Mt Kosciuszko Summit and beyond

Mt Kosciuszko is Australia’s Highest Peak at 2,228m (7,310ft). Small by international standards and more of a plateau one can still marvel at its full 360⁰ panoramic view across the stunning Australian alps.

November 2020

Australian Alps, Thredbo, New South Wales

1 day (Summit is 13km return walk)

Grade 3

Suitable for most ages and abilities. This grade can include short steep sections up to 20kms.

Track Terrain

Metal walkway for most of the journey from top of Kosciuszko Express Chairlift.

Tips

Catch the Chairlift when it opens at 9.00am from the Valley Terminal to Top Station, otherwise you have another steep 2-3 hour walk via Merritts Nature Track before you begin the Mt Kosciuszko Summit Walk.

After reaching the summit there are many other additional walks you can take, perhaps to Mt Townsend or Seamans Hut, but you must check your time if you want to catch the Chairlift back to Thredbo village. 4.30pm is the last time you can board the Top Station Kosciuszko Express Terminal next to Eagles Nest Restaurant for the return ride to Thredbo village. Know your walking speed on a metal platform going downhill to decide how much farther you should venture out from Mt Kosciuszko Summit before turning around to return.

Equipment

Even in summer, come prepared for inclement weather. It is significantly cooler at elevation, and weather can change rapidly. Bring a rain jacket which can also be a wind jacket, rain pants, a light fleece, first aid kit, sunscreen, enough water (min. 1 litre for every 6kms walked) or water treatment solution if sourcing water from mountain streams, and adequate food for energy. I often carry electrolyte tablets to add to water to replace salts lost with sweat if the walk is hot and/or strenuous.

While I normally recommend trekking poles, I did not find the gradient of this walk demanded them. I’d be hesitant to use them on steel walkways. Although the mesh is dense, I have a habit of losing the rubber stoppers on my poles when they get caught in the open mesh. Easy enough to replace but such a pain when you lose them. Often you will not notice when the tip dislodges. There is no point in venturing beneath the platform to look for a tiny bit of black rubber when you are unsure when you lost it.

The Walk

Catching the Kosciuszko Express Chairlift is fun. Just grip on to all your valuables. We learnt the hard way when one of us lost our hat in the late afternoon and had to walk underneath the chairlift up a steep hill, for an extra hour’s walk, to retrieve it. Not happy, Jan.

View from Kosciuszko Express Chairlift heading for Thredbo Top Station

Mt Kosciuszko Summit is a 13km (return) walk, which they estimate will take 4-6 hours, but we did it easily in three hours. If you do not want to go the full distance, you can venture to Mt Kosciuszko Lookout, a Grade 2.4km (return) walk for a panoramic view of the alpine terrain.

To the right of Mt Kosciuszko Lookout follow a short path to some interesting boulder formations for another great photo opportunity.

If you can walk another 4km (return) you will reach Rawsons Pass for more great views and proper toilets.

Sydney Walking Group at Mt Kosciuszko Lookout

At this point, you are virtually halfway to the Summit. It’s a further 6.5km (return) so you may as well push on but if you have had enough turn around at this point and head back to Eagles Nest Restaurant for a meal, warm French fries, or a drink before descending to Thredbo in the chair lift at your leisure.

Lake Cootapatamba Lookout on way to Summit

Patches of snow still in late November

The view at Mt Kosciuszko is okay. On a fine day, panoramic 360⁰ views of the alps are possible with a unobstructed view of the Main Range Hike should you choose to continue further. There is an orange painted trig point at the summit and a memorial stone platform which everyone likes to climb on or stand beside for an iconic “I’m at the top of Australia” photograph. A few of my walking buddies took several minutes to get the perfect photo while I happily snacked in a sheltered spot and posed in a COVID-compliant way.

Wearing my Cotopaxi ‘Do Good’ Facemask

After summitting Mt Kosciuszko, I continued further with two fast hikers toward Mt Townsend, Australia’s second highest mountain at 2,210m (7,250ft). We were fortunate to see a fine glacial lake, Lake Albina beneath it. There we enjoyed a leisurely lunch without considering the time of the last chair lift ride back to the village. We briskly walked 10kms in under 2 hours to make the last chairlift ride.

I recommend you don’t do this. Know when you must be back at Thredbo Top Station for the return chairlift ride to the village, how much time you need, and avoid feeling rushed. I lost a toenail afterwards due to some unnecessary downhill running to ensure we were on that chairlift. 

The Main Range Hike is a Grade 4 walk and only recommended for those with bushwalking experience. Walking times, as suggested by Thredbo’s Information Centre may be conservative, but you will want to allow more time for breaks and photos, so their suggested time to complete this hike is worth noting when you are planning this long day hike.   

