12 Hike Challenge: I just climbed the three highest peaks in Australia!

I had unfinished business with Mr Kosciouzko. And with Mr Twynam for that matter! Both of these gentlemen have two peaks that either carry or have once carried their name. Mr Twynam has Mount Twynam and Mount Little Twynam of which I have only climbed the latter. Mr Kosciouzko has the peak we all know but many are not aware that the nearby Mount Townsend was once thought to be the tallest and was originally called Mount Kosciouzko! It was discovered that the other peak was actually higher so to not confuse the history books or the general population the name was simply swapped to the new peak! Can’t get more Aussie than that! I had yet to climb Mount Townsend. I had intended to head there on a previous trip but weather and other factors (an exhausted Dad, a dodgy knee, a general inexperience with the area) had put this well out of reach. As I said, unfinished business. So for this, the second hike in my 12 Hike Challenge, I decided to climb Mount Twynam, Mount Townsend and Mount Kosciouzko, the three highest peaks in Australia, all conveniently located within walking distance of each other!

I barely slept knowing I had to wake up early. I started the six hour drive at 4am. I was pleased to note that my pack weight was only 10.1 kg as I didn’t bring along the usual four kilos of socks (they really weigh a lot!) and barely any other spare clothes. I popped into the visitors centre at Jindabyne to borrow a beacon and grab. Last coffee, a ritual I’ve grown to love, then headed to Charlotte Pass. There was an event on so I had to park well down the road. Can’t really complain about a walk being a walker hey? I later found out that there was a group of people with cerebral palsy climbing kosi and raising funds. If that doesn’t inspire you to get out and do the challenging things I don’t know what will!

I headed down the track and noted that there was quite a lot of people around. I crossed the snowy river which was quite low, certainly much lower than when I visited last year, and I worried about the availability of water further on.

I took a while to warm up to the walk and my first stop, the blue lake seemed much further than I remembered it being. When I finally reach it there was a group of lads setting off down the path to the lake itself. They dropped their packs at the top of the trail and I started thinking about when I would do that on this trip. I didn’t linger long at the lake, as I could see my first peak looking not so far away. So I carried on, checking my map a few times when I paused for breath to improve my map reading skills without relying on the phone for help.

I reached the intersection of the main trail and the trail to Mount Twynam and stopped for a snack at what was one of the most amazing views on the trail.

I can never properly take this view in. The foreground is dominated by the towering Sentinal which forms the right wall of a valley topped with white snow gum branches, and in the distance was a seemingly never ending series of ridges and peaks, shaded blue and becoming progressively lighter until they merged into the sky on the far horizon. If this was my only destination on this trip I would have been very satisfied.

After a snack I headed up the trail that lead to Mt Twynam. I had marvellous views the whole way.

I spotted the marker at the top of Twynam and carried on walking along the ridge line hoping the path met up with it. I realised that the path didn’t meet with it, rather carried on past it from what I could see, so I left the path at what was a reasonable spot and made my way towards the summit. The summit marker was an old metal trig station and was tilting and falling apart. I love finding trig points as it tells of a very recent history without gps or other modern methods.

The view was fantastic! I thought I had the summit to myself but as I was circling it, snapping pictures, I noticed an older lady sitting down having her lunch. We said hello and I decided to find a spot of my own to eat. The lads from the lake soon appeared at the top of the summit and were speculating about which peaks were which in the distance. I hadn’t even thought of doing that so I examined the peaks more closely. I have been to this area enough times now that I could recognise most by sight, although for some reason Mount Northcote always seems in the wrong place! I always think it is Meullers peak. I pulled out the paper map (really trying to not use the phone map) and tried to orient myself. I could see my next destination easily.

I headed back along the ridge to rejoin the main range track. I was actually quite tired and made the mistake of thinking “That’s been a good day. I’d be happy if that’s all I did”. Then the mind games began! Part of me was wanting to leave and head home and the other was pushing me to stick with the plan. I seemed to become more tired the more I thought about it. I did a time check and I was bang on my planned schedule. This was enough to push me forward, I had planned the trip right and I had it in me to keep going. Every step was a struggle though with my mind pulling me in two different directions.

