My walking companion, youngest son, had just swanned in from months of pounding the mountain trails of the Swiss Alps and Nepal. Lean and fit, he was keen for one final fling before returning to work in early November. We tossed around the possibilities. Frenchman’s Cap, The Labyrinth, the Western Arthurs were his hot choices while Moreton Island or Fraser Island looked like cushy numbers for me. The art of compromise, a 80 kilometre outing to Mt Jagungal in northern Kosciuszko National Park. The iconic Jagungal Wilderness Area is part of The Australian Alps Bioregion, the only truly alpine environment in New South Wales as well as the only part of mainland Australia to have been affected by Pleistocene glaciation.
Over the Alps: To Jagungal on Foot and Fire Trail.
Our timing was impeccable. The Bureau of Meteorology’s Snowy Mountains Regional Forecast promised us: Wednesday: ‘snow showers’ and ‘fresh to strong southerly winds’. The clincher was the ‘minimum of -2ºC, and a maximum of 0ºC’. More of the same for Thursday with relief coming on Friday: ‘fine sunny weather, minimum -3ºC, maximum 9ºC’. We somehow misplaced the fine sunny bit. Youngest son, outfitted with cosy thermals and multiple polapluses, seemed relaxed about all this snow stuff, so I wasn’t overly concerned but wondered if my warm Queensland blood was up to the task.
Once in Canberra I was despatched to Manuka to source the all important hiking rations. Too easy: a big bag of beer nuts, no-brand cups of soup, two-serve pastas, mountain bread, ten yoghurt coated muesli bars, tang, eight Laughing Cow soft cheese wedges, twelve mini Mars bars and two knobs of pepperoni salami to placate youngest son’s carnivorous tendencies. But, when it was too late, at the isolated Whites River hut, he discovered that his confidence in the largesse of this provedore was sadly misplaced. There is an old saying about living on the smell of an oily rag that seems apposite. But I will return to this well chewed bone of contention later.
Map: Geehi Dam: 1:25000.
Map: Jagungal: 1:25000.
Map:Tim Lamble: Mt Jagungal and the Brassy Mountains: 1:31680.
Map: Wyborn, D., Owen, M., Wyborn, L: Geology of Kosciuszko National Park: 1;250000. ( BMR Canberra 1990 ).
Hueneke, K: Huts of the High Country (ANU Press 1982).
Johnson, D, The Geology of Australia ( Cambridge University Press 2009 ).
Tuesday: Guthega Power Station to Whites River Hut: 10 kms.
With a 5.00pm departure we left the bluebell coloured Camry orphaned at the Guthega Power Station, the Australian Alpine Walking Track entrance. The track zig- zagged steeply uphill. With fine cool weather and a window of three hours to cover the ten kilometres to White’s River, there was no particular hurry and apart from a 240 metre altitude gain it was a most agreeable evening’s ramble, as we beetled along in a companionable silence.
Australia’s Subalpine Landscapes
We followed the winding track across a typical subalpine landscape of snow gum woodland interspersed with open grasslands. The subalpine zone in Australia is that in which snow gums are the only tree species, lying between approximately 1400 m and 1700 m. Above 1700 m to about 2000 m, on the Australian mainland, is the treeless alpine zone.
Vistas of extensive treeless grasslands unfolded along the valley floor. These grasslands are said to be the result of cold air pooling in valleys forming frost hollows, producing a microclimate inimical to the survival of trees and shrubs. In the dampest parts where the water table is close to the surface, spongy bogs and fens dominate. The higher ridges are covered in snow gum woodland, the lower edge of the community terminating sharply, forming a definite tree line on a contour around each plain.
Itwas sobering to find huge swathes of the snow gum woodland burnt out, their dead branches arching over our heads. Lines of fire-ravaged hills retreated to the far horizon, but, on an optimistic note, the dominant snow gums were now suckering vigorously from their lignotubers. In 2003 massive fires burnt much of the park and sections of the plateau were still closed until mid 2006. Fire is, of course, part of the natural regime of Kosciuszko, with an average of 100 days annually of high to extreme fire danger. It has the dubious distinction of being one of the most fire prone areas in the world. Fortunately, this area from Guthega to Jagungal was untouched by the massive fires of the summer of 2019-2020.
We reached White’s on dusk. I wussed out, keen for a comfy bunk in the hut. Surprisingly, I met little resistance … for a change. The plummeting temperature, barely holding at 3ºC, dampened our enthusiasm for things outdoorsy: like sleeping in freezing tents, no camp fire, and fourteen hours incarcerated in a hike tent.
Whites River Hut
White’s River Hut, typical of many high country huts, was built in1935 by sheep farmers who engaged in the transhumance of their flocks, grazing them on the high alpine meadows of the Rolling Grounds in summer, retreating to the protected Snowy River stations for winter. Summer grazing on high pastures ceased in the 1970’s.
Constructed of sheet iron, White’s is a basic, dingy hut, appreciated in cold, wet weather, but rarely used on hot summer days. Like most Kosciuszko huts it has sleeping bunks, a fireplace or woodstove, woodstore, tatty table and bench seats and an outdoor dunny. Whites is unusual in that it had an additional, stand-alone four person bunkhouse (since burnt down accidentally), known as ‘The Kelvinator’, for obvious reasons. If it is not obvious to the reader then Kelvinators were a famous brand of Australian refrigerators. This was the last refuge for desperate winter skiers, no doubt thankful to escape from the malevolent Rolling Grounds but usually arriving frozen to the core only to discover there was no room left in the inn.
The main hut is also the refuge of the notorious Bubbles and Bubbles Jnr, bush rats extraordinaire: legends of High Country Huts as walkers and skiers record their exploits of marsupial derring-do and innate native rat cunning at avoiding all manner of water traps and flying footwear. On a visit in 2005, Bubbles made off with our leader’s head torch, dragging it towards his bolt hole stopping occasionally to dine on its hard plastic coating. Tonight, these pint sized bush banditos were content with keeping son in a state of high alert as they tip-ratted through hut rubbish and skittered along the wooden beam highways above our beds. For my part I slept as well as can be expected for a Queenslander. Cold air seeped through my down sleeping bag, thermal liner bag, two thermal shirts, a polar plus jacket, beanie, gloves, woollen socks x2, thermal long johns and over trousers. How cold could it be?
Wednesday: Whites River Hut, Schlink Hilton Hut, Valentines Hut and Grey Mare Hut: 19 kms.
We found out in the morning. All was quiet. No birds, no Bubbles, nosound of running water. Just the muffled fall of light snowflakes susurrating against the hut. Nature called and I emerged at six o’clock and applied my final layer, a thick Gore-Tex rain jacket, which seemed to do the trick. Youngest son surfaced soon after, although I have observed that he normally lies doggo until Jeeves has a fire blazing and breakfast is on the way.
There is nothing like walking in a light snowfall. Cold it may be, but to be out walking on a high country trail in crisp alpine air, is an experience to be remembered. Our bodies quickly warmed up as we ascended towardsSchlink Pass at 1800 metres. In any case our warm gear and wind proofs kept us snug and dry. All too soon we topped the pass and descended to The Schlink Hilton. This twenty bunk ex-SMA hut was named after Herbert ‘Bertie’ Schlink, who was one of a party of four who were the first to complete the Kiandra to Charlottes Pass trip in three days in July 1927.
We ducked in, out of the drifting snowflakes, deposited plops of melting snow, removed several thermal layers, and then squelched off again to the start of the Valentine Fire Trail. Valentine’s marks the start of The Jagungal Wilderness Area. Centred on Mt Jagungal (2060m), this isolated area is a bushwalking paradise: mountain peaks, snowgrass plains, high alpine passes, the massive Bogong Swamp and a derelict gold mine. The area is closed to vehicles but numerous fire trails provide sheltered walking when bad weather closes in over The Kerries and Gungartan.
By 10.30, the snow showers clearing, we sighted Valentine’s Hut, its fire truck red livery standing out against a grey skeletal forest of dead snow gums. Valentine’s is my all time favourite high country hut. Another ex-SMA hut, this natty little four person weatherboard hut has a clean airy feel, with table, bench seats and a wood stove in its kitchen. A home away from home. Other huts are usually dark, sooty, plastered with candle grease and graffiti and generally described as dirty and dingy. Valentine’s has been painted inside and out, has ample windows and, for added creature comfort, a newish corrugated iron dunny close by.
Youngest son, ever hungry, was keen for an early lunch in the snug comfort of Valentine’s, out of the clutches of the blustering southerlies. Two mountain bread roll-ups filled with peanut paste, salami and cheese, a mini Mars and a few handfuls of beer nuts vanished in a flash. He: “What’s next?” Well nothing. Some grumbling about catering arrangements and we were on our way to the Grey Mare, but not before I deemed it politic to requisition a packet of cous cous and pasta from the ‘please help yourself food pile’. The final leg would take us across Valentine’s Creek, over the Geehi (boots off for me), then up and over a 1700 metre alpine moor to Back Flat Creek with a final unwelcome crawl 60 metres up to the Grey Mare Hut for an early mark.
Grey Mare Hut
Grey Mare was a miner’s hut. Gold was discovered in the vicinity in1894 at the Bogong Lead, later called Grey Mare Reef. Initially it was worked as a pit but flooding of shafts ended the first sequence of occupance in 1903. An output of 28.3 kgs of gold in 1902 made it one of the highest yielding gold fields in New South Wales. A second phase of mining started in 1934 with an adit blasted to get to the reef. The ruins of a hut on the creek flats below dates from this period. A final attempt to get at the gold came in 1949 when the present hut was built. The bush around the hut is littered with all kinds of mining knick-knacks: a crusher, a steam engine, a huge flywheel weighing more than two tonnes and a shambolic tin dunny teetering over the abyss of an old mine shaft( since replaced with something safer).
The six berth hut is standard dingy but large and comfortable with a huge fireplace and the best hut views in the park. From our doorstep we had views northwards up the grassy valley of Straight Creek and peeking above Strumbo Hill, the crouching lion, Mt Jagungal, tomorrow’s destination. Looking to the east I could see Tarn Bluff, Mailbox Hill and the Cup and Saucer which I visited in 2017.Behind us was the Grey Mare Bogong topping out at 1870 metres.
By three o’clock, the worms were biting and son was already scruffling through the rations looking hopefully for cups of soup and pasta with Nescafe caramel lattes and chocolate chasers to appease his now constantly rumbling tum. Meanwhile, I set to with bush saw to lay in our wood supply for what was shaping up to be a windy, cold night. No problems with collecting bush timber here, the hut is set in a stand of dead snowgums. By five o’clock it was cold enough to rev up the fire. Come dark we banked the fire and drifted to our bunks, snuggling down into warm bags. The predicted ‘windy’ conditions made for a restless night with a banging door and overhanging branches raking the corrugated iron chimney.
Thursday: Grey Mare to Jagungal and return: 22 kms.
Up at six o’clock in anticipation of the long walk to Jagungal and back. Snowshowers again, a gusting tail wind catching our rucksacks and driving us sidewards off the Grey Mare Trail as we headed north. With Phar Lap out in front and Dobbin coming at a steady gallop behind, we burned up the kilometres, hayburners from hell, past Smith’s Lookout (1748m), across the Bogong Swamp (dry), rock hopped over the Tooma River, and thence to our Jagungal access at the Tumut River campsite. And not a single grey mare in sight. A heap of beer nuts and a yoghurt bar each and we were off again, a 220 metres climb onto the mist shrouded south west ridge, a sharp turn left and an easier 160 metre ridge walk to Jagungal Summit at 2062 metres. The Roof of Australia, or near enough. The mist cleared…. how lucky was that?
Mt Jagungal 2061 m.
Jagungal is instantly recognisable from over much of Kosciuszko. A reassuring landmark for bushwalkers and skiers alike, a beacon… an isolated black rocky peak standing above the surrounding alpine plains. It is at the headwaters of several major rivers: the Tumut, the Tooma and the Geehi. It was known to cattlemen as The Big Bogong or Jagunal. The later spelling, Jagungal, is considered by the old timers a latter day perversion. Jagungal appears on Strzelecki’s map as Mt Coruncal, which he describes as “crowning the spur which separates the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers”. The aborigines often called mountains in the alpine zone Bogong, indicating a food source, the Bogong moth. Europeans applied their own nomenclature to differentiate the Bogongs: Paddy Rushs Bogong, Dicky Cooper Bogong and Grey Mare Bogong.
Unlike most of the other Bogongs whose granitic origins are revealed bytheir characteristic whaleback profiles, Jagungal’s summit is distinctively peaky. It sports a lizard like frill of vertical rock towers, some intact, other lying in jumbled heaps. Jagungal is different because it is capped by amphibolite, a black igneous rock more dense than granite, formed by the metamorphosis of basalts, the Jagungal Volcanics. Its origins date back to 470 to 458 Ma, to the Middle Ordovician. It is surrounded by the Kiandra Volcanic Field, part of a belt of volcanoes called the Molong Volcanic Arc.
