aimed for the more solid areas of rock.

Near the top it was blowing a gale. We came across a snow drift just below the summit itself, and after crossing this it wasn't far to the crater rim. Tyler was a bit perturbed by the wind so we left him beside the snowdrift and Adrian and I continued to the top. There were great views over Mount Tongariro to the north across to Lake Taupo. To the left of Blue Lake is steam coming from near the closed section of the track.

At 2991m the summit is the highest altitude I have been to (excluding pressured commercial aircraft). You can see the crater itself in the right of the photo below. To the south lay Mount Ruapehu, still graced with snow.

It felt pretty good to be on top of a volcano that last erupted less than 40 years ago (1975). There were still signs of volcanic activity on the mountain, including a steam vent near the crater rim and another vent partway down.

I followed Adrian back to Tyler, which included being blown across the snow drift on my backside. We then commenced our descent. The route we chose was different to our ascent route, as we opted to head straight down a scree slope to minimise travel time.

It was the first time I had done any significant distance on scree and I was quite impressed at how easy it was to travel at speed. That said, I would still have preferred to be on my beloved telemark skis as the slope of the mountain was perfect for some turns. Next time, perhaps?

We intercepted the track and its associated hordes of walkers at the base of the mountain. Our descent route is straight above Adrian's head, with Tyler on the right.

From here we continued along the track, traversing what appeared to be a large claypan. This turned out to be the South Crater, which has obviously been dormant for quite some time. The landscape seemed similar to the shots the lunar rover sends back from Mars.

After this the track starts climbing up the rim of the crater towards the highest point of the crossing, the Red Crater. The track surface here is not as good as the other areas but still much better than the climb up Ngauruhoe. I was feeling quite unfit at this point so I let Adrian and Tyler continue ahead. One advantage of panting my way up towards the top was being able to enjoy the views, including that of the Red Crater itself.

Near the top I saw Tyler, who said that Adrian had gone off to climb the summit of Mt Tongariro itself. I continued along to the high point to look down on the Emerald Lakes.

Returning to Tyler I came across my sister Clare and her husband Paul. They said the rest of the party had gone to Mt Tongariro, and soon we were all reunited. Here's the bulk of the party from left to right, with my relationship in brackets; Paul (brother in law), Clare (sister), Robyn (mother), Greg (father), Natahl (my girlfriend), Jeff (uncle) and Carol (aunt).

We then began retracing our steps back along and down the mountain.

It was a great feeling to get amongst the vegetation again at the bottom.

We arrived back at the carpark in time to catch the 3:30pm bus back to the cars. Total distance for me was just over 20km.

Overall, I enjoyed the walk as being on a volcano is pretty unique. However I did miss the vegetation whilst being up there. Spending a day in the volcanic wasteland is fine, but if I had to spend many more then I think I'd go crazy!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

King River Paddling

The King River is situated in a beautiful little valley that forms the heart of one of Victoria's best wine regions. The river has its beginnings at Mount Buggery on the crest of the Great Dividing Range and flows down to meet the Ovens River near Wangaratta.

As the catchment of the river is mostly within National Park and State Forest its waters are clean and pure. Just before the river emerges from the forest is Lake William Hovell. This dam must be undersized for its catchment as it seems to be perpetually full, and as a result the dam spills frequently, sending water down the valley and turning the river into a favourite destination for white water paddlers.

Our bushwalking club regularly runs rafting trips on the King as it's a great stretch of river to play on. The run downstream of the dam is around 6km in length, taking just over an hour to complete. The car shuffle is short as well and all on sealed roads which makes it possible to have multiple runs in a day. Rapids up to grade 3 standard are spaced along the river and a weir downstream of the put in point is another exciting feature.

Natahl and I headed over to the King a couple of Sundays ago to join the usual crew for a day of paddling on the river. Everyone else had arrived the previous day and completed a couple of runs. It was amusing to hear of their tales of woe; everyone had swam at least once, and on one occasion a rapid managed to empty the raft of all paddlers.

We arrived below the dam wall to meet Richard, Garry, Rechelle and Sam in time for their first run of the morning. As everyone was getting ready Tahl and I wandered over to the spillway, which is always a spectacular sight.

For the first run we took two rafts. Tahl and I paddled side by side, with Sam at the helm. Tahl looked quite the part in her borrowed cag, PFD and oversized helmet.

