In another week in which the Australian political landscape imploded in much self-generated excitement, it is hard not to be drawn into contributing more electronic graffiti about levels of douchebagness and the chaos and disorder that is certainly not happening again like it did with that other bunch. Nothing to see here, move along now. However, while the world really doesn’t wait with baited breath to figure which “adult” is in charge of the Knightly Order of Her Majesty’s Commonwealth of Australia, the natural landscape is in much less turmoil (unless you listen to those wacky “scientists” with their corroborated, peer-reviewed “research” and years of undisputed empirical “data”). There are, clearly, mountains to climb and some are easier than others.
The Snowy Mountains are very old – older indeed than a snoozing Senator – and have been worn down over millions of years. If they were several millions of years younger they would be more akin to the New Zealand Alps or the Himalayas, but because of their age they have mellowed; they are more rounded, worn down and weather-beaten, skin baked by summer sun and scoured by winter ice. They are, perhaps, the Brecon Beacons down under, with classic U-shaped valleys, remnant moraine and small, glacial tarns.
Having digested various parts of the mountains over the years – embedded deep within Kosciuszko National Park – a one-day walk finally appeared to stitch together the different threads of footsteps past. In particular, the Main Range circuit, nudging 22km in length and looping around the highest country. This included a stretch of six kilometres or so that I had not been on before and which, undoubtedly, was the most spectacular.
So, in pursuit of clear air and with the captain’s picks of two friends for company, let me guide you around the trail in a mostly factual, pictorial and certainly not chaotic or disorderly fashion…
Starting off from Charlotte Pass (1,837m), the track drops substantially to ford the Snowy River (1,717m). The river rises somewhere amongst the boggy marshes 5km upstream, and has gathered enough water by this point to make a crossing on stepping stones sometimes hazardous. Today – still reasonably early on a crystal clear February morning – all was rather placid and safely negotiated without wet feet or soggy sandwiches.
From the river crossing it is unsurprisingly onwards and upwards; in fact the climb, while never too steep, is quite incessant and longer than I remember! However, with altitude the views start to open up, including the sight of Hedley’s Tarn and the ridgelines of the Main Range’s highest peaks.
After some 300 metres of ascent and four kilometres from the start a view of Blue Lake is attained. Today it is lacking much of a blue colour and the glaring morning sun and a wind whipping across the surface are photogenically challenging! From here though it is not too much further to reach a saddle with the first views of more spectacular jagged mountains and the ranges of blue spreading west. A perfect opportunity for a morning food stop taking in a homemade sausage roll and spot of middle-class hiker’s quiche.
From this point, the trail is all new ground for me and the morning sustenance is useful for the slow climb up to Carruthers Peak (2,139m). The spectacular views continue, and the summit itself affords the first look at Club Lake, as well as the trail following the ridgeline to the rather bland summit of Mount Kosciuszko.
The ridgeline is a joy to follow, with remnant wildflowers, the prominence of Mount Townsend to the right and deep ravines carved by Lady Northcote’s Creek, the mountains seeming to tumble sharply west. I have no idea who Lady Northcote was but if her character was anything like that of the landscape in which she was named, she was probably a bit of a looker, though occasionally bleak and somewhat cutting.
Before too long Albina Lake emerges, tucked in a sheltered valley seemingly conducive to an array of wildflowers and other alpine plants. The lake looks quite inviting in the warmth and would prove a nice spot for a picnic. It’s about nine kilometres into the walk now, and with the summit of Mount Kosciusko just a few thousand metres distant, we resolve to head on and join the masses carrying their lunch to the top of Australia. On reflection, the best part of the walk is over…though this may be in part because familiar paths will soon be rejoined.
Unfortunately we seem to have gradually descended a little, and the hoick up to the main summit thoroughfare is probably the steepest of the day. We’re not talking rock climbing here, but frequent steps and, by now, quite a penetrating sun. The junction with the main summit trail is like emerging from a country lane onto the M1. Mostly originating from Thredbo, families, fitness freaks and old fogies join us in a steady stream coiling up to the top (2,228m). A medley of Aussie flags and fluoro leggings congregates around the summit marker, and lunching is de rigueur. With homemade hummus and more quiche ours is perhaps one of the more pretentious of picnics!
Apart from a little blip it is all downhill from here, some eight and a half kilometres back to Charlotte Pass. From Rawson Pass (2,119m) – which is something akin to the base camp for the summit climb and apparently includes Australia’s highest public toilet – a sedate, well-graded trail makes it all the way back. This is the old summit road and I read that a shuttle bus used to ply along here, part of me wishing it was still running. The open scenery is not unpleasant, but in comparison to other parts of the track and given the gathering weariness this part is a bit of a drag. Markers every kilometre break it up, as does Seaman’s Hut (2,020m) and a more comfortable bridging of the Snowy River with four kilometres remaining.
Approaching Charlotte Pass, signs of civilisation re-appear – a chairlift and the occasional dark grey metallic huts populated by visitors in winter. The Snowy courses to the left and from across the valley the earlier, upwards trail to Blue Lake looks like an impressive climb! Snow Gums also cluster here, stunted and bending with their striped, smooth bark of chocolate and sand, of black and white. Afternoon clouds are building and the risk of storms hypothesised look as though they will be realised. But, after six and a half hours and 21.9 kilometres, we reach the (relative) safety of a Subaru Outback. Accomplished and relieved, invigorated and weary; trundling another 220km back to Canberra (577m), via Jindabyne caffeine and Cooma steak. From the real Australia and back to the bizarre.