During theThe Ordovician ( 485 to 444 Ma), Australia was part of a single super-continent and much of Eastern Australia was covered by the sea. Chains of active volcanoes occupied parts of central New South Wales. These were mainly submarine volcanoes but some emerged to form small islands with fringing limestone reefs.The Ordovician saw the first appearance of corals and land plants.
Jagungal was ascended by Europeans in the winter of 1898 when a partyfrom the Grey Mare Mine climbed it using primitive skis called ‘Kiandra snowshoes’. Ours was a much less adventurous walk, but we still savoured our time on the summit. Especially magnificent were the views south to the snow capped Main Range, four days away. It was so clear that we could even discern Victoria’s Mt Bogong on the far southern horizon. But the cold wind soon drove us into a protected sunny nook just under the summit. We hunkered down, lunched, son eased into one of his regular catnaps…. no doubt dreaming of Nepal and wolfing down a huge bowl of Nepali boiled potatoes and rice; or perhaps a large slice of pizza; or even, given our now parlous food situation, a plate of succulent fried Bogong Moths.
I had noticed on a previous trip and again on our ascent today, huge raucous flocks of crows cawing around the steep summit cliffs. I had seen the same phenomenon on Mt Alice Rawson near Kosciuszko. Inexplicable at the time. Recently, I came across an explanation. The ‘crows’, actually Little Ravens (Corvus mellori), were gathering to feed on Agrotis infusa, the drab little Bogong moth, found only in Australia and New Zealand. To escape the summer heat, these moths migrate altitudinally and set up summer holiday camps in the coolest places in Australia, the rock crevices of the alpine summits. They come in millions from western New South Wales and Southern Queensland, distances in excess of 1500 kilometres, often winging in on high altitude jet streams, and settle in crevices and caves, stacked in multiple layers, 17,000 of them in a square metre, where they undergo aestivation or summer hibernation. The migrations seem to be a mechanism to escape the heat of the inland plains and they gather in the coolest and darkest crevices on western, windward rock faces. A tasty morsel for our corvid buddies.
Aborigines and the Bogong Moths
With the ravens came the aborigines, from Yass and Braidwood, from Eden on the coast and from Omeo and Mitta Mitta in Victoria. All intent on having a good feed and a good time. Large camps formed with as many as 500 aborigines gathering for initiation, corroborees, marriage arrangements and the exchange of goods. It is thought that advance parties would climb up to the tops, and if the moths had arrived they would send up a smoke signal to the camps below. The arrival of the moths is not a foregone conclusion. Migration numbers vary from year to year. Some years they are blown off course and out into the Tasman Sea.1987 was a vintage year, but in 1988 the bright lights of New Parliament House in Australia’s bush capital, acted as a moth magnet, and they camped in Canberra for their summer recess, unlike our political masters.
Men caught the moths in bark nets or smoked them out of their crevices. They were generally cooked in hot ashes but it is thought that women sometimes pounded them into a paste to bake as a cake. Those keen enough to taste the Bogong moth mention a nutty taste. Scientists say they are very rich in fat and protein; this diet sustained aborigines for months and the smoke from their fires was so thick that surveyors complained that they were unable to take bearings because the main peaks were always shrouded in smoke. Europeans often commented on how sleek and well fed the aborigines looked after their moth diet. Edward Eyre who explored the Monaro in the 1830’s wrote: “The Blacks never looked so fat or shiny as they do during the Bougan season, and even their dogs get into condition then.” At summer’s end, with the arrival of the southerlies the moths, aborigines and ravens all decamped and headed for the warmer lowlands. As did my travelling companion and I.
Friday: Grey Mare Hut to Horse Camp Hut: 24 kms
Of necessity, a long day’s walk ahead to put us close to our Guthega exit. Windy and cool again, and no sign of the fine sunny weather promised by our BOM friends. Which was just as well as my radiator was boiling on our way up the steep 200 metre climb out of Back Creek en route to Valentine’s. Today we would be walking south, towards the Main Range. Here was an excellent opportunity to identify from our map the classics of Kosciuszko walking that had been shrouded in mist on our outward walk: The Kerries, Gungartan, Dicky Cooper Bogong, the Rolling Grounds, Mt Tate, Twynam and the biggest Bogong of all, Targan-gil or Mt Kosciuszko.
Horse Camp Hut
Late in the afternoon we turned off the Schlink and found our way to Horse Camp Hut, tucked in snow gum woodland 300 metres below the Rolling Grounds, a high altitude granite plateau above the tree line at 1900+ metres, cold, windy and exposed but spectacular. It is said to be very difficult to navigate in bad weather. I noted in the hut log book that a number of winter skiers had ‘GPSed’ their way to Horse Camp from the Rolling Grounds. It is claimed that the Rolling Grounds are so named because during the summer grazing, stock horses would enjoy a good old dust bath and roll in the many depressions that dot this high altitude plateau.
Horse Camp Hut, of Lilliputian dimensions, still manages a serviceable fireplace, kitchen cum lounge cum wood storage, table, a few decrepit chairs and a separate room with a wood stove and two bunks. Apparently nine girls from SGGS Redlands and their gear were crammed into the room on a wild wet night earlier this year. With temperatures hovering at 2ºC I lit the fire and we polished off whatever meagre rations were left: soup, pasta, noodles and Nescafe Latte laced with Milo lifted from the hut ‘left overs’.
Saturday: Horse Hut Camp to Guthega Power Station. 4 kms.
Up at 6.00. Freezing and no fire or breakfast genie this morning. We set out ASAP, fully rugged up, as the sun lifted over Disappointment Ridge for our final four kilometres into Guthega, downhill. Hopefully Bluebell would be still where we left her. She was, and despite her coat of frost, she fired up and we were away. Off to Sawpit Creek for breakfast, a coffee in Cooma then a slap-up feed and a cold goldie back in Canberra. A fitting end to an outstanding alpine sojourn.
Nestled high up in Kosciuszko National Park’s Jagungal Wilderness Area at about 1850 metres is Bluff Tarn. It is a small alpine lake set in an extensive landscape of alpine ridges, swiftly flowing rivers and the vast swamps that make up the area loosely called Australia’s High Country. Robert Green in his book ‘Exploring the Jagungal Wilderness’ describes Bluff Tarn as “…one of the prettiest spots in the mountains”.
On an early November afternoon I set off with five bushwalking friends, Sam, David, Joe, Richard and Brian on a seven day, 60 kilometre cross country circuit from Guthega to Bluff Tarn on the upper Geehi, then to Tin Hut on the headwaters of the Finn River. Our route started at Guthega Power Station and took in Whites River Hut, Gungartan (2068 m), The Kerries Ridge (2000 + m), Mawsons Hut, the Cup and Saucer (1934 m), Bluff Tarn, the Mailbox (1900 + m), the Brassy Mountains (1972 m), Tin Hut, the Porcupine (1960 m), and Horse Camp Hut via the Aqueduct Track.
The alpine forecast wasn’t quite what this leader was hoping for. Showers most days, starting with a possible thunderstorm for our first day on the track. Temperatures would be pretty friendly though: 7°C to 18° C . Apparently, our luck really would desert us on Friday, 6 days hence. A 90 % chance of 20 to 40 millimetres. Upgraded later in the week to 100 millimetres. I was disinclined to hang around to test out that old saying that ” there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”.
Novemberis my preferred alpine hiking month. The weather is starting to settle; night temperatures are bearable, day temperatures are just perfect; and even light snowfall makes for magical walking. Water is abundant and easy to find. Wildflowers are blooming but best of all, those nuisance bush flies and their high country cousins, the biting Horse/ March/ Vampire flies have yet to descend on the unsuspecting walker.
Horse or March flies appear as adults almost unvarying in the second week of December and hang around all the way through to February. Although theyare called March flies theyare rare in alpineareas in March.
These are large members of the Family TABANIDAE (genus Scaptia). March flies, at 25 mm, are the largest of our biting dipterans. The female does the blood sucking bit, while the benign male is content to feed on nectar and pollen.
On one mid-December Kiandra to Kosciuszko trip in 2006 with my friend Brian, March fly numbers were truly appalling. There was no escape from these pests. They operated on a sunrise to sunset roster and were so bad that it was unpleasant to stop for the vitals like meal breaks, water stops and even navigation checks. They attacked with persistence and determination, and could bite through clothing with impunity. We often tried to find huts for meal breaks, but failing that, donned fly veils, rain jackets and long trousers or rain pants to keep the blighters at bay while we ate. As Queenslanders, our preferred hiking apparel is usually shorts and short sleeved shirts, not thick rain jackets and long trousers. On the warmish December days the rain jacket/rain pants garb was not for the faint hearted.
Alpine Wildflowers: Photos by Sam
Map: Geehi Dam: 1:25000.
Map: Jagungal: 1:25000.
Map: Tim Lamble: Mt Jagungal and The Brassy Mountains: 1:31680.
Green, K and Osborne, W: Field Guide to Wildlife of Australian Snow-Country. (New Holland 2012).
Hueneke, K : Huts of the High Country (ANU Press 1982).
Codd, P , Payne, B, Woolcock, C : The Plant Life of Kosciuszko. (Kangaroo Press 1998).
McCann, I: The Alps in Flower. (Victorian National Parks Assn 2001).
Bluff Tarn: Jagungal Wilderness : Kosciuszko National Park.
Sunday: Guthega Power Station to Whites River Hut: 8 kms.
With cars stabled at the Guthega Power Station we wandered off, ever upward. Sam, David and Richard setting a pretty lively pace under a low leaden sky. There were just enough irritating spots of rain to encourage the old laggards creaking along in the rear to lift our pace. Mid- climb, a squadron of two-wheeling weekend warriors swooped around a blind corner. Braking furiously, some nifty controlled slides, a spray of gravel, and they were off again, pedalling downhill at speed. Eat my dust, Boomer. Our mountain biking friends also anxious to reach cover before the heavens opened. Given my weighty rucksack, I too, could be sucked into this mountain biking game.Though I’m pretty sure that I would end up pushing said mountain bike up the current 250 metre ascent.
I may curse my heavy rucksack but mostly I am grateful for the good things its contentsmake possible: a snug downysleeping bag, the protective cover of my little Macpac one-man tent, a comfy sleeping mat and a generous supply of crystallised ginger and chocolate licorice bullets.
By 3.30 pm we landed at Whites River Hut, disconcerted to find four tents moored on the creek flats below the hut. The tents belonged to a bunch of hikers from the Newcastle Ramblers Bushwalking Club, apparently intent on doing much the same circuit as we had planned. No sweat. Plan B. They were no shirkers, these Novocastrian types. Instead of lolling around the hut for the afternoon (as I would have happily done), they struck out on a somewhat damp stroll across the tops from the Rolling Grounds to nearby Dicky Cooper Bogong (SMA 0113: 2003 m). The place name ‘Dicky Cooper Bogong’ recognises the the traditional Aboriginal custodian of this mountain, one Dicky Cooper.
Aborigines inhabited these highlands as far back as 21,000 years ago with evidence of their occupation coming from Birrigal Rock Shelter in Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve and many sites in the upper Snowy River. Small stone scatters can be found in the alpine landscapes with the highest being a collection found near the saddle of Perisher Gap (1800m).
It is well known that aborigines travelled to these highlands in the summer months to collect and eat the abundant Bogong Moths which were found sheltering in the rocky crevices of all the major outcrops in the Snowy Mountains. I have written extensively about this in my trip report Kiandra to Kosciuszko.
Many place names in the Alps have been derivedfrom local Aboriginal languages: Jagungal, Jindabyne, Talbingo, Yarrangobilly, Suggan Buggan, Mitta Mitta and Tumut. It is not hard to find many otherexamplesfrom your maps. Apparently the Geographical Place Names Board of NSW is considering giving Mt Kosciuszko a traditional Aboriginal name (Kunama) which would sit alongside its current name.
On dusk the predicted showers finally arrived, as did a damp and dishevelled clutch of boys and their teachers from Bathurst. No hanging out in comfortable huts for this lot: they pitched their tents in the rain, had a quick feed then quietly settled down for the night. Meanwhile back at the ranch, Brian’s traditional first night treat of bangers and mash seemed to have spread like some medieval contagion. Most of my fellow hikers had succumbed to this dubious culinary delight and were enthusiastically whipping up dollops of instant mash leavened with green peas, sun-dried tomatoes, and heating neatly folded alfoil cylinders containing pre-fried bangers: beef for preference but maybe lamb & rosemary for those with more delicate taste buds.
Monday: Whites River to Mawsons Hut via Gungarten and The Kerries: 11.5 kms.
