Day 2 (Click here for day 1.)
I awoke in the dark. It was cold. Icy cold. I checked the side of my tent for snow build up but it looked clear. I pulled myself tighter into my cocoon of a sleeping bag and drifted back to sleep.
I awoke again a few hours later to a glow outside the tent. I knew the moon had risen. I fought an internal battle between the need to get up and pee and the need to stay warm. I chose warmth. I thought I saw a spider on my tent but closer inspection showed it was just the tent logo so I lay back down and slept once more.
When I woke up again it would be for good. The sun rose quickly and light filled the tent as though a dimmer switch had been dialled up. It was dawn. There was no sign of snow from the interior of the tent but it was still frightfully cold out. Nature called so there was nothing for it but to get up, get dressed and take care of business.
The scene outside my tent was beautiful. I tried to video it but it could not do it justice. The sun had lit up the valley but the moon was still shining strong. Clouds rested below me and all was serene. There was ice on the tent.
After I had made a coffee and ate some porridge I headed over to the creek to gather some water. I was using a hydration pack and was carrying a 1l bottle to help fill it. I headed toward the sound of trickling water and found a spot where water was flowing over the rocks. I held the bottle in , filled it up and looked inside. The water was pristine. There wasn’t any debris in it at all. I pulled out the steripen but it didn’t seem to work. Could the sensor be saying the water was already clean or was it just plain broken? I reasoned that, as the rain was hitting the mountain and flowing directly into the river without passing though areas of human habitation, this water was probably cleaner than the city tap water and proceeded to fill the hydration pack. I filled the bottle too to ensure I had cooking water for the evening. I took a sip. It tasted clean.
I returned to the tent to try to fix the steripen but cut myself trying to open the battery compartment with a pocket knife. Stupid but that’s why I was carrying the first aid kit after all. I gave up and decided the water was good enough. I reviewed my route for the day then packed away the tent.
Today’s plan was to hike to the top of Mt Little Twynan, descend to the blue lake, then join the main range track to camp on a saddle joining Mt Townsend.
I set off, working my way through the alpine heath, trying not to stand on anything that wasn’t grass. As I started to climb the mountain I began to develop a dislike for thistles and chose a route that avoided them entirely. They were sticking to my socks and scraping away at my shoes. Best avoided. As I ascended the vegetation constantly changed, with little wild flowers appearing between rocks and the plants were becoming progressively smaller. A small grasshopper landed in front of me and as I was preparing to photograph it a black and yellow spider pounced on it and pulled it back into its little spider hole. I’m someone who isn’t too fond of spiders but I found the scene beautiful. This is how spiders should live, not eeking out a living clinging to the walls of our sheds! Further up I found a decomposing snake skin, making me a little more wary of the rocks that had snake sized cavities underneath.
I reached a clump of boulders and paused to take in the view and drink some water. I then headed to the top and had morning tea with the vista of the mountains and the the path I had walked laid out before me.
It was an amazing view. I decended from the peak and walked along the ridge line until Hadley tarn and the blue lake came into view. The couple that had camped near me overtook me having skipped the climb to the top. The route down to blue lake was extremely steep and required some path planning. I was determined to avoid the thistles but the grassiest route looked too steep. I began my decent and found that I constantly had to replan the route as I went. The rocks would look too treacherous or the gaps too wide or the heath too thick or there would be a surprise gully hidden away, all best avoided. Somewhere during this descent I noticed my right knee beginning to complain. I extended my trekking poles further to try to take the strain off it and attempted a shallower descent by switch-backing across the steepest areas where possible. It didn’t seem to help and my knee began screaming at me. I rested. I didn’t recall slipping or twisting my leg but I was really very much in pain so I must have put my foot wrong somewhere or perhaps the cumulative pounding on the knee from the descent caused some trouble.
There was a small stream connecting Blue lake to Hadley tarn that needed to be crossed and this was thankfully a very simple rock hopping job. I had spied the trail that I was to join from up on the ridge but was having some trouble finding it. I pulled out my camera and checked the photos and decided on the best path to take. I soon met the track, which was an offshoot of the main range track, and began my ascent to meet the main range track itself. The lake itself was beautiful.
All this time I had my eyes on the weather. It had been a lovely morning with no sign of the forecast rain, but now the clouds were beginning to pour in over the mountains. I met a couple who were having a lunch break who said that they were only doing a short hike as they had been told that three days of snow were coming and up to 120mm deep. That was way more than the light dusting I was expecting. I had reception on my phone so checked the weather and it was saying thunder storms and two days with snow. I was a bit worried. I reached a lookout and decided to eat my lunch and think it through. My knee was hurting and extreme, or perhaps just highly unpleasant, weather was expected. I had a decision to make. Do I proceed to Mt Townsend, do I join the main range track and exit at Charlottes Pass, or do I return the way I came? The thunder began. It felt as though it was right next to my head! Then the sleet came down. Sleet wasn’t in the forecast but here it was. This, coupled with the fact I had not packed my gloves, led me to decide to return the way I came. At least then I would have completed the Guthega to Blue Lake Return section and could leave the Main Range circuit including Mount Kosciuszko for another time.