If interested in completing the Main Range Hike during the summer months, I recommend you arrange a car shuttle from Charlotte Pass, another nearby ski town. This will enable you to complete the 32km walk over 8 to 10 hours, starting early from Charlotte Pass to guarantee a chair lift ride back to the village or go in the other direction and catch the 9am chair lift from Thredbo Valley Terminal for a 7pm finish at Charlotte Pass.

Who joined me?

I joined three friends from my local Sydney walking group. Many more girls came separately to walk or try their hand at mountain biking or lengthier hikes. There are many tracks and modes of transportation (hike or bike) of varying grades. You are spoilt for choice. The variety of activities offered, including an indoor pool and tennis courts, is sure to cater for individual preferences and varying skill levels. This resulted in several walkers returning to Thredbo village earlier once they had hiked the distance they were comfortable hiking each day. Footpaths and metal walkways are well signposted, making it extremely easy in good visibility. A basic map, secured from the Thredbo Information Centre, is more than adequate for navigation.

Highlights

Start of Summit Walk from Thredbo Top Station

The highest ground of the Main Range contains all the nation’s ten highest peaks and lies in the southern section of the park.

In alpine areas above 1,850m tall alpine herbfield and heathland communities dominate the high alpine areas of the bioregion. Other communities such as sod tussock grassland, short alpine herbfield, fjaeldmark (unique species or communities of prostrate plants typically occurring in remote alpine regions), bog and fen can occur where the effects of temperature, aspect, drainage and exposure impede the growth of tall herbfields. For further description of the vegetation in this area refer to the following link from the NSW Government website on Australian Alps biodiversity.

With ever-increasing visitor numbers and demand for high-quality walking experiences, there are considerable opportunities for new walking tracks or routes within the Kosciuszko Summit Precinct. Any new track proposals must be considered in terms of environmental impacts, demand, future maintenance liabilities and ability to deliver high-quality experiences.

With the sub-alpine and alpine ecosystems being so fragile there has been a huge push to develop and maintain more raised steel mesh walkways within Kosciuszko National Park, particularly with ever-increasing visitor numbers in summer and the demand for high-quality walking experiences, including walks for disabled visitors. Refer Draft Walking Track Strategy Kosciuszko Summit Precinct for more information. I can live with this strategy. The rusty steel paths have their own appeal and they have laid them creatively with twists and turns, the odd step, rise and the occasional dip.

Lowlights

Horse flies can be unpleasant during the summer months. I recommend a head net. Fortunately, they were not a problem this time in late spring. There is little vegetation for shelter at the higher levels, so bring sunscreen and a wide brim hat. I do not recommend an umbrella if the weather bureau forecasts high winds, but it may be useful for sun protection if conditions are ideal. 

If winds are high on the mountain tops, usually exceeding 70km/hr, they will stop the Kosciuszko Express Chairlift. This might upset your plans as lengthy or permanent delays may ensue, but they do this for a reason, your safety. You wouldn’t want to be on the mountaintops in a gale, anyway. It is very tiring trying to walk into a head wind and wind burn, particularly on the face, can creep up on you when the outside temperature is cooler.

Windy but fun nearing Mt Kosciuszko Summit

Getting There

The closest town to Mt Kosciuszko is Thredbo, a 5.5-hour 500km drive from Sydney. You can find accommodation in Thredbo at hotels or at lodges if members can invite guests. There are also two camp sites, Ngarigo and Thredbo Diggings Campgrounds, both a short distance from Thredbo, but rumoured to be windy. For cheaper motel or flat accommodation you can stay in Jindabyne, a half hour’s drive away. You can find basic amenities in both towns including supermarkets, petrol stations, chemists, clothes shops, hiking, biking, and skiing gear, and restaurants and cafes.

Visit www.thredbo.com.au to find out what’s on in Thredbo when you arrive, location of restaurants and retail outlets, recreation activities available (hiking and mountain biking in summer and skiing in winter), how to secure summer lift passes for scenic passengers on Kosciuszko Express Chairlift to the start of the Kosciuszko Summit and Main Range walks, pick up maps for self-guided walks and book guided walks if desired.

If you are skier, party goer or someone who likes Schnapps, I thoroughly recommend visiting Wild Brumby Schnapps Distillery in Crackenback on your way home. Visit one afternoon if you are leaving early or check their website here for café, bottle shop and tasting opening hours. It is a lovely setting with some fine horse sculptures and other art works spread around its grounds. I enjoyed my brief visit.

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