Kristine had ventured down under before when she was much younger with her family, but I had never been to the Australian continent. Whenever this trip would happen for us, I know I was looking forward to it from what Kristine & others have said about the people, the cities, and the atmosphere. Our good friend, Ryan “Baba” Aldrich, spent a semester in college down there, specifically in Sydney, and couldn’t rave enough about Australia. I was excited. My good friend, Henry Herring, who I grew up with in Charlotte, NC has been living in Melbourne working for ANZ for a few years now and when he told us he is likely moving to Hong Kong in 2013, our plans solidified to go this summer of 2012 in order to visit him. Combining the trip of hiking up Australia’s highest mountain, Mt. Kosciuszko, with visiting Henry made it that much more special.
Mt. Kosciuszko (7,310′) is the highest point on the Australian continent and one of the 7 summits. Many 7 summiteers dispute this claim in favor of the much higher and more difficult Carstensz Pyramid (16,024′) on the island of Papua New Guinea. Whatever your list may be, I, for one, believe the original 7 summit list completed by Dick Bass in 1985 in which Kosciuszko is one of the 7 summits to be the correct list by definition of a continent. I think some people have a hard time grasping that Kosciuszko, which is relatively simple to hike when compared to the other 7 summits, is on the list and thus defer to the Carstensz list in which they define the 7th continent as Oceania, i.e. Australia, New Zealand, & Indonesia combined. However, in my opinion and like many others, there are islands and there are continents and that is all. You are either on an island or on a continent if you are on land above sea level. Combining Australia, New Zealand, & Indonesia into Oceania is neither an island nor a continent – its a geographical area. So, if we’re talking the highest summits on each continent, by definition of a continent, Kosciuszko reigns supreme as the highest point on the Australian continent. If we’re talking continental plates, then that is something totally different and is not what Dick Bass originally sought to complete. But to each his own, I guess, and if the Carstensz list has more meaning for you, so be it. At some point down the road maybe when we have the funds to pay $15,000 for a one day rock climb, we’d obviously love to climb Carstensz. However, at this point in our lives, the original 7 summits defined by Dick Bass will be our goal, which is absolutely satisfying to us as Kosciuszko is a beautiful peak in a spectacular country on a wonderful continent. If you are interested, Gerry Roach from Boulder, CO, the 2nd person to complete the 7 summits (Kosciuszko list) after Dick Bass and author of numerous Colorado guide books, writes a wonderful essay on Kosciuszko which can be found here. If Kosciuszko is good enough for Gerry as one of the 7 summits, its absolutely good enough for Kristine & myself.
Thankfully, we were able to purchase one of our United tickets with miles, so we only had to pay for one ticket, but it still wasn’t very pricey (for Australia) considering it was the dead of their winter. Upon our arrival on Thursday, August 2, in Melbourne, Henry gave us directions to his office where we met him. He then walked with us and helped us carry our gear to his townhome in a very cool part of south Melbourne near the South Melbourne Market and numerous cafes. One of the best aspects of Melbourne was the coffee! My lord, was it awesome! Auto-drip coffee is non-existent, which is a good thing, and in its place is a variation on an American latte called a “Flat White”. Espresso and milk, essentially, but so so good. Lets just say it was really tough to come back to the states and drink what we have here – very unfulfilling. Melbourne is a terrific city with lots of culture and neat cafes, markets, and sights to see. We drove by Rod Laver Arena, home of the Australian Open, as well for those tennis fans. I am a big fan of the four tennis majors and watch them every year religiously.
We spent a few days in the Melbourne area touring the city, drinking countless flat whites, picking up our rental car, and taking a roadtrip south of Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road started with Bells Beach, which was so cool to see since Henry is a huge surfer and spends alot of his time there.
A few hours later we walked out to the awe-inspiring 12 Apostles at dusk.
We then had a great dinner and drove the 2 hrs back to Henry’s place in Melbourne. Henry was doing the driving these initial few days as Kristine & I felt completely out of our element with the driving being on the left side of the road and the steering wheel on the right side of the car. Fortunately, the gas and brake pedals were the same as in the USA. It actually made us nauseous in the car with everything backwards. It was as if our sense of balance had completely left us.
We continually checked the weather forecasts for Thredbo and the Snowy Range. Thredbo is the small ski town and resort at the base of Kosciuszko. It appeared Tuesday, August 7, was our best bet for clear weather up in the high country with only a 10% chance of snow. Kristine & I knew we were taking a chance with the weather coming to Australia in the dead of winter to hike Kosciuszko, but its all we could do as Kristine has her summers off. Plus, if we could hike it successfully in winter, it would be much more fulfilling to do so than in the summer with a hundred other people hiking up a metal boardwalk.
