Sunday, July 31, 2011

Snow camping at Mt St Gwinear, Vic, Australia

I have been acquiring various bits and pieces for winter hiking and as part of the grand plan to do a major trip to Mt Bogong this winter I needed to test out the gear somewhere a bit more local.   Brett, a mate of mine, had just spent a weekend snow-showing at Mt St Gwinear and reckoned it was stunning up there. (Mt St Gwinear is best know as a popular location for cross-country skiing. It is also near Mt Baw Baw, one of Victoria's major ski resorts.)   Not needing much encouragement, I decided to drive up there the following weekend, for a solo walk and a night in the snow.

I left Melbourne after lunch on the Saturday. I would have gone earlier, but got caught up in some last-minute gear activity, including making a pot cosy and making some adjustments to my tyvek bivy.

I got to the Mt St Gwinear carpark around 3.30pm.  A friendly Parks guy directed me to a spot to park.  I quickly changed and headed off up the mountain. 

There wasn't a lot of snow in the carpark or the neighbouring toboggan runs or in fact at the start of the trail.  I was just a little concerned..


..but happily, the snow got deep after about 500 metres and I got the chance to try out the Yowies for the first time.

They were easy to fit and within minutes I was stomping up the trail in them.  Walking in snow shoes was actually quite natural, although I did find I had to take a slightly circular motion when bringing the rear foot forward, to stop the wide-rimmed Yowies from banging into each other.

I was also surprised to find that the Yowies didn't stop me from sinking into the softer snow.  I found I had to stay alert to the firmness of the snow and take smaller steps when necessary.

Mostly, it was a fantastic activity as I was able to walk fairly easily into remote, snow-covered areas. 

It was getting late when I reached the cairn at the summit of Mt St Gwinear.

 Looking northward I saw an interesting-looking valley and decided to find a campside up there for the night.

As usual I dithered around a bit locating the 'ideal' spot, then, decision made, I pitched the new MYOG pyramid tent for its maiden voyage.   I used my Snowclaw shovel as the base for the pole.

It was still early - around 6pm, so I mucked around outside for a while.  It was a clear, still night and it provided a great opportunity for some stargazing.  I used a cool iPhone app called 'pUniverse' to help me ID various heavenly bodies.  

Eventually went inside and cooked my dehydrated dinner. It was nice enough - I would mention what it was but they all tend to taste the same to me. :)

The main bit of interest with the meal was that I could give me new pot cosy a run. I had made it from a car's sunshade in the morning and the idea was to use it to keep the food warm when it is cooking. Verdict: it did a great job - the food was still hot when I ate it, despite sitting for 10 minutes in the freezing point temperature.

Had a fairly ordinary night.  I was warm enough -  wearing base layer thermals, fleece top, puffy vest, socks, gloves and fleece beanie, while laying on a Thermarest 3/4 pad and a full length CCF mat, all inside my synthetic sleeping bag (worn quilt-style) and Tyvek bivy- but I had a bit of soreness in a (dodgy) hip.  Standard Votaren tablets weren't sufficient - will try the gel next time.

All was forgotten and forgiven when dawn rolled in and I wolfed down a hot breakfast while enjoying a  morning vista to die for.


Snow started falling early and was to continue for most of the day.

The PVC snow pegs I'd made a couple of weeks earlier did the job well and all bar one were easily removed went it was time to leave.

The Snowclaw shovel didn't get much of a workout - maybe next time.

I headed off on a circuitous route that arced to the north west, then around to south west.

The Buff got some use. It provided some nice protection to the neck and lower face; however, when I was pumping it up hills and breathing hard, it came off.

The place was, in a word, magic.  The sights were beautiful, as from a postcard, and all was silent, bar the crunching of the snow under the snowshoes.

This stunning scene was like something out of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

 I eventually looped back to the way I came up and then back down to the carpark, passing a few cross-country skiiers on the way and finishing around 2pm.  I covered around 5 km on day one (3.30-5.50pm) and around 10km on day two (9am-2pm).  A key take-away is that snow-shoeing is quite a bit slower than regular walking and I will need to make allowances when planning track times.

It was terrific fun walking around Mt St Gwinear and a real opportunity to 'chill-out'.   As a chance to test out some new gear, the walk was a big success.  Other that what I've already mentioned above, the following are worth a mention:

 - the new tent generally performed well, but it struggled with handling a load of snow, with the pole bending badly.  The pole I'd used was a bit under-specced for snow use.  After doing a bit of digging around and getting some suggestions from other hikers, I have created a strap mechanism to connect and bind my ski poles, which then be used as a very strong pole.  I also want to try out a taller pitch, with steeper sides, allowing the snow to slide off more easily.

 - In an effort to combat condensation issues, I had modified my Tyvek bivy to combine Tyvek Homewrap on the lower half and the softer, more breathable 1443R Tyvek on the top half.  I can report that I had no condensation inside the bivy, despite a night where the temperatures dropped to around -2C.

 - The new down puffy vest from North Face was super toasty.I used it both outside and in the tent during the evening and I wore it, along with other clothes, to bed.  I didn't wear it at all on the second day as I was wearing my outer shell jacket in the snow flurries and I was plenty warm enough moving around in temperatures hovering around 0C.

 - I wore my polyprop gloves on day one and my overmitts on day two.  I was a bit concerned that the overmitts got a bit wet, but I suspect that was mostly due to my removing my hands to use my iPhone.  I think I will have to learn how to use my chin to check my bearings! (I cut the end out of the thumb of one of the polyprop gloves to achieve the same end.)

 - I added a CCF pad to my Thermorest 3/4 and between them I was warm enough.  I wouldn't mind a little more padding though.

A downer was the discovery that I'd lost my altimeter somewhere on the trail.    However, I contacted the Parks guys the next day and was delighted to discover that someone had found and handed in the altimeter!  Ah, humanity - just when I was getting cynical!

My base weight for the trip was 10.3kg (23lbs), pack weight was 14.7kg (32lbs) and skin-out weight was
21.2kg (47lbs).  Still too heavy for the lightweight world.  That will be helped a lot when I replace my 2.2kg sleeping bag with a new quilt in the next month or so.


  1. Just spent the w/end doing the same thing to test out the gear.-5C overnight. I'd made a 900 loft vest weighing 170gms and it kept me toasty warm at night.Not much to do after dark so spent 12 hrs in the bag! Great time though..
    Enjoyed the solitude.Following your footsteps and will try Stirling next!. You've definitely inspired me!.cheers Nick.

  2. Hi Paddlepop, Thanks for sharing - I loved it up there. You may have to take a book or an eReader to help you pass the night time next time. :) That vest you've made is super light - my 700 loft North Face vest weighs 460gms - almost 3 times as much!

  3. hi, would you be able to find a secluded camp site without hiking for hours (snow covered?)my load is around 25 k and i cant imagine i will enjoy hours walking up , i am looking for a secluded creek ,to hang my hammock setup..any suggestions ?

  4. Hi Josuah
    If you want secluded and not too far, try the area I camped in on the trip report you read ie. Mustering Flat, which is north of Mt St Gwinear. The navigation is straightforward, but I recommend you have map, compass and GPS. Good luck!

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  5. Hi Andrew ,any suggestions where i can go snow camping next ? , i did msg it was great i have been 3 times now but unfortunately the snow is melting away , where else is there like msg ,not a resort but somewhere i can snowshoe in and set up my hammock, without walking for hours

  6. This late in the season you could try the areas near the higher-altitude resorts, like Hotham, Falls Creek, Mt Buller and Mt Stirling. Check out the snow cams before you head up though, to avoid disappointment.


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