|Climbing Facts: Mount Kosciuszko|
|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||6 hours from Sydney|
3 hours from Canberra
7 hours from Melbourne
Climbing the Peaks
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. Reaching its summit, while a requirement to fulfil The Seven Summits (climbing the highest mountain on each of the seven continents), 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 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?
The Aussie 10 (summiting the ten highest peaks in Australia) is as impressive a trek as any other mountaineering expedition worldwide. Ok, so perhaps I stretch the truth somewhat and I haven't been to the Himalayas so I'm not really 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 Irvine, but can be completed in as few as two or three days, and best of all provides hiking in some of the most spectacular Alpine landscape Australia has to offer. The 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.
One of the awesome parts of this entire expedition is that all ten peaks are located within the same Kosciuszko National Park and all the summits are within twelve kilometers of each other (at least as the Crow flies). The roughly fortyfive 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 requires detours from defined walking trails and instead cross-country hiking along unmarked or non-existent trails. However only basic map to ground navigation is required to summit each peak. Poor weather could makes things a little more tricky, so it would be wise to ensure some members of your party have more advanced navigational skills.
The hike can begin at either Charlotte Pass or Thredbo, although starting from Charlotte Pass means the entire journey can be completed in a round-trip with the last day walking entirely downhill, while beginning from Thredbo means the last day will invariably be spent walking uphill. We therefore chose to begin our journey 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 our very first night driving the six hours from Sydney (from Melbourne is about the same distance) we managed a reasonably early 11am start at 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 entire walk 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 day walkers tend to journey and the walking beyond 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. Although only a few metres separates this unnamed peak at 2136 metres, and the peak coming in at number ten, Mount Northcote at 2131 metres, we had come with one goal in mind and by crikey we were going to climb the ten highest peaks in Australia. The apocalyptic devastation (surely I jest) I'm sure we would all have felt if we'd only climbed nine of Australia's ten peaks would have been something we could not bear to carry on our shoulders. Naming this unnamed peak Mount Dubious, in honour of the dubious claim that perhaps it should be peak number ten, we decided to climb it just in case. Call me obsessive, but this wasn't the only 'additional' peak we ended up climbing just to be sure.
Carruthers Peak was the last our summits for the day, our walking trail passing directly over its apex. Curruthers offers some pretty awesome views of 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. It was our first night above the tree line that provokes me to spend at least a few moments suggesting the type of gear hikers should ensure they have when attempting a walk of this nature. Although we had fantastic weather for most of our weekend, we were above the tree-line for almost the entire trip and the weather can turn nasty pretty quickly. No sooner did the sun disappear behind the mountain tops each evening, than 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, however for some of my colleagues the nights were spent wearing every available item of clothing, shivering in the fetal position while trying to sleep in wafer thin sleeping bags. Although we all survived, I'm sure a few extra dollars spent on the right gear could have made a world of difference.
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, just West of Meullers Pass, to bag four more peaks. A trail behind 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). Perched just beneath the summit of Townsend we spent considerable time trying to work out which peak exactly was Alice Rawson peak.
Bagging Alice Rawson Peak was a little more difficult to complete than anticipated, as 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 of 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 a lot longer than expected to complete. 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. The Wilkinsons Valley is probably the most popular of all the camping sites in the National Park, although is hardly crowded. While we must have counted about twenty hikers descending into the valley, 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. Portaloos are available at the base of mountain, surrounded by a construction site which will soon become a permanent toilet facility. Unless you get to Kosciuszko early you 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 our packs and followed the well-worn metal walkway which leads back to 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 mountain top. 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 scaled to reach the apex, but from here the views are stunning. We climbed directly up the northern face, however the approach from the south is a lot easier. This was the number one peak on my list. Rams Head, a few peaks to 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 flats broken by impressive granite boulders and rock formations. This is certainly an area I'd like to explore for future holidays.
However, we had now climbed eleven peaks and had one more to complete our epic adventure. (We ended up climbing twelve peaks in total, as there was some uncertainty as to which we were actually the ten highest peaks). The final peak is the unnamed peak directly to the East of Kosciuszko. We bagged this 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 directly to the East. It was from here that we spotted our last camp site, a sparkle of water far across the Snowy River valley, near Merrits Creek.
We climbed into our packs once more and cut down from the metal causeway into the Snowy valley below. This walk provided us a new geographic formation, walking amongst bogs and marshes which make up the Snowy River spring (it reminded me of scenes from Lord of the Rings). My map showed an old ruin by the Snowy River, however we didn't manage to find any remains. The wet ground does however make finding a campsite difficult. The ground is quite 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 day, as the final and fourth day of trip, we only walked another hour before we were back at 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.
But we did it. We scaled the ten highest peaks in Australia and completed the Aussie 10. Although I'm sure our journey would hardly rate as high on a difficulty scale, the landscape, terrain, scenery are truly awesome, and while not necessarily a mountaineering feat, this walk was without doubt one the most spectacular walks I've completed down-under.