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Lake Angelus

Updated: Oct 25, 2018

I’d always wanted to see Lake Angelus in the snow. I had heard stories of the hut buried under snowdrifts and this sounded like fun to me. So when I had a weekend to kill at home in the middle of winter I jumped on the opportunity and got in touch with my longtime friend Joe who was also up from uni. The weather forecast looked a little dodgy but heck I had been pent up for a month with exams and I wasn’t going to let this one slip away. Joe’s dad gave us a lift up the lake and walked from the locked Buller bridge gate to the Mt Robert carpark where the track proper began. After some obligatory photos for our mothers we started up the Pinchgut track under a clear sky. I have done that track more times than I have fingers so I was prepared for the steep uphill grind. Turns out Joe was unfit and soon he was begging for a rest. Given that in the past he has dragged me through adventure races I relented. The advantage of the steep track soon showed as we quickly gained elevation. Part way up a pair of hawks gives us a few fly-bys to tell us to move on. We oblige. By the time we get under the tree cover I was drenched in sweat and Joe wasn’t much better. We slipped and skidded up the ice covered track. Eventually we broke out of the bushline and the going became easier. Snow carpeted the landscape. It was powdery and good for walking.

We stopped at the shelter on the ridge for a bit of a snack. Go Native had given me some food to try out, so I figured this would be a good time to whip out one of their fruit bars. It was kind of like a really thick fruit leather, a bit chewy and super yummy. A tick from me. Joe also approved. We followed the poled route up the ridge. It was a well trodden path, we had been preceded by some snow-shoers and skiers. The bowl to the left held the old Mt Robert skifield which was retired a number of years ago in favour of Rainbow Skifield on the opposite range. This hadn’t stopped skiers from taking advantage of the nice powder on the slopes. As we crossed over a hill a debate raged between Joe and I about whether the bowl we were entering was the first or the second bowl marked on the map. Other than that our trudge was mostly silent other than a few grunts, sufficient to communicate with someone that you’ve known for so long. Fastforward a few bowls and our rumbling tummies demanded a lunch stop. Out come the gingernuts and crackers. Some Australians wander down the ridge coming from the direction of Angelus. I gave them a friendly wave and I get odd looks. Be that way them. Bloody Australians. After my fifth gingernut I decide we should get a shuffle on.

We have a few slips and slides as we traverse along the ridge but it wasn’t enough to make us chuck on our crampons. After a bit of a scramble up and around we started walking along a narrow spine. This took some skill to negotiate as the rocks weren’t wide enough apart for me and my camera. After twenty minutes of this we approach a ridge. I assumed over the ridge would be Angelus so I was thoroughly disappointed when I saw another bloody bowl. Eventually we did make it to the top of the ridge above Angelus. We took some photos to prove that we had been there and done that, and not just holed up in Bushline Hut with our stash of food.

The trip down the hut was fun, plowing through powder. My dreams of skinny dipping in the lake were dashed by the fact that it was frozen solid. We were thankful to get inside to warm up. This respite from the cold was short lived. All the pipes were frozen so snow had to be collected for water. Boots back on. We took the opportunity to go down to the lake to test the ice. Easier said than done as we sink up to our waist in snow trying to get down there. After gingerly testing the edge of the ice we were soon skidding out on the middle of the lake.

Back in the hut Joe tried to start the fire… unsuccessfully. I tried to start the fire… unsuccessfully. Third time lucky and I was successful. We toasted our success with a cup of hot soup. We dragged out a couple of mattresses out in front of the fire and made ourselves at home. It was at the point that Joe broke the news to me that he had been clearing out the cupboards of his flat and had been eating a lot of beans. I had been warned. I distracted my mind from the potential hazard brewing beside me by reading my book. We had a pot on the fire slowly melting snow for water. Eventually my stomach signaled to me it was just about dinner time so I placed Go Native meals I had been given in the pot of steaming snowmelt. After another chapter of my book I woke up Joe and pulled the meals out of the pot. Butter chicken and chilli con carne. Since the meals weren’t dehydrated they didn’t take any other prep, easy as. I used the snowmelt to make some mash and squeezed the butter chicken out of its packet, half for me and half for Joe. This worryingly reminded me a little bit of getting the cats wet food out of its packet. Thankfully it was a tasted good, a hearty flavorsome curry rather than gravy delight. It didn’t last long on our plates. The chilli con carne came next. It was a little more watery so seemed less hearty than the curry and -shock horror- it contained more beans. We followed up dinner with some chocolate for dessert.

A candle was lit and we set ourselves up at the table to play some Speed. Joe revealed to me that he “came from a long line of card sharks” but thankfully for me he “can shuffle but can’t play”. Phew, lucky for me as it was my first time playing. Accompanying cards was a drink of hot chocolate that tasted faintly of soup. The distribution of wins and losses was pretty even. Eventually our sleeping bags called us and we went to sleep in the warmth of the fire.

I woke up and looked out the window. The lake was hidden behind low cloud. Light illuminated the landscape. I see Joe stir and I ask him what time of the morning it was. He replied with midnight. My brain was a little bit scrambled. I was pulled in and out of sleep. It was punctuated with sounds of cracking (from ice expanding on the lake?) and the wind fighting against the stays on the hut. When morning finally did come I was pleased to see we weren’t snowed in. I boiled some water and we had our breakfast staring out at the bleak white scene outside. The sound of rain against the roof filled the hut. After cleaning up we layered up and put on our crampons before going out into the wet. The climb out of the basin was steep and I couldn’t see more than the next step in front of me. This was enough however and we soon followed the tracks up and over to the turn off to the Speargrass route. This was the bad weather route out of Angelus and hadn’t been taken by anyone since it had last snowed. With the visibility and snow glare there was nothing for it but to point ourselves at the next pole and make a bee line through the snow. Some drifts were up to our thighs but most was no more than a foot deep. This was a bit of a game of luck and there were more than a few times that a faceplant seemed imminent. I really dreaded getting a backside full of spanaird.

It was a plod down the valley, back and forth over the creek. The track then darted into the bush. From here it wasn’t far till we reached the bridge. 200m up was Speargrass hut which marked our lunch stop. It made a nice shelter from the consistent drizzle. The track time was three hours to the Mt Robert carpark. So after several gingernuts, and determined to beat this time we sped off down the valley. The snow thinned as we lost altitude and it simply became a game of putting one foot in front of another. After awhile the track steeply deviated from the river. Every rise seemed as if it would be the last before the carpark. It was one of those tracks. Several false hopes (and dead possums caught in traps) later we made it to the carpark. We stopped briefly to shed a layer before the route march down the road. Hot drinks awaited us at the bridge. Not a bad trip overall!

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