We ran the weir safely and were proceeding down the rest of the river, when running what we refer to as the "corkscrew rapid". Towards the end of the rapid I was flung out and into the river; first swim for the day! Sam and Tahl were soon able to pull me back in.

The King isn't all rapids; in places is fairly placid.

One of its interesting characteristics of the King is its steady flow. It doesn't have the "pool-drop" nature of some other rivers, such as the Indi (Upper Murray). As a result it is not necessary to do a lot of forward paddling, but on the downside it means that if something goes wrong in a rapid the debris continues down the river. Pools are handy to collect flotsam such as paddles, watercraft and even the odd paddler that may have come adrift.

It was a beautiful day for paddling, with blue skies, reasonable temperatures and little wind. A great first day on the water for Tahl.

Towards the end of the run the gradient flattens out and the river becomes more cruisy. Sam decided it was time to relax at the helm.

We soon arrived at the take out point, piled into the cars and went back up to the dam for lunch.

For the second run we reconfigured ourselves, with Rechelle, Richard, Tahl and Garry in the raft and Sam in his kayak. My weapon of choice was the trusty packraft. I don't have any photos of the packraft on this trip, but here's one from last year's King River trip:-

I got through the first rapid beneath the spillway without any hassles, then we rounded the corner to the weir. We'd noticed on the previous run that there were two standing waves after the weir instead of the usual one. They were both of similar height, but the second one had the actual hydraulic in it. Sam went first in his kayak, shooting for river right. I then followed, but not immediately afterwards, and ended up slightly more central in my line. The first wave was fine, but then I hit the second one. I can remember looking up and seeing the packraft above me with my legs still in it as I did a massive backflip of epic proportions.

I was flung out of the raft fairly quickly, as is usually the case with the packraft. I also lost the paddle somewhere in the commotion. After bobbing up off to the right hand side, where ideally I should have paddled, I saw the others had come through on the raft, and Sam was perched in close to the weir wall on river right. My raft was floating away, but I knew the others would get it. After making my way over to river left the rafters hauled me in; I'll never forget the half horrified, half amused look on Tahl's face! After being in the water for maybe a minute in total the water was starting to chill me off a little, though not enough to make me shiver. Sam had managed to grab my paddle and thrown it into the raft as it went past, and whilst I was swimming over to the main raft he collected my packraft and brought it over. Soon I was back in it paddling away. The interesting thing about the whole ordeal was I didn't have experience the water up the nose & blood rush to the head that usually accompanies such misadventures.

The rest of the paddle was fairly uneventful, and as usual was great fun in the little packraft. It was quite amusing to look across to the raft and see Rechelle and Tahl with matching blue helmets paddling away.

We finished the run and called it a day. The river was running at around 1.05m, and having paddled it at both lower and higher levels I have to say this level was the most interesting, with a good bumpy ride and enough water to avoid scraping. Hopefully next time I don't have to suffer the embarrassment of being the only swimmer for the day - and, to make matters worse, on two separate occasions! Thanks to Sam, Garry, Rechelle, Richard and Natahl for making it a great day.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Spring Snowplay on Mount Bogong

With its summit at an elevation of 1986m Mount Bogong is Victoria's highest mountain. It stands separate from the rest of the Bogong High Plains and towers above the town of Mount Beauty on the Kiewa River below. Unlike many of Victoria's mountains it can only be accessed by people on foot and has escaped the ravages of the bulldozer and development. Human-related infrastructure is limited to a couple of walking tracks, some snowpoles and three huts.

Whilst Bogong makes a pleasant walking destination for the majority of the year, it is in winter that the mountain comes into its own. Simply put, the skiing is sensational. Imagine the most developed ski resort in Victoria, Mount Buller. Now double the size and you'll have some appreciation for the amount of terrain that is available. Gullies, chutes, wide open faces, tree runs - Bogong has it all.

Recently I ran a trip for our local bushwalking club to the mountain to introduce others to the delights offered by its snow covered slopes. The takers were Kerry, Chris, Mum, Dad and myself. Natahl and her parents, Jolie and James, were heading up earlier in the day and would greet us on the mountain. Our trip coincided with the start of spring and the advent of the full moon.

