Thredbo Village. Nestled in the infamous Snowny Mountains of Australia. The mountains which inspired the epic poem, “The Man from Snowy River” by Banjo Paterson (definitely worth reciting [aloud] right now, no matter how many times you’ve read it). The village lies beneath the great Mount Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest mountain. Relative to the highest summits found in other countries, Kosciuszko, at 2228 m above sea level, is a dwarf. For comparison: Canada – Logan at 5959 m, Switzerland – Dufourspitze at 4634 m, Kenya – Kilimanjaro at 5895 m, and of course Nepal – Everest at 8848 m. So no matter how dramatic I retell my perilous journey up (and down) the slopes of Kosciuszko, be sure to avoid giving me any more than the 2228 m worth of credit I deserve.
Before I even set foot on it’s slopes, I almost had to give up conquering the beast, for Thredbo is not the easiest place to get to. Outside of ski season, there is no public transportation going in or out of the village. Anyone who gets there does so by bike or by car, and being that it is in a national park, must pay a fee to park inside. Desperate to have something decent to brag about again, and left with no other option, I put my life in the mercy of strangers and my thumb out on the road (and mum, before you explode – I’m alive, and with no planned hitch hikes ahead, I feel dwelling on this action would be irrelevant).
Getting from Canberra to Thredbo takes just over two hours. I made it in three trips: Canberra to Cooma, Cooma to Berridale, and then in the most excellent stroke of luck, Berridale to Thredbo. Had I not caught the first two rides just so, I wouldn’t have been in Berridale so perfectly timed to catch that final ride. I was picked up in Berridale by Barbara (sixty-ish) and her 32 year old son, Cameron. They were on their way to the Snowies; her for the walks, him for the fishing. When I told her Thredbo was my destination, she changed her walking destination from Charlotte’s Pass to Thredbo and brought me right to the doorstep of my hostel! She proceeded to give me her contact info should I decide to come by for a visit in Cooma some time. Perfect really – every day I grow more and more convinced that these things will always work out ‘just so’. Thanks, Universe.
After I was settled in and my belly filled, I made up my Emily vs Mt. Kosciuszko ‘plan’ of attack: go to bed, get up in decent time, and figure the rest out then. So I went to bed [late], got up [late], and then gave up all hopes of leaving before 10 am. As I sipped my morning coffee, I starred up at the mountain from the comfortable confines of the hostel/lodge and pondered which route to take. Most people (particularly families and older folk) take the chairlift up, which bypasses the only actual strenuous part of the hike. From there it is a gradual 6.5 km climb up a metal mesh walkway (designed to protect the delicate, slow healing alpine vegetation from human traffic) up to the summit. If you choose not to take the chairlift, you have a few trails to choose from to get you to the start of that walkway. If you know me, you already know which route I chose: go big or go home, right?
I selected the most difficult of the routes so that all would know just how amazing/ambitious/talented/wonderful/etc,etc I am. Really, I just wanted the legitimate experience of climbing the mountain – and it was the right choice. I packed some food, filled up my water, slathered on sunscreen, and set out for the trail. I had a huge smile on my face as I approached the start of the trail for I knew that though the way up would be exhausting and that I’d most likely be miserable, I also knew that it would be incredibly satisfying. Spoiler: it was all of these things and much, much more.
I put on some tunes, took a few deep breaths, then took off up the trail at a determined pace. Luckily for me, all that hiking in Katoomba, and slugging about with my pack in Canberra, prepared me quite well for the trip. But, stairs are stairs, and I was not so fit as to not need breaks. To make the best time, I stopped to catch my breath only in the nicest spots, so that I could take pictures at the same time. The trail was well named (Merritt’s Nature Track), for it was a beautiful little tour through a number of different levels of alpine vegetation. I appreciated it a lot more on the way back down, as on the way up my eyes were a bit preoccupied with watching my step.
For an hour and forty-five minutes I alternated back and forth between playing an impatient mountain goat and a Japanese tourist. When I emerged at the top of the trail I smiled triumphantly, did a jig (mentally), and took in the views. I happily limped over to the trail guide to examine my progress… or lack of it. It turned out getting from that point to the summit and back was still another 13 km. I turned toward the top of the chairlift and bitterly watched as hoards of lazy, good for nothing, [likely] American tourists poured off all fresh-faced and energetic. I decided that I would show them [nothing], and race every single person I saw to the summit. In the blink of an eye I was the impatient mountain goat again, scrambling up the walkway, no pictures. In reality, I just didn’t feel like dawdling along.
At some point towards the top of Merritt’s Nature Track I had ascended above the tree line. From there to the summit was an entirely new vegetative experience for me. Like the flora found in cold northern regions with short growing seasons, all of the plants were low-lying, slow growing, and somewhat darker in colour. There were no hulking trees to block the view, just rolling alpine plains of shrubs, mosses, flowers, and boulders. The pictures do it no justice – the view was incredibly beautiful and the air incredibly fresh.
Three and a bit hours in, I felt the end drawing near – the end of the climb up, that is. I scrambled jubilantly upwards along the last 100 meters, leaving old ladies and small children to choke on my victorious dust. And then, there I was, with my hands on my hips, and my feet on the summit. On top of Australia, and, by association, better than every other person on that snake-infested, convict-populated, inhospitable, poor excuse for a country. After a few more minutes of silent gloating and self-congratulating, I sat on a rock and ate cold pasta through a swarm of flies, reveling in the beauty of it all.
As I descended back to the top of Merritt’s Nature Track, I tried to decide if taking the chairlift down instead of the track would take away some of my bragging rights. The decision was made for me though, when I remembered that I had not brought any money and wouldn’t be able to take the lift even if I wanted to. Ah well. What’s another 5 km when you’ve already gone 18?? Here are some pictures.
Five and a half hours later, I returned to the hostel exhausted, slightly miserable, but perfectly satisfied – cold beer in hand. I looked up at the mountain I conquered and tried to think of how I would describe the 23 km, 5 and a half hour hike. Just like with the pictures, I knew my words would not do it justice. And so, to you I say, get off your lazy butts and hike up any particular 2228m mountain so that I will have no need to improve upon my ability to describe the beauty of experience. I can’t put into words the joy it brought me to be on a mountain, on the other side of the world, just because I felt like it. Just because.