Author: Jacob Hill
Just before the New Year I headed up to Queensland to make a special delivery. On the way, I decided to make a stop at Mt Kosciuszko – Australia’s tallest mountain. I’ve been there once before and had so much fun the first time (even if I nearly got myself killed) I decided to conquer it again. Just like last time, my life was put in danger – but it wasn’t my fault this time!
A (MOSTLY) GOOD START
The day started off with my car stuck near Jindabyne, the gateway to Kozzie. I pulled over and an incredibly shallow rut, only a few inches, got my wheels off the ground. I calmly called for roadside assistance and discovered that my membership had expired. How stupid of me to assume I was covered – double-check everything!
So, in the pre-dawn light, I was handing over bank details while sitting in my immobilised car, hazards blaring conspicuous orange light onto sleeping surrounds. The tow-driver was rough as guts and clearly thought I was a moron, but he was still a great guy and I appreciated his help. With that hiccup out of the way, I continued on to Mt Kosciuszko National Park.
I got there nice and early so I could avoid the worst of the Summer Sun. The forecast was clear skies, perfect sunburn weather. Knowing from last time, I still packed my rain protection just in case. The drive to Charlotte’s Pass is a breathtaking one, gently weaving through the shallow valleys whose snows had yet to battle with the Sun’s heat.
I got to the carpark, which is tiny and thus always full. I then realised I had two choices for parking: On the cliff precipice, or on a steep ditch. Still wary from the morning’s incident, I still didn’t feel like tumbling down the side of a mountain (I already had plenty of experience with that – it’s not fun), so I carefully parked my car partially into the ditch, panicking as the car practically turned sideways.
It was time to get going. The walk was easy enough – it helps I’ve lost weight since last time I was there. Plus, I was familiar with the track. I took my time, barely breaking a sweat in the warm weather. I was kind of like those mountains: Blasted with rays, yet still able to keep cool.
Last time around, I was focused on the track, trying to figure out where it went, what twists and turns it would take. Knowing how the journey went, I spent more time focusing on the mountains. The contrast of white against black amongst the grey and pale green was mesmerising, and a fine mist occasionally blew from their tops. The stream below flowing through the valley boulders completed the picture.
But then I started wondering how the mountains got there. I couldn’t figure it out; neither could anyone else for a long time.
Mt Kosciuszko is deep within the Great Dividing Range, a long string of mountains stretching from the tip of Queensland all the way to the Grampians in Victoria. It is the fifth-longest mountain range in the world (behind the Trans-Antarctic Mountains, Rocky Mountains, the Southern Great Escarpment of Africa and the Andes). They are also at least 100 million years old since they contain geological evidence from when Australia was part of the supercontinent Gondwana., which makes them truly ancient mountains.
But their formation was always a mystery. Many mountains are formed by tectonic plates pressing against each other at a rate of an inch per year. The Himalayas are tectonic-formed mountains, but are only 50 million years old. But the Great Dividing Range is far from any tectonic fault lines (which is why Australia rarely has Earthquakes).
There is granite throughout the ranges (evidence of magma), but these mountains were not created by recent volcanic activity – The ranges are too wide and too extensive to be volcanic ‘hot spots’ like Iceland or Hawaii. Besides, mountains formed by volcanic eruptions like Mt Fuji or Mt Etna are pretty young – only a 100,000 years old or so! There’s little volcanic activity going on in these mountains, and the few volcanoes we do have in Australia came long after the Great Dividing Range.
So, what gives?
A theory proposed a few years back has gained currency. Basically, 160 million years ago, this area of Earth was a low, flat plain on the supercontinent Gondwana. As Gondwana begin to split apart the Earth’s crust became weaker, allowing magma underneath it to heat the crust and push the flat land up, This formed a highland several kilometres high and explains the gentle, rolling nature of the Great Dividing Ranges before sharply dipping down.
100 million years ago, after the continent began splitting, a rift valley was formed in the plateau, separating what would become eastern Australia from New Zealand. Then, the ocean began to pour into the rift, separating Australia and New Zealand by water. The mountains of Australia have since been heavily eroded, exposing lots of ancient granite and other volcanic rock.
It’s the rarest way for mountains to form, and honestly it’s still a bit puzzling to me, but I’ll trust the geologists who’ve been studying this phenomenon.
But I didn’t know that back then. Instead, the question occupied my mind for hours until I descended into the shallow valley, roughly halfway to the summit. I stopped at the Snowy river, which flows all the way to Marlo, a town I had visited the day prior. It was odd: First I was at its end, now I was close to where it began. I really had come a long way in such little time!.
According to local Aboriginal stories, The Snowy River was formed when a platypus followed the Moon as it took seawater to the mountains. The platypus stabbed the moons bucket (because Platypuses have poisonous spurs!) and the water gushed out into the land, providing drinking water for the creatures (and a place for the Platypus to hang out in!).
As for the empirical explanation, I don’t know. All I know is it starts roughly 3km from Mt Kosciuszko and there’s a great poem written by Banjo Patterson called The Man from Snowy River. It’s about a man who wasn’t bested by the country as many tried and failed to capture an escaped horse. Patterson ended up on the $10 note, such is his writing ability.
THE SEAMAN’S HUT
I left the valley and passed a wall of snow that lined the gravelly track to Seaman’s Hut. Last time, I was confused as to why the hut was called that since it’s so far from the ocean. As it turns out, it’s named after Laurie Seaman, who along with Evan Hayes died ~13-14th August 1928.
