A bonus hike up Mount 'Kozzie'
I WAS scrolling through the stream of reviews online by people who had successfully hiked up Mount Kosciuszko, trying to convince my wife and daughter to join me on a day trip to ascend the highest mountain in the Australian continent.
We were midway through our road trip to complete the alpine drives on the Snowy Mountains and hiking "Kozzie" (as the peak is fondly referred to) would be a bonus.
Kozzie is a mere 2,228m in altitude, and is so accessible that an estimated 100,000 make their way up to its summit annually, all year round. According to Australian Geographic Outdoor, "one in 10 Aussies have made it to the top of Kozzie and a staggering seven out of 10 want to".
Australians wishing to accomplish the World's Seven Summits Challenge (on seven continents) have home-ground advantage, as Kozzie is the easiest of the seven to bag.
In furthering my cause for the hike, I mentioned that the first 600m could be assailed without any legwork. Just hop onto a chairlift. Warily, my wife and daughter bought into it.
Mount Kosciuszko rises from the Snowy Mountains, straddling the states of New South Wales and Victoria. These uplands represent the Alps of Australia and are within reasonable reach by car from the cities of Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. The Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales, where Kozzie resides, is accessible via the scenic road called the Alpine Way.
As for hiking up Kozzie, among the few well-trodden tracks, the Mount Kosciuszko Walk is the shortest, and therefore most popular.
The trek along this route is noted to be gentle and horizontal most of the way.
Making this trek requires one to sojourn in Thredbo, a popular ski village, which, by definition, means low-to-zero population during summer - which also happens to be the best time to amble up Kozzie.
After breakfast and a short 100m walk downhill, we arrived at the chairlift station to purchase our tickets. We were told that the Kosciuszko express chairlift was closed for maintenance, and that raised my daughter's eyebrows. The Snowgum chairlift was the alternative, so we bought one-way fares at A$28 (S$28) per person.
The trail head was across the road from the express chairlift upper station, at an altitude of 1,935m, just above the treeline. The distance to the summit was 6.5km with an elevation gain of about 290m, well within our capabilities, in fair conditions.
For the most part, the track was on a raised metal mesh, constructed to protect the terrain and vegetation, but it can become slippery when wet. The landscape was one of undulating plains, pockmarked with rocks and alpine flora, serene and rather featureless.
There were two lookout points along the trek; the first was the Mount Kosciuszko Lookout, which faces the Rams Head Range, and the next was the one overlooking Lake Cootapatamba.
We stopped at the highest toilet in the land at Rawson's Pass, still another 1.67km from the summit. The metal walkway ended there and the footpath thereon was of gravel and stones. We arrived at the peak at 12.45pm under a blazing midday sun, with sweeping panoramic views of the other peaks on the range. The entire trek took about three hours.
The weather (and the forecast) cannot, and must not, be trusted. Even in the height of summer, double-digit temperatures in degrees Celsius are not guaranteed.
On the day of our hike, I awoke to a cold morning. My spirits were further dampened when I looked out of the window and saw a dense fog weighing down on the mountain slope. The situation 600m above Thredbo wasn't any better, as we viewed the live camera shots coming in to the chairlift base station. Visibility was next to none. Half-consciously, we figured our odds were even that the weather would improve. That's when we bought the tickets for the ride up.
When we got to the trail head, the sun had burned holes in the cloud cover. By the time we crossed a footbridge over Merritts Creek (before the metal mesh path), more patches of blue sky had broken through. It was a good feeling to be on the winning side of a gamble, especially with the weather.
From our summit photos, the top looked perfectly bright and sunny. What couldn't be seen was the force of the blistering winds.
On our return, with another 1.5km to go, the mist rolled in, followed unexpectedly by dewy rain. In my haste to put on my rain gear, I dropped my camera and cracked the lens.
To rub it in, the promise of refreshments and snacks vanished when we found the Eagles Nest Cafe closed at the end of the trail. While we knew we had arrived at Australia's highest restaurant, we couldn't verify the claim that it served great food.
We followed the Merritts Nature Track (4km) down to Thredbo. This trail leads to a forest of snow gum trees, crosses several winter ski runs and eventually dovetails with the bobsled tubes that end at the Valley Terminal.
Ardent hikers might relish the challenge of two longer routes up to Kozzie. Starting off from Charlotte's Pass, one traces the Summit Walk that crosses the Snowy River and passes Seaman's Hut (9km one way). The other follows the Main Range Track, winding up mountains, skirting Blue Lake, and offers the opportunity to scale two other hills, Mount Twynam and Curruthers Peak (12.5km one way). Camping is highly recommended on this second route.
With such a variety of hikes, Kozzie should be explored for more than a day. As Alan Arnette wrote: "Sometimes, a mountain does not have to be high to be fun." Just be sure you are prepared for the unexpected.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
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