After another night and wonderful dinner in Melbourne, the three of us took off on Sunday in the rental car to make our way leisurely northeast towards Thredbo, which was a good 6-7 hr drive away. Based on Henry’s recommendation, we aimed for the Healsville Animal Sanctuary first where we saw all sorts of Australian animals including kangaroos, koalas, tasmanian devils, and even wombats. It was a very nice sanctuary and about as close to a natural habitat as any sanctuary we’ve experienced.
After that, we hit up a cool vinyard to enjoy the final hour of wine tasting.
Then, a few hours drive put us in the town of Wangaratta and we found a shotty motel room to stay in and watched more of the olympics. Monday, August 6, was my day to begin driving. It was actually pretty fun albeit a little nerve-racking at times especially for Henry & Kristine. I just tended to always drift to the left in order to avoid oncoming traffic. After a few hours en route towards Thredo, I got a grasp on this left side of the road driving. We eventually made it to the Kosciuszko National Park entrance from the northwest, got some lunch, and unfortunately had to rent chains for our tires since the road to Thredbo was reported to be snowy and slick in spots. This was Henry’s first time driving on snow in Australia and he admitted it felt pretty strange. We never used the chains and rolled into Thredbo at about 3:30pm. It was extremely cold and snowy in Thredbo and up on the ski mountain and reminded us of winters in New England where the humid cold seeps right through your bones. Much colder than winters in Colorado. The mountains in the Snowy Range really reminded me of the Appalchians in winter just slightly higher in elevation. We were definitely a bit worried about the weather for our summit attempt the next day, but again the forecast continued to be good. We rented Henry snowshoes in Thredbo and gathered what information we could about lift times and route information and then continued southeast down out of the range to the town of Jindabyne for lodging. Jindabyne is a neat little town on Lake Jindabyne and is a very scenic destination with many skiers staying in town rather than at the more expensive lodging in Thredbo. Jindabyne is about a 30 minute drive from Thredbo. The Kosciuszko National Park ranger station and visitor’s center was just down the road so we checked that out, asked about the weather forecast, and I bought a topo map for the climb. The only aspect of the hike that worried me, which would only be the case in winter, is navigating in a whiteout up in the high country of the Kosciuszko region since there are essentially zero landmarks to navigate by. This is how accidents in the past have happened – people get lost in whiteouts, cannot find their way back to the top of the ski lift, and freeze to death. However, our forecast was pretty spectacular. We had arranged a room for the night at the Troldhaugen Lodge while back in Melbourne and squeezed into our little room, packed up, and had some wonderful mexcian dinner and mexican hot chocolates at a tasty restaurant. The olympics were on the agenda yet again before bed time.
We woke up on Tuesday morning around 6am, packed up, had a grand breakfast at the Troldhaugen Lodge, and drove up to Thredbo. Thanks to Kristine’s connections and the generosity of a man named Stephen who works for Thredbo ski resort, we were hooked up with complimentary lift tickets for the day. Despite some really bad weather over the Snowy Mountains for the previous 2 weeks, we targeted the only day on Kosciuszko with a 10% chance of snow and a pretty sunny forecast. It all worked out perfectly and we had a wonderful morning of clear skies. However, it was cold – very cold. The wind was whipping as well which added to the humid cold seeping through our clothing straight to our bones. It didn’t matter though – the sun was out! We hopped on the Kosciuszko Express chair lift at 8:45am, donned our snowshoes at 9am at the top in some brutally cold and windy weather, and were off.
There was a guided group in front of us who we caught up to after 30 minutes at the Kosciuszko lookout and chatted with a bit. Nice folks and a young fellow from New Jersey, Cason Crane, pursuing the 7 summits as well.
We took off guided a bit by the map I bought at the Kosciuszko National Park ranger station in Jindabyne. We soon reached Rawson Pass and headed straight up to Kosciuszko’s summit.
After about an hour and 45 minutes of snowshoeing on some really beautiful terrain with outstanding views, we were on top of the summit cairn of Australia. It was extremely windy up top but the views were gorgeous. A nice 5th of the 7 summits together for Kristine & I. It was extra special to share the experience with my good friend Henry. The Snowy Mountains are really a special range and Kosciuszko is a worthy summit even if it is only 7,310 ft above sea level. It is the highest point on the Australian continent.
