|Quick Facts: Climbing the ten highest peaks|
|Max. Elevation||2228 metres (7310 feet)|
|Vertical gain||290 metres (Thredbo chairlift)
450 metres (Charlotte Pass)
|Total distance||55km (34 miles)|
|Hiking time||3-4 days|
|Location||Snowy Mountains National Park|
|Getting there (Charlotte Pass)||5-6 hours from Sydney (500km)
2-3 hours from Canberra (215km)
7-8 hours from Melbourne (615km)
|Date completed||April 2007|
Climbing the Aussie 10
The Seven Summits, The Fourteen-thousanders, The Three Poles.
Summiting the peaks of the world's highest mountains has been the life-long goal of many a modern day explorer. Unfortunately, Australia and our own mountains are too often overlooked in this quest for vertical adventure. Mount Kosciuszko, our highest peak at a mere 2228 metres, is considered no more than a pimple on the world stage and is often replaced with Carstensz Pyramid (Indonesia) to provide some perceived alpine credibility when attempting the Seven Summits (or the highest peak in each of the seven continents)..
Climbing Kosi, while a requirement to fulfil The Seven Summits, is hardly considered a mountaineering challenge by the world's climbing elite. Infact you're probably more likely to have an accident with one of the many mountain bikers riding in the surrounding national park than you are following the clearly marked trail to the mountain summit.
But does this really mean we do not have any of our own peaks worthy of climbing? Are we forced to travel to the far-flung reaches of the globe to find inspirational mountain peaks or to experience epic mountaineering exploration? NO WAY!
The Aussie 10 (summiting the ten highest peaks in Australia) is as impressive an expedition as any on the world stage. Okay, so perhaps I stretch the truth a little and I haven't been to the Himalayas so I'm not much qualified to expound my subjective and patriotic views beyond our own sunny shores. However I can honestly say that climbing the ten highest peaks in Australia is not only very achievable for your average Edmund, Reinhold or Mallory, but can be completed in as few as two or three days (or even one if you're truly insane), and best of all provides hiking in some of the most spectacular Alpine landscape Australia has to offer.
One of the best things about this entire hike is that all ten peaks are located inside the Kosciuszko National Park and all the summits are within twelve kilometers of each other (at least as the crow flies). The roughly forty-five kilometre route took us just over 21 hours to complete, although we took numerous breaks each day and hardly set a cracking pace (we averaged about 6 hours walking per day). The hiking route generally follows the Main Range Track and Summit Road, both popular Alpine walks in their own right. Tthe actual summiting of many of the peaks often requires just a short detour from defined walking trails and even then there are unmarked trails. Only basic map to ground navigation is required to summit each peak, although always remember conditions can change rapidly.
An Easter Long Weekend provided the ideal opportunity for our own small group of intrepid explorers to attempt this epic adventure and determine whether the Aussie 10 is fit for the world stage.
The hike can begin at either Charlotte Pass or Thredbo. Charlotte Pass would be my recommendation, as you can complete the entire journey as a round-trip (assuming you go anti-clockwise) with the last day walking mostly downhill. From Thredbo you'll invariably be climbing uphill, but you'll also need to add the cost of chairlift to the starting point. We chose to begin our hike from Charlotte Pass and after having carried four days of food, wet-weather gear, sleeping bags, stoves, tents etc (as well as a few Easter eggs to celebrate Easter) the downhill journey on the last day was certainly much appreciated.
Having spent the first very early morning driving the six hours from Sydney we managed a reasonably early 11am start from Charlotte Pass. The initial few hundred metres from the Charlotte Pass car park down to the Snowy River is really the only steep downhill section of the entire walk. After crossing the Snowy River the first of many sustained uphill trudges begins. Although not excessively steep, the first day does require a reasonable amount of up and downhill walking.
