by Barry Hughes
Location: Kosciusko National Park, New South Wales, Australia
You would think that Mt Kosciusko, Australia’s highest mountain would have the alluring appeal of conquest, but it’s a walk in the park! A 5900 ft climb, sitting quietly on a chair lift, followed by a 2 hour meandering walk along a metal path, elevated just above the ground, designed to protect the delicate grasslands and wild flowers from exuberant foot traffic, then you’re there, on the rooftop of Australia, Mt. Kosciusko 7310 ft above sea level. This trek is so popular (and not too challenging) that I shared the summit with a bus group of travellers from the USA, a group of scouts from Canberra Australia and a myriad of people, picnicking and panting the final steep climb to the top. Indeed we had shared most of the morning walk together. I had enjoyed the company but now, the populated summit suggested that I try something a little different.
Mt. Townsend is Australia’s second highest mountain. I was told that I would find no-one on this mountain and that ordinary joe bloggs like myself could reach the top, if prepared to stay the night. I could clearly see Mt Townsend from my vantage point on Mt Kosciusko, so I set off across the high country grasslands towards this lonely summit.
The stark contrast to my morning walk along the metal path was illustrated by the simple absence of people. The calling and shouting of scouts was replaced by the strong brush noise of the wind through the grasslands. With no trees at this elevation, I could see the wind advance. The wild flowers were dipping and swaying to each gust as it approached and then left me in silence as it swept to the valley way down below. I was alone.
As I climbed the track, the summit of Mt Townsend came into view. I reached lost snowdrifts on the shoulders of the mountain as the top loomed just ahead of me. I stopped to catch my breath. The sun had shone bright and warm all day but now it was going. I looked back at Mt Kosciusko and could just see the last day-trippers leaving in a long line along the Metal path to make the last chair lift home. The solitude felt melancholic but weirdly enjoyable. I kept going.
Just below the summit was a final patch of grass amongst boulders and snow drifts. I quickly pitched the tent here in the fading light, grabbed the camera and a water bottle and started scrabbling over the last boulders to the summit.
Here I experienced a unique contact with the Planet Earth. I knew there was nowhere else on the planet that I should be right now. I could see the valley floor thousands of feet below. There was a fantastic sunset and I could look across at the clouds, rather then up. Here surely is the roof top of Australia. I cast a quick glance to my tent 50 ft below. I imagined it was my lunar module. It would keep me here safe and warm through the night and then I would return to civilization in the morning. The dark was now closing in fast. I took a couple of pictures and then descended to my lunar module for the night.