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Traversing The Australian Alps Walking Track in Winter With The Oates

In the winter of 2018, Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Mark Oates and his twin brother Andy tossed ski-laden Porter packs over their shoulders and set out to complete the Australian Alps Walking Track. It wasn't their first time having been introduced to it at the tender age of 18 and again fifteen years after that. Thirteen years had passed since that second trip, and the question on their minds was whether they were up for the challenge again and whether they could actually do it quicker than their previous trip time of 43 days. 

We reached out to Mark for an overview and some reflection of his expedition.

Words & Photos by Mark Oates

Third Time Lucky - Travelling Lighter, Travelling Faster 

 "We always knew we would do it again; we just weren't sure when the opportunity would present itself. Fortunately, we both managed to align our work and family commitments to make a narrow window for attempting it across late winter 2018. The problem though, was that due to Andy's work commitments as a paramedic, he could only get six weeks off. Trying to complete the trip in this timeframe was going to be super tight, and we weren't 100% confident we could finish it in time.

Once we committed to doing it again, we set about researching, planning, and assembling our gear. For such a long trip, this was a mammoth task and one that involved a lot of late-night emails and phone calls between the two of us. Right from the start, we made the decision to go light. With both of us now at 46 years of age, we knew that going light was the only way we could complete the 660 kilometre trip in the limited time we had. Our goal was to halve the weight of our 2005 packs, as when we undertook our winter traverse back then, we started one leg with 36 kilograms. By scrutinizing our gear down to the last gram, we pretty much achieved this goal.

Regardless of how well you plan a trip like this, you always want more time to prepare for it than you have. As the departure deadline approached, life became chaotic. We were up 'til all hours of the night finishing off cooking, dehydrating food, and fine-tuning pieces of gear to make everything as efficient and fit for purpose as we could. Like always, I wished I had more time to dial it all in, but ultimately you have to commit and get out there and deal with it. In the end, we knew we had the experience and the equipment for the task; we just didn't know if our bodies and fitness would cope with it as well as last time.

A few days after we departed, it started to dump snow. This was both a blessing and a curse. It was exactly what we wanted as our ultimate goal was to complete the' Alpine Track' in a big snow year so that we could ski even more of it than we did last time. Be careful what you wish for, though! The fresh unconsolidated snow we experienced meant that the first two weeks were pretty intense. Most days, we were still traveling for an hour or two in the dark, and 12+ hour days with no real breaks became a common theme. 

When all was said and done, it was an incredible trip and one that once again, I am so happy to have shared with my twin brother. Despite us not agreeing on everything, I am not sure that I could have survived the trip with anyone else. Will we return for another winter traverse of the Australian Alps Walking Track? I'm not sure. Definitely, the plan is for us to look at some other long ski tours overseas, but it might be a little while before we return to the AAWT. We both got pretty tired of climbing over and crawling under the hundreds of fallen trees we experienced."

Luckily for all of us on the internet, Mark and Andy returned home with evidence of their endeavor in the form of stunning photography and video, and well-documented notes chronicling the highs and lows of each day. Mark combined all of this to create an incredible account of the trip. If you're looking for something to tuck into in-full, check out the entire recap over on Mark's Exposure.co story.

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