Hiking the Main Range

A few months ago, out of the blue, Kath said that she would “quite like to do an overnight hike sometime”. After nearly 20 years of marriage and never managing to get her into a tent (let alone a hike), I jumped at the opportunity and started looking for a good “first hike”. After a bit of research, I decided that we had to do the iconic Main Range loop at Mt. Kosciuszko (Australia’s highest peak – 2,228m). Rated as an “experienced” grade of hike, it was going to be a pretty serious 2 day trek with packs, but we had done the loop before as a day walk (20 years ago), so I figured “why not”.

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Sydney and pretty much all of New South Wales have been experiencing extreme heat and have also been engulfed in smoke due to the hundreds of bushfires burning around the state. So it was with great relief to find that when we got into the mountains that we were above the smoke and the weather was a perfect 22 degrees C. Even though it is summer, the previous week had seen -11 degrees in the area and there were reports of a lot of snow drifts on the Main Range track.

The Main Range track starts at Charlottes Pass, in the Kosciuszko National Park. Having spent the night in Cooma, it was about 9am by the time we got to the trailhead. The first section of the hike involves walking down and crossing the Snowy River. The water was pretty low, so crossing on the stepping stones was pretty straight forward. We then hiked up a long hill and experienced our first snow drift crossing. The snow was very icy and it was a bit of a surprise how tricky these traverses would end up being. We eventually got to the turnoff to Blue Lake, dropped our packs and headed down to the lake. By the time we got to a nice lookout over the lake, we decided it was a good place to enjoy an early lunch.

The next section of the trail was along a ridge line towards Carruthers Peak (Australia’s 9th highest peak – 2,145m). This section of the trail was covered in a lot of snow and was quite steep, making it slow progress. By the time we reached the top of Carruthers Peak, the wind was really howling and made it hard to walk a straight line.

The next section of the walk, which passes Club Lake and Albina Lake, is mostly along a metal boardwalk (to protect the grasslands). The NW wind was really screaming up the valley by now. Even walking on the boardwalk was difficult going. The plan had been to veer off the Main Range track and head up to the peak of Mt. Townsend (Australia’s 2nd highest peak – 2,209m) and camp in the saddle near the top. An interesting fact is that in the early days, Mt. Townsend was thought to be the highest peak in Australia and was called Mt. Kosciuszko. However when they realised it was 19m shorter than what is now Mt. Kosi, they changed the name to Mt. Townsend. This upset a few people, because Mt. Townsend is a much more impressive looking mountain (Kosi just looks like a hill), so they started piling up rocks on top to try and make it taller.

As we passed Albina Lake, we looked at the snow covered ridge line leading up to the top of Mt. Townsend and decided we would leave that peak for another day. The trail guide said the Mt. Townsend campsite was protected from Southerly winds, but there was no way there would be protection from the North Westerly gale we were experiencing. Plus we were pretty exhausted at this point, so we progressed another kilometre along the Main Range track and headed down into the Wilkinsons Creek valley which sits between Mt. Townsend and Mt. Kosciuszko. We found a perfect campsite of soft, flat grass amongst some big boulders that provided protection from the wind. There were also plenty of fresh snowdrifts around that we could use to boil water.

That evening we were treated to a wonderful sunset that cast beautiful light over the creek and boulders that littered the valley. Around this time the wind in the valley also dropped right off, so we had a very peaceful night.

Since sunrise was just after 5.30am, we woke early and after a quick breakfast, we packed up and were ready to hike around 7am. The first leg of the hike was to climb to the top of Mt. Kosciuszko. Once again a lot of the track was covered in snow and as it was pretty steep, it took us a while to plod up the hill.

As we were approaching what we thought was Mt. Kosi in the distance, we stumbled across a larger track heading in the opposite direction that we ignored and continued on. After walking another 100m or so, we realised the peak we were looking at was not actually Mt. Kosi and the track we had just found was the Mt. Kosi summit track. It just shows how uninspiring Mt. Kosi is, in that we were on it (just below the peak) and we didn’t even realise it. So we dropped our packs and strolled up to the summit. Being so early in the morning we were the only people on the summit, so we could enjoy the view in peace (well except for the gale force winds). The view was good, but since most of the state is covered in smoke, we could not see too far into the distance.

The final 9km of the walk from the top of Mt. Kosi to Charlottes Pass was pretty uneventful. This section of the track is a gravel road and apart from a nice bridge over the Snowy River, there was not much to see. At this point we were hot and pretty keen to get back to the car, ditch our packs and get our boots off. After a couple of hours we eventually got back to the car and promptly drove down to Jindabyne for a burger.

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Overall the Main Range hike was excellent. It was a pretty ambitious hike for Kath’s first hike, but she was a trooper and enjoyed it. I would like to go back sometime and extend the hike to include more of the Kosciuszko National Park and work out a way to skip that last 9km, which was a pretty monotonous way to end what was otherwise a spectacular hike.

For track notes for this hike, visit Main Range Track – Loop from Charlotte Pass camping near Mt Townsend

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