Mount Kosciuszko

Once our bags were loaded up into the rental car we headed south west on the M31 freeway through periodic torrential rains. Leaving Sydney, Australia just before noon and covering 500kms with multiple stops for bathroom breaks, leg stretches, lunch and picking up a National Park Permit in Jindabyne, we finally arrived at our destination, Thredbo Mountain Resort. It was just after 6:00 pm and being late October and the shoulder season between winter and summer activities the atmosphere resembled a ghost town. With low lying clouds misting the buildings and rain chilling everything it touched we could understand why the mountain village was empty. Temperatures were in the mid to low teens with expectations of a few degrees above freezing overnight. We ate a bit of dinner we had with us in the hotel and got the girls all settled into bed. Shannon and I spent the next hour or so getting prepped for the morning and staring at the weather forecast contemplating if it was going to be in our favour or not.

A bit about this hike:

📍 One of the seven summits

📍 13 km out and back from top of Kosciuszko Express chairlift

📍 Approximately 300 metre elevation gain

📍 Grade 3

📍 Takes roughly 4-6 hrs round trip

📍 National Park pass required ($17 per day off season, $29 per day regular season)

📍 Fees for chairlift pass

The alarms rang at 7:00 am as the four of us watched the rain and fog cover the mountain side across the way. After returning from our complimentary breakfast upstairs we committed to our plans, drove the half kilometre and parked the car for the day. When we arrived at the chairlift ticket counter we couldn’t help but notice the lift was not operating. Not only that but the lift didn’t actually have any chairs on it. We quickly learned that the Kosciuszko Express chairlift to the top was under maintenance and the Snowgums Chairlift that drops you off 90 meters lower was in its place. After chatting with the ticket lady and purchasing our passes we made a quick stop at the rental shop to pick up some snowshoes for the pair of us, as they were strongly suggested.

Boarding the chair we gained altitude from the valley bottom with a starting elevation of 1365m and slowly climbed over the snowgum forest, beyond two mid-stations, patches of snow and exited the lift at 1840m. From here it was a 20 minute walk up a steep maintenance road to the Mount Kosciuszko Summit Trail at 1930m. Now the official hike was about to begin.

This hike in the summer months seems quite pleasant. It is a combination of paving stones and elevated steel walk ways from the lift to the summit and even host-guided sunset and stargazing tours are offered. Long sleeve jacks and suncream is recommended as the high alpine can get cool but can be quite sunny. Today however was different than the brochures, very different. Conditions at the top of the chair were similar to the bottom, fog and rain and cold. Visibility was drastically limited and having the chairlift final ride being 3:45 pm we decided to have a turn around time of 1:00 pm. Our two girls seemed to enjoy the chairlift but eventually grew cold and wanted nothing to do with the weather, this included walking in it. They were now in the Trail Majik carriers and we knew it would be that way for the duration of the hike. It was now 10:15 am and we were just starting out. With 13km round trip, 300m elevation gain and around 50lbs of extra weight we were a little concerned about our time. After a couple hundred meters in the misting rain we came across a few snow patches. No big concern here. A couple hundred more, the patches grew. 1.5kms in we come across the Lookout. We could see nothing more than a thick combination of white fog meeting white snow with a few rocks piercing through.

A couple more kilometres in and everything was completely covered in the winter snowpack. There were however 8′ tall wooded posts attached to the walkway for the length of the hike so we just continued to connect the dots above the walkway with snowshoes in place. There were also footprints of two others from that day ahead of us that topped up our confidence. We could however not see much more than one post ahead of us before the white out conditions took over. By 12:00 noon we had reached Rawson’s Pass at 2124m above sea level. From here the summit is just 500m as the crow flies and the rock outcrop in the high alpine stands tall with the remaining Snowy Mountain Range in the background. From here, if you could see the walkway, it should be another 1.67 km. This was not however what we were looking at. We just saw white as the cold wind blew into our face. We also noticed that the wooded posts were no longer present. There were however two other snowshoe tracks leading off into the fog. 10 minutes into following the tracks we noticed who was making them and they were getting closer and closer to us. We soon found out that they had turned around just a short distance ahead as the trail was not visible, whiteout conditions and the winds were excessive. Shannon and I now had a decision to make. Do we push on and inch forward looking for any sign of unknown trail markers with two four year olds hiding inside our jackets to keep warm or should we play it safe and return to the chairlift with plans of summiting the peak at a later date?

Our next steps were still in the uphill direction as we climbed further into the white. The wind now was howling and communication was limited. With my head down to shield from the wind I noticed some other tracks from days prior.

With no blowing snow I knew we could find our way out with our tracks but here’s hoping that the people days before knew where they were going. I was now 30m ahead of Shannon and looking back at her she was starting to fad into the background. Looking forward I could see a rock outcrop with a rock painted orange next to a 3m wide flat rock path. I waved Shannon on and we soon took shelter from the wind to regroup. The girls are unhappy now, everyone was hungry and we had to be only a few minutes from the top. We followed this path up and around the mountain in a counter clockwise way and popped back out in the blinding whiteout and fierce winds. We staggered our way through the open white, looking for anything. Off to our left however we notice a stone pile cemented together that looks like some of the summer photos we had seen in the past. 30 steps later our hands were all over the peak. The time was now 12:45 pm.

The snow had all blown off the summit leaving a rocky outcrop that was not meant to be navigated by snowshoes. The winds were too strong and we new our stay was going to be brief so we chose to stumble around instead. This decision was a challenging one as both of us nearly got pushed to the ground with the strength of the wind and our footing was far from stable. After a few quick photos we worked our way back the way we came and took shelter behind some boulders. After a quick regroup again we clock wised our way back around, through the winds and returned to Rawson’s Pass in what seemed like thickening clouds.

We ate a quick snack and pushed on down the hill. The wind had quit and the girls were now fast asleep as we covered good ground and returned all the way back to the top of the Snowgums chair lift by 3:15 pm. The 15 minute ride down was more than pleasant as the girls decided to come out of their hideaways to enjoy the return of color to our eyes. A safe returning to our car then back to the hotel was then rewarded with a family feast at the local hot spot before settling in to bed for an early night.

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