On Looking, A Walker’s Guide to Observation, by Alexandra Horowitz is a beautifully written book on all that we don’t see. Reading it makes me determined to try be more mindful of the world around me. We set out mid morning for a slow 7.5km snow shoe circuit from Perisher to Porcupine Rocks via Rock Creek. We take our time, which allows me an opportunity to practise looking more curiously at the things we so easily miss in the unique Australian sub-alpine environment.
Although the snow cover is excellent, there are signs of the coming spring melt all around us. If we are quiet, we can hear the lonely cry of the blue eyed raven. The twitter of migratory birds signals their return to higher altitudes for the summer season. We are lucky to see an endangered Flame Robin perched on a grey snow gum, it’s red breast vibrant against the white snow.
Elsewhere, the snow is melting faster around fallen organic matter such as leaves and twigs on the ground, making striking patterns. On the ground we can see snow tracks of birds and mammals including wombat and fox. Looking a bit closer, we can tell the direction and speed of travel. This wombat was ambling, with tracks close together. Another animal (quoll or feral cat?) was running, the tracks further apart are a clear sign of acceleration.
Beneath the snow, in the gullies, we hear running water. We use our poles to test the surface, to avoid breaking through. Our guide explains that animals survive the alpine environment by hiding in gaps between rocks and living beneath an insulating layer of snow. Alpine plants contain anti-freeze proteins to survive the winter.
We spot a tiny black mountain grasshopper in the snow. We inspect the grasshopper, and helpfully move it to an exposed patch of grass. But are we being helpful? Grasshopper strategies for dealing with the cold include changing their colour to absorb heat during the day and sun-baking. Should we have left it where it was? For a moment I am haunted by school day memories of Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Sound of Thunder”, and wonder if our insect relocation will trigger a butterfly effect.
We have a beautiful blue sky day for our snow shoe experience. We take frequent breaks to enjoy the surroundings, while our K7 Adventures guide generously shares her knowledge of the Snowy Mountains environment.
The winter route to Porcupine Rocks starts at Perisher, and is marked with poles in the snow. Snow shoe indentations are hazardous to skiers, so we walk to the side of any ski trails.
We pass through a forest of stunted snow-gums, many of which had been burnt in the intense bush fires in 2003. The snow gum with gnarled trunk in subtle mottled colours, is beautiful, adaptable and highly resilient. All around us we can see the burnt snow gums recovering from epicormic shoots below the bark and sprouting from lignotubers under the soil.
We pause for a rest and snack at a junction, admiring the variety and colours of lichens on the our granite rock perches. The mica in the granite sparkles in the sunshine, and we can see some embedded quartz.
After our rest break, we head up towards the granite tors called Porcupine Rocks. From here, on the ridge of the Crackenback Range, there are extensive views across Thredbo Valley and towards Lake Jindabyne and Dead Horse Gap. Porcupine Rocks makes a good lunch stop. We can easily imagine long ago ice-age glaciers weighing down heavily on this land, depositing it’s moraine where we sit. Our guide points out some balancing rocks.
Lunch eaten, we point our flat wide snow shoes towards the main range, and descend to carefully cross a snow bridge over Rock Creek. We complete our circuit on the other side of the creek.
The Rock Creek snow shoe route has a number of informational signs on the vegetation, fauna and geology. In summer, the area has abundant wild flowers, heaths, herb fields, bogs and fens. A summer walking track leads to Porcupine Rocks, but the bog areas of the snow shoe circuit are too sensitive to walk in summer.
Technical skills aren’t needed – if you can walk, you can snow shoe! Our guide provided our snow shoes and poles, but snow shoes can also be rented from Wilderness Sports in Jindabyne.
Nearby winter snow shoe and ski-touring walks in Kosciuszko National Park include Mt Kosciuszko summit. When the snow has melted, the area is good for bushwalking. Try Bullocks Track, Dead Horse Gap, Merritts Nature Walk, or the big circuit showcasing the Alpine Lakes from Eagles Nest to Blue Lake.