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We are relaxing in the apartment after a very tiring day of active walking on the mountain tops of the Snowy Mountains.
We slept in until 08:00, then got up and I had a pumpkin scone before heading out to find a shop selling milk after Michelle had had her shower. It turned out there was a small supermarket right behind our apartment, which had just opened, so I got milk plus some cheese for lunch and a bottle of water for the walk. I also bought some fresh bread rolls from the nearby bakery, which I filled with the cheese and put into a bag for lunch during the day.
We donned our walking boots then set out via the post office, where we got a stamp for a Christmas card for my aunt in Germany. Then we headed down to the chairlift terminal and bought tickets to the top of the mountain. The Snowgums lift was the only one operating and it took 20 minutes to haul us up the tree-covered slope to the top station. From there we had a 400 metre walk up a steep set of steps set into the slope to Eagle's Nest, the top of the Kosciuszko Express chairlift and the start of the Kosciuszko walking track.
The weather had improved markedly since yesterday, with the day dawning sunny and blue-skied. But by the time we took the chairlift some fluffy white cumulus had drifted over, making a patchwork of the sky.
The initial part of the walk passed through steep slopes carpeted with yellow, white, and purple wildflowers, interspersed with stunted snowgums (Eucalyptus pauciflora). As we walked along the gently sloping path beyond Eagle's Nest, the trees thinned out and disappeared, and the flowers took over. Further along, the purple ones vanished and we were left with silver snow daisies (Celmisia sp.) and mountain celery (Aciphylla glacialis), the latter with reddish stalks emerging from clumps of feathery leaves.
We reached the Kosciuszko Lookout, 2km from the start of the walk, which gave us our first view over the obscuring ridge to Mount Kosciuszko itself. It is a gently rounded hummock barely rising any higher than the surrounding ridges and peaks, which were capped with rounded and ice-fractured granite boulders. Small patches of snow remained in a few sheltered depressions in the landscape, but it was almost entirely either bare rock or green with tussocky grass and scattered wildflowers.
Several other walkers were resting at the lookout, and we could see more walking across the path ahead as it weaved across the shallow valley through which the headwaters of the mighty Snowy River trickled downhill in interwoven rivulets between clumps of peat bog and moss. We followed along the rusty steel track - they don't use galvanised steel because the zinc is bad for the alpine vegetation.
The view down the valley of the Snowy River and north into the Main Range of the mountains was vast and spectacular, with patches of cloud shadows dappling the smooth hills painted in all shades of green and grey. Another 3km along the track we reached the welcome sight of a group of Portaloos, standing next to a construction site where a sign announced was being built the "highest toilet in Australia". We availed ourselves of the temporary facilities and then set out on the final 1.5km slog up the slope to the top of Kosciuszko.
The track wound anticlockwise around the peak, gaining altitude only fairly slowly, so it wasn't too strenuous. After slightly more than a full circuit of the peak we emerged on to the summit - a field strewn with granite boulders the size of washing machines. It was quite flat and it wasn't entirely clear where the highest point actually was, but there was a cemented rock cairn at one point, which rose higher than anything else, and around which were assembled several people taking photos of it, each other, and the panoramic 360° view all around us.
It was quite windy, but descending a little in the rock field down the west side gave us a sheltered position that was already being taken advantage of by four or five other couples or small groups of walkers. We plonked down on some granite boulders and ate a very welcome lunch of bread rolls and mature King Island cheddar cheese.
As we ate, cloud drifted over from the east, including some through the gap to the north, below our current altitude. I feared for a while that fog would close in and it might start to rain, but neither possibility eventuated and the sky remained tolerably clear. As we sat eating, a woman standing behind us right at the peak of the mountain started talking - she was answering her mobile phone! From her side of the conversation it was clear that someone was ringing her from overseas. "And where am I? Ha, you wouldn't believe it. I'm standing on top of Mount Kosciuszko. Yes, the highest mountain in Australia. Yes, right at the very top. What am I doing here? Talking to you!"
We headed off again soon after eating, in case the weather turned nasty. The cloud cover did get quite heavy, but it broke up a bit again as we descended and we never saw a drop of rain. The walk was never very strenuous, but it was fairly long, and of course at a substantial altitude. With stops for eating and photos, it took us until almost 15:30 to get back to the top of Snowgums chairlift.
Waiting to get the ride down, we saw three guys with mountain bikes arriving at the top. As we rode down the chairlift we saw them tackling the insanely steep and treacherous bike track down the mountain. The first two were a little tentative, but the last guy was fast and skilful. It seemed he was an instructor, teaching the other two.
Further down we saw a woman and a couple of young kids, about 7 years old, walking down the Merritts Nature Track. This is the track we intend to tackle on Wednesday, so it was good to see that young children could handle it without much problem.
Back at the village, we inquired at the visitor information centre about getting net access from Michelle's laptop. The woman there said the petrol station and the "Christmas shop" sold prepaid wireless network cards. After dropping stuff at our apartment we walked next door to the petrol station to check it out. Although they sold wireless cards, the woman said their net access was actually down at the moment and awaiting a technician to come out and fix it, so she declined to try to sell us a card. She suggested we try the Christmas shop, as they used a different ISP, so we walked up to the village square to find it
The shop was closed, but there was a note stuck to the door saying that if you just wanted a net card to call a mobile number. We tried it, but got an answering service thing, so left a message to call Michelle back on her mobile. Feeling like a warm drink, we went into the Bistro and got a couple of hot chocolates. They were tall and very nice after the tiring exertions of the day.
We went back to the apartment to rest for a while. I downloaded photos from my camera on to Michelle's laptop, then had a refreshing shower. Michelle watched some TV until it was time to get some dinner. We went to the T-Bar where we'd had dinner last night and ordered a couple of pizzas to take away: a Tuscan veg with pumpkin, feta, tomato, caramelised onion, and olives, and a blue cheese, with dried tomatoes and snow peas. We had to wait half an hour for them since they were doing a large phone order when we arrived. We waited back in the apartment, since it was only a minute's walk away.
The pizzas were both good, and we ate as we relaxed, watching the dying rays of the sun on the tree-covered hillside across the river from our balcony window. We're now just relaxing with some TV before bed and a new day.
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