Climbing to the highest peak of Australia seemed a novel and quaint way to spend a day as Australia is not famous for its soaring alpine mountainscapes.
It was a year later and a week earlier than my last visit to the Australian Alps and I found myself happily and cautiously skipping along the stepping stones to cross the Snowy River, to finally hike the Main Range trail to the peak of Mount Kosciuszko. My summit last year, whilst more dramatic, snow-swept and icy, saw my adventure party forced to take the mellower 9km old paved Summit Walk to the top, a hike not without beauty, however you summited feeling you had more or less been for a Sunday stroll.
Australia's highest peak, Mt Kosciuszko, sits at a cute 2,228m above sea level amongst the Main Range of the Snowy Mountains - to compare Mt Everest soars at 8,848m. The mountain was dedicated to Tadeusz Kościuszko, as Sir Pauł Edmund de Strzelecki - the first white explorer to summit the peak, thought it bore a striking resemblance to the man-made mound the Polish national leader is buried under in Krakow. Debates as to whether Sir Paul accurately climbed the highest peak in 1840 instead of neighbouring Mt Townsend (2,209m) still exist. Numerous Google searches to find the truth served up only murky results; discussions of government mountain name swaps, questions as to why Strzelecki failed to mark his presence on the summit and the curious absence of his hike record which stops at the base of the mountains remain historically unanswered.
Naming mysteries aside, Mark and I began our hike in slightly sunny albeit breezy weather in our best adventure day spirits, each of us with an animal we hoped to see. For Mark it was brumbies and for me the understandably reclusive and endangered Corroboree frog. The descent to our first crossing of the Snowy River took us through the spectacularly distorted and rippled trunks of snow gums which surrounded the trail head. Their striped bark in all shades of pinks, reds, oranges and army greens assaulting and intriguing our eyes.
It was not long after we had crossed the river and began our first ascent we discovered and admitted that our fitness was missing its' finesse. The sun decided to come out, the breeze turned into a decent alpine wind and we entered the strip down, take on and off juggle of clothing that often accompanies hikes. Continuing further, our feet passed wildflowers withering into the days of cooler weather, pieces of quartz and frost-shattered boulders. The skies were empty except for the occasional crow and we found ourselves alone and exposed to the billowing wind following the treeless contours of the Main Range.
Making it to the Blue Lake lookout we stopped briefly to catch our breath and retrieve our standard hike snack of bananas and nuts from our packs. Leaving the glistening cirque lake we traversed onwards, the trail climbing up Carruther's Peak, changing from a neatly paved path into a neatly arranged stone one. The next hour past with snatched glimpses of the stunning mountain ranges to the west from under our hoods as we battled the wind which was now surely at a gale force measurement.
Making it around Mount Lee and Mount Northcote and past another glacial lake we found a windless sanctuary under the shadow of Mueller's Peak. We set up our picnic spot, ate rye and cheese sandwiches and were provided with a lunchtime viewing of the grazing habits of a lone brumby. This wild steed showing no signs of the rugged and weathered coat we expected of a romantic alpine horse. Paying us no attention despite our best efforts to call out to him, we left Mark's brumby and headed towards the Summit Walk, where we could see tourists and families in the distance milling up and down, lemming like, to climb Australia's highest peak.
Summiting Mount Kosciuszko comes with a strange feeling I've experienced the two times I've stepped up the steps to the stone and concrete cairn. The sense of achievement is followed by underwhelm and then I want to leave and start the hike back right away. Maybe it's been the weather or the realisation that the mountain seems no bigger than the mound that helped inspire its name. Obligatory though, we awkwardly waited our turn and took some photos. Not wanting to linger any longer with the tourists capturing their conquering moments of one of the (disputed) Seven Summits of the world we headed back homeward, along the steady downward incline with the Australian Alps cradling us gently on both sides.
The walk back proved to be uneventful and I'll describe as a little boring. We crossed over the Snowy River again, this time over a bridge where we spied fish in its clear waters. We discovered the rosy cheeks we had gained were not from the mountain air but were rather sunburnt from the harsh Australian sun. We counted down the kilometre markers and kept a futile eye out for my little yellow and black frog. Entering back into the treeline, we were greeted by the stoic alpine gumtrees and we ended our hike where we started at our car parked on the street at Charlotte's Pass.