As one's pack is heavier and aims are different when heading to the snow, we shunned the usual bushwalker's route up the Staircase and opted for the Eskdale Spur. This enabled us to drive in to Camp Creek Gap, taking out some 600 vertical meters of climbing. Due to the full moon I decided that we would walk up from Camp Creek Gap to Michell Hut in the evening, enabling us to spend much more time on snow-related pursuits at the summit.

Whilst we were driving up the Kiewa valley late on Friday night we were surprised at the amount of snow cover on the peak. It seemed that a recent cold front had delivered the goods. After driving past the usual campsite at Mountain Creek we headed up the road, then turned right to head in to Camp Creek Gap. I was pleasantly surprised with the state of the road, which had been substantially realigned from the old 4WD track that used to head right along the crest of the ridge. Instead of the glorified goat-track we were treated to a properly constructed, gently graded road. At one point along the road we had a great view across to the mountain, glistening in the moonlight. Further along we found that the cold front had indeed delivered, covering the road with snow.

Fortunately others had been through since the snowfall and provided us with wheeltracks in which to drive. After the odd slip and slide we arrived at the gap itself, where snow lay on the ground. We got organised, saddled up then set off up the spur at 11:45pm.

As we climbed our party spread out along the walking track. Kerry and Mum were up in front, followed by Dad, with Chris and myself bringing up the rear. Chris set a slow and steady pace, which I was grateful for, as my pack was weighed down by a few luxuries. Despite the low snowline we didn't bother putting skis or snowshoes on, instead opting to follow the boot tracks made by others on their journey up the hill.

It's always enjoyable walking in the company of others, and Chris and I had some interesting conversation and observations enroute. On a couple of occasions she stopped to listen to the slow tinkling of ice falling off the trees. The evening was still, not overly cold, and the clear sky allowed the moonlight to stream in. We didn't need our headtorches for most of the time. If only my camera could have captured the beautiful sights we saw as we made our way slowly up the mountain.

We regrouped with the others twice on the way up, once at a hairpin bend, and again at the creek. From here we spread out again, making our way slowly up the hill. At one point the track disappeared beneath a tree that had fallen across the track. Others had headed off in all sorts of directions, but Dad managed to pick up the original track again and after negotiating a few obstacles Chris and I were soon back on it again. Further up we reached what seemed like the top of the steep climb, then headed along and down a hill before commencing the climb once again. I had no recollection of this section from my previous trips, so the whole time I was thinking that we were only a mere couple of paces from the hut! Our pace had slowed by this point and I was starting to think that I'd need to put another layer on my legs, as shorts were starting to feel like inadequate protection against the plummeting temperature.

Eventually, just after 3am, Chris and I arrived at the hut. It was surreal. I spotted James and Jolie's tent set up near the door, and then looked up and saw somebody coming towards me from between the trees. It was Natahl.  I was extremely relieved to see her, though also somewhat confused, as I had assumed she would have been in bed for hours. The story came out that they hadn't left Camp Creek Gap until later than expected, and the walk up had turned into an epic - despite a much earlier start ,they'd only arrived about half an hour before us! Natahl had pitched her tent but not yet made it into bed, so we quickly threw down some closed cell foam, I inflated my thermarest and then we both turned in, leaving the others in my party to continue creating tent platforms and pitching their shelters.

The next morning we awoke to a beautiful blue sky day. The sun was bright, snow was plentiful and everyone was in fine spirits.

After having breakfast we set off for the summit. Kerry and I set off on skis, whilst Chris, Tahl, Mum & Dad came behind on snowshoes. James and Jolie had a more leisurely start before coming up from the hut on skis, too. Kerry was using pattern based touring skis and needed to herringbone in places, whilst I had telemark skis and skins which allowed me to climb up anything. When combined with the snowshoes there were some interesting tracks being laid side-by-side in the pristine snow.

As we climbed higher we emerged from the treeline and began the ascent up the last section of Eskdale Spur to the summit ridge itself. We had great views across to the as yet untracked steep slopes on the eastern side of the Staircase. The north side of the mountain was absolutely loaded with snow.

Upon reaching the crest of the ridge we scooted across to the summit cairn. Its stature was shorter than usual, and I made the most of the snow conditions by completing the ascent with my skis.

