With still more time between Mt. Rainier and Elbrus, I decided to take a quick trip down under and knock off the tallest mountain on the Australian Continent.  There is some controversy over which is the tallest, not because of height but because there is debate as to how a continent is defined.  Some believe that the 7th continent is Australasia or Oceana including many islands between Australia and Asia and thousands more extending into the south pacific.  I’ll stick to the classic definition of Continent as large contiguous landmass. 

For those who choose Oceana as the 7th continent, Carstensz Pyramid 16023ft (4884m) Papua, Indonesia is a technical climb.  Carstensz is mostly closed off by the government causing climbers to have to pay extra to get helicoptered in/out of the area and get various permits from police officers, government (of national and local levels) and military.  I call this “greasing the palms of those in power”.  Most serious climbers choose this continent definition and mountain simply because the highest on Australia is just too easy.  I may eventually climb Carstensz Pyramid someday to be on both lists.

Mt Kosciuszko is an easy day hike, which lies above a ski resort.  It is only 7310ft (2228m) high.  The mountain is named after the Polish national hero General Tadeusz Kosciuszko.  He had a fascinating life including work in the American Revolutionary War engineering the fortification of Philadelphia and the banks of the Delaware River, contributing to the successful retreat at Ticonderoga and victory at Saratoga.  He was also put in charge of the engineering works at West Point.  He was so moved by the Declaration of Independence that he met with Thomas Jefferson on many occasions to discuss philosophy.  The common Australian pronunciation of Kosciuszko, "kozzy-osko" (nickname kozzy), differs from the pronunciation in Polish, "kosh-CHOOSH-ko".

I left on November 15 and arrived on November 17.  I rented a car in Sydney and drove down to the park, stopping for some fresh foods and stove gas in Jindabyne.   The drive took about 6 hours from the airport.  There is a daily fee for the Kosciuszko National Park.  You can camp just about anywhere out of sight, but since I was by myself I paid a fee to use a campground at Sawpit Creek, which had bathrooms and showers.  I got a chance to hand feed some Kangaroos and saw a couple of Kookaburra.  The flies were relentless and I quickly learned the Aussie wave, an attempt to clear the flies from the face rather than say hi.

I had 2 days to summit in case bad weather came in.  The weather forecast was for thunderstorms in the afternoon of both days.  I got to bed early and got up early and grabbed breakfast.  I packed lunch, 2L gatorade, 1L water, a fleece, hat, gloves and rain gear in a daypack and drove up to Charlotte Pass.  This gave me ample water and gear in case of weather; those wanting to save pounds can get away with 1L and rain gear only.  This mountain is supposed to be easy, so I opted for the longest way to the top on the Main Range Track and return by the Summit Trail, about 22k roundtrip.  I saw only a few people on the Main Range Track, but it has good views of Kosciuszko.  The Summit Trail really has no good view of the mountain at all.  I can’t comment personally about the third and easiest trail, the Kosciuszko Walk, from the top of a chairlift in Thredbo, but people who took this trail said it took less than 2 hours hiking.  The Main Range Track was mostly just nice trekking.  On the final ridge I ran into many snowfields, one with a crevasse, which I avoided by climbing up to solid ground above it.  At one point I came to a 15-foot wall of snow with a steep drop below.  I just kicked in steps and climbed up.  Later I met some people who were watching me from across the valley on the Summit Trail who wondered where my climbing partner was (and also what I was doing “way over there”).  There were some boy scouts camping in the valley and I can only wonder what they were thinking.  The flies were still bothersome almost all the way to the top, even on the snowfields.  I got to the summit at around 10:30am after 3.5 hours and stayed there for over an hour for pictures and lunch.  There I met a group raising money for charity who had cycled from the coast up the mountain (as far as they could) and then ran the rest of the way.  I lent a fleece to one of the cyclists on the summit while we chatted.  I walked back down with their support crew, Larissa and her friend, who had hiked up from Charlotte pass on the Summit Trail.  The trek down the Summit Trail took less than 2 hours and the flies were even worse.  Black thunderheads were forming over the mountain and you could hear the thunder, but as we were reaching the parking lot there were still groups heading up.

Back at the campground I took a shower, made a satisfying dinner and as night fell the flies abated a bit.  When I got up the next day I made breakfast and considered my options.  I could go back up Kozzy either trekking or taking a long run, or I could find some other trail, or sit in camp and relax.  Then the flies swarmed back in with a vengeance and I started to get a headache.  The decision was easy to make...I packed up the car and headed for Sydney, hoping to check into my hotel a day early.

Mt Kosciuszko, Australia

November 18, 2007

The value of our life is not solely measured by its length, but also by the depth of our hearts.

And breadth of our experiences.  And indeed the heights that we achieve.