17 October 2011
Although I travel quite a bit within the northern hemisphere, I hardly set foot south of the equator.
I had been to Argentina and Chile in the past with my friend Claudio and I was seriously considering going to New Zealand few years ago, but that didn.t happen.
Flying to New Zealand and Australia takes long time and is very expensive: therefore it was never very high in my priority list.
But opportunity to visit Australia knocked at my door: business trip! I have mixed opinions about business trips: on the flip side, you are away from home and your routine, but on the bright side you may get to go to cool destinations for free. The office is in Sydney and I carefully planned my departure date in order to have a 3-day weekend for myself.
I knew that Australia does not offer high mountains (New Zealand does and that was one of the reasons why I initially wanted to be there), but I was always intrigued by the Snowy Mountains.
All the pictures of Australia I had seen prior to my trip featured a pretty dry, flat desert. The South-Western States of US are also dry, but the landscape is remarkably different due to the numerous mountain ranges (Nevada alone has hundreds of small-to-large named ranges).
Mount Kosciuszko is the highest point in Australia; its modest elevation (7310 feet) makes it the shiest of the highpoints a continent may have. It lies inside a national park and it.s not terribly far from Sydney, about 6 hours driving.
I started to read trip reports of people that climbed Kosciuszko and decided that it was a bit too easy to justify the 6-hour drive: I needed a bit more of an incentive to convince me to go through the car rental and the long car stroll. Then I stumbled upon .aussie10.com., which has a cool trip report of somebody climbing the 10 Australia highest mountains in 3-4 days. That was my challenge! I wanted to day-hike Australia.s 10 tallest mountains!
This is the list of the 10 tallest Australian mountains (not to spoil the rest of the story. but the ones in bold are the ones I completed in my dayhike):
|Mount Kosciuszko||2228m||36º27' S; 148º16' E|
|Mount Townsend||2209m||36º25' S; 148º16' E|
|Mount Twynam||2195m||36º24' S; 148º19' E|
|Rams Head||2190m||36º29' S; 148º16' E|
|Unnamed peak on Etheridge Ridge||2180m||36º28' S; 148º16' E|
|Rams Head North||2177m||36º29' S; 148º16' E|
|Alice Rawson Peak||2160m||36º25' S; 148º16' E|
|Byatts Camp south-west of Abbott Peak||2159m||36º26' S; 148º15' E|
|Abbott Peak||2145m||36º26' S; 148º15' E|
|Carruthers Peak||2145m||36º25' S; 148º17' E|
At this point I was really excited. I landed in Sydney on Friday, October 8th 2011. The week before leaving I called the rangers of the Snowy Mountains national park and I asked whether there was a .winter. trail to reach the summit of Kosciusko; they told me it would be a very long day but it could be done. I knew that .could be done in 1 day. would translate in .it takes only few hours., which was giving me even more reasons to try it.
I packed snowshoes, but forgot my camel back, sunblock and sunglasses. What a colossal mistake that turned out to be!
I rented a really tiny car at the Sydney international airport, a Hyundai Getz (only in Europe I.ve seen such compact cars). I was afraid I would pay a fortune for it, but it turned out to be a pretty decent deal at Avis (about 140 US$ for 3 days including basic insurance).
This would be the first time I.d use my brand new Garmin etrex C30, since my old etrex Vista miserably died after few good years of service (and falling from Mt Darwin). At first, I turned it on and the damn device would not acquire the satellites; for some reasons I remembered I had to turn on (TODO: what?) in order to have it work in the southern hemisphere and fairly enough it got a strong signal and it started to record my track. Whew!
Obviously I am far too cheap to buy maps; all I had the day of the hike was a list of waypoints of the mountains I wanted to climb.
Driving on the left side of the road (a new thing for me) was scary in Sydney, but got much better after about 1 hour on the highway. I stopped in Canberra and had a walk downtown and I started to realize how expensive the country really is.