Following a brief snack Kerry & I decided to do a quick run into Cairn Gully whilst we waited for the snowshoers to arrive. The snow along the crest of the mountain wasn't too flash, but once we dropped in to the gully itself it was magnificent. Neither Kerry or myself had spent time in a resort this season, so our turns were far from perfect, but we had fun anyway.

The snow cover was extensive at the bottom of the gully. Some others had been skiing the chutes and had left a skin track up the mountain for us to ascend.

In the meantime, the four snowshoers were braving their way up the steep section at the top of the Eskdale Spur. Those whose snowshoes were equipped with climbing bars were enjoying the ascent more than the others.

We rendezvoused near the Staircase Spur track turnoff and continued on to the summit together.

Natahl and Chris had never been to the summit before, so they both paid homage to the mountain briefly.

After the usual round of photos the group of us settled down for lunch. Mum snapped a rare photo of Tahl and I together, as I made a fashion statement with my zipoff pants.

Following our leisurely lunch we decided there wasn't enough time to head over to the West Peak, and so we set off back to Michell Hut. Just as we were heading off the summit Tahl spotted James down below. We wandered over to have a chat with him, and he managed to convince me it was worth doing a run down the north side of Bogong into the gully between the Staircase and Eskdale Spur. Alas, my skiing was not up to the task, and after multiple falls and some very sketchy turns I called it a day. We both traversed back across to the Eskdale Spur to join the others as they made their way down.

That evening we ate dinner in the hut, and Natahl and I cooked up a special dessert for everyone; caramelised pineapple with ice cream. Delicious, if a little weighty.

After a rather cold night in the tents we awoke to another blue sky day. As it was Fathers Day I had planned Dads favourite breakfast for him; bacon and eggs on toast. Mum and Dad seemed to enjoy it.

It was a very laid back morning. Kerry had set off at 8am to head out to the West Peak, and the rest of us took our time soaking up the scenery. We watched skiers descending the runs off the Staircase, and at one point a hanglider went overhead.

Tahl's parents were mindful of the time it had taken them to ascend the spur and decided to head off before the rest of us. We bid them adieu, knowing we would see them again either on the way down or at Camp Creek Gap.

James wanted to ski the spur down as far as possible, but didn't want to use skins to slow him down. He lasted about 20m before opting out! In the meantime we continued packing up, eventually departing about half an hour after the others.

I put full-length skins on my skis to slow my descent and plunged down the spur, stopping where rocks started showing through the track just over the end of the knoll. The others snowshoed to this point, whilst Kerry booted it. From here I moved ahead of the party to catch up with Natahl and her parents. I came across the three of them just upstream from the creek. Earlier that day I'd joked to Jolie about taking her pack down for her, and to my surprise she told me I was welcome to come back and get it off her. With the blessings of her parents, Tahl and I shot off ahead, intending to get to Camp Creek Gap and offload our gear before returning to help the others.

After crossing the creek and walking along the track as it contours around the hill we heard a bit of a commotion up the hill. We assumed it was the rest of my party catching up with Tahl's parents, as Chris in particular is a bit of a giggler! We walked on for another minute or so, and as we were heading through a fallen tree I heard what could have been the tail end of a whistle blast. We listened out for a minute afterwards in case we could hear anything else, but no further noises were forthcoming and so I put it down to a bird call, and we continued down the mountain.

Upon reaching Camp Creek Gap we ditched our packs and headed back up the hill to meet the others. On our way up we encountered Kerry, who told us that Jolie had fallen and possibly broken her ankle. This wasn't the sort of news that anyone wants to hear, so we headed straight back up the track as fast as our somewhat tired legs could carry us. As we walked my mind was constantly thinking about to handle the situation, as I was the leader of the party. Natahl seemed strangely calm, which she later told me was due to her inner nurse.

As we rounded the corner down to the creek we looked up the hill on the other side and saw Jolie and the others. The fall had happened around 3pm, just a few minutes after Tahl and I had left them, which explains the commotion and subsequent whistle blast. The remainder of my party had come straight down onto the scene. James used to ski patrol, and seemingly his training sent him into automatic ski patroller mode, quickly getting Jolie's suspect ankle into a splint.

