On December 1st 2008, a group of six of us assembled at the bottom of the chairlift at Thredbo ready for a five day walk across the Main Kosciuszko Range. in the morning, the weather had been very overcast and the whole range looked to be well and truly clouded in. I was very reluctant to proceed in this weather but by early afternoon, the weather had cleared so we set off.
It was soon clear to us as to why the weather had changed – there was a continuous north- westerly blowing across the range at about 40 kms per hour. We walked into a strong headwind for the first hour and a half and after travelling only two kilometers in this time, we realised that there was no hope of us reaching our intended destination for the night at Cootapatamba Hut (which would have been very exposed anyway). Instead, we found a sheltered spot in the lee of a rock outcrop in the Etheridge range and set up our tents for the night. The weather was getting colder as we ate dinner and by the time it was dark at 8:30 pm, we were al in bed to keep warm. Sometime during the night, the wind changed slightly to the north and our campsite was battered by strong winds for many hours.
On waking the next morning, after very little sleep, we discovered how much the temperature had really dropped overnight when we found that some water we had left in our dinner plates had frozen to a thickness of nearly a quarter of an inch.
In the morning, we left our packs near our camp site and headed across country to climb Mt Ramshead. We had superb views from the top, but the wind was so strong, we could barely stand. After a return walk of probably 3 kms we were back to our campsite for lunch and still only 2 kms from the top of the chairlift from which we we had started our walk on the previous day.
After lunch, we pushed on along the track to Rawson’s Pass and climbed Mt Kosciuszko. There is a new track to the summit and it requires a lot less rock scrambling than on previous trips. We had now climbed the first and fourth highest peaks in Australia. It was very difficult to find any sheltered area for an overnight camp, so we walked down the road towards Charlotte Pass for 2 kms and spent the night in Seaman’s Hut – the only building on the main range. We were rather cramped in the one small room, but we were warm and sheltered from the wind and in good spirits.
We revised our plans for the third day, intending to climb Australia’s second highest peak – Mt Townsend; a 10 km return trip from the hut and then go back down to Thredbo to get out of the tortuous wind. This meant admitting that we were defeated by the weather, and it was a far better option with the level of equipment we were carrying. We eventually abandoned our plans to climb Mt Townsend -the wind was still very strong and we wouldn’t have had time for the ascent and to get back to the chairlift in time for the last trip of the day at 4.30 pm.
We spent the next two nights in a caravan park in Jindabyne and enjoyed being out of the gale force winds as well as the luxury of a hot shower. We could also cook in a well equipped camp kitchen.
On our fourth day, we drove to Charlotte Pass and took a day walk down and across the Snowy Rive and then up to the Blue Lake. This is an incredibly scenic part of the Kosciuszco National Park. It was an idyllic day with lots of blue sky, sunshine and only a gentle breeze. How different from the previous three days! After lunch, we walked straight up the side of Mt Twynam (the third highest peak in the country). We arrived back at Jindabyne by 6:30 pm and celebrated our last night with some good wine and good food before returning home to Melbourne on the following day (one day earlier than originally planned).
Even through the wind was a real challenge for us, we found that a bit of tenacity and some flexible thinking still gave us the chance to achieve most of our goals and still have an enjoyable time.