Showers overnight but with the mist lifting from The Rolling Grounds and Gungartan, things were on the up and up, weather wise. As were Brian and Joe, clanking about in the dark, soon after 5.30 am. Disturbing my slumber. Our crafty Newcastle Bushwalkers friends still got the jump on us and had drifted off by 7.30 am. A comprehensive report of their walk can be found in the KHA Newsletter: No 178 Autumn 2018. But we were soon hot on their heels desperate not to be pegged as a bunch of idle slackers. Today’s walk would take us to Schlink Pass thence to Gungartan, down into Gungartan Pass, up along The Kerries to Mawsons Hut, tucked in a thicket of snow gums at the northern end of The Kerries. But first, the 300 metre climb from Schlink Pass to the Main Divide through snowgum forest.
The Kerries Ridge (2000 m), a spur of the Great Dividing Range, offers open alpine walking at its very best… in fine weather. This trackless ridge is a landscape of huge granite outcrops and vast alpine meadows. Suffice to say by the time we were well into The Kerries traverse, we watched a succession of storm cells sliding along the high peaks to our north and west, heading our way. Come lunchtime we hunkered down in the lee of a granite boulder, sheltering from the rain that Hughie dropped over us . I’m always a bit disconcerted to be caught out in the open alpine zone with distant lightning and thunder rolling around. But my fellow travellers didn’t seem all that concernedas they disappeared into their rain jackets and munched contentedly on muesli bars, dry biscuits and slabs of cheese. The rain eased to light drizzle, and we moved out, heading north, following the crest.
A further four kilometres of alpine tramping dropped us down to Mawsons Hut. Joe and Richard navigated us off the heights and down to our destination. Pretty much spot on. Being tucked into a grove of snowgums, the hut can be a bit difficult to find. Mawsons was deserted. A Novocastrian-free zone. When we last saw them ambling across Gungartan Pass, they were heading for Tin Hut on the Finn River. Another afternoon thunderstorm and hail swept through, driving us into the hut to finish drying our gear and have a feed.No fry up tonight. It was strictly dry rations for the rest of the weekfor this lot.
Tuesday: Day Walk to Cup and Saucer, Bluff Tarn and The Mailbox: 7 kms.
Fine weather and an easy day walk called us to the hills on our third day. From Mawsons we would cross the Valentine River; scamper up the Cup and Saucer; cut across the grasslands of the upper Geehi to Bluff Tarn; returning to Mawsons via The Mailbox. That was the plan and for once I stuck to it.
We left Mawsons in brilliant weather. A superb day of walking beckoned. We dropped down to the Valentine which still flowing strongly from the spring thaw but we sussed out a partly exposed gravel bed. Richard, Brian and Joe volunteered to check it out. Sacrificial lambs. I am told thatthere is nothing so grumpy as a leader with wet boots this early in the day.
The Cup is a granitic dome ( Happy Jacks Monzogranite: < 20 % quartz) sitting on its saucer, a shelf of nearly horizontal granitic rock. This Silurian granite is 444 to 419 my old and dates from a time when the Earth entered a long warm phase which continued for another 130 million years. Oceanic life flourished and vascular plants increased in size and complexity. The supercontinent Gondwana drifted south and extended from the Equator to the South Pole. Australia was located in the Equatorial zone.
From a distance the Cup and Saucer are well named and form an unmistakable landmark for kilometres in all directions. Topping the Cup is an old Snowy Mountains Authority Trig 133 standing at 1904 metres. This was our first objective. From the top of the Cup we should be able to see a line of travel across to Bluff Tarn.
It was only one and a half kilometresto the Cupbut swampy ground made our approach more circuitous than I anticipated. My original plan was to clamber up the long south western ridge to reach the Trig. But the final steep and damp and moss encrusted granite slabs thwarted all but Brian. Unsurprising really. His friends call him “Straight Line Brian”. Contouring or backing off isn’t part of Brian’s bushwalking lexicon. But the rest of us were content to retreat and scarpered up the more accessible northern face … without any further difficulties.Where upon we settled on the rock outcrops to take in the landscapeand enjoy a leisurely morning tea.
From the summit of the Cup and Saucerunfolded a vast alpine panorama. To the east rose up the high range of the The Brassy Mountains, part of Australia’s Great Dividing Range system. To oureast was the valleyof the Geehi River and its tributary, the Valentine River. Directly to our east and just below our vantage point is the Big Bend. Here the Valentine swings off its northerly course to flow south-west another six kilometres to its junction with the Geehi. No doubtthe granitic dome of the Cup and Saucer forms a structural control over the direction of flow of the Valentine.
To our north , less than a kilometre across the swampy headwaters of the upper Geehi valley was Tarn Bluff (1900 m) with Bluff Tarn tucked somewhere still out of sight.
Bluff Tarn certainly met our all our expectations. It is, indeed, “one of the prettiest spots in the mountains”. But is is not, strictly speaking, a tarn. Merely a lake. My inner pedant would tell you that a tarn is “a small mountain – rimmed lake, specifically one on the floor of a cirque”. No cirque here. But quibbles over geographical precision couldn’t detract from the beauty of our surroundings.
While Bluff Tarn is a small lake, it is fed by a major headwater tributary of the Geehi, with the stream cascading through and over large rounded boulders. The lower reaches of the cascades were still covered by a thick snowbank, even though we were only a few days short of the start of summer. I’m not sure of the origins of Bluff Tarn, but it appears to be formed as a shallow poolfed by the cascadesdropping over a shelf of harder rock. Its outlet was restricted by a prominent bank of coarse, unsorted gravels. It would have been interesting to spend more time checking out Bluff Tarn but the worms were biting and my fellow walkers had lost interest in playing in the snow. They were itching to move on for their lunch break.
Our lunch spotwas Mailbox Hill about a kilometre due east of Bluff Tarn … first though, one of Brian infamous uphill flat bits to raise a sweat and develop a healthy appetite for lunch. The Mailbox or Mailbox Hill, your choice, is a series of rounded outcrops standing at about 1910 metres. It was named The Mailbox because, I guess, mail was collected there by the cattlemen in the days of summer grazing.
The Kosciuszko Huts Association, my alpine bible, have researched the origin of the placename: Post was delivered to the men on the lease by a Mrs Bolton. She was engaged to deliver the mail on horseback to the Grey Mare Mine, travelling the old dray route from Snowy Plain across to Strumbo Hill. Ernie Bale recalled that on Mailbox Hill “there was a clump of rocks and they had shelves in them and sheused to leave the mail for Mawsons Hut – it was always known as the Post Office – she used to leave the mail and put a rock on top of it“.
After a leisurely lunch spent sprawled on slabs of rock well out of the reach of those pestilent little black alpine ants, we wandered off towards Mawsons keeping a weather eye on the clouds building over The Kerries. But not before some male argy bargyabout its location.
Later in the afternoon our Newcastle friends arrived from Tin Hut while the males were down at the creek having sponge-downs. We spent a very congenial evening around the campfire trading tall tales, listening to their hiking stories from far flung parts of the globe andgetting some very handy gear tips from Shayne.
Wednesday: Mawsons Hut to Tin Hut: 8.5 kms.
A pleasantly cool and clear high country morning. By 8.00 am we were packed and on the road. Our route would take us across to the western bank of the Valentine then a gentle 80 metre climb following an old fence line that is marked on my old Tim Lamble map. Tim’s maps, if you can get hold of one, provide a plethora of details useful to the bushwalker and skier: rock cairns, old fence lines, posts, old yards and even magnetic bearings. Anyone interested in maps will appreciate the quality of Tim’s cartography.
We followed the fence line up to a low rocky knoll overlooking the north-south trendingBrassy Mountains (1900m), directly in front of us. Klaus Hueneke in his well researched Huts of the High Country(ANU Press 1982) gives an explanation of the naming of Brassy Mountains .. “named in the early days on account of the reflection from running water over rocks. At certain times this resembles polished brass and can be seen from up to 16 kms away.”
A navigation huddle soon sorted out our next moves. The Brassy Peak (1900 m) was directly in front of us while The Big Brassy (SMA Trig 1972 m) was off to our south east, directly behind The Brassy Peak. But between our eyrie and The Brassy Mountains were the swampy headwaters of Valentine River. I had originally planned to follow the main divide of the Brassy Mountains south to Tin Hut. But an easier option was simply to cross the swamp and then contour along the western base of the Brassies keeping the thick heath just to our left but staying above the fens and bogs of the Upper Valentine to our right ... sound strategy in theory.
But before we trundled off towards Tin Hut there was plenty of time to clamber up to the rock cairn sitting atop The Brassy Peak. From here we looked westward over the vast network of fens and bogs of the upper Valentine to the craggy outline of the Kerries Ridge which we had traversed three days ago.
Bogs and Fens
The upper Valentine is a wide alpinevalley of impeded drainage: a fluvial landscape of bogs and fens. A fen is a specificgeomorphic and botanical entity: namely still clear, pools of standing water with ground-hugging matted plants and the easily recognisable Tufted Sedge, Carex gaudichaudiana.A number of small but showy flowering plants manage to thrive in these waterlogged conditions: the pale purple Mud Pratia (Pratia surrepens), the pale cream or white Dwarf Buttercup (Ranunculus millanii) and the white Rayless Starwort (Stellania multiflora).
Bogs are areas of wet, spongy ground also found in areas of impeded drainage. Floristically bogs are dominated by Spagnum Moss (Spagnum cristatum) and associated with a variety of rushes and sedges, especially the Tufted Sedge. Bogs are associated with the decomposition of organic matter which will ultimately form peat.
These high alpine valleys are commonly underlain by peats formed by the decomposition of plant material after the last glacial period (15000 years ago). The peats are important for absorbing and regulating waterflows in alpine Australia, thus are listed as protected communities under both State and Federal legislation. (PS: tell that to the brumbies).
So with sodden boots and a sense of achievement we pulled into Tin Hut after a full morning’s hiking; just in time for another well deserved bite to eat.Always looking for the next feed. Tinhas a bit of reputation for being difficult to locate in bad weather and is hidden in a belt of snowgums. But with fine , clear skies this was no issue for us.
Tin is the oldest hut in the High Country built specifically for ski touring. Its origins go back to Dr Herbert Schlink’s attempt at the first winter crossing from Kiandra to Kosciuszko. Schlink needed a staging post for his final push along The Great Divide. In the summer of 1925/1926 a bespoke hut was built on the site of an old stockmans’ camp at the head of the Finn River. As 2017 was the 90th anniversary of its construction, our visit was timely.
It is called Tin Hutbecause the roof and walls are constructed of corrugated iron. Some of the timber and iron for its construction was packed in by horseback across The Snowy Plain and The Brassy Mountains. It had a wooden floor and was lined with tongue and groove with the door opening to the east. Initially it was stocked with a horse rug, 24 blankets, a stove, tools and firewood. When Schlink’s party arrived from the south, a blizzard trapped them in the hut for three days, forcing them to give up the 1926 attempt.
On 28 July 1927 Dr Schlink, Dr Eric Fisher, Dr John Laidley, Bill Gordon and Bill Hughes skied out of Kiandra to reach Farm Ridge Homestead on the first night. Excellent snow cover allowed them to reach Tin Hut by 1.00 pm on the second day. They pressed on to the Pound Creek Hut (now Illawong Hut) on the second night. They completed the first winter traverse finishing at Hotel Kosciusko on the third day.
In 1928 Tin Hut served as the base for two winter attempts to Mt Jagungal. The party led by Dr John Laidley skiing to the summit…. for just the second time in history.
In 2017 restoration work on Tin commencedwith a partnership between the Parks Service and the Kosciuszko Huts Association. Men, gear and materials were helicoptered in for the major facelift. One KHA member, Pat Edmondson, eschewed the helicopter ride and walked in from and out to Schlink Pass. Pat was over 80 years old. I can only hope that I can still climb from Schlink Pass to Gungartan when I turn 80.
Afternoon stroll: Tin Hut to The Porcupine & Return: 5.5 kms.
Brian, ever keen on filling in his (and our) afternoons, decided that we shouldn’t waste time hanging around the hut. A more productive use of our time would be a quick jaunt over to The Porcupine, a nondescript alpine ridge (SMA 0109 :1960 m) which separates theFinn River from the Burrungubugge River. From the hut we climbed the long ridge behind the hut to a knoll from which we could look across to the Trig on The Porcupine. Unfortunately, a very steep drop into a saddle then a climb back up to the Trig separated us from our quarryon this decidedly warmishafternoon.Brian and his co-conspirators Richard and Joe were still keen as mustard, happy to descend and climb up again onto The Porcupine ridge. David and Sam seeing the lie of the land, sensibly returned to Tin Hut for an afternoon of leisure. The walk to Porcupine is a scenic enough walk, buton reaching The Porcupine ridge I observed that the heat was getting to them and so the lads weren’t pushing me to go any further. Bless their little hot socks.
We waddled back, avoiding the dreaded climb back up the knoll and reached Tin about 4.00 pm and set about a major rehydration, downing multiple cups of tea, soups and choc-au-laits.An evening perched around the campfire finished off a very satisfying day.