When Tahl and I arrived Jolie was absolutely cocooned in down garments and in good spirits. Chris had called 000 and a helicopter was on its way, as well as a ground crew from Mount Beauty. The only thing that could have been handy were some GPS coordinates to aid the helicopter; as Murphy's law would have it, both Tahl and I had our GPSs, yet we'd left both of them in our packs down at the cars!

The decision was made to split the party, with Tahl, James and myself heading back down the mountain. Tahl would stay with the cars until the ground crew arrived, whilst James and I would come back up the hill unburdened for what we felt would be the inevitable long stretcher haul out. I stuck to my word and grabbed Jolie's pack, which in itself wasn't so heavy - her downhill ski boots however were another story altogether! Tahl and I set off, with James following a few minutes after.

As we got closer to Camp Creek Gap I could hear a reverse beeper, which was a very positive sign. We arrived to find a troop carrier ambulance waiting with a police 4WD. The paramedic took control, and instructed us to dump all unnecessary gear and head back up the hill with the bare essentials - just enough to spend the night if necessary. As we began slimming our packs down we heard the sound of a very large helicopter coming up the Mountain Creek valley. Its paintwork showed that it was an ambulance helicopter, and as it passed over us I saw what I'd been hoping for - a winch arm sticking out the side.

Once the pack slimming was complete, the paramedic, police officer, a CFA volunteer, Kerry, James, Tahl and myself set off up the hill. There was one other ambulance officer left at the carpark. In addition to our packs we carried a breakdown aluminium stretcher.

By this stage Tahl and I were well acquainted with the 2km walk up to the creek, and I was using the walk to throw sticks out of the way to make future stretcher passage, and also keeping an eye open for possible winching areas. It wasn't looking good. Above us, the helicopter was making some interesting noises and movements. As it turned out Chris had directed the helicopter in to their location using the mobile phone.

After a bit of hovering around they decided to winch down a paramedic, dropping him into the creek area where the tree cover was thinnest. The paramedic wallowed up through the snow to Jolie, gave her the once over, then started planning the evacuation. After some discussions with the crew in the helicopter he decreed that Jolie would have to move approximately 20m down the hill, so with her arms draped over my Dad and the paramedic Jolie hopped down the slippery, treacherous track to the preferred location. It must have been hellishly painful for her.

Upon arrival at the preferred location, the winch operator dropped down a sling to the paramedic, who then draped it around Jolie in preparation for evacuation.

He then directed everyone to stand well clear, as the downdraft from the rotors was enough to bring down trees. The winch operator kept a very keen eye on proceedings.

It was at this point that the seven of us making up the ground crew had arrived near the creek, just in time to see Jolie get whisked up on the cable. The time was 5pm - just two hours since the fall.

Fortunately Tahl had her iPhone handy and shot a video of the operation. It has to be seen to be believed.

As you can see, the area that they winched Jolie from was far from ideal. There were dead trees everywhere with minimum clearance, and the tall timber meant the helicopter couldn't get that close to the ground. It was an extremely dangerous operation and it was an exceptional effort by the helicopter crew to get her out of there. A brilliant effort by all involved.

With Jolie now on her way to hospital we headed down the track to Camp Creek Gap for the last time. James and Natahl wanted to know where Jolie was being taken, and the first information we had was that it was to Traralgon - not far away for a helicopter, but an epic drive. James and I were discussing possible routes to get to the hospital - either over to the Omeo Highway, or back around via Mount Hotham. Neither was too appealing. Then the news came through - Jolie had been taken to Albury/Wodonga. There was much rejoicing!

My party of five headed off, leaving James and Natahl to make their way to the hospital. They x-rayed Jolie and found she had a spiral fracture to her distal fibula, an undisplaced break to her tibia and pulled her talus bone out of alignment. They put her in a plaster cast and discharged her. The three of them finally arrived back home in Melbourne at 3am - an epic end to an adventurous weekend.

As a post-script, Jolie had an operation on the Wednesday and was reinforced with an impressive array of titanium hardware. She was discharged on the Friday and is now well on her way to recovery. Hopefully the rehabilitation works well, as her and James are going skiing in Japan in January!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Puppies in the snow

One of my favourite things that Natahl has brought into our relationship is her two little fur babies; Maddy and Jackson.

