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Mt Kosciuszko

Image 1 - The magnificent view from the peak of Mt Kosciuszko 

I gave the idea of writing a blog about Mt Kosciuszko much thought, before finally surrendering to the patriotic idea that I owed it to Australia's highest geographical point to at least write something. After all, the peak of Mt Kosciuszko provides wonderful panoramic views from the 'rooftop' of Australia. However, I am somewhat used to the solitude of bushwalking and it took a little while to adjust the large volume of pedestrian traffic from Thredbo to the peak. It is obviously Australia's most walked track, so an article written would simply be one of the many that already exist, and as everyone has seemingly walked the track ...

 

Walk Rating: Easy to Medium. 13.5 kilometre round walk on a defined metal grate boardwalk across undulating gradient. There are some reasonably steep sections, particularly the last one before 'summiting' the peak.

 

Direction: From Canberra, drive to Thredbo via Jindabyne. The car journey is around 2 hours and 30 minutes, but it is generally a little longer if you stop for coffee or refreshments. Once at Thredbo, you can either walk from the township to the top of the main chairlift, aptly named 'Eagles Nest', or do what the majority of people do -- ride the chairlift -- and commence the walk from Eagles Nest. The 13.5 kilometre round walk is from Eagles Nest, not the Thredbo Village. 

 

The Walk: Having previously walked from Thredbo Village to Eagles Nest via Merrit's Nature Trail, we made the decision to save our legs purely for the majestic high country that meanders through the splendor of Mt Kosciuszko and its surrounds -- meaning, we took the chairlift!

The chairlift itself is a relaxing and peaceful ride from bottom to top. The slow gain in elevation allows the surrounding landscape to unfold into full view -- unless of course you have a height or chairlift phobia, in which case the final 'lunge' near the top takes you to a dizzying high point over the final tower before slowing for imminent arrival at the disembarkment point. It is a phobia made more challenging as, at this stage, the final chairlift tower takes you to the highest point on the ride, but shortly after (and I mean shortly after), you are required to lift your safety bar (the only thing stopping you from plummeting to the rocky slopes below) and prepare to disembark. I'm led to believe that they haven't lost anyone yet.

After disembarking from the chair with the usual nudge from the chairlift on one's backside, I stumbled to a very unmajestic halt in front of a dozen or so people who were nearby preparing for the trek to Mt Kosciuszko. They also seemed to be recovering from their own ungraceful ejection from the chairlift.

I put on my best manly look, stood up straight, adjusted my backpack, got the camera out and at the ready, and headed up the walking track on my way to Australia's highest peak.

The track starts as all do when you're in a national park - a sign with a list of rules. After scanning the list, I commenced the walk, remembering the important things when in a national park: take out what you bring in, no camping unless authorised, no naked flames on fire ban days, don't pick the native flowers, keep to the track etc.

The group I was with began their ascent, backpacks filled with supplies for the arduous journey ahead (Image 2). After a short while, I had gone a little ahead of the group I was with, which allowed me to take some photo's and apart from capturing the majestic high country, it also showed the true extent of the popularity of the walk (Image 3).

Although there were a lot of people enjoying the walk, I still managed to capture some images that showed the natural surrounds onlye (Image 4)! Picture successfully taken, I pushed on.  

 

 

Image 2 - The commencement of the walk to Mt Kosciuszko. The paved area soon turns to a metal boardwalk.

Image 3 - A sample section of the walk to Mt Kosciuszko - popular to say the least!

Image 4 - A break in pedestrian traffic allowed this photo, which shows the teu majesty of the Australian Alpine area in summer

Image 10 (above) - Lake Kootapatamba from the south west. Image 11 (right) a closer shot of the lake.

Above - Orange Billy Button.

There were sections of the walk that were truly invigorating, surrounded by small running streams, large numbers of wildflowers, small flowering shrubs and granite outcrops in all manner of configurations (Images 5, 6, 7 and 8).

After only 1.5 kilometres, you come across the Mt Kosciuszco Lookout. This is a great alternative if you don't have the time to walk the entire way to Mt Kosciuszko or for those who are not overly mobile. The lookout provides great views, taking in the immediate surrounds, with Mt Kosciuszko in the background and, if you look to the north-east, you will see a small stone hut, which is Seamans Hut (Image 9). 

 

 

 

As you progress further towards Mt Kosciuszko, you begin to see a the effects of a high-altitude area that is exposed to extreme conditions. There were moments during the journey that I felt like we were on Mars, such was the barren and stark nature of the landscape (Image 9). But, when you looked more closely, the ground was covered in an array of low-lying vegetation that was obviously thriving in this environment.

We passed by the Kootaptamba Lookout as there was a large number of people there at the timer and, shortly after, were rewarded with some wonderful views of Lake Kootapatamba, proving that the lookout is not the only place that offers views. This lake is a leftover from many thousands of years ago, when a glacier carved its way through the area, leaving behind a defined valley and a small glacial lake. If you study the landscape closely, you can see the gouges and scrapings in the hard granite, which were caused by the unstoppable and slow march of a giant frozen volume of water (Image 10 and 11). I hope my high school geography teacher reads this - who said I never paid attention in class and was always prone to look out the classroom window daydreaming?

 

Image 8 (above) Dusky Bush Pea. The flowering shrubs can be found right next to the boardwalk. 

Image 9 - Seamans Hut as viewed from Mt Kosciuszko Lookout. Note: Telescopic lens on my camera used to take this photo, not the Hubble telescope pointed to Mars.