Thursday: Tin Hut to Whites River Hut : 7.5 kms
The easiest route to Whites was to climb the long ridge which separates the Valentine and Finn Rivers, keeping Gungartan to our west. An ascent of a mere 200 metres vertical, but with dense knee-high heath and the odd snake or ten lurking underneath, it seemed endless.One snake had decorously drapedits ectothermic body across the top of a heath bush, obviously hoping to warm up in the feeble sunlightand frighten the bejesus out of a passing bushwalker.
Once on top of the Great Dividing Range we bypassed Gungartan, skirting around its rocky spine until we had a view of Guthega Village.
Time for a snack stop, perched atop huge boulders. A well tested strategy to keep out of the clutches of the maurading hordes of those little black alpine ants that swarm over any rucksack carelessly tossed on the ground. More disconcerting is their ability to overrun boots, climb up gaiters and finally ascend the thighs of any alpine rambler. Trying summer camping in Wilkinsons Valley and tell me how it goes.
Alpine Ants: Iridomyrmex sp.
The ants are probably Iridomyrmex sp, whichmy copy of Green and Osborne’s Field Guide to Wildlife of the Australian Snow-Countrytells meare ” a conspicious part of the fauna in a few habitats, such as herbfield and grassland…. this omnivorous ant is the only common ant species in the alpine zone. It nests in waterlogged areas such as bogs, fens and wet heaths, and raise their nests above the water surface by constructing a mound of plant fragments in low vegetation. They are also found in tall alpine herbfield and dry heath.”
From our rocky eyrie we were treated to superb views across this small patch of Australia’s alpine wilderness.Time alsofor a weather update from duelling smartphones. Tomorrow: (Friday): 90 % chance of 20 to 40 mm. Maybe 100 mm. No arguments about pulling out a day early.
After a good laze around we skirted Gungartanand commenced thelong descent to Schlink Pass (1800 m). Landing in the pass, a mutiny of the “are you stopping for lunch ? ” typebroke out. Ever the considerate leader (probably not) , I caved in and we propped for lunch. Whites River Hut only one tantalising kilometre downhill.
We reached Whites River Hut soon after 2.00 pm. No interlopers on the radar so we had the place to ourselves. Despite tomorrow’s unfriendly weather report everything here was pretty relaxed. The usual suspects weren’t badgering for an afternoon walk (unusual), the weather was warm and sunny so a lazy afternoon beckoned.
We enjoyed a quick cat lick in the nearby icy snow-fed creek…. very quick, did any washing then spread clothes out to dry. The rest of the afternoon was filled with consuming cups of tea/coffee/soup; horse trading of leftover goodies, cutting wood, firing up the stove and reading whatever came to hand. Inside the hut were recycled Kosciuszko Hut Magazines and the hut log book.
Over the years the Whites River Hut log has provided us with many hours of very entertaining reading: the adventures of Bubbles the Bush Rat; the trolling of some trip leader called Robin andheaps of verywell executed drawings and cartoons. Mr Klaus Hueneke should write a book about this stuff.
Friday: Whites River Hut to Guthega Power Station via Aqueduct Track and Horse Camp Hut: 10 kms.
I peeked out. Heavy roiling clouds were brewing over Gungartan and heading our way.
By 8.00 am we had beetled off along the Munyang Geehi road before swinging off onto the Aquaduct track which crosses the Munyang Rivervia a weir. Nearby is an old SMA hut…locked to keep that mountain biking, sking and bushwalking riff-raff out.Especially those dastardly Mountain Bikers.
The Aquaduct trackis a gem of a walk. It winds above and parallel to the Munyang River, weaving around the hills on the 1800 metre contour.My kind of walking.
Mid morning we lobbed into the refurbished Horse Camp Hut for a final feed. I had been to Horse Camp before, returning froman early spring walk to Mt Jagungal with my youngest son. We got to Horse Camp just on dark. I remember how bitterly cold it was, how daggy the hut was and how our evening meal was pretty sparse, even by my standards.
Since then the Kosciuszko Huts Association and the Parks Service had been very busyand the hut was looking very spruce indeed. Unlike the young guy who had taken up residence in the hut. He was obviously therefor the long haulor maybe the end of the world and had somehow dragged in all manner of heavy duty camping gear.
Horse Camp Hut
Horse Camp is a two room, iron clad hut set in a belt of snow gums under The Rolling Grounds. Its construction history is a bit fuzzy but was built initially in the 1930s as a shelter for stockmen working the snow lease owned by the Clarke brothers. It has the main elements of a traditional grazing era mountain hut with a bush pole frame, steeply pitched gabled roof, clad with short sheets of corrugated iron that could be packed in on horses.
At some stage over the decades it was partitioned into two rooms – a northern bunk room with a pot belly stove and the main kitchen room. A ceiling loft was added as well as a wooden floor and nifty three panel narrow windows.Several of the modifications were done by the Snowy Mountains Authority in the early 1950s.The SMA used Horse Camp as a base for their horseback survey teams working on thefirst Snowy Mountains Project, the Guthega Dam and associated infrastructure.
Leavingour young prepper friend to his preparations for the Covid19 lockdown, we drifted off. A quick descent to the Guthega Power Station to find our vehicles waiting patiently in the car park, wheels and windscreen wipers still attached, and ready to transport us back to Canberra. But not before we detoured into the Parks Visitors Centre Parc cafe in Jindabyne for a selection of their satisfyingly greasy offerings, all washed down with a decent coffee.
As always, a big thank you to my band of merry bushwalking companions: Sam, David, Joe, Richard and Brian. May we enjoy many more rambles in the back blocks of Australia’s magnificent High Country.
Northern Kosciuszko is a subdued 1400 metre landscape of rolling sub-alpine grasslands separated by low snow gum clad hills and ranges rising to a maximum of about 1600 metres. This vast upland has a different feel to the rugged landscapes of southern Kosciuszko where 2000 metre whaleback mountains and ridges predominate. With its open vistas, network of mountain huts and more benign weather, northern Kosciuszko offers its own easier but distinctive walking opportunities.
A Hike in Australia’s High Country
Can I tempt you with a leisurely 50 kilometre, 6 day walk in the high country of northern Kosciuszko National Park? Nothing too taxing. Imagine stepping out along grassy 4WD tracks as they wind up through snow gum woodlands to low alpine passes then gently descend to vast open plains of swaying tussock grasses. Maybe camping overnight near historic mountain huts? Throw in showy alpine wildflowers, perhaps a sighting of an elusive wombat, limestone caves, brilliantly coloured Flame Robins, or maybe the eerie nocturnal call of a Boobook as you lie snug in a warm sleeping bag. With these promises in mind, on a balmy November evening, seven walkers left Ghost Gully Campground on Long Plain to enjoy six days of hiking across the high plains of northern Kosciuszko.Continue reading Hiking the High Plains of Northern Kosciuszko→
One of my favourite places in Australia’s high country is Long Plain in Kosciuszko National Park. The subdued topography of this open grassy plain in Northern Kosciuszko presents a marked contrast to the 2000 metre whaleback mountains and alpine ridges of Southern Kosciuszko. On a recent trip to Northern Kosciuszko we camped at the Long Plain Hut and also hiked in to Hainsworth Hut, an old grazing hut, via the Mosquito Creek Trail.
by Glenn Burns
Long Plain, in Kosciuszko NP, is one of the many high frost plains between the Brindabellas and Kiandra, all mostly above 1300 metres. These are called frost hollows or cold air drainage basins and are naturally occurring treeless plains formed when cold heavy air drains into depressions along the valleys of creeks and rivers. The pooling of frosty air suppresses the growth of tree seedlings and consequently the plains are bereft of trees, even the amazingly hardy snowgums. Instead, the snowgums and black sallees grow on the ridges above the valleys: thus an inverted treeline.
Long Plain is, as its name implies, a long plain. About 30 kilometres in length between Peppercorn Hill in the north and Bullocks Hill to the south, this is an immense open grassland drained by the upper reaches of the Murrumbidgee River or Murrumbeeja. Its European discoverer was Charles Throsby Smith who, in March 1821, followed the Molonglo River to its junction with the Murrumbidgee, close to the present site of Canberra. Seventy kilometres south-west of Canberra, the Murrumbidgee rises on Long Plain in an amphitheatre formed by the apex of the Fiery Range and the Gurrangorambla Range, near Peppercorn Hill. From here it initially flows south-south-west following the line of the Long Plain Fault, a major structural feature extending from about 25 kilometres north of Brindabella, through Kiandra to just west of Mt Kosciuszko. The plain is bounded by the Fiery Range to the west and, a few kilometres to the east, a line of 1600 metre peaks: Mt Nattung 1618m, Whites Hill 1597m, and Skaines Mountain 1601m.
Long Plain’s open grassland vistas, a cultural heritage of grazing huts, interesting bird sightings and the possibility of spotting wombats, dingoes and brumbies make for a great walking and camping experience. Any time between October and May is a good time to visit but access gates are locked in winter as snowfalls blanket these high plains. Other northern frost plains worth investigating include Coolamon, Tantangara, Gooandra, Boggy, Dairymans and Currango.
We had fine warm days and a coolish night for our March overnight trip into Hainsworth Hut. It is an easy walk following the Mosquito Creek Trail which obligingly contours along the lower edge of the sub-alpine woodland for most of the way. The woodland was typical snowgum-black sallee dominant with an understorey of shrubs and snowgrass.
Conveniently placed logs provided opportunities to perch and spy on the local birds. The usual high country customers appeared in due course: Wedgetails, Red Wattlebirds, Crimson Rosellas, Ravens and Flame Robins among the more obvious.
Although horse riding and mountain bike riding are permitted on the Mosquito Creek Trail we weren’t bothered by either. But the pyramids of horse poo, hoof marks and tributary brumby pads attested to the presence of horses, wild or otherwise. This was borne out in the number of entries in the hut log book mentioning brumby sightings and horse riders clip-clopping in from Ghost Gully or Cooinbil Hut.
Australian Alps Walking Trail marker.
Mosquito Ck Trail
Evening clouds over Long Plain.
Hainsworth Hut and Salewa tent
Treeline on Long Plain
The vast majority of visitors come in summer. I found my old entry from a Kiandra to Canberra trip in May 2012: this was the onset of winter and virtually no-one came through after our party until five months later, the spring thaw in October. But our current trip was in early autumn and the weather was brilliantly fine but leavened with a sneaky alpine breeze. We pitched our two-man Salewa on the cropped grass and had a very comfortable night under canvas. The general rule is that huts should only be used for emergencies in bad weather.
Hainsworth was one of a string of grazing huts built along Long Plain. Others included Long Plain Hut, Millers Hut, Jannets(ruin), Cooinbil, Peppercorn (ruin), Little Peppercorn(ruin) and Pethers (ruin). Klaus Hueneke in his well researched and interesting reference book Huts of the High Country estimates that there could have been up to 20 huts across the plain at the peak of grazing. For the mountain hut afficionados among you I can recommend books or articles written by Klaus Hueneke and the Kosciuszko Huts Association website. Hainsworth or Landrover Hut is a simple two-roomer, a bedroom and a kitchen. It was built in about 1951 by Hainsworth and Corkhill as a summer grazing hut. It is clad in corrugated iron, has two doors and two hatch windows, an open fireplace and solid wooden floor. Like most of the high country huts it is well sited: sheltered from westerly winds, close to a supply of water and timber, with magnificent views over grassy flats and a morning sun aspect allowing the hut’s inhabitants to thaw out. Hainsworth Hut has an excellent location overlooking the grassy flats of Dip Creek.
Recently I read Miles Franklin’sChildhood at Brindabella which is recommended reading for all high country enthusiasts. Stella (Miles) Franklin was born at Lampe Homestead, a grazing property at Talbingo near Tumut in 1897. She went on to write 21 Australian books. Miles Franklin spent the first ten years of her life at Brindabella only 50 kilometres to the north east from Hainsworth Hut. Childhood at Brindabellais an excellent snapshot of the life and the landscapes of Northern Kosciuszko and the nearby Brindabella Ranges at the turn of the 20th century.
Sixty years ago the creek flats below us would have been alive with grazing sheep. A record in the log book by Bill Hainsworth’s daughter noted that up to 3000 sheep would graze around the hut and its environs. But we had to content ourselves with the lone fat and prosperous dingo that cruised along the treeline opposite our vantage point in the doorway of the hut. We watched for quite a while as it went about its doggy business scoping out various burrows and tunnels. Judging by the prevalence of rabbit burrows, our dingo would have no difficulty in getting a decent feed for tonight. In all my walks in the high country I have had only two previous encounters with this splendid apex predator, a subspecies of the grey wolf. My dingo bible, Laurie Corbett’s The Dingo in Australia and Asia, says that the alpine dingoes are a distinct subspecies, one of three in Australia. They feast on rabbit, wallaby, wombat with the occasional brumby foal thrown in as a special treat. They are actually quite lazy hounds, rarely travelling more than two kilometres a day and their territories are small ellipsoids, with the long axis only twelve kilometres in length.
