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 Jindabyne / Blue Lake

20-22 February 2004 

Coordinator: Chris Bloomfield and Gail Vest 

Scuba Diving Mt Kosciuszko
(Cleaning the bottoms of the tops)

Weary of endless weekends in Lake Burly Griffin’s murky waters and tired of playing chicken with giant Carp and Queanbeyan cemetery residents, it was decided to indulge in some Alpine Lake diving at the Blue Lake. With images of warm sunny days, clear mountain lakes abundant with fat tasty trout, gently bubbling brooks and gentle breezes, seven divers and a Sherpa signed onto the trip. The enthusiasm for this expedition was overwhelming, with all seven divers carrying injuries or major disabilities into the dive:

At 1900 metres high, Blue Lake is Australia’s fourth highest glacial lake, and is some 8 kms from Mt Kosciuszko. It is the deepest of Australia’s mainland alpine glacial lakes at 28 metres at its deepest point. It was formed around 10,000 years ago, when the head of a glacier literally carved its way through the mountain side. A 10km round hike from Charlotte’s Pass, the Blue Lake’s giant carved cliffs are a mecca for winter and summer walkers and climbers. It’s reputation as Australia’s next Premier dive location is, however, a little less uncertain.

The ANUSC is no stranger to the Blue Lake. The Club first dived it in the mid 1990s, when a group of hardy hikers walked in all their gear on the spur of the moment decision. Perhaps learning lessons from that trip, the Club – in conjunction with Beldivers Scuba Club – arranged with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to helicopter in five loads of gear (including a Port-a-loo) to sustain 20 divers over a weekend in 1999. In return, the Club removed 6 helicopter loads of rubbish from the Lake, including a bunch of 44 gallon drums which had been disposed of by shooting holes in them (while this reads as a bit odd by today’s standards, that’s how things were done back then).

The 10km (return) Blue Lake walk is a pretty honest gig in anyone’s language, let alone for divers weighed down with tanks, belts, and all other assorted dive gear. Following some friendly negotiations with the NPWS, a deal was struck. The NPWS would transport our tanks, belts and safety equipment from Charlotte’s Pass to the top of the Lake (saving us 8 kms), in return the ANUSC would again engage in rubbish removal and assist with the placing of scientific instruments at the bottom of the Lake. This meant that all the really heavy equipment would be transported by 4WD for the first 4 kms and we would then have to backpack all our gear over the last km to the Lake (and back). This last km proved a hard slog with full kit, down a rough and uncertain steep, narrow slippery path to the bottom. We got the off look, to say the least.

The hard work was finally rewarded with chocolate all round as we set up base on some very welcome soft flat grass by the edge of the Lake featuring a gentle entry/exit point. The scene and setting was magnificent, though we eyed the Lake and its mysteries with some trepidation. The proverbial dainty-foot temperature test was engaged by Chris with an initial assessment of ‘not bad – honestly!’. This initial report was accorded the scorn it deserved and more dainty feet were engaged; the final conclusion: ‘yep, it was actually quite pleasant’.

On this encouraging news, the first set of divers geared up cautiously – The wetsuit boys (Chris and Ray) and the official photographer (Pete) entered first – If they could survive the expected thermoclines, then all the better for the drysuit boys. And if they didn’t make it, then at least we had some hope of recovering their gear on the day (I had my eye on Pete’s camera gear and Chris’ 100cf Steelie).

At 1900 metres high, Lake life is quite sparten. Somewhat surprisingly, there are only three species of native fish in Snowy country including the mountain galaxias, the climbing galaxias and the mountain spotted galaxias (see: ‘Wildlife of the Australian snow-country’, Ken Green and William Osborne, Reed Books Australia, 1994). These are small minnow-like fish, which grow to a maximum of 100-130 mm. Of the four exotic species found, rainbow and brown trout were introduced in the 19th Century, while brook trout and Atlantic salmon were introduced in the past two decades. Aside from a couple of mountain galaxias, the only other marine animal life that was seen were lots of small hermit crab-like creature; they left lots of chaos-theory type tracks on top of the fine brown silt – if a building falls down in China in six months time, we will know where to sheet home the blame. Marine vegetation was limited to a light algae green fern like plant of indeterminate personality. The bottom of the Lake is covered with a very thick (fin grabbing) layer of very fine brown silt. While it had an interesting tactile presence, it was easily stirred up, further detracting from the already low 2 metre viz. God knows how many Queanbeyan Cemetery residents could be hid in there!

The minimum recorded temperature was 9C at 20.4 metres, by Norm. Despite this, most of the group backed up for a second dive to collect more rubbish. The Lake bottom was surprisingly clean, with mainly bits of chocolate wrappers and cans recovered. Photos and records of these collected relics from the past will now sit in the NPWS ‘Educational Centre’ in Sawpit Creek to help illustrate man’s inhumanity to nature. The placing of the scientific instruments was regretfully postponed due to high winds and the likely prospect of permanently loosing the piece of kit to the gloop at the bottom of the Lake.

Post dive celebrations were sadly cut short as the forecast evening showers arrived at lunchtime. The group packed up in pretty miserable conditions and headed back up the steep 1km track to meet up with the NPWS vehicle. Some great Sherpa work got the last two divers up the hill in reasonable shape and spirits. After unloading the tanks and belts, the group then faced a 4km wet and windy walk back to Charlotte’s Pass enchanted by the prospect of hot showers, hot drinks, hot food and some pain dulling fine red wine. The days exertions ended in the early evening as the group collectively swooned at the thought of luxurious feeling beds and a late morning lay-in.

My dive for the record: Dive time: 62 minutes, Viz: 2 metres (before silting, otherwise zero), Estimated temperature: around 12 degrees with a face sucking thermocline at 11 metres. Special equipment: Drysuit (bag) with 3 layers of thermal underwear, Rubbish found: Around 15 small pieces of chockie paper and a dirty sock (alas, sock subsequently lost), Skills learned: how to fin 100 different ways when you have full lower body cramp.

A very warm thanks to the NPWS’s Tim Greville who gave up his weekend to assist us, and Andrew Harrigan, Alpine Area Manager Snowy Mountains region for his co-operation. Thanks also to Gail (head Sherpa and lead ANUSC negotiator) and Chris (brawn and brains on demand) who organised everything from the ANUSC side. Actual dive trip injuries included blisters, as well as aching legs, arms, shoulders and just about everywhere else. The emergency O2 kit remained happily unused.

And would people do this trip again? The consensus was resounding ‘perhaps’, but not for a very long time….

Charles Adamson, February 2004.

Map of Blue Lake

Pre-trip web page

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