Then hit the road again. I only stopped in Jindabyne and went straight to the ranger station. I discovered in that instance that you have to pay a pretty stiff entrance fee for the national park and I chatted a bit with a very friendly woman-ranger. She gave me plenty of driving maps (which made my life much easier) and told me .Mount Kosciusko is an EXPEDITION.. I knew for a fact the mountain was going to be easy and I almost busted laughing thinking what I wanted to really achieve.
You pay for Internet almost everywhere in Australia (and it.s pretty darn expensive), but I managed to find a coffee shop in Jindabyne that had free wi-fi, a rarity in Australia. I didn.t really want to drink coffee, so I bought a ginger-bread man with the idea of bringing it back to America and eating it with Ephrat at the summit of some other mountains. (This wish did eventually happen and the ginger-bread man found his death atop Sunrise Mountain, in the eastern suburbs of Las Vegas, Nevada, in December 2011, tasting still decently good).
At the local supermarket I bought water, dates (disgusting), bread and cookies and I was ready to reach Charlotte Pass, my trailhead. Rain was on and off and I had a bad feeling about the weather for the following day.
I crossed the park boundary fairly late in the evening (after 7pm) and there was nobody at the entrance booth. That reminded me of all the times I drove through Yosemite .after-hours. and got away without paying the fee. I felt kind of bad, but I convinced myself that the outrageous fee was not justified for what I intended to do (I didn.t use any facility).
I could see the amount of snow steadily increasing on the side of the road; I stopped for few pictures before sunset and the snow level was less than a foot, but when I got to Charlotte Pass I was totally surprised to find at least 6 feet of snow all around the parking lot!
Plan was to sleep in the car and wake up early in the morning, pretty much what we always do when we scramble in Sierra Nevada. The temperature was low, but not terribly so (slightly above freezing) and anyway I was definitely prepared in case things turned ugly (I had down and Goretex jacket with me).
At Charlotte pass (6000 feet circa) I found only one car; it was already pitch dark when I reached the road.s end and all I wanted to do was going to sleep (I was jet-lagged and tired). There is a little building with public restrooms (and no hot water.) that was some of the spookiest things I.ve seen in a while; it was open, but the headlight I had with me made it look like a horror-movie setup. While brushing my teeth, I heard the noise of a door opening and closing and I later discovered somebody arrived at the small parking lot just minutes after me.
When I went out, the guy (that scared the hell out of me) was about to leave; he friendly asked me .are you sleeping here?. and I nodded, not knowing whether he was a ranger and whether what I was doing was illegal or not. He wished me good luck and left. I was by myself at this point.
Night was cold in the car, but I had a 20F sleeping bag that didn.t disappoint me. When the alarm went off it was still dark outside and when I opened the door I wished I opted to lure in Sydney as opposed to being where I was.
I had a very coarse map printed from Aussie10.com and no topo; I just knew that Kosciusko was south-west of Charlotte pass. I followed a well-marked trail that ended at a sketchy river traverse (there was running water). Used to the California Sierra Nevada.s wilderness, I thought it was perfectly reasonable and I crossed the river using some of the rocks nearby.
I totally didn.t realize that the real trail was staying high, on my left (goddamn me! Just look at the map and you can see that the official trail does not cross the river!!). This mistake cost me also about 400 feet of elevation gain not such a great deal at 5 in the morning.
Well, I had to make it more epic, no? I walked on very soft snow heading south-west (west of the stream) until I got to see Kosciusko. My first goal for the day was Rams head, the southernmost of the mountains I wanted to tag. On the way, I noticed a large trail heading to Kosciusko.
The summit of Rams Head is just a little bump, but it still offered few hundred feet of ascent on really soft snow after a pretty strenuous approach (because of the poor route-finding). I was wandering whether I would find a cairn or register atop and it turns out Australians tend to put a cairn or marker at the summit, but I saw no traces of summit logs.
I drunk a lot and realized I was getting badly dehydrated; my eyes hurt and my face was getting sunburnt and there was nothing I could do. I am so used to drink from the camelback that not having it badly messed me up.