On dusk just as we were drifting off to sleep I heard an ever so light drumming of hooves outside the tent. I peered out through the Salewa’s nifty little plastic window. Below, on the creek’s edge, a mere hundred metres away, a solitary brumby drank from Dip Creek. In Australia, non-domestic horses are generally known as either brumbies or wild horses or feral horses. The term brumby is attributed to James Brumby, who released his horses to run free on his land in NSW when he was transferred to Tasmania in the 1830’s. There is no doubt that horses have played an important part in Australia’s recent history as they have been involved in exploration, mining, racing, transportation, grazing and droving, and as part of the mounted police and Australian Light Horse Regiments.
So for most people a brumby sighting is always exciting. Australians have a great emotional attachment to horses, and I can relate to this. But the hard reality is that brumbies are feral horses, with the same status as foxes, cats, goats, deer and pigs. Thus, ecologically, they have no place in these fragile alpine ecosystems. In the Australian Capital Territory, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland they are culled, usually shot from helicopters, but in New South Wales and Victoria herds of these hayburners from hell cavort over the snowgrass plains with seeming impunity: brunching on the juiciest wildflowers, carving out innumerable tracks through the scrub and pugging alpine streams and swamps with their hooves. Numbers in Kosciuszko are currently well over 4000, and escalating each year. In 2005 the Parks Service consulted with all stakeholders and prepared a management plan: Horse Management Plan for Kosciuszko National Park :
The recent approach adopted by the NSW Parks Service has been trapping the brumbies then removal from the park. Not all that effective as I have observed me from my extensive walks in Kosciuszko. It seems to me that trapping is the only workable solution in that it balances conservation of alpine ecosystems and the desire on the part of horse lovers to maintain their high country grazing heritage. A great read about all these issues can be found in Australian Geographic Vol 130. Written by Amanda Burdon with photographs by Jason Edwards, it is the best summary that I have read thus far. Subscribers to Aust Geog can login to the site to read full article but Jason’s photos are available at the following link: Photo Gallery.
Saturday dawned fine and cool. Ideal conditions to putter back along the Mosquito Creek Trail to our ute, still standing unmolested under a grove of shady snowgums at Ghost Gully. After a gourmet meal of crusty bread, cheese, cheesy Ched biscuits and lemon barley cordial we made tracks for the Long Plain Campground.
The hut occupies a beautiful spot in a stand of gnarled old snow gums and sallees, overlooking Long Plain. It is accessible by 2WDs and has a day use area and two very pleasant low key campgrounds; one for car camping and one for horse camping. The spacious horse camp, on a small knoll, has its own set of horse yards with a stream nearby. This is where we camp.
Unregulated grazing started on Long Plain as early as 1830 and by 1900 there were 22 large snow leases in the high country. In 1909 Arthur Triggs of Yass leased a big chunk of the plain, about 28,300 hectares. Later, when the lease was subdivided, a Dr Albert Campbell of Ellerslie Station, Adelong obtained several thousand hectares of the old Long Plain Lease. In 1916 he had this sturdy weatherboard grazing homestead built by Bobby Joyce. The timber was milled at Jack Dunn’s sawmill at nearby Cumberland Mountain and drayed to the site by Peter Quinn of Kiandra.
Like nearby Coolamine Homestead, Pockets Hut and Old Currango it is a far more substantial structure than most of the pokey summer grazing huts. It is a massive 13 metre x 7 metre building consisting of a central hall, four large rooms clad with tongue and groove, four windows, a partly-enclosed back verandah and two fireplaces. During its first winter the shingles on the roof split and were eventually replaced by corrugated iron. It was variously known as Campbell’s, Dr Campbell’s, Oddy’s and Ibbotson’s, depending on who occupied the hut. The final occupants were Jessie and Fred Bridle, fencing workers who lived in the hut in the 1960’s.
Long Plain was also the focus for rabbit trapping and shooting as well as gold mining. Rabbit trappers lived in the Long Plain hut during the depression years of the 1930s when rabbits had reached plague proportions across much of Australia. Rabbiting provided a source of income during the depression.
Anotheractivity on Long Plain was gold mining. Joseph York worked a small mine just to the north of Long Plain hut until his death in 1898. Later operators of the mine were Tom Williams ( in the early 1900s), Tom Taylor and Bill Harris in the 1930s. These pioneers are remembered in the naming if two creeks just north of the hut: Yorkies Creek and Taylors Creek.
Australian Alps Liaison Committee: Explore the Australian Alps. 2007
Green, K and Osborne, W: Field Guide to Wildlife of Australia’s snow-country.
Hueneke, Klaus: Closer to Heaven: Aust. Geog.93.
Smith, B: Dingo relationships:Wildlife in Australia.Spring 2009.
The 130 kilometre, 10 day, Kiandra to Kosciuszko walk is the premier alpine walk of mainland Australia. It traverses the highest and most scenic of our subalpine and alpine landscapes, all of it above 1500 metres. While it is, for the most part, a thoroughly enjoyable walk, it is very exposed. Summer conditions are generally benign but even a beautiful summer’s day can change, with storms, sleet and snow sweeping over in the space of a few hours. Being caught out in a summer thunderstorm on the Main Range is an experience I recommend you avoid.
Kiandra to Kosciuszko was originally conceived as a ski touring route in July 1927 between the Kiandra gold fields and Perisher Valley’s Kosciuszko Hotel built in 1909. This was accomplished in three days by four members of the Ski Club of Australia. The modern bushwalking route which we followed was, with some off-track variations, basically along the line of the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) and included climbs of some of Australia’s highest peaks:
Jagungal(2061m),Gungartan(2068m),Anderson(1997m),Anton(2010m),Twynam(2196m),Carruthers(2145M),Townsend(2209m) and the highest of all,the mighty Mt Kosciuszko(2228m).
As well, it traverses the very scenic and open alpine ridges of the Kerries and the Rolling Grounds. My long suffering and ever helpful companions on this high country adventure were Sam, John, Lyn, Joe, Ross and Linda. They may have been disconcerted at the cold, wet and windy conditions at our Kiandra trail head, but if they had any thoughts of abandoning ship and returning to Canberra with my son Alex, they kept quiet and wandered off disconsolately into the damp gloom.
Photo Gallery: A selection of photos taken by fellow walker Lyn Hewitt:
John on Kerries Ridge.
Interior of hut on a cold night.
One of many creek crossings.
Four Mile Hut
Overall enjoyment of this extended 10 day walk was always going to depend on the vagaries of the weather. Happily for this leader, we got very lucky. While planning the walk a check of Snowy Mountains online climate statistics suggested eight rain days for November, with average falls up to 150mm along the Main Range. Anticipated average temperatures on the Main Range were maximums of 12°C and minimums of 2.6°C. As it turned out the only difficult day was our first. A salutary awakening for our high country new chums. As we popped out of a cosy people mover, freezing drizzle (6°C) whipped into our faces, propelled along by 40 kph wind gusts. By my reckoning a wind chill temperature of about -8°C. Welcome to high country bushwalking. But hey, no swarms of those infernal biting horse flies, aka Vampire Flies that have plagued us on previous high country walks.
By way of a total contrast, in early December 2006 on an earlier trip, we started at the same Kiandra trail head with temperatures hovering in the low thirties, gusting northerlies and an enveloping smoke haze from bushfires raging south of Kosciuszko. The area has about 100 days annually of high to extreme fire danger and is one of the most fire prone areas in the world. Vast swathes of Kosciuszko’s sub alpine zone had been burnt out in 2003. Since then the dominant snow gums (Eucalyptus pauciflora spp.niphophila) have been suckering vigorously from their lignotubers forming a dense woodland community that is sometimes difficult to push through.
This time frosts greeted us most mornings followed by superb walking conditions with very pleasant rambling temperatures averaging out at 12°C. A surprising number of large snow banks persisted as we climbed onto the high Kerries Ridge, the Rolling Grounds and Main Range. But these presented no real difficulties to our passage as the surface ice had usually softened by mid morning and was safe to walk over.
Our penultimate day along the crest of the Main Range was a tad problematic. Although conditions were fine and clear, blustery westerlies ripped over the tops gusting up to 75 kph (severe gale). Nowhere to hide in this lot and certainly no possibility of erecting tents. Surprising as it may seem, I had a plan. A drop into Wilkinson Valley for our overnight camp or as a last resort, a long detour to Seamans Hut. The decision made easier for me by four young through walkers who claimed that conditions were infinitely calmer in the Wilkinson. Not quite, but reasonable enough behind some granite boulders.
I was conscious of the reality that even in summer there have been cases of hypothermia or exposure in Australia’s high country. Just in case you think that talk about hypothermia is a bit overblown, read this comment from the Bushwalking Australia website about a ‘summer’ experience:
“I was caught out the first time I camped up on the Main Range (just under the Abbotts, on the Wilkinson Ck side – Christmas morning I woke up to strong winds, thick cloud and heavy snow. By the time I crossed the creek the stuff was six inches deep. By the time I reached Rawson Pass, more than half the walkway was hidden by a foot of snow; much deeper in places. It was snowing on and off all day, even in Thredbo, but even while I was walking out and down, there were people going up on the chairlifts in shorts and t shirts.”
Still not convinced? How about this recent Manly Sea Eagles summer boot camp at Thredbo one month after our trip when a 25 kilometre hike ended with a trainer being shipped off Mt Kosciuszko with a serious dose of hypothermia. A storm generating a wind chill of -10°C swept in and the hike was called off after only seven kilometres. To quote one player:
“If we didn’t leave we would have got smashed and there is no way we would have survived”.
Apparently even designer Manly Sea Eagle footy shorts, socks, skins, caps and rain jackets weren’t up to this job. Perhaps the final word should go to Willie Mason who described the experience as “…6 hours of hell.”
Hypothermia is entirely preventable, needing appropriate food and clothing. Members of our party ferried along boat loads of clothing for layering: typically thermal undergarments, rain jackets, rain pants, beanies and gloves. To my mind the jury is out on non-proofed down jackets: I prefer a thick windproof polar fleece jacket if conditions are going to be cold wet rather than cold dry. Add to this a good quality -5°C sleeping bag and you will sleep snug. Mostly. For several nights I bunked down in my sleeping bag with four top layers, a beanie, thermal longs and rain pants to stay snug. But when caught out in the wet cold stuff, my advice is: head for the nearest hut.
Given the potential for bouts of foul weather I arranged overnighters at old grazing/mining huts each night, until the Main Range, where there are only two shelters. Neither of these was on our line of travel. The huts are dingy and basic but all provide a fireplace or cast iron stove and firewood; great bolt holes in an emergency. We always cut our own firewood using bush saws and Joe stepped up as chief stoker to ensure a toasty fire every ‘hut’ night. On some evenings, meals over, fire banked, we settled in for some reading or an evening of TED on the Trail presented by Sam and Lyn. Health lectures on creepy diseases that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
Gathering firewood was a group imperative and everyone fanned out from the huts bringing back cart loads of firewood. John even clambered up into dead snow gums, bush saw in free hand to harvest the larger limbs. On our north-south traverse we pulled into Four Mile Hut, Happys Hut, Brooks Hut, Mackeys Hut, O’Keefes Hut, Derschkos Hut, Grey Mare Hut, Valentines Hut, Mawsons Hut and Whites River Hut. Much of the upkeep and restoration of these huts is done by various ski clubs and the Kosciuszko Huts Association whose website has a wealth of information about high country huts.
Sections of the walk follow marked fire trails (Tabletop, Grey Mare, Valentines and Schlinks) where one would be hard pressed to get lost as long as you have a decent map and a modicum of spatial awareness. Going off track, in poor visibility, is a different proposition. Thus walkers venturing out in mist or sleet/snow must be proficient navigators. A map and compass is a must have and a GPS with preloaded waypoints is invaluable in such conditions. It is worth knowing that your GPS batteries won’t fail in the cold. In 2006 I got caught out on the Kerries Ridge in dense cold mist. My journal of the time records:
“Unfortunately the mist closed in again and our afternoon was spent slowly compassing in a pea soup mist from rock to rock…Brian and Andy fossicked ahead while Di and I bellowed directions before they vanished from view…By 3.00pm a GPS check located us a disappointing two kilometres short of our objective, Gungartan. Brian made the sensible, inevitable decision to abandon ship and we exited downhill to the Schlink Hilton.”
For this trip, as leader, I hauled along ten laminated strip maps at 1:25000 scale as well as a 1:50000 Rooftop Map covering the whole of Kosciuszko. My photocopied notes from the excellent Chapman et el guidebook:“Australian Alps Walking Track” while being the go-to guidebook, it reads south to north. As this took reverse deciphering I only dipped into the notes for the historical information and occasional navigation issues. Ross and Joe had GPSs with hut locations as waypoints and, ever cautious, I had my Android phone preloaded with geo-referenced and detailed 1:25000 map files.