No sooner had we settled into our walking routine than we came across Blue Lake, the first of many prehistoric glacial lakes. Even in the overcast conditions Blue Lake provides an ideal opportunity for a quick bite and photo opportunity. Blue Lake is as far as most of the day walkers tend to journey and the walking beyond the lake is considerably more isolated.
Mount Twynam, overlooking Blue Lake, was our first destination. The third highest of Australia's peaks, Twynam sits somewhat isolated from the rest of the peaks and is probably best described as a really big hill. Nevertheless its conquering gave us all a small buzz and signaled that our journey had begun. We had bagged our first peak. Whilst catching our breath beneath the surveyors mark on Twynam's summit, studying our map to work out our next leg, we worked out that an unnamed peak just west of Twynam should actually be included as one of the official ten peaks. Our official climbing list downloaded from the Australian Government Geoscience website (www.ga.gov.au) had provided us with our initial ten peak target. Only a few metres separates this unnamed peak at 2136 metres and the peak officially coming in at number ten, Mount Northcote at 2131 metres. We weren't about to debate what is and what isn't a peak. The unnamed peak was marked on a map, it had a summit and it was high enough to be in the top ten, so we had simply had no choice but to climb (just in case). Given it seems this peak has no official name, we christened it Mount Dubious, in honour of the dubious claim that perhaps it should be peak number ten. Call me obsessive, but this wouldn't the only 'additional' peak we ended up climbing just to be sure we'd bagged them all.
Carruthers Peak was the last of our summits for the day, our walking trail passing directly over its apex. Curruthers offers some pretty awesome views toward Mount Sentinel and Watsons Crags, jagged rock formations jutting out from deep canyons.
We spent our first night camped at Meullers Pass overlooking Albina Lake, our dreams filled with our impressive achievements for the day. Two down, eight to go. No sooner had the sun dipped behind the mountain tops that the temperature plummeted to below freezing. During the night all our water bottles froze and frost formed on the inside of our tents. For me, rugged up in my new down sleeping bag, I found myself sweating during the night despite stripping down to my underwear. For my less prepared buddies, their nights were spent wearing every available item of clothing, shivering in the fetal position while trying to sleep in wafer thin sleeping bags. I'm sure there is a lesson in there somewhere...
Day two begun with an early morning wander up Mount Northcote, the lowest of the ten peaks. Little more than a stroll up a grassy slope, Northcote would hardly have seemed worthy of the climb, however what Northcote lacks in difficulty, it makes up in views. From the summit of Northcote, you are offered a three hundred and sixty degree vista of the entire Kosciuszko valley.
Day two also allowed us to ditch our packs and journey into the Wilkinson valley, west of Meullers Pass, to bag four more peaks. A faint trail from Muellers Peak leads all the way to Mount Townsend and after a tricky rock scramble at the base of Townsend we found ourselves atop Australia's second highest peak (2209m). The four peaks (Byatts Camp, Abbot Peak, Mount Townsend, Alice Rawson Peak) which make up the Abbott Range are pretty damn spectacular. These four peaks overlook a steep drop into the valley to the west, a broad vista across the Wilkinson valley to the east, and rounded out by the north face of Kosciuszko (sounds impressive doesn't it).
Unfortunately, we spent considerable time trying to work out which peak exactly was Alice Rawson peak. A number of peaks all seem about the same height and are all in the same area. Our map wasn't any help either, as no spot heights were provided and the contour lines were also all about the same height. It wasn't until we'd climbed two other peaks in the general area (one of them has a stone cairne on top) and measuring the heights of each with an altimeter that we determined that the highest point is actually the very first peak you climb.
Having taken our summit photos, we cut directly across the valley and back towards our morning starting point. This walk back across the valley is deceptively long and took us way longer than we'd expected. It wasn't until quite late in the day that we finally returned to our packs. We decided we were spent for the day and returned back to the Wilkinsons Valley to spend our second night. Although the Wilkinsons Valley is one of the more popular camp sites for overnight hikers in the region, crowded it isn't. Being an Easter holiday weekend, we counted about twenty other hikers also descending into the valley, however there are enough flat camp sites that you don't need to get there first to secure a good spot. There are also many small creeks which can replenish water supplies. The temperature again dropped dramatically with the setting of the sun and we had another cold night.