As I began my decent the fire in my knee made it clear that I was right to abort. I crossed the stream and climbed back up the mountain. My knee did not hurt going up just down. Trying to avoid the thistles I reached the top of the ridge at a point lower than I had left it. I decided that instead of walking up and across back to pounds creek flats that I would start descending and head across roughly diagonally to meet up with the trail back to Guthega. Not the smartest move. I kept running into thick scrub and thistle patches. At one point I came across another stream that was in a one meter deep ravine and I had no choice but to walk uphill to find an easier place to cross. Of course that place had yet more thistles on the far side. I had never understood the purpose of gaiters until now….
The going was slow now due to the knee but I smiled gleefully when I finally met up with the trail. It was where I had expected it to be and the route I had chosen got me to it but I had underestimated the difficulty of moving through the vegetation. It would have been easier to stay on the original route even though it would have meant ascending rather than descending at the beginning. So- mental note- stick to the plan…
The weather had now become rotten. It was cold and raining hard and I was using my beanie to keep my hands warm. Now that I was on the trail I could move quickly. Only the downward segments slowed me down due to the pain. I actually chuckled to myself as part of me was wanting to walk faster which would of course be almost useless with two hours of walking still ahead. Keep your regular pace Nathan, you’ll need your energy further on.
After a while, I found myself back at the crazy suspension bridge that I had crossed on the way out. I bounced across and realised that I had stopped taking pictures. I had been here before but I was so focussed on minimising the pain of each footstep and planning my immediate path that I was no longer noticing the views. So I paused and recollected myself. I grinned. My knee was about to shatter but this was SO MUCH FUN! I ate a snickers and watch the birds go about their business. When I felt reconnected again I began the last push to Guthega.
I was hobbling pretty much the rest of the way. Even going uphill was beginning to hurt. The rain came down again but I ploughed on through. I had forgotten about the other metal bridge and realised I still had about half an hour to go. I think I took double that time. Eventually, the trail ended and I was back in Guthega!
I changed my clothes in the car with the heating on and downed a packet of raspberry jellies. There was still two hours of sunlight left so I had done well. I started the car only to hear a weird clunking noise. Hmm. I turned off the heating and tried again and all was well. My car would break down a week later but for now it would do its job. The drive back to Jindabyne must have been at kangaroo feeding time as the road was filled with them. I drove slow as I was worried I’d hit one. At least fifteen in total had bounded across or along the road. Daft buggers.
Soon enough I was at the hotel and the operator was happy enough to change my booking. The first thing I did was to take a shower and it was here that I realised just how cold I had been. It was lovely to warm up again. I called my wife and updated her. She was happy as she was also worried about the weather and my four year old daughter had been in tears the night before thinking I might hurt myself or get lost. I forget how switched on she is. She was thrilled to hear I would be home early. Having reported in, I headed to the bistro for a steak and a beer!
The next day I felt vindicated in my decision to cut the hike short. There had been snow that night and Mount Kosciuszko was in a blizzard. I would have been trying to set a tent up in those conditions and that would not have been fun. Some webcam images are below.
The rain soon wiped all of that snow away of course but the first snowfalls of the season had happened and skiers all over Australia were excited. But my trip was over.
The next day I dropped into the visitors centre to return my beacon and overheard a phone call to the centre from a woman worried about her husband and son who were up on the mountain. They were carrying a beacon so they would be fine. The lady behind the counter told the woman “if you were in trouble with your son on a mountain wouldn’t you set off your beacon?” She had a point.
I should point out here that the cafe next door does excellent corn fritters and very nice coffee too.
My knee was swollen but was usable for the drive back to Sydney. I was hobbling down stairs like an old man though- a taste of things to come perhaps.
At some point I will return and do the second half of this walk so I can tick Mount Kosciuszko off my to do list, but I suspect there will be a few daywalks closer to home in the near future. My legs have now healed and are itching to get back out there and start walking again!
It feels great to be able to share this experience with other hikers. The great thing about solo hiking is that you are not ruining someone else’s holiday by making the decision to cut it short. I hope that sharing this will also encourage other hikers to feel comfortable with ending a hike when it is sensible to do so and not push through into a situation that may be dangerous or for which they are unprepared. I also hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch the video on the link below- there are some very pretty views and it was my favorite day despite the challenges, or perhaps because or them!