For the GPS geeks among us, help is at hand. Every square centimetre, every pixel of the AAWT has been waypointed, track logged, geocached, and route marked to within a whisker of its digital life and a number of bushwalking websites provide this data free.
As anticipated, the spring thaw peak flows had waned by early November. By my reckoning only the Tumut, Tooma and Geehi Rivers and maybe Valentines and Back Creeks would be a challenge. Leaving aside our self inflicted rogue croc circus, the crossings proved a doddle. On arriving at a river Ross, John and Joe would wander thither and yon, upstream and downstream until a potential crossing was located. Then we would scuttle across, one after the other, leaping from boulder to boulder. Hopefully arriving at the opposite bank in mostly dry boots and socks.
Our traverse of the Kosciuszko Plateau took in a major chunk of the Australian Alps Bioregion, the only truly alpine environment in NSW as well as the only part of the Australian mainland to have experienced Pleistocene glaciations. Over our 10 days we started off by crossing the subalpine woodland landscapes of Kiandra, Happy Jacks Plain and the Jagungal Wilderness and then climbed onto the exposed alpine ridges of the Kerries, the Rolling Grounds and finally the Main Range.
The ‘alpine’ landscapes of the Australian Alps are obviously quite different to those of the Himalayas or New Zealand’s Southern Alps in that they are much lower, flatter and rounded. Kosciusko National Park is predominately a rolling plateau surface, the remnants of a low mountain chain resulting from the splitting of the Australian plate from Gondwana and Zealandia. Splitting is a much more muted tectonic force than the crustal collisions that are, as we speak, thrusting up the Himalayas and the Southern Alps. The lack of significant alpine peaks is also attributable to the small extent of the Kosciuszko ice cap at glacial maximums during the Pleistocene. That said, the winter snow fields of Australia cover an area of 11,500 square kilometres, said to be greater than the combined snowfields of the European Alps.
Our first four days took us across subalpine woodland interspersed with open grasslands. This zone has a continuous snow cover for one to four months and minimum temperatures below freezing for six months. Typically it lies in a tight zone between 1450 metres and 1850 metres. Here the mainly basaltic ridgelines and slopes are dominated by snow gum re-growth with a dense understorey of prickly shrubs. The snow gums are usually stunted, multi-stemmed and gnarled close to the alpine zone but are taller and straighter lower down where they form an association with another hardy eucalypt, the black sally.
But the most striking feature of the subalpine landscape is the extensive treeless grasslands found in the valley floors. Immense treeless plains form because of the pooling of cold air which rolls off the high ridgelines and ponds in the valleys on cold frosty nights. These low points are known as frost hollows. The valley floors often are also areas of impeded drainage hence can be wet and decidedly boggy. Camping there anytime but high summer is not recommended.
The second half of our walk was truly alpine in the zone above the treeline, found above 1850 metres. A landscape of frost shattered granite boulders and alpine meadows, technically, tall alpine herbfields. Where special conditions apply there are also small pockets of heath, bog and the windswept feldmarks. The tall alpine herbfields are botanically very rich, rivalling in diversity and showiness similar communities in the European Alps, Southern Alps and Rocky Mountains. It was one of the great pleasures of this walk to amble through vast herbfields of Silver Snow Daisies, yellow Everlastings, Snow Grass, glossy yellow Buttercups and the conspicuous Australian Gentians.
Over the last few days I was able to check out the glacial landforms of the Main Range. These are relics of the Pleistocene glaciations when an ice cap and valley glaciers covered a small area of the Main Range of about 20 sq km to a depth of maybe 100 metres. In the area between Mt Twynam and Mt Kosciuszko it wasn’t difficult to identify obvious landforms like cirques, lateral and terminal moraines, hummocky moraine dumps, U-shaped valleys and glacial lakes. But with the wind flapping our ears around there was no temptation to chase down the more cryptic features like glacial striations, polished rock surfaces, roches moutonnes and boulder erratics.
Saturday November 1: Kiandra to Four Mile hut: 6 kms:
Son Alex deposited us onto a vast treeless snow grass plain at Kiandra, our starting point for the 10 day walk, the Tabletop fire trail. All in all a desperate place on a wet and windy afternoon like this. Alex, returning to Canberra in the people mover, seemed positively chirpy about our predicament. But my fellow walkers, although somewhat nonplussed by the cold and wet, are a keen lot and we were soon beetling on our way, following the Tabletop Trail as it wiggled its way up and over Dunns Hill.
Our first stop and overnighter was Four Mile Hut, several hours away. The Four Mile or Hughes Hut was our introduction to high country huts on this trip. I’m guessing if you are visualizing huts from your diverse wanderings along The Overland Track or perhaps New Zealand or even those swanky mountain refuges of Europe, you would be badly let down. Four Mile is a ‘one man’ hut built by Bob Hughes in 1937, the last active miner in Kosciuszko. Bob had been manager of the nearby Elaine Mine and when it closed he salvaged alpine ash tunnel timbers and flattened ten gallon drums to build himself a fossicking and rabbiting hut on Four Mile Creek. The Four Mile Hut is Lilliputian, with a stove, a table, a wooden floor and room to sleep two at a pinch. Until 1981 it even boasted a box of gelignite under the bunk bed. But given conditions outside on our night at Four Mile, it proved attractive enough for Sam, Joe and Lyn to commandeer. Ordinary ranks… outside under the wildly cracking canvas.
Our arrival coincided with the drizzle lifting but dark clouds banked aloft and gusts of wind swept over the open plains of the Four Mile. We took advantage of the pause in the drizzle and put our wet clothes, socks and boots out in the brisk wind to dry. Meanwhile Joe fired up the stove and soon had the hut warm and toasty to finish drying our clothes and defrosting numb fingers, toes and noses.
Sunday 2 November: Four Mile Hut to Happy Jacks Plain via Mt Tabletop: 15 kms.
A sub zero but clearing morning greeted us. The route from Kiandra to Mt Tabletop (1784m) along the Tabletop Trail is one of the oldest pathways in Kosciuszko National Park. I know nothing of its use by the aborigines but it was followed in the 1860s by gold miners and since then by generations of cattlemen, skiers, bushwalkers and now the rumbling diesels of the Park’s service 4WDs. It generally follows high basalt ridges at 1600 metres, part of Australia’s Great Dividing Range. Along its spine is an old fence line dividing the two old grazing leases, Nine Mile to the west and Broken Dam to the east.
Soon after Four Mile we crossed the headwaters of Nine Mile Creek. Both Four Mile and Nine Mile abounded in relics of gold mining. In the 1860s the Nine Mile was home to over 1400 miners, six stores, two bakeries, three butcheries, a jail, a blacksmith and, of course, four hotels. Nearly 10,000 miners swarmed to the Kiandra Goldfields in 1859 to endure severe winter blizzards hunkered down in canvas tents. Some miners even constructed primitive shelters of sod, rocks and branches. The rush was short-lived, the shallow alluvial deposits worked out and attempts to find the main reef proved fruitless. After the 1860 winter only 150 miners hung on. Even with down jackets, four season sleeping bags and tents, staying warm in 2014 was still an issue.
A kilometre on, we passed the headwaters of Scotch Creek where hydraulic sluicing from about 1860 to the 1920s had scoured the hillside in a final search for gold. Head races or water races collected water from the range and fed it into pipes fitted with nozzles. The hillside scar is still there, a 700 metres long, 100 metres wide and 15 metres deep. Interestingly, I could see beds of lignite in the exposures. There are about 200 kilometres of water races to be seen all over this part of the country; faithfully following their own gently dipping contours to the sluice site. They were cut, not by pick and shovel wielding Chinese labourers but by bullock powered ploughs.
Onwards to Mt Tabletop or Tackingal. The name Cabramurra was given to the actual trig point on top, borrowed from the tribal area of Cabramurra from nearby Eucumbene River. The track to Tabletop follows the line of an old race line which fed water down to the Nine Mile sluicing. Tabletop is a flat topped basalt mesa rising 150 metres in local relief, the remnants of a Tertiary volcano. Tabletop and nearby Round Mountain are the likely sources of the lava that covered much of this part of Northern Kosciusko. Tabletop’s summit is just above the tree line and is a mass of wildflowers like Billy Buttons (Craspedia leucantha) and the ubiquitous Silver Snow Daisy ( Celmisia spp.) which we would see all across the alpine zone.
The view from the summit was fabulous: the Monaro Plains to the south east, Mt Jagungal (tomorrow) to the west and the snow capped northern Main Range to our south and a shimmering Lake Eucumbene off to the east. The 25 kilometre long finger of Lake Eucumbene is part of Australia’s huge post World War Two Snowy Mountains Scheme designed to provide hydro power and to divert water for irrigation into the westward flowing Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers. The town of Cooma has a must see display of the construction phase of the scheme at the Snowy Hydro building. This all sounds hunky dory but the Snowy Scheme came at some considerable environmental cost to the eastward flowing Snowy River.
A little after three kilometres from Tabletop we swung off the trail and plunged downhill through dense snow gum woodland heading on a southerly bearing for Happys Hut, which has a reputation of being difficult to find. Fortunately not this time, for after about one kilometre of scrub bashing, compass glued to my paw, I sighted the hut in a stand of snow gums on the edge of Happy Jacks Plain. Happys, also known as The Dip, Montagues or Boots was built by in 1931 by W. Montague as a grazing hut. It has a verandah, corrugated iron walls and roof, a wooden floor, stone hearth and iron flue.
Monday 3 November: Happys Hut to Mackeys Hut via the Grey Mare Trail: 17 kms.
Up at first light. Another frosty morning with a thick coating of ice on the tent. My little pack thermometer showing -2°C at sunrise. No surprise there. I had on full rigging of thermals, shirt, long trousers, polar fleece coat, beanie and gloves. Fortunately Joe too had been forced out early and had conjured up a fire in the hut. With all this ice around our two middle aged delinquents, John and Ross, were soon engaged in an iceball free-for-all.
With tents down and hut cleaning supervised by the eagle-eyed hut commandant Sam, we were on the frog and toad by 8.30am; walking in brilliant sunshine and a pleasant but nippy wind. Our heading was vaguely south east for three kilometres, across the hummocky snow grass of Happy Jacks Plain. Navigation was easy enough: keep Arsenic Ridge to the starboard and Arsenic Creek on the port and simply contour along the tree line until a crossing of Arsenic Creek is made just short of Brooks Hut. The Brooks Hut or V Hut was torched in the 2003 fires but rebuilt in 2007.
The original hut was built by Cliff and Bill Brooks in 1945 as yet another mountain grazing hut. It stands at the edge of Arsenic Ridge overlooking the extensive Happy Jacks Plain, a much favoured summer cattle and sheep grazing area in days of yore.
After a quick snoop inside we loped off on an old 4WD track towards Happy Jacks Road (2WD accessible). The angst of crossing Happy Jacks Creek by way of a ‘fallen power pole’ didn’t eventuate; instead we strode jauntily across by way of an impressive culvert. Too easy. At Happy Jacks Road we pulled in for a morning tea stop; notable for its lack of privacy for those needing a comfort stop on the these vast grasslands. But hey… none of those maddening horse flies to bite vast acres of naked flesh.
After a good feed and the pit stop it was simply a matter of following the Grey Mare Trail for the next two days, first to overnight at Mackeys Hut and then on Tuesday into the Jagungal Wilderness and Mt Jagungal. Not a grey mare in sight, nor any brumbies. But first there was the small matter of a few piddling creek crossings at Barneys, McKeahnies and Tibeando Creeks. Good practice for the Geehi River and Valentines Creek crossings later in the trip.
Mackeys, Tibeando or Mackays was built in 1944-5 by Norm and Sam Mackay for their grazing lease. It is a classic mountain hut, a two-roomer with verandah, corrugated iron walls and roof with a timber floor. The stone hearth was always a bit of a smoker but since the NPWS rebuilt the chimney in 2010 it draws much better. All grazing leases in Kosciuszko National Park have been revoked; the Mackeys lease in 1958.
In the days of the transhumance of sheep and cattle from lowland properties to the high summer pasture there were usually two musters. One at the beginning of autumn and a few weeks later a mop up of the strays still munching away in some hidden valley. Everyone chipped in to help with the final sorting of stock; usually finished on the lowlands. All the mustering was done with horse and dog. The cattlemen have gone, the high plains now the province of the skier and the bushwalker and occasional Parks rangers. The ‘Man from the Snowy River’ way of life is no longer.
Tuesday 4 November: Mackeys Hut to Derschkos Hut via Jagungal: 18 kms.