Maddy, on the right, is a corgi with a bit of wire-haired Jack Russell in her. She's slung low to the ground and is the more mature of the two. Jackson is West Highland White Terrier who has been graced with longer legs, rabbit ears and a puppy-like manner that belies his five year age. Maddy is the mother, with Jackson acting like her over-excited child.

For the last couple of months we have entertained the idea of taking the dogs to the snow. The Saturday prior to this particular adventure we did a brief trial run at Mt Margaret (near Lake Mountain), with good results. With the success we had experienced we were keen to go for an overnight journey with the dogs, and courtesy of a well-timed cold front we were able to do it the following weekend.

The venue for this particular adventure was carefully chosen, for puppies are not welcome in national parks or our alpine resorts. Exceptions exist for state forests and historic areas, though the vast majority of these areas are at low elevations. However, with good local knowledge and a bit of time on ForestExplorer one can track down dog-friendly areas in the snow. One such area is Mount No. 3, a ridgeline heading NNW from Mount Stirling. It was here that we took the puppies one sunny Saturday afternoon.

As you can see, Tahl had fitted coats to the puppies lest they get chilly in the alpine environment. Maddy's conspicuously bright red coat was carefully chosen; she has a ninja-like habit of silently sneaking away to fulfil whatever it is a Maddy-dog does, so we constantly have to keep an eye on her.

Our journey commenced at the locked gate on the No. 3 Road, where good snow was present. Jackson immediately started running around like a crazy thing, cocking his leg on every object he could see, and was always up the front, beckoning us to hurry up so he could discover what lay ahead. Maddy was slightly more composed but none-the-less excited, and if anything she was the more amusing of the two. You see, poor Maddy is a bit vertically challenged, and she soon discovered that walking in the soft, fresh snow was painfully slow. The extra resistance up against her little legs slowed her progress to a crawl. Maddy decided that a change of technique was required if she was to enjoy the exciting new discoveries Jackson was making up ahead, and so she went into bunny-mode, leaping with forward by pushing off her back legs, forming a see-saw motion.

After walking for a kilometre or so the snow had reached a sufficient depth for us to put on our weapons of choice for the weekend. Tahl was on snowshoes, whilst I had opted for my pattern-based touring skis. I set off first, and as it was Tahl's first decent foray on snowshoes I let her walk behind in my tracks to make life easier. After a couple of hundred metres Jackson discovered that it was much easier to walk in my ski tracks than breaking little doggy-trails everywhere, and promptly began hugging the tails of my skis; a position he was to occupy for the majority of the next two days. Alas, poor Maddy had not cottoned on to the energy-saving trail being broken by the three of us, and instead was doing it tough in the fresh snow alongside. Eventually Tahl took pity on her and literally steered her into our tracks, where she happily stayed for the rest of the journey.

As we climbed higher we entered snowgum country, then emerged onto the crest of the ridge. The snow was divine and completely untracked. Our little convoy was well established by this point in time; I was in the lead, closely followed by Jackson, then Tahl, with Maddy bringing up the rear.

The grade had flattened off by this stage, enabling us to soak up the scenery and enjoy sharing our fantastic surroundings with the puppies. All I can say is that having a dog in each ski track is pure bliss!

At one point I lost my balance while taking a photo, much to Tahl's amusement. I quickly discovered that even falling over on skis is better with puppies around!

Although our convoy order was generally well-established, there were always variations along the way. At one point the puppies decided to enjoy some time together behind Tahl.

A little further on the road approaches the summit, which I haven't climbed. Today was no exception.

From here the track descends. In the past I've got up to reasonable speed on this slope, but alas, with its soft snow today was not conducive for good glide. Instead there was a bit of poling action and a slightly faster pace, which Jackson took advantage of.

Near the site of the old Mount No. 3 Refuge Hut Tahl had some blisters to attend to, so we had our first (and only) stop of the day. The cloud had began rolling in and it was starting to get late in the afternoon, and by this stage the dogs had overcome their desire to smell everything in sight and merely waited by Tahl's side.

It seems that Rule Number 1 for dogs in the snow is to keep your nose well-lubricated, regardless of how cold you might be.