Day three provided the most spectacular of all the peaks. Mount Kosciuszko was the first climb of the day. While the highest point in Australia, Kosciuszko would be, in my opinion, the least impressive of all the peaks. A well trodden and paved walkway leads right to the summit. A toilet block is built into the mountain at the base and unless you get to Kosciuszko early in the morning, you'll likely end up waiting for a photo opportunity given the hordes of people who climb the mountain. I read on one of the signs that more than 100,000 people climb Kosciuszko every year. We were lucky by arriving before 10am and were already on our way down when the first of the day walkers arrived.
From Kosciuszko we again dumped (and hid) our packs and followed the well-worn metal walkway which leads back toward Thredbo. North Rams Head and Rams Head, in my opinion, are the two best climbs of the entire route.
North Rams Head dominates the surrounding landscape, a rocky outcrop jutting up from the ground. North Rams Head is best reached by heading up the slope just before the metal causeway crosses the Snowy River. But the actual summit of North Rams Head is the most impressive of all, by far the most mountainous of all the mountains we climbed. A massive pile of huge boulders and jagged rocks must be climbed in order to reach the summi and from here the views are stunning. We climbed directly up the northern face, however the approach from the south is a lot easier. North Rams Head wins my "best peak of the hike" award, while Rams Head, a few peaks further to the southwest, comes in at a close second. Although not as steep, a rock scramble is required at the very end of the climb. However once atop the peak, you have spectacular views towards South Rams Head and west into the wilderness. The Rams Head plateau offers some stunning scenery, with the grassy meadows broken by impressive granite boulders and rock formations. This is certainly an area I'd like to explore another time.
However, we had now climbed eleven peaks and had one more to complete our epic adventure. We actually ended up climbing twelve peaks in total, given the uncertainty as to which we were actually the ten highest peaks. The final peak is the unnamed peak directly to the east of Kosciuszko. Why the uncertainty? I've already explained Mt Dubious. The Australian Geoscience website (my authoritative source) lists the ten highest peaks in Australia, however includes both Abbott Peak and Carruthers Peak at exactly the same 2145 metres. In otherwords, they actually list eleven peaks making up the ten highest peaks in Australia. Go figure (someone in Government should be sacked!)
We bagged this unnamed peak on our way back to our packs. Another rock scramble just below the summit, this peak offers some pretty nice views over the Snowy River valley to the east. It was from here that we spotted what would be our last camp site, a sparkle of water far across the Snowy River valley, near Merrits Creek.
We pulled on our packs, left the the metal causeway and headed into the Snowy River valley below. This section of walking offered us a new geographic formation, as we navigated our way amongst the bogs and marshes that make up the source of the Snowy River spring. The scenary reminded me of a little of scenes from Lord of the Rings. Our map showed an old ruin by the Snowy River, however we didn't manage to find any evidence of remains. The wet ground does however make finding a campsite difficult. The ground is damp and lumpy and we ended up walking to the very far side of the valley before we could a suitable location. Even here we were on sloping ground. In reality, we probably could have completed our journey on this final third day, as the fourth day of hiking is just an easy walk back to Charlotte Pass and our car. Nevertheless the final night provided us one more chance to enjoy being outdoors and some pretty cool star gazing, before we were all freezing again and dived back into our sleeping bags.
We did it. Without any rush we completed the easy walk along a gravel road back to Charlotte Pass. A sense of achievement as we'd scaled the ten highest peaks in Australia and completed the Aussie 10. And while the entire trip is hardly difficult, the landscape, terrain, scenery are truly awesome. This is certainly one of the most spectacular multi-day walks I've completed in Australia.