Lake Albina was the next highlight and I used the thought of seeing it again to push me forward. It didn’t disappoint! There was some cloud cover so the water was not the radiant blue that I remember but it’s still an astonishingly pretty place. I should really walk in the clockwise direction so I have it in front of me the entire way rather than turning to see it. I wanted to head out here last year when there was still some snow about as the pictures were looking lovely but I just couldn’t find a spare weekend. One year maybe.

As I approached the saddle between kosi and Meullers peak I seriously considered just climbing kosi and heading home, without camping! Thoughts of a cabin at Jindabyne we’re pulling at me but the planner in me checked the watch again and noted I was again on schedule and there was nothing to worry about. I think this is the first time I’ve truly relied on my plan as a motivator. Anyhow, I spotted the cairn that marked the path to Mt Twynam and headed off. I was quite tired and the picturesque valley below me was calling me to just set up camp. I lost the trail a couple of times when crossing some gullies and at one point I looked up at the mountain, still in the distance, and said out loud “I can’t do this”. I looked again for camping spots and found a couple. But then I spotted the path only a couple of meters away and carried on.

As I neared and began climbing I started to leap frog with a young lad who was intending to camp up on the saddle next to the mountain. I had thought about doing that but the gullies I had passed we’re quite dry and I needed to collect cooking water, so I’d have to camp down lower where the streams were more substantial. Having someone else heading up seemed to give me the last push I needed to get up there but the summit turned out to be a crazy loose looking pile of rocks with gaps and little caverns all over it. I dropped my pack before I tackled it, taking my emergency apple up with me! I think I circled the summit once before deciding on the path up. The notes I had on this walk told me that it was a rock scramble but it’s a totally different thing to be standing in front of those rocks. Some were balanced quite precariously and one formed a mini Stonehenge like structure!

I had one last thought of giving up but shook that away. I was too close now. The lad that I had met was coming back down the way I was intending to go up so that gave me some comfort. Up I went, on all fours at times, conscious to keep my phone zipped away as I would not want to drop it in the cracks here. I kept thinking of the advice I give my daughter when out walking; “always choose the safest path”, “be careful of loose rocks”, “take it slow here”. In my mind she was with me and I was telling her these things as we guided each other up the mountain. It would be awesome to actually do this with her one day. Hopefully my son would be up for it too!

The marker at the summit was topped with a pile of rocks. Fitting really. I stood next to it and took in the views. I could see Lake Jindabyne in the distance!

I took out my emergency apple and ate it so I could linger longer at the summit. Such a great view and well worth the climb. The apple gave me the energy to climb back down, find my pack and find the trail again. I saw the guy I met setting up his tent on the saddle so I made sure not to park myself near him. I descended and left the trail when I spotted a flat area near a stream. It was too close to the stream really so I would have to be very responsible with my waste water. There really wasn’t any other choice given that sunset was near and I was out of energy.

As it was, it was a very pretty spot in which to set up! I had a stream, views of the valley and could see both Mt Townsend and Mount Kosciouzko! I took a lot of pictures! The tent went up really quickly and there was no wind to worry about. I cooked dinner and drank hot chocolate as I watched the sun set. The show the setting sun put on was amazing, Kosi and other distant peaks were lit up with a golden glow, the mountains in front of me were in silhouette with the sun blazing behind them.

I put my gloves on but as the sun dipped below the horizon the temperature plummeted rapidly. I started shivering a bit, it was like a freeze ray had hit me. I quickly packed up my cooking gear and dove into the tent. I put my fleece on and zipped myself into my sleeping bag to warm up. Within moments, I was asleep!