We all took our pics and after about 45 minutes up top, we descended. The guided crew had caught up with us while we were on top and all exchanged our congratulations. The guide said he hadn’t been up on Kosciuszko in weeks due to bad weather, so we felt extremely lucky to have nailed it with the weather. Or, maybe we just planned it well 🙂 We then descended to Rawson Pass and went up another cool ridge to get a different perspective on Kosciuszko. Kristine and I were very proud of Henry as he doesn’t do this kind of stuff. He’s a surfer but thoroughly enjoyed every minute up and down Kosciuszko.
We had hot chocolate back at the lodge at the top of the ski mountain and then took the lift down into Thredbo.
All in all, from the top of the ski lift, the hike was 14km (8 miles) roundtrip, only about 1000 vertical ft, and 3.5 hrs for us. We met up with Stephen to give him back the complimentary lift passes and treated him to a couple of beers on a restaurant deck with stellar views of the ski mountain.
Unfortunately, Henry had to be back in the office in Melbourne on Wednesday morning, so it was time to say our goodbyes. After one final flat white together, Henry then took the bus to Canberra to catch a flight back to Melbourne and Kristine & I continued on our ventures up the coastal towns towards Sydney.
Our plan was to continue southeast to the coast and make our way northeast up the coast towards Sydney. We stayed the evening after Kosciuszko in the town of Cooma, watched Usain Bolt take the 100m dash gold, had a great breakfast of flat whites and muffins, and continued onto the town of Narooma on the coast. The motels in Australia, even the dumpy ones, were all in excess of $100, so we tried to limit our motel usage. Fortunately, thanks to Henry in Melbourne and Kristine’s cousin Ben in Sydney as well as camping out on the beach, we limited our motel stays to only 3 nights.
Narooma is a neat little coastal town. We thought about taking a ferryboat out to Montague Island, but $200 said we didn’t want to anymore. Instead, we bought some PB&J, bread, apples, and water, went down on the beach and had lunch near a really cool rock formation called Australia Rock because of its resemblance to the continent itself.
Our stop at an information center had yielded information on a nice hike up the local Mt. Dromedary, so we decided to find the trailhead later that afternoon and make the hike. We stopped at a local store at around 3pm near the trailhead asking for directions to the trailhead and they couldn’t believe that we were thinking of starting the 14km roundtrip hike so late in the day. One fellow said, “That’s a minimum of 5 hrs roundtrip”. Well, the online guide said to plan for 5 hrs as well, but we knew we could “hoof” it being basically at sea level. We found the trailhead and hiked the really cool trail/road through spectacular rainforests for an hour and a half to the summit. There is a funny “Welcome to Summit” sign on top of Mt. Dromedary. We returned back to our car right at dark for about a 2.5 hr roundtrip hike.
We had dinner at a nice italian restaurant at which we were the only customers and then made our way to Bar Beach in Narooma and set up our small bivouac of sleeping pads and bags on the beach. Sleeping on the beach was Kristine’s idea and I’m so glad we did it, despite the fact that camping on the beach is illegal. The Australians are such rule followers and it just felt good to break a rule while down under, however minor it was. Our sleeping bags kept us nice and cozy as it was a pretty cold night.
Kristine surprised me with a wonderful gift in the morning on the beach. A few months ago this past spring, I had lost my wedding band at our local Wolcott rock climbing crag. I honestly believe someone stole it as I left it on one of the picnic tables under the Wolcott boulders after climbing and returned just over an hour later to find it gone. We searched and searched even with a metal detector but to no avail. It was very disappointing. Nevertheless, Kristine had been planning a replacement for months. She had a woman’s ring made of silver with a piece of our Everest summit stone polished and set in the silver two years ago in Kathmandu. She had taken the ring to our local jeweler, he had added silver to the band to widen it, fatten it, and then he hammered the band to make it look more rugged and masculine. She then gave it to me on Bar Beach that morning in Australia. It means the world to me and is even better than the first wedding band. I just absolutely love it!
Like clockwork, we enjoyed several flat whites and breakfast at a Narooma cafe and then made our way northeast up the coastal highway. It was Thursday now and our plan was to get to Sydney that evening to visit Kristine’s cousin, Ben Wiseley. Jervis Bay was next on our hit list along the coast and it did not disappoint. The clear turquoise water reminded me of the Carribean and the beaches were beautiful. We spent a few hours here, ate our PB&