It isn’t yet known how Tim Holding became lost on Mt Feathertop and whether illness or exposure to the elements were factors. But he is safe.

According to the most recent reports, the Victorian Minister for Water and Tourism was spotted by a helicopter several ridges down from the peak of Mt Feathertop, in Victoria’s alpine country, around 10am today.

Victorian Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walsh said Mr Holding was found a few kilometres from a shelter called Federation Hut, where he was last seen.

I, like thousands of bushwalkers, have “done” Feathertop, once on cross country skis via the easy Razorback approach, and often by the NW spur and the MUMC hut, in winter and summer. Here’s my take on surviving the conditions:

Q: Is it easy to get lost on Feathertop?

A: No. Not unless you are in difficulties from really bad visibility, which may have been the case for Holding from all reports, or struck by some sort of illness, like a migraine attack, or snowblind, or lame and overtaken by exposure.

Q: What is exposure?

A: Loss of sufficient core body heat to become confused, slow and uncoordinated. Most experienced high country walkers, like Holding, will have seen the initially mild onset of exposure in themselves or others will walking in cold and windy conditions, especially in wet rather than snowy weather, when your clothing can become saturated.

Q: How do you handle exposure?

A: You go back to shelter, say the nearest hut or your last campsite, or if it is more serious, find shelter as best you can and conserve your warmth and if possible brew something hot like dehydrated soup over a small “bivvy” stove. Holding was found in what sounds like an improvised shelter below the snow line.

Q: What are the other keys to snow or cold country wilderness survival?

A: Be well equipped, like Holding is said to have been. Understand how to make a snow cave if you have to, and carry a little lightweight scooper for this purpose. This is a serious business. Ensure you have good ventilation if using a little fuel or gas stove, because carbon monoxide kills quickly, and is odourless. On 7 August 1999 four snowboarders dug a snow cave near the top of Crackenback and were not found for 101 days and are believed to have been asphyxiated by the stove they carried.

In these times everyone should also have a GPS hand unit so they can navigate in low visibility. We know Holding had a mobile phone and may well have had a GPS too, so that if he had been able to make a call he could have read off his location.

Never go on a snow walk without high energy rations and a few litres of water even if you don’t expect to be caught out.

Q: Are there other hazards?

A: In high winds and especially snow be wary of falling branches. Down lower on Feathertop but well within snow territory a lot of wind damage is seasonally evident, and I have heard branches fall down on the spur below the MUMC hut.

Q: Is Feathertop right for solo walkers?

A: Just about as right as can be. Well defined routes, a quick height gain, grand high country views, and you usually meet people. But watch your step on top, as most winters it grows a big overhanging “whipped cream” snow cornice, for which it was so named, and cornices collapse and the feather on Feathertop could drop you a long way into the “cactus”.

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Peter Fray

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