Friday 23 August 2019

Rescue @ Razorback

After Emil's grand entrance into the world of snow-camping last year, we took him out again to Federation Hut. The Winter Camp is annual event since 2013 to get mountaineers, snow- and backcountry lovers together for a play in the fluffy white. Each year we return from the mountain with great memories and this year would provide a lot of entertainment ... although not for everyone. 

As it turned out Anna's and my fear our little offspring will keep the camp-site awake was completely unfounded ... it was actually an AW139 helicopter hovering about 20m above the hut at 5am almost flattening a couple of tents with its downwash ... and of course Emil slept through all of this.

Our recent post (see below) got a bit of air-time on social media however we didn't go into the details of what had happened and what we should learn from it. Please keep in mind this isn't about blaming someone. Yes of course these rescues would have been preventable - the guys could have just stayed at home but that's not what we want. As a SAR volunteer I want people to go out on adventures and enjoy the benefits which come with being outdoors. In this case nobody got injured so these are great outcomes. Overall the (mental) health benefits of you getting fresh air outweighs the costs of the occasional rescue by far!

So don't be a keyboard warrior, think about where you did stupid mistakes which could have led to a call-out and learn how to do it better next time.

What happened?

There were two helicopter rescues. The first one took place around 4 pm and can be filed under "unfortunate circumstances". One of the two experienced guys simply got sick and that's something which is hard to prevent. Fortunately they had left early and therefore they could make the call for help while there was some daylight left. There's still a takeaway in this: 

Once you called for help, put your valuables, car-keys, wallet and other need-to-have small items in your pockets. It's not guaranteed that the rescue heroes get your backpack.

Locations of rescues 17.8.2019
The second rescue happen not far from the first - about 400m - and also not far from the hut at around 9:30 pm. Well that's when the whole thing started. Sunset on that day was 5:37 pm with last light just after 6 pm and a full moonrise around 7 pm which means the visibility was good because there were no clouds.
The hikers started at Diamantina Hut around 3 pm which means they covered roughly 9km in 5-6h. This isn't a terrible pace although it's at the slower end of the spectrum. 
As mentioned in the facebook post, a MICA flight paramedic was winched down near the spot but couldn't be picked up with the hypothermic patient due to high winds. The paramedic and the AT skiers who stumbled upon the hikers earlier moved everyone to the hut from where the patient and the paramedic were eventually airlifted at 5 am.

Is the Razorback a trap for beginners?

In winter all hikes are easy to underestimate since a bit of snow can slow you down significantly. However in my opinion the Razorback is especially prone to lure people into a false sense of security.
  • In summer it's a simple and easy hike. Trailrunners wrap it up in less than an hour quite regularly while hikers take about 4 hours.
  • It's easy to access. You simply park your car at Diamantina Hut and off you go. 
  • It doesn't look that far or steep from the road. Yes you can see Feathertop from Mt Hotham and it seems quite ok.
  • Finding the trail shouldn't be hard since you just follow the ridge-line.
The Razorback and Feathertop
This doesn't sound too bad for a little snow-shoe adventure, right? Length-wise it's almost the same as Bungalow Spur and you have far less of elevation to tackle. For sure the Razorback is the faster and easier option, isn't it?

Yeah nah mate - unfortunately the reality is slightly different:
  • In winter the time on the trail blows out quite fast. Five to seven hours aren't unusual which means if you want to leave some room for error, you should be on the trail by 12 noon at the very latest. Earlier if you're beginner or not a fast walker.
  • It is indeed easy to access but only costs a bomb since you need to pay resort entry for Hotham - it's $102 for 2 days.
  • It's roughly 10 km up and down little hills with 300m of ascent. In snow that's not a piece of cake especially since the whole track will be covered. The icing on the non-existent cake are icy conditions because some of the slopes are quite a steep and exposed and a slip can result in a fast slide into a snow-gum. In general that's fairly unhealthy unless you know how to self arrest.
  • In good conditions the trail isn't hard to find however Australian winter has the tendency to be windy and it comes often with poor visibility. Then it's easy to miss a turn and go down one of the many ridges to the side and after dark all bets are off anyway. Speaking of windy - which is was on that Saturday - the whole Razorback is extremely exposed and every little movement of air hits you hard with a wind-chill factor. 
Anna and Emil in the snow
There you go. Suddenly the nice ramp up Bungalow Spur seems to be quite reasonable despite 1100m of elevation gain. This track is actually easy to follow, sheltered from the wind, at least half way without snow and therefore overall faster in winter. Anna did it in a bit over four hours with a baby in the backpack. Now don't get overconfident - that's on the upper end of the speed-scale but it shows you even with 25kg on the back it's a fast approach.

How to do the Razorback

In good winter weather the Razorback is an amazing hike. If you haven't done it yet, the above story of doom and disaster shouldn't deter you from doing it one day. There are just a couple of simple things to consider:
  • Check the forecast and the avalanche bulletin. Wind, snow or rain and bad visibility are to be avoided.
  • Leave early. Aim for a 10 am departure at the latest.
  • Don't go after big fresh dumps or if the bulletin shows other severe dangers.
  • Know how to self arrest and carry the needed ice-axe, if the conditions are icy.
  • Have an emergency shelter like a bothy or bivy bag.
  • Pro-tip: If you have friends with another car, do a key-swap. They come up Bungalow Spur and go out the Razerback the next day. Since you already did the Razor, you can scoop down to the Snowline and have a beer while you wait for your car to arrive.
Some of the VCC Crew on Sunday Morning
Now in case you wonder whether the four hikers of the second rescue were experienced or not, don't take my word for it. By coincident Kat Crema - two time Winter Olympian and Winter X Games competitor - came across them: 

"There was definitely a lack of experience there... we passed the 4 snow shoers on our way back to the road at 4 pm, they were 1.5 hours in and least 3-4 hours away and didn’t know where Fed Hut was... 😬"

Hopefully you learned something from the post and if it's only to take you wallet and car-keys out of the pack when the chopper is coming 😉

Cheers and enjoy the backcountry 🍻

No comments:

Post a Comment