If you think that Jackson looks a little damp, you'd be right. That dog has a seemingly unquenchable desire to be in water, regardless of the surrounding conditions. In this case any puddle, no matter how slushy or frozen, needed to be waded through - even if it meant breaking the ice first! He was fine whilst moving, but our short stop soon had him shaking like a leaf. If you look a little closer you can see the reason why; his frequent immersions combined with the fresh snow had created a cold and weighty dag problem in the vicinity of his front legs. Maddy, too, was starting to feel the cold, and so we made haste and continued on for the last 1.5km to our stop for the night - Mount No. 3 Refuge Hut. Here's a photo of it the next morning.

We had considered three different accommodation arrangements for the evening. The first was to pitch the tent and have all four of us sleep there. Second option was for Tahl and myself to sleep in the tent, leaving the dogs in the hut. The third option was for all of us to sleep in the hut, which is what we ended up doing. The fire was lit and soon the hut was nice and warm. Tahl took the dogs coats off to enable them to absorb some heat, though it still took quite some time for Jackson's dags to thaw.

At one point Maddy decided she liked the fire so much that she propped herself mere inches away from the fire for almost a full minute - when she eventually moved away in an extremely casual manner she was one very hot dog! Jackson was much more sensible and lay at a safe distance from the fire on the 3mm closed cell foam provided.

As Tahl and I ate dessert Maddy suddenly became quite alert and started sniffing and running back and forth between the door and a corner of the room, with Jackson joining her. This had us quite concerned, as we were worried that they may be smelling wild dogs. Maddy isn't an exceptionally communicative dog but she seemed quite concerned by whatever it was she was smelling, even giving a slight whine at one point. Tahl and I were worried it may have been a wild dog that had a desire to consume our precious puppies!

All four of us needed to go to the bathroom prior to turning in for the night, so we hatched a cunning plan to suss out exactly what was outside, and to get everyone emptied out before bedtime. First we got dressed up ready to brave the cold outside. Next we opened each window and carefully looked outside for any dog tracks that may be seen in the fresh snow. Then the Tahl and myself slipped out the front door and quickly armed ourselves with a pole each, and looked around only to see… nothing. No wild dogs. It was a relief. Still, we accompanied each other to the toilet, then returned to the hut. Tahl put the dogs on a lead for the first (and only) time for this trip, and brought them outside so they could to attend to their duties. Immediately Maddy shot off, tugging at the lead trying to get under the hut in the area she had been sniffing on the inside. At this point we realised she had probably been smelling an antechinus or similar small native marsupial.

Once we got the dogs back into the hut again they settled down and we all turned in for a good nights sleep. Despite our anxious moment caused by the unknown animal outside, we're still keen to camp out with the dogs in the tent, although just to be safe they'll sleep in the inner with us. It served to remind us all that dogs are much more alert than humans with such things.

The next morning we awoke to find puppies sprawled everywhere and glorious sunshine streaming in. As we cooked breakfast Tahl noticed that Maddy was feeling the cold quite severely, so after applying jackets to the dogs Tahl wrapped the poor girl up in a fleece blanket. Maddy just stood there, looking fairly unimpressed.

Jackson was fine in his little jacket and was quite happy to wander around the hut looking cute.

We had a leisurely breakfast and slowly packed up, eventually venturing out into the lovely sunshine a little before midday. Jackson went straight to a patch of recently disturbed snow and started eating away like a mad thing. Up until this point he had shown no interest in eating snow whatsoever, so we were intrigued as to why he had suddenly decided it was now a valid food source. It turns out that Tahl had scrubbed some dishes in the area, so Jackson had smelt the residue and decided all the snow in the area was fair game!

After we saddled up it was time for us to hit the road again. New ski tracks, both thick and thin, told us that others had passed by that morning.

We cruised along the road and had a break at the top of the range once again. Whilst enroute we came across two other skiers, whom the dogs enjoyed sniffing. The multiple ski tracks became a single well-formed trail at this point, and it remained that way until the snow became too sketchy for skiing.

The rest of the trip out to the car and home again was fairly uneventful, apart from some bad odours wafting from the back at random intervals. It seems that the dogs have the uncanny ability to convert dry dog food into a none-to-pleasant gaseous form! We quickly realised that the consequences of dry dog food outweigh the weight savings. Next time we'll take proper food, or if Natahl gets it her way, the dogs will be carrying their own! Overall, taking dogs to the snow gets the big thumbs up from us, and it's something we highly recommend to all snow-going dog owners.