Carrying no spare equipment, they trekked from Rawson’s Pass to Kosciuszko’s Summit – less than two kilometres. Once at the summit, the weather instantly deteriorated and the two men lost their way in the storm. Their bodies were found just a kilometre away from the summit in the opposite direction they should have travelled.
Laurie’s parents built the hut in 1929 so other travellers could be safe in the mountains. It has saved many people’s lives, including as recently as August 2022. I stupidly ignored the hut last time and was lucky to have pulled through. But such similar situations – reach the summit, worsening weather, no spare clothing – I could’ve easily been another Seaman.
That’s no exaggeration: Kosciuszko is a dangerous place, especially during Winter (Jun-Aug). In the hut is a plaque dedicated to four snowboarders – Dean Pincini, Tim Friend, and brothers Scott and Paul Beardsmore. They were caught in a snowstorm and were heading for the hut, but died when their snow cave collapsed in August 1999, just 1.5km from the hut. Seriously, be careful around mountains.
JOURNEY TO THE SUMMIT
I was making great time. Leaving Seaman’s Hut behind me, I set off to Rawson Pass, the last stop before the summit. Last time, the clouds were gathering ominously, but this time the skies were a brilliant blue – a great sign.
What wasn’t a great sign was the Summit itself. It looked a lot different from last time. First off, there was a lot of snow. The Sun was beating down on me, so the snow came as a shock. I looked for the track, but couldn’t see it. That’s when I saw colourful specks walking across the snow. It was covering the track. My shoes had excellent grip and I had a hiking stick, but I wasn’t sure how they’d handle snow.
I was a bit anxious as I approached. I could see a path carved from previous travellers through the soft snow. The angle was steep so I went slowly. I was shocked by the other visitors who were trying to cross as quickly as possible – don’t they know how dangerous angles can be? Maybe my experience on Mt John has made me hypersensitive, but the terrain was also very hazardous!
I slipped and I had the grace of an elephant, but sticking to the path helped me get across. I felt relief in my heart…only to turn the corner and see even more snow covering the path. Luckily, this was on a better angle, but I still took my time, even if it annoyed the tourists behind me. Remember: That is done quickly which is done correctly.
I got to the top and there were a lot of people up there. It was a beautiful day, so it was expected. But I was dismayed to see the cairn had been destroyed! It’s no wonder why – people kept climbing all over it to take pictures – I saw someone break it even further when they kicked a stone from its mortar! It really saddened me. It was already in rough condition and people were ignoring that and ruining it further.
Also, there were a few people that were being obnoxiously loud. I came up here to enjoy the peace, not listen to you yell. Nonetheless, I still had a great time enjoying the view.
I started to get annoyed, so I decided to head down the mountain – back to the snow.
WHAT THE HELL, MAN?
As with anything, the second time around is easier; Experience is a great teacher. The first patch of snow was easier to cross. But once I got to the second one, my heart sank: There were people all over the higher, less treacherous track. So, I opted for the lower track, where each step threatened to send you tumbling down the mountain, but at least there were no tourists pushing past me.
I nearly got to the end with only a few stumbles – my shoes were doing a better job at gripping than expected. That’s when I saw the ranger with the shovel, standing upright at the foot of the snow. I was about five metres to the gravel track when she barked at me to get out of the way!
I looked back at her like she was nuts. I so close to the end – let me through, please! I wasn’t walking back twenty metres through snow just to jostle past impatient travellers who would probably push me down the mountain. Again, she ordered me to move and nodded her head to the side – down the slope!
I understand she was going to shovel a secure path through the snow, but was she really going to force me to step into the steep, unstable snow?
As soon as I stepped off the track, I slipped. I stuck my bottom foot out and used my stick to slow my descent, but this did little. I drove my upper hand into the snow in a desperate attempt to anchor myself, but every disturbance made the snow shift. I stopped after what seemed forever. I was only a few metres down, but that was a few metres I had to drag myself back up through unsteady snow.
Other visitors watched as I slid down the mountain, some giving unhelpful commentary. The ranger herself was being especially unhelpful, condescendingly commanding me to do things that I was already doing!
I took a few minutes getting back up, resisting the urge to throw a snowball at the ranger for telling me to stop screwing around. First, you forced me into this situation, second, I don’t have the proper equipment for this, and third, I’m trying to avoid tumbling into the valley below! Once I climbed up, I muttered some choice words under my breath as I fished out a glove for my hand. My digits were searing from being exposed to snow and I warmed them up as quickly as I could. Even half an hour later they were still sore.
I eventually forgot about the ranger and enjoyed the views once again. Dark clouds started to approach once I reached the Snowy River. No rain fell down and they quickly passed, but I took no chances and quickened my pace.
I completed the walk (rest at summit included) in four hours, forty minutes, forty seconds and four milliseconds. How’s that for satisfying! It was also faster than my previous attempt, which involved outrunning torrential rain. I also took this attempt nice and easy and finished much earlier. Here’s to personal improvement!
I had learned a lot from my first round with Kozzie, thus this time around I was better prepared. But that experience on the snow was eye-opening too. It shows that we need to be ready for anything. Make sure you pack more than bare necessities.
Sure, you may never use your first aid kit, the cold weather clothing on a summer’s day seems pointless and the extra water and food might be weighing you down, but the situation can change in an instant, so it’s better to have them and not need them, than to need them and not have them…
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