A change of plan. With rain predicted for the morrow I decided to squeeze in the climb of Mt Jagungal today on our way to Derschkos Hut. I have noticed that all this lot were very efficient packers: Lyn, Ross and Linda in particular, so it was an early 7.30am start heading south on the Grey Mare on yet another fine morning. Across a strongly flowing Doubtful Creek thence up to Farm Ridge. Nothing much is left of this alpine farm but the information board recorded the basics:
“Part of a substantial alpine grazing lease, Farm Ridge was constructed in the 1890s by A J Rial. At its peak the homestead formed the central focus point amid outbuildings and a set of sheep and cattle yards. There was a telephone connected to Adaminaby. Grazing ceased during the 1960s.”
Several kilometres on we ducked into the re-built O’Keefes or Bogong Hut, the original burnt down in the 2003 bushfires, but not before its masonite ceiling had been vaporized by a megafaunal resident possum. The original hut was built by A.S. O’Keefe in 1934 as …yes, you guessed it…another summer grazing hut. As O’Keefe had materials carted in from Old Adaminaby (expensive) he cheapskated on roofing iron, so the old hut had minimalist eaves and a inconvenient tendency to allow snow to waft in during blizzards.
But I was a man with a mission now. A demon bushwalker of the worst kind, a peak bagger. Jagungal or bust. Jagungal is best accessed from its south west ridge, a 220 metres climb to Jagungal Summit at 2062 metres. The Roof of Australia, not quite, but near enough for this neck of the woods. But my companions engaged in a gender based insurrection and while the males shuffled wearily off towards the summit the female of the species headed off at brisk trot for the luxury of Derschkos Hut some two kilometres to the north west on the Round Mountain Trail.
Jagungal is instantly recognisable from over much of Kosciusko. A reassuring landmark for bushwalkers and skiers alike, a beacon…. an isolated black rocky peak standing above the surrounding alpine plains. It is Australia’s most northerly and easterly mountain above 2000 metres in height. Jagungal forms the headwaters of several major rivers: the Tumut, the Tooma and the Geehi. It was known to cattlemen as The Big Bogong but appears on Strzelecki’s map as ‘Mt Coruncal’, which he describes as ‘crowning the spur which separates the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers’. The aborigines often called mountains in the alpine zone Bogong, indicating a food source, the Bogong moth. Europeans applied their own nomenclature to differentiate the ‘Bogongs’: Rocky Bogong, Dicky Cooper Bogong and Grey Mare Bogong.
Unlike most of the other Bogongs whose granitic origins are revealed by their characteristic whaleback profiles, Jagungal’s summit is distinctively peaky. It sports a reptilian frill of vertical rock towers, some intact, other lying in jumbled heaps. Jagungal is different because it is capped by amphibolite, a black igneous rock more dense than granite, formed by the metamorphosis of basalts. The basalts, on cooling, crystallise into massive hexagonal pillars creating the black rocky spine on which we were now standing.
Jagungal was ascended by Europeans in the winter of 1898 when a party from the Grey Mare Mine climbed it using primitive skis called ‘Kiandra Snowshoes’. Ours was a much less adventurous walk, but we still savoured our time on the summit. Especially magnificent were the views south to the snow capped Main Range, four days away. Away to our north was Mt Tabletop and far, far away, the Brindabella Range in the Australian Capital Territory. It was so clear that we could even discern Victoria’s Mt Bogong on the far southern horizon.
I had noticed on a previous trip and again on our ascent today, huge raucous flocks of Little Ravens cawing around the steep summit cliffs. I had seen the same phenomenon on Mt Alice Rawson near Kosciuszko. Inexplicable at the time. Recently, I came across an explanation. The Little Ravens gather to feed on Agrotis infusa, the drab little Bogong moth, found only in Australia and New Zealand. To escape the summer heat, Bogongs migrate altitudinally and set up summer holiday camps in the coolest places in Australia, the rock crevices of the alpine summits. They come in millions from western New South Wales and Southern Queensland, distances in excess of 1500 kilometres, often winging in on high altitude jetstreams. The Bogongs settle in crevices and caves, stacked in multiple layers, 17000 of them in a square metre, where they undergo aestivation( pronounced east-ivating) or summer hibernation. The migrations seem to be a mechanism to escape the heat of the inland plains and they gather in the coolest and darkest crevices on western, windward rock faces. A tasty morsel for our corvid buddies.
With the ravens came the aborigines, from Yass and Braidwood, from Eden on the coast and from Omeo and Mitta Mitta in Victoria. All intent on having a good feed and a good time. Large camps formed with as many as 500 aborigines gathering for initiation, corroborees, marriage arrangements and the exchange of goods. It is thought that advance parties would climb up to the tops, and if the moths had arrived they would send up smoke signals to the camps below. The arrival of the moths is not a foregone conclusion. Migration numbers vary from year to year. Some years they are blown off course and out into the Tasman Sea. 1987 was a vintage year, but in 1988 the bright lights of New Parliament House acted as a moth magnet, and the Bogongs camped in Canberra for their summer recess.
Aboriginal men caught the moths in bark nets or smoked them out of their crevices. The moths were generally cooked in hot ashes but it is thought that women sometimes pounded them into a paste to bake as a cake. Those keen enough to taste the Bogong moth mention a nutty taste. Scientists say they are very rich in fat and protein; this diet sustained aborigines for months and the smoke from their fires was so thick that surveyors complained that they were unable to take bearings because the main peaks were always shrouded in smoke. Europeans often commented on how sleek and well fed the aborigines looked after their moth diet. Edward Eyre who explored the Monaro in the 1830’s wrote:
“The Blacks never looked so fat or shiny as they do during the Bougan season, and even their dogs get into condition then.”
At summer’s end, with the arrival of the southerlies, moths, aborigines and Little Ravens all decamped and headed for the warmer lowlands. As did Joe, Ross, John and I. Except that we headed to Derschkos where the girls had not been idle, as I had suspected they might have been. Neatly stacked outside was an immense heap of firewood. Derschkos is one of the best maintained and cleanest of the huts. It was built by the Snowy Mountains Authority in the 1950s and occupied by Derschko, a SMA hydrologist. It sports double glazed windows, a pot-bellied stove, a living room and two bunk rooms. An irresistable lure for all but the hardiest of campers among us.
Wednesday: 5 November: Derschkos Hut to Grey Mare Hut: 16.7 kms.
An easy day, goofing along the Grey Mare in cool, cloudy conditions. None of the predicted rain yet. As we cut through the Strumbo Range with only a few kilometres to the Grey Mare Hut a massive bank of mammatus clouds hung suspended above us. The name is derived from the Latin: breastlike. Were we in for a heavy drenching? No, as it turned out. Mammatus appear more threatening than they actually are. They typically form on the rear side of a storm and associated cumulonimbus clouds and appear as the storm is weakening. So our afternoon was beautifully fine. Plenty of time for an extended feed, collecting firewood, washing clothes and selves at the old cast iron outlet pipe from the gold mining days.
Grey Mare was a miner’s hut. Gold was discovered in the vicinity in 1894, but flooding of shafts ended the first sequence of occupance in 1903. A second phase of mining started in 1934 with an adit blasted to get to the reef. The ruins of a hut on the creek flats below dates from this period. A final attempt to get at the gold came in 1949 when the present hut was built and the gold crushing plant was brought in. The bush around the hut is littered with all kinds of mining knick-knackery: a crusher, a steam engine, a huge flywheel weighing more than two tonnes and a shambolic tin dunny teetering over the abyss of an old mine shaft. John, on one of his late afternoon strolls found even more mining bits and bobs strewn across the nearby landscape.
The six berth hut is of the high country hut vernacular but large and comfortable with a huge fireplace and the best hut views in the park. From our doorstep we had views up the grassy valley of Straight Creek and peeking above Strumbo Hill, the crouching lion, Mt Jagungal. The original hut was built in 1934 but re-built in 1949 by Jack and Jim Bolton using some of the original materials. It is famous (or infamous) for its murals of nudes drawn by Rufus Morris in 1954-1955, now badly faded. Some say scrubbed out by wowser skiers and bushwalkers.
Thursday 6 November: Grey Mare Hut to Mawsons Hut via Valentines Hut: 10.8 kms.
Woke to heavy cloud banks in Back and Straight Creeks, but these had dispersed before we wandered off, at 8.00am. Today we would follow the Valentine Fire Trail for the eight kilometres to Valentines Hut. The flies in the ointment were a suspicious build up of rain clouds and the creek crossings of Back Creek, the Geehi River and Valentines Creek, all flowing strongly. The crossings were slow going, what with spying out crossing points, then getting seven walkers across, teetering from boulder to boulder. But it all ended well… dry boots all round. Happy hikers.
Valentines Hut is decked out in a fire truck red livery which stands out against a grey skeletal forest of dead snow gums. Valentine’s is my all time favourite high country hut, decorated with a frieze of six valentine hearts. Hence the name Valentines Hut, but I’m not sold on this theory. Another ex-SMA hut, this natty little four person weatherboard hut, maintained by the Squirrel Ski Club, has a clean airy feel, with table, bench seats and a wood stove in its kitchen. A home away from home. Valentine’s has been painted inside and out, has ample windows and, for added creature comfort, a newish corrugated iron dunny close by.
From Valentines our line of travel was cross country over snow grass plains heading for Mawsons Hut, our next overnight stop and starting point for tomorrow’s walk across the Kerries Ridge, weather permitting. My strategy of contouring around intervening hills was a mite slow and drawn out but I resisted pressure from the GPS brigade to go up and over.
The three-roomed Mawson’s Hut (1800m) was built in five days in 1929 by Herb Mawson, manager of Bobundra Station, not Sir Douglas Mawson, Antarctic hero, as generally supposed. Again it is typical of cattlemen’s summer huts built all over alpine and sub-alpine Australia: corrugated iron walls, corrugated iron roof, wooden floors and a granite fireplace. Mawsons now boasts a NPWS issue ‘Ultimate 500’ cast iron stove blasting out mega BTUs of hot air as Joe had already got its measure and had nutted out its many irritating idiosyncrasies on our 2013 Kosciusko trip.
The view from the hut is pretty impressive. Across the valley to our west was Cup and Saucer Hill named for…its resemblance to an upturned cup placed on a saucer. To the north, Jagungal. John drifted off for his usual twilight ramble and returned excited by his exploration of the snow grass plains and small waterfalls on the upper reaches of Valentine Creek as well as a sighting of those rabbits of the ranges… a herd of brumbies. The Australian Geographic magazine Vol 130 has a comprehensive article by Amanda Burdon on the Australian brumby. Well worth chasing up if you are a member or can access a hard copy. In the same issue are photos by Jason Edwards.
Friday: November 7: Mawsons Hut to Whites River Hut via the Kerries Ridge: 12 kms.
The Kerries Ridge is an outstanding alpine walk all above 1900 metres; we needed three days of fine weather to complete our traverse of the alpine zone of the Kerries Ridge, the Rolling Grounds and the Main Range. And so it came to pass. Friday dawned fine and cool. I could shelve the wet weather plan. John led us up the access ridge that he had ferretted out the previous evening.
Stretching away to the south was the open rolling ridge of The Kerries. A magnificent walk across trackless wildflower meadows dotted with frost shattered granite boulders, alpine bogs, mountain streams and lingering banks of snow. But this seemingly benign landscape can change dramatically in bad weather and walkers need to be reasonable navigators to find the safety of Mawsons, Schlinks or Tin Hut in a whiteout. No such problems today: perfect weather, a happy crew, not too difficult navigation, plenty of rests and snowballs to throw at each other. We mooched along for several hours just enjoying the walking. Ahead, Gungartan, a nunatak-like jumble of granite boulders and a trig station which had seen better days. At 2068m this is the highest point north of the Main Range. Here we propped for lunch and enjoyed speccy views to Guthega, the Brindabellas in far off ACT, the Bogong High Plains in Victoria and directly opposite, The Granites and the Rolling Grounds; tomorrow’s objective. Weather permitting.
We descended steeply onto the Schlink Trail and followed it for half a kilometre or so to Whites River Hut, for yet another night of throughwalking luxury. White’s River was built in 1935 by sheep farmers Bill Napthali and Fred Clarke who grazed their flocks on the high alpine meadows of the Rolling Grounds in summer, retreating to protected Snowy River stations for winter.
Constructed of sheet iron, Whites has sleeping bunks, another NPWS ‘Ultimate 500’ cast iron stove, a wood store, a tatty table, bench seats and an outdoor dunny. The hut is also the summer residence of the notorious Bubbles, and Bubbles Jnr, bush rats extraordinaire: legends of High Country Huts as walkers and skiers record their exploits of marsupial derring-do and innate native rat cunning at avoiding all manner of water traps and flying footwear. As with our previous visits we spent much of the our evening ‘Bubbles’-proofing our gear; all rucksacks and food bags were then suspended on the nails belted into the huge transverse hut beams. Which seemed effective as there were no nocturnal disturbances from the Bubbles outfit according to my hut hugging companions.