I continued north and bagged Rams Head North on the way. It looks intimidating from the south side and I had to circle around and approach it from the north-east. The last 50 feet or so are a scramble on the poorest rock I.ve ever witnessed (Zion looks solid in comparison!).
My next objective was the unnamed peak south-east of Kosciusko; it was easy going and the summit was nothing special, except offering very good views of the big brother.
While walking to the highest summit, I noticed people far away and that.s when I realized I was not the only person there that day. The steep slope to reach the highest point in Australia was pretty short and I found myself at the top in just a matter of minutes. I was cold and sunburnt, a strangely common situation for peole that try high mountaineering.
When I got to the summit, there was one skier standing in front of the big brick monument that marks the popular destination. I got to talk to him a bit and he told me to be a professional skier. He asked me what my itinerary was and I told him my intentions; he said to look out for the weather, because it was turning nasty. After he left, I realized the weather was truly going to be an issue, but I did not want to retreat at that point.
I called Ephrat for just a minute and I was delighted to hear a familiar voice at that point.
Byatts Camp was the next designated victim; I remember some ups and downs, but the overall climb to be pretty easy. I distinctively remember going around a false summit and keeping it on my left. I spent no time at the summit and rushed to the nearby Mount Abbot (there is another Mount Abbot in California that I still have to climb).
I was on a mission and there was no time to waste; after a picture and a sip of water I resumed my stroll to Mount Townsend, the second highest mountain of the range just 20 meters short of Kosciusko.
It.s between Abbot and Townsend that the weather turned very nasty. At some point, I could barely see my feet and I had no sense of direction; I was walking on a ridge (and didn.t realize it) and because of a bad step I fell for at least 10 feet, able to stop using my hiking pole (thanks Lord).
The ski turned black and the wind increased scarily, just like predicted by the skier.
Atop Townsend there is another little monument that I could hardly see because of blowing snow; I don.t know what I was thinking at that time, but I continued trying to bag Alice Rawson Peak.
Few hundred feet past the summit of Townsend a lightning hit either my next summit or it was very close to it; I don.t think I.ve ever been that close to a lightning and I was very uneasy. I was also badly dehydrated and was growing a tremendous headache because of the sunburn. Everything was telling me it was time to turn back, difficult pill to swallow for me.
That was my seventh peak of the day.
It took me much longer than I thought to descent the gully between Townsend and Alice Rawson, purely relying on the GPS at that point until weather cleared out a bit and I found myself hiking some ski slopes.
For a minute, I thought about climbing Mount Northcote, but the headache was really telling me to go home. Even in case I did climb Northcote I would have had two more mountains to go to reach my initial objective; Carruthers looked FAR from where I was, not to talk about Twynam and Dubois. That was definitely a retreat.
If I had company, my camelback, my sunglasses and more clement weather, I am sure I would have made it. I was not physically exhausted by any means.
I was able to find the .proper. way back, passing through the beautiful Seamans hut where I surprisingly found nobody. There was a sign-in register sitting on a table inside and that confirmed the mountain is a popular objective. Like I.ve often seen, there were some very nice entries in the log and I spent some time reading them before I added mine.
From the hut, the .real. trail is essentially a highway to the car. In the morning, I should have gone south from the parking lot and not west and that.s the reason why I missed it in first place.
I spent little time at the parking lot and just wanted to get out of the national park. There were two new cars with few weekenders ready to approach the backcountry for some winter camping; one guy offered me $20 to make a phone call, but my phone did not work. He asked me what I did and he was impressed by the relatively easy outing I just completed.
That night I wanted to crash in the car, but there was no way I was going to do it. I was shivering because of the sunburn and my headache was grand. Back in Jindabyne, I got a motel room and slept like a baby (the motel room had 6 beds, no wander why it was 100 bucks.).
7 out of the 10 tallest mountains in Australia isn.t that bad after all; I will hardly go back there, but if you are in doubt whether to try it or not. just go for it, it.s fun and you.ll see a side of Australia you would never expect.
My statistics for this outing: 7 peaks, 21 miles (more than 30Km), 11.5 hours, 5233 feet elevation gain.