After passing the majestic Lake Kootapatamba, we came to an intersection in the track, to the left being the final 'ascent' to Mt Koscisziusko and, to the right, to Seamans Hut. I weighed up whether to take the right turn and go down to Seamans Hut (a mere 3-kilometre round journey) or just continue up to Mt Kosciuszko. Together with my wife,we and shot off down the hill to the hut, yelling back to part of our group: "Meet you at the top". They are used to me doing this so just rolled their eyes and continued the 'hard' slog to the summit.

The walk down to the hut is all on a defined vehicle access track and, in no time at all, we had arrived at the hut. (Images 12, 13 and 14). When you come across huts like this, you always wonder about why the hut was built. This is clearly not farming or grazing land.

The hut itself is a well-built and maintained stone hut, but unfortunately had been built following tragic circumstances. In 1928, two skiers - Laurie Seaman and Evan Hayes - perished after being caught out in a blizzard. Seaman's parents funded the construction of the hut to provide shelter for those who may be caught in similar circumstances in the future. The hut's construction was completed in 1929, and there is now a memorial board on the wall inside the hut providing details of its history and the ill-fated skiing trek of Seaman and Hayes.

Just as sombrely, there is also a memorial board for four young men who died very near the hut in 1999. The four were adventurous snow boarders but were also caught in a blizzard, and perished from exposure.

We said farewell to the hut, and commenced the gradual climb back to the track intersection and to hopefully meet up with the remainder of our group. 

 

 

Image 12 (above) and 13 (below) - Seamans Hut sits sentinel like at the foot of Mt Kosciuszko.

We got back to the track intersection and it's worth mentioning the toilet block in the middle of emptiness! Surely it must dissapear under the snow during winter, only to emerge in Spring like a butterfly from a cocoon. It is an exceptionally well- maintained and clean toilet block, so a big well done to the National Parks of NSW. I'm sure there have been many relieved walkers, because they are forbidden to relieve themselves without having to take their business with them.

There was even a National Parks Ranger who had driven up for the day. This reminded me of the list of rules I had read at the start of the track, and the one in particular about taking your rubbish with you, with some amusement. This rule proved to be one that went largely ignored, and I was to find out that, due to the amount of rubbish left by people at the peak, each day a ranger would come out, rubbish bag and pick-up prong in hand, and collect all that had indeed been left behind. I could imagine that a job like this would wear thin after a while, and this was confirmed when my walking buddy Daz (the friendliest and most easy-going person on the planet), greeted the ranger with a pleasant hello, and an observation about having the best job in the world (after all, we were on the rooftop of a nation, so what an 'office'). This was not the case, judging by the gruff and terse reply I fully understand how frustrating it would be picking rubbish up left by others).

Daz licked his wounds from the scournful thrashing, mumbling that he dare not leave a sceric of rubbish behind and pittying the next firendly walker who sort to interact with a National Parks Ranger (joking, the Ranger really wasn't that bad).    

We continued our trek onwards and, after another kilometre, arrived at the highest geographical point in Australia. We found a pleasant place to sit and stopped for some refreshments, whilst taking in the grandeur of our surrounds. No matter which direction you looked, the view seemed to go on forever across mountain tops that changed a different hue of blue the further away they were (Image 1).

I mentioned earlier that it seems like nothing could ever grow in this baron landscape, and this seemed especially so at the peak of Mt Kosiuszko, where it was not only stark, but very windblown and no doubt would be consistently experiencing the worst of the four seasons. But once again, I was surprised to find native flora growing, albeit ground huggingly low to the ground. On closer inspection, the plant had even begun to flower, although I did have to use my macro lense to get the photo of the small flower (Image 15). 

After finishing our refreshments, a few from our group wanted their photo taken, whilst standing on a stone cairn about 1.5 metres in height - they told me this was the true highest point in Australia but I was happy with my feet on the ground. Besides, I conjured up images of me attempting to climb to the top of the cairn, falling, crashing to the ground (mumblings of 'silly old fool' from onlookers at this stage) and a large number of the crowd having to then carry my injured body back to Eagles Nest, their grumblings becoming more prenounced the further the carry.

 

  

Image 14 - The inside of Seamns Hut

Image 15 - Australia's highest altitude flowering plant - right on the peak of Mt Koscuszko

Image 16 - On top of the world...well Australia anyway.

Image 5 (above) Flowing mountain stream. Image 6 (above left) 'Orange Billy Buttons'. Image 7 (top right) Alpine Sunray.

The bravest amongst us climbed to the top and struck various poses for the camera (Image 16). Then it was time to head back and we all started the long haul back down the hill with a lasting impression of the panoramic and sweeping views.

On the trek back down, I slowed my pace and really took in the surrounds. There was a wonderful array of wildflowers and I stopped to photograph as many as I could (Images below). On arriving back at Eagles Nest, we jumped onto the chairlift and white kuckled our way back to the bottom. Although exhausted with having summitted Australias highest peak, we thought it would be a wonderful way to end the day by having a quite and reflective drink by the flowing Thredbo River (Image 17). Before setting of that morning, I'd placed some mexican chicken fillets in the slowcooker and by the time we returned, it was melt-in-your-mouth stuff. The Canadian of our group provided some Milson Canadian beers, which went down a treat.

Although not a walk far away from the crowds, this remains one of the must do walks and given the set-up of the boardwalk, is a very achievable trek for most.

Image 17 - A relaxing way to finish the day!

Above - Mountain Caladenia 

Left - Yellow Burr Daisy.  Right - Tufted Daisy.

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