Whites River was memorable for reasons other than rat attacks. Notably, it was our first sighting of other walkers. In the distance, late afternoon and heading north on the Schlink Trail, were five bushwalkers, probably heading for the Schlink Hilton to doss down for the night. As our Kerries Ridge traverse had been such an outstanding day of alpine walking John produced a wee dram for a toast to “The Kerries”. And finally, after many trips to the high country I was able to confirm that Little Ravens, after feeding all day on Bogong moths, don’t roost among the granite peaks and cliffs as I once supposed, but leave the high peaks just on dusk and fly down to the snow gum woodlands for their night’s kip.
Saturday 8 November: Whites River to Mt Anderson Saddle via the Rolling Grounds: 12 kms.
As always the troops were up early, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and trackside by 7.00am. Today would be our hard day, a distance of only twelve kilometres and a vertical ascent of about 328m… but give or take a few pretty major ups and downs. And the wind was picking up. But the most problematic part was our traverse over the Rolling Grounds, which are described in the Chapman and Siseman guidebook thus:
“Known as the Rolling Ground it is a featureless region of huge granite tors and little vegetation. On a fine sunny day, this part of the Great Dividing Range is best described as bleak. What it is like in a blizzard is left to the imagination. The Rolling Grounds are notorious for difficult navigation in bad weather.”
Fortunately the day was fine and clear, but quite windy. By mid morning near gale force westerly winds were gusting at around 50 kph. Still, in the scheme of Main Range walking, even these conditions were pretty much ideal for crossing these high level alpine meadows and bogs. I thought our traverse over the Rolling Grounds was absolutely brilliant walking. The Rolling Grounds is a high altitude plateau above the tree line at 1900 plus metres, cold, exposed but spectacular. But a modicum of navigational care is needed to find Consett Stephen Pass, our access onto the Main Range. It is said that The Rolling Grounds are so called because in the days of cattle grazing, stock horses would make their way up to roll in the numerous depressions between clumps of snow grass.
We exited The Rolling Grounds at Consett Stephen and began the tedious haul up to Mt Tate, 2028 metres and the start of the Main Range. Our final leg of the Kiandra to Kossie walk was underway. But we needed another three days of fine weather. Mt Tate was named after Ralph Tate, Professor of geology at the University of Adelaide. From Tate’s trig summit we looked down to Guthega Pondage, Guthega Village and across the valley to the confrontingly named The Paralyser , The Perisher, Back Perisher and the oddly named Blue Cow Mountain. Mt Perisher was named by an early pastoralist, James Spencer, who, while chasing lost cattle with his stockman, climbed to the top of the 2054 metre peak for a better view. On the summit he was met by scuds of snow and an icy blasting wind, upon which he commented: “This is a bloody perisher.” Later they climbed the adjacent peak and the stockman remarked, “Well, if that was a perisher, then this is a paralyser.”
Onwards to Mt Anderson (1997m) and below its eastern flanks our overnight campsite in the Anderson saddle. A beautiful alpine meadow but bereft of any cover; sunny and exposed to the wind, but we made ourselves comfortable on our springy snow grass pads. From Anderson summit we had unrivalled views over the tangled western fall of the Main Range; a good place to steer clear of. Just as Snowball Sam sensibly steered clear of John, Joe and I for the remainder of the day after initiating a sneaky underhanded snowball attack as we sat in quiet contemplation of the glorious view over our little campsite far below.
The Snowy Mountains are notorious for turbulent wind conditions, caused by air masses sweeping out of the Great Australian Bight, across the vast flat lands of southern Australia, and then uplifted over the western ramparts, rising 2000 metres in short order to wreak havoc on any harebrained bushwalkers who stray onto the range on a windy day. Fortunately Anderson saddle was relatively speaking, ‘protected’ and the tents stayed up.
Sunday 9 November: Mt Anderson to Wilkinson Valley: 14 kms.
Woke to another fine day but a massive bank of cloud had gathered off to our east. I knew thunderstorms were predicted later but it was still fine and windy aloft on the Main Range and with this wind blowing the chances were that it should stay fine. The walking pad, such as it was, disappeared intermittently under snow banks. So it was a matter of picking our way around the snow or punching steps across where it was soft enough to be safe. By 7.30am the wind was really gusting and most of us were still swaddled in beanies, thermals and coats. I had on two thermal layers and my windproof rain jacket. Meanwhile 14 kilometres to the south the Automatic Weather Station (AWS) at Thredbo Top Station recorded a maximum gust of 74 kph, but generally the wind trundled along at an annoying 30 + kph.
An old soil conservation track from the 1960s or 1970s can be followed from Mt Anderson saddle all the way to the Main Range tourist track. Despite the wind it was still an outstanding alpine walk along Australia’s highest points: Mt Anton (2010m), the long crawl up Mt Twynam (2196m), then down onto the Main Range tourist track, back up to Mt Carruthers summit (2145m). Mt Carruthers was named after Sir Joseph Carruthers, a Premier of NSW, who instigated the construction of the Kosciuszko Road and the old Kosciuszko Hotel. We hunkered down for lunch behind a shelf of rocks overlooking Club Lake, one of the many moraine-dammed glacial lakes in Kosciuszko. Ahead were Mt Townsend and Mt Kosciuszko our final peaks. During the Pleistocene, small mountain glaciers ground their way down the valleys now occupied by glacial lakes. In recent historical times, during summer, huge flocks of sheep and later herds of cattle grazed these steep alpine slopes, fouling the pristine snow fed lakes below: Club Lake, Lake Albina, Hedley Tarn, Blue Lake and Lake Cootapatamba. The sheep and cattle were shown the door in 1963.
Lunch over we slapped on another gallon of sunscreen, a meteorological trigger, just like the butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazonian jungle, for as surely as day follows night the wind ratcheted up another cog. Walking was now redolent of pacing the decks of Wild Oats11 on a bad day in Bass Strait… one was never quite sure where the feet would land.
The tourist track by-passes first Mt Lee then Mt Northcote (2131 metres). Between them is Northcote Pass, an area of windswept feldmark growing on shattered Silurian sedimentaries. This very specialised plant community covers only 28 hectares in the whole of Kosciuszko, hence is the rarest of its plant communities. Somehow it survives on this cold wind blasted rocky ground. An information board allows interested walkers to identify feldmark plants: Alpine Sunray (Leucochrysum albicans spp alpinium), Coral Heath (Epacris gunnii), Feldmark Grass (Rytidosperma pumilum) and Feldmark Eyebright (Euphrasia collina spp lapidosa). But given the relentless wind no one wanted to play botanist.
Instead we pushed on, sidling along a narrow defile on the western flanks of Mt Northcote from which we had unparalleled views into Lake Albina, another moraine dammed lake. This was a popular destination for skiers and bushwalkers, but with the removal of the Albina Hut by the Parks service in the early 1980s together with several other Soil Conservation Huts, few of our trail-bound walkers bother to descend to Lake Albina.
My original plan had been to leave the tourist track at Muellers Pass and climb over Muellers Peak thence for a highlight camp on the snow grass meadows around Alice Rawson Peak (2160 metres). But the wind put paid to this plan as there was little chance of tents withstanding the blast. And so, acting on information given by four young hikers we dropped into Wilkinson Valley for our last night on the trail. Here we could shelter behind massive granite boulders which lined the edge of the former cirque valley.
Monday 10 November: Wilkinson Valley to Mt Kosciuszko via Mt Townsend: 14 kms.
An early 6.30am start, rugged up but packless, to climb Mt Townsend, at 2209 metres, Australia’s second highest peak. After a bit of pussy-footing around with snow banks we scrambled up to the summit trig station. Mt Townsend, named after a Surveyor General of NSW, has a very rugged skyline profile, suggesting that its glacial erosion processes were somewhat different to the more rounded whaleback Main Range peaks, like Kosciuszko. I am reminded of the nunataks of Antarctica, those craggy peaks projecting above the Antarctic ice cap.
For my money Townsend is a far more spectacular mountain than Kosciuszko with a summit ridge of huge shattered boulders and its tailing spine of the Abbott Range drifting off to the south west. Below, with 1600 metres of fall, and to our north was the Geehi River which we had crossed days ago at its headwaters. Over to the north east were the almost perpendicular walls of The Sentinel and Watsons Crags. Out to the south west the precipitious Western Fall Wilderness dropping abruptly 1500 metres to the Swampy Plains River. And there, across Wilkinson’s Valley, was Mt Koscuiszko, our final ascent.
Back in the Wilkinson Valley, a hasty pack up of tents and gear and we were off to Mt Kosciuszko, across more devilish snow banks just for good measure.
Mt Kosciuszko was named by the Polish explorer Count Paul Edmund de Strzelecki who spent four years travelling in Australia. In February 1840 Strzelecki climbed to the highest point of the Snowy Mountains and decided to name it after his fellow Pole, General Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who had distinguished himself in the American War of Independence and had led an uprising in 1794 against Prussian and Russian control of Poland. Strzelecki gave two reasons for using the name ‘Kosciuszko’. Strzelecki pointed out that in Australia he was “amongst a free people, who appreciate freedom” hence the name of the Polish liberation fighter was an appropriate choice. Another reason he gave was that the profile of Mt Kosciuszko resembled the memorial mound that honours Kosciuszko on the outskirts of Krakow. An interesting side line to this story is that Kosciuszko authorised the sale of all his Ohio (U.S.A.) property to buy freedom for slaves and provide them with an education.
Here we were then, perched on The Roof of Australia, one of Australia’s outstanding wilderness areas. The weather was fine and what could be more picturesque than the snow draped peaks of the Main Range under a clear blue sky? A megapixel and mobile phone heaven.
Remember Clement Wragge? Back in 1897 a snow covered Kosciuszko summit was the scene of another great alpine adventure. Clement Lindley Wragge, meterologist to the colonial Queensland Government, convinced the pollies that the best place to investigate upper atmospheric disturbances in Australia was from an observatory on the summit of Mt Kosciuszko. Accordingly, Wragge and three offsiders stepped onto the summit on 1 December, 1897.
But Wragge’s bullock dray of alpine kit failed to appear, so our intrepid field party spent their first few days in an arctic purgatory. With no sleeping bags, no primus stoves and a thin calico tent they piled on all their clothes. Eventually, days later, the bullocks hove into view and up went the arctic tent and the Observatory opened for business on Wednesday 8 December, 1897. On 11 December the wily ‘Inclement’ Wragge decamped, heading for the warmer climes of coastal Merimbula, leaving behind a Captain Iliff in charge of B. de Burgh Newth, Bernard Ingleby and Zoroaster, Ingleby’s pooch, a well-fed and rascally St Bernard . It is claimed that the always sleek Zoroaster dug a secret tunnel to the expedition’s meat cache and his master was considerably exasperated and finally perplexed by Zoroaster’s reluctance to wolf down his daily ration of dog biscuits.
Two months later a howling gale flattened the arctic tent, blew most of the gear off the mountain, and forced our weather observers to crawl back to the safety of the Crackenback River. Wragge, ever the entrepreneur, weaseled £400 out of the Premier of New South Wales to construct a sturdy summit hut, which was duly completed in May, 1898.
Summit life was never dull. Despite the hardships of their location the observers reported enjoying the experience immensely. A stampede of visitors poured in on clip-clop style tours, on foot and even on bicycles. Our obliging observers greeted visitors, gave conducted tours, and demonstrated downhill snowshoeing (skiing).
But this was still a tough gig and the observers were as hard as nails. These were proper mountain men, not like the wussy bushwalking specimens who waddle up to Kosciuszko these days. Wragge’s previous berth had been as weather observer on Scotland’s Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain. Every day for five months he would climb this 1344 metre peak to take readings, whatever the weather. Wragge nearly lost his life on Ben Nevis when he tried to climb it during the worst gale of the 19th century. Not to be outdone, our Antipodean meterologists contended with 160 kph blizzards that rocked the hut. Low clouds, charged with electricity, sent flames flying from the teeth of a cross-cut saw; freezing clouds settled over the summit for 26 days straight in June 1898; and the winds were so fierce that observers had to be tethered by a safety rope to save being blown down into the Geehi. Eventually, in 1914, lightning stuck the hut and it burnt down, never to be rebuilt. An entertaining description of Observatory life was written by H.I. Jensen, who over-wintered in 1898.
And so on a windy Monday afternoon, 10 days since leaving Kiandra, seven malodorous walkers swung onto the Kosciuszko ski lift for the ride down to Thredbo, followed quickly by a priority Kosciuszko Pale Ale and hot potato wedges. But the AAWT wasn’t finished with us yet. Just for good measure the final 500 metres took us up three banks of steep steps to the Thredbo YHA for hot showers, a soft bed and warm digs. Thanks to my easy going and ever helpful fellow walkers. It was a pleasure to share with you the delights of Australia’s highest places.