Three adventure loving blokes hit up the East face of Cradle Mountain this weekend, ski mountaineering Tassie style over rocks and boulders into an, at times close to 50 degree, coloir that ends with a cliff.
Yes, you read that right. Tasmania has some of Australia’s most technical ski mountaineering options and the Apple Isle’s most famous peak, Cradle Mountain, is one of them.
Ben Armstrong, 24, is Tasmanian born and bred. He learnt to ski on the mainland at Falls Creek and Hotham, has spent some time skiing in New Zealand and even took a ski tour trip to Kyrgyzstan.
Armstrong and his mates Shaun Mittwollen, a skier from Wollongong who has spent a lot of backcountry time in Tasmania, and Ben Grindle, a snowboarder from New Zealand took advantage of good weather to head to Cradle Mountain and see if it was skiable. They camped out overnight at the base, so as to make an early morning start.
“We weren’t really planning to do it, we just decided to go because the weather looked nice and there may may not have been snow” says Armstrong of the drive from Hobart. “In Tasmania if it’s good weather you just have to go and try it.”
The east face was first descended in 2003 and has most likely been skied a handful of times since. Armstrong has skied at Cradle Mountain around 10 times but this is the first time he took on one of the two famous chutes on the east face.
“The snow on the northern aspects was poor, but we expected that the snow over the other side would be better as east facing slopes get by far the most snow loading in Tassie” explains Armstrong who works as a bush walking guide.
“We knew it was a possibility so we brought ice axes and crampons, which proved to be vital in the firm snow conditions. I do a fair amount of trad climbing, so have a reasonable base in rope skills and dealing with tricky terrain and exposure.
The line is definitely extremely technical and exposed for Australia. There’s a decent sized cliff at the bottom of the couloir. It’s possible that it’s a survivable fall, but you probably wouldn’t want to find out. However compared to some of the ultra-steep ski mountaineering that gets done overseas, it’s probably pretty tame.
The steepest pitch is approaching 50 degrees and not much wider than a ski length, at least in the conditions we skied it.
I took a really stupid fall as I was entering the couloir. For some reason I completely misjudged the speed of a turn and plowed straight into a rock. Luckily I was able to stop myself before I got too much speed up.
The crux of the line was pretty nerve racking as it was steep, super icy, very narrow and with a concave shape that meant only the tips and tails of my skis were actually edging.
I ended up doing some very careful, ice axe assisted sideslipping.”
The crew enjoyed the couloir so much thanks to the lower two thirds holding excellent snow and a longer descent that they climbed back up and did it again. Then ended the day with some north face down climbing to reach another narrow chute before making their way home.
All in a Tasmanian ski day’s work.
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