The last time I climbed a mountain was 6 years ago (Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia). This time, snow-shoeing in the Baw Baw alpine region in the depths of winter I expected the worst since I’d not done ANY preparation. Pulling out was an option, but I really did want to experience the beautiful description of deep wilderness and snow beneath the moonlight painted by the IMA staff social club.

Two days before the climb, we collected our equipment in Melbourne’s CBD and headed back to the office for a quick briefing and to redistribute weight across all backpacks. I was committed!

The climb day arrived and after picking up our food and drinks the backpacks weighed around 20 kilos each and were packed to the rim! I was wondering at this point how our shoulders would take this.

After midday we arrived at Erica, a small town over 200km east of Melbourne and just past Moe (remember the recent earthquake). One of the highlights of this trip was the local pub, its interior beautifully decorated with lumber jacks’ peripherals. The lunches were great, especially the bangers and mash, not to mention the beer. We rented snow chains (just in case) and were given an excellent how-to-install demonstration by the shop staff. We also procured a kid’s toboggan which we used to drag some heavier items up the mountains. It was a brilliant idea.

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Another drive and we were at the base point. We quickly changed into our snow shoes and started the ascent. I noticed that it was crucial that your backpack sits balanced correctly and we did spend some time adjusting to get them comfortable.

The climb took us a couple of hours, and along the way we had numerous rest stops as some of us had problems with our snow shoes, backpacks, and de-layering (it gets really hot and sweaty). I’m really glad that we operated as a pack, not leaving any one behind. As we moved along the trail, the snow became thicker, the air thinner and I slowly became accustomed to the climb. After a couple of kilometres, we managed to pace ourselves consistently and looked forward to reaching the top, as it was quickly getting dark.

We passed a group of campers on our way up. They were in the midst of setting up their camp fire and we were still not at our destination and it almost 6pm! The scenery across the mountain ranges is simply breathtaking. We reached the end of our trail where Brendan had previously located a beautiful circular spot off the beaten tracks at the leeside (downwind) of the mountain, surrounded by tall trees.

Out of breath and energy, we knew we didn’t have much time until darkness befell us. We distributed the work among us, to setup the fire and three tents. We found a sheltered place next to a rock the size of a large car for our fireplace and Brendan and Michael dug a trench for the base using their hand shovels.

The temperature was dropping and two issues unfolded. Whilst setting up one of the rental tents I discovered that the fly (cover) was too small and could not fit snugly to the base. At the same time our master chef, Andrew Mishura, discovered that the rented cooking stoves burned too slowly to provide a reasonable amount of heat in the cold weather. If we didn’t find a solution, two of us would be sleeping with cold drafts and we would all be having cold dinner!

So we improvised, by building a snow barrier around the tent to keep the cold air out and using the fireplace to cook instead of the stove. Venkat proved to be a skilful snow brick builder and Andrew quickly cooked up soups for our entree and Irish stew with instant noodles for mains. This was the best dinner we had had for a long time – not the best tasting though! We sat around the fireplace to keep warm and toast tasty marsh mellows with coffee for dessert whilst enjoying the company.
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The temperature dropped further and winds got stronger. We concluded that the spot Brendan chose was just perfect as the winds blew furiously across us so that all we could hear were leaves rustling, but our site was protected by the top of the mountain. During the course of the night, I heard a combination of rain, hail and snow battering over our tents.

Next morning was snowing lightly. Trees, scrubs and leaves were covered with icicles. Michael was the first to get up and he spared no time in getting the fire going, although everything was moist and it took us longer then expected to get it well lit up. Our chef dished out our breakfast – oats with hot tinned apricots. We also helped ourselves to more leftover Port and Bourbon. I really can’t describe the great feeling of warming up with liquor at the start of day!

Firepit-and-stoves-OptimisedVery quickly, it was mid morning and we packed up everything that was setup the previous night, ensuring that nothing was left behind. We started our trek down and on reaching the spot where we found the first campers to our surprise, they had built a full size igloo. Andrew Mishura quickly went over to make some new friends and had a closer look at the structure. It was just amazing architecture, nicely built and looked quite similar to the ones we see on TV.

Trekking down was definitely easier and faster. Along the way, all of us got ambushed by snowballs – particularly by Brendan! We finally reached the base where we parked our cars. Famished, we quickly changed to more comfortable clothes and headed back to Erica where we had another country pub lunch. I’ve definitely gained lots of experience from this trip plus more importantly shed at least 2 kilos, improved my stamina, and got to know some of my colleagues better.

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