I had a fantastic nights sleep! There was no reception so my phone didn’t distract me, though I was hoping to be able to contact my wife again for reassurance. I woke up for half an hour or so after midnight and wondered if it was raining, but I think there was a bug flying and hitting the tent. I woke up feeling very refreshed. I had wanted to wake up earlier to try to do dawn on Kosi but I had turned off the alarm. I wasn’t that hungry so I just had an oat bar and a coffee for breakfast before packing up and heading off.

I found the little trail again quite easily and soon rejoined the Main Range Track. It was very hot already. As soon as I walked into direct sunlight I took off my fleece. The sun bit hard and I could feel myself burning. Freeze rays at night, lasers in the morning! I was walking quite slow, trying to get some reception to text my wife but even with two bars nothing was getting through. I soon came to the intersection to the trail that led up to the summit and I took it without hesitation. I knew this bit was a doddle compared to Townsend! I noticed large rocks up here and remembered that the summit was covered in rocks too. I wondered what the summit had been like before the track and marker had been put in. Was it originally exactly like Townsend, a massive rock scramble? I’ll have to do some research.

I passed a young couple, the guy was busy taking a photo of a wildflower whilst his partner waited patiently. I said hello and she said hello back but I got not even a grunt from him. He obviously couldn’t hear me over his wildflower 🙃! It would make a lovely shot actually, with the views in the background. Soon enough I was standing once again on the tallest point on the Australian mainland. The view was very clear and completely different in each direction. I recognised so many peaks now that I could name most of them without checking my map!

I took my photos and headed back down. I had no reception up there either which seemed odd. I then began my power walk back to Charlottes Pass. Seaman’s hut, a popular place to rest near, was closed for asbestos removal works. I carried on past then remembered that I needed to reapply suncream. So I sat and had a snack and put on the cream, noticing a very sore area on the back of my neck. I was burnt. I flicked up my collar, picked up my pack and carried on.

A young family was trying to mountain bike up to Kosi but the young girls seemed to be struggling. I wondered how far they’d get before they started pushing. I passed Merritt’s creek and noted again the low water. It had been a dry year all over it seemed. While I was walking I pondered whom had really climbed Kosciouzko first. Was it truly our polish explorer friend? Was it a stockman? Or did an aboriginal person stand up there before any trails existed? I wonder if there was any mention of mountain climbing in the stories of the local aborigines? Or were there any tales of stockmen having a laugh over Mr Kosciouzko’s “achievement “, having done the feat many times themselves before? Would be an interesting thing to delve into, I think!

After one last push I was back at the car and driving to Jindabyne. When I reached the visitors centre I dropped of my beacon and had probably one of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted! I still had no reception so I fiddled with the settings and got it all working. Must have turned something off that I shouldn’t have done whilst switching to airplane mode for walking (to conserve power). My kids wanted to call me and we had a lovely chat before I started the long drive back to Sydney.

I wondered when I would return to this area. The unfinished business I had with Mr Kosciouzko and Mr Twynam was now finished. I’ve seen the blue lake and the main peaks and I’ve previously visited the Rams Head ranges a short distance away. So I’ve done the main things I needed to here. I do want to try snowshoe walking one day and I would maybe like to try the Aussie ten (the ten highest peaks over three or four days). I could follow parts of the Australian Alps walking track perhaps, maybe even do that as a whole over a few years? I don’t know. I do know that I want to finish the Great North Walk so I need to turn my attention to that goal for a while. There are many shorter walks in the area so perhaps one day I’ll return to do a few of those. I expect the memories of this place will pull me back sooner than I imagine!

I completed this walk as part of my twelve hike challenge! Quite a few people have taken on this challenge and have devised fantastic lists of walks to go on. Why not give it a go yourself? You can start at any time!


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8 thoughts on “12 Hike Challenge: I just climbed the three highest peaks in Australia!

  1. Well done, Nathan! I loved all the photos you took along the way especially those amazing vistas on your first day. Some walks are definitely harder to do than others and it isn’t always the difficulty of the terrain that makes it a struggle, as you found out!

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