A Trip To Mount Kosciuszko

I thought I’d step away from the solar hybrid discussoin to talk about one of my other great loves, the outdoors. In particular, Mount Kosciuszko.

In Australia we’ve got a range of environments to choose from, though often you have to spend some time getting between them. The truly lucky live just up the road from some really spectacular places.

One thing we don’t have an abundance of is alpine areas. It surprises some people that we do get snow here, though its hardly widespread. And when you say “The Australian Alps” any European person who has seen them smiles politely, before looking sideways at each other…

Due to the age of the continent, the geological profile of Australia is fairly flat. Mountain ranges don’t tend to feature massive peaks, and instead have more gradual buildups to plateaus, like the alpine areas, or forested mesa, like the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

As an example, this is Mount Kosciusko, the highest point on the Australian continent, taken from Carruthers Peak, looking south:

Mount Kosciuszko
Mt Kosciuszko, 2012. (c) My brother for the photo. The arrow is mine.

Yeah. Don’t exactly need to take the crampons and ropes.

The Main Range Track walk from Charlotte Pass can be done as a 20km (12.5 mile) loop within a day, or you can camp overnight. It isn’t an easy walk in parts, with steep slopes, and the air is a little thinner between the starting point at Charlotte Pass (1835 metres) and the summit (2228 metres). Good fitness training.

It is a very different environment to a lot of other areas in this wide brown land. In summer, when the wildflowers bloom, the place is a riot of colour, in contrast to the photos I’ve featured here.

As we have a Long Weekend (Fri-Mon) for Easter in Australia, I decided to get cracking on Good Friday, and take my nearly 12-year-old son up for his first “Kosi” experience, and my fourth.

The drive from my home in Sydney to Charlotte Pass is a bit over 500km, or the better part of 6 hours once you factor in stops and traffic. This is territory I’ve covered many times, and I like to take the “back road” via the towns of Tarago and Bundgendore. It is a nice alternative to the freeway to Canberra.

We hit the trail at around 2.30PM on Friday, my son carrying my backup pack with 8kg in it, while I had 19kg in the main pack. For his first serious hiking trip, he struggled a little but resolved not to complain about it.

Kosi1As you can see from the photo, we took the shortest path to the mountain, via the service vehicle access track. The track was previously accessible by the public, but discontinued years ago due to environmental concerns.

In addition to the walkers and hikers, the service track is quite popular with mountain bikers, and at 8km with some decent inclines, will give most weekend riders a good test.

Temperatures for the day were in the low teens (Celcius) with a fairly stiff breeze that dropped it into single figures. Once you’re away on the trail though, with a long sleeved shirt you’re warm enough to keep going without issue. I have been up there in far worse, and only walked it once in patches of snow (November i.e. late Spring), from the other direction at Thredbo.

Though the wind picked up, we were making decent pace at around 3 kilometres per hour, enjoying the rugged views of the valley. Regular breaks allowed the boy to catch his breath and rest his shoulders.

Mt Kosciuszko

As we approached the drop into the Snowy River valley, the wind started to pick up, and we were running out of daylight to get to the top. My plan was to get up there, and maybe camp for the night outside under a fly with groundsheet. The wind chill was going to be a big factor without a proper hiking tent, or the lee of a boulder to hide in.

kosi3mile
Old 3 Mile Marker to Kosciuszko Summit

A strategy presented itself at the river, when my son could no longer shoulder his pack. A long uphill from the river takes in the last 4.5km to the summit, and with a pack on my back, and one on my chest, we slogged up to Seaman’s Hut.

Once there, I decided to drop the packs, and head up to the summit unburdened. A quick dehydrated meal to get some energy back in the legs, and away we went. At 5PM we had about 2 hours of daylight and then an hour of twilight to find our way back.

Rather stupidly, I didn’t take water, torch, or emergency food. Fortunately none of those were required, though some snacks to assist my son’s flagging stamina might have helped, in retrospect.

rawsonA point of interest on the track is Rawson’s Pass, about halfway between Seaman’s Hut and the Kosciuszko Summit, which features the highest public toilets in Australia. This is the primary reason for the service track: regular maintenance of the toilet facilities, along with other National Parks and Wildlife Services duties.

Its built like a bunker, and a great place to seek shelter from the weather. A few years ago, on my first trip, the rain came in sideways, and we needed to stop in there to cook breakfast.

After a few more rest stops, sore feet, and chilled faces, we made it to the top. It had been hard work, covering having left Sydney that morning, but more than worth the effort, to see that smile.

kosison2
Proud Dad moment

We only had about 90 minutes to cover the 3km return journey to Seamans Hut, and being downhill was thankfully the easiest part of the day. The sun was gone and the temperature was dropping toward freezing.

Back at the Hut, after 12 kilometres for the day on foot, we joined two fellow travellers – and here I’ll give a shout out to Ricardo and Ryan. It turned out that Ryan and I work for rival corporations, which was a bit of a laugh. Ricardo works in renewable energy, so it was six degrees of Bacon all round, and no shortage of conversation. The boy had his iPod loaded with Fruit Ninja to keep himself occupied.

Shortly after I got a fire going in the pot-bellied stove, we were joined by Peter and Casey, venturing out after dark, and we squeezed our bedrolls into place. Besides a few interlopers who turned up toward midnight, and were not able to be accommodated, it was chilly, but not unpleasant, even after the fire died out.

The wind howled out of the west all night, murmuring icy threats down the stove pipe, but we were warm enough, even if the sleep was fitful.

Shortly after midnight, the call of nature woke me. As the Hut is not equipped with bathroom facilities, I had to find a sheltered spot in that freezing wind, wearing only the shirt and trunks I slept in.

The reward for my shivering was beautiful beyond description. The stark beauty of the highlands, silvered and then shadowed at every angle by the moon, I could not capture with mere photography.

I knew it would be a beautiful day, come morning, and so it proved.

Mount Kosciuszko

Mount Kosciuszko itself is hiding behind that tor you see to the left of screen, with Seamans Hut in the foreground, and the full moon overhead. This is just after 7AM on March 26. For an old Nexus 5 Android phone camera, it turned out nicely.

The boy and I decided to explore a little, and get some of that dawn experience in, despite the chill of the breeze. The others were still sleeping so we had some time to explore the area, and marvel at the contrast of light and shadow.

The words grow short, as the pictures tell the story better than I can.

kosimorning2
Sun on the hut shortly after daybreak
kosimorning3
He’s thinking about Skyrim…
kosimorning4
On the hill above the Hut, looking west toward Kosciusko (just visible)

After breakfast, we bid our new friends farewell, and headed back to the car. I stopped to get a picture of the Snowy River on our way out, but the crowds were building on a fine Easter Saturday, so it was time to make tracks and get back to civilisation.

kosiriver

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little side story away from the geeking out about Powerwall. Its nice to write about something else, and show people part of my country they might not have seen before. I recommend it if you’re ever in the area.

You can walk the 18km return from Charlotte Pass, perhaps staying nearby in Jindabyne if you want to day walk it.

The other option is to take the chair lift (fees apply) from Thredbo ski fields at the other end, and walk in 13km on the raised walkway.

Next time: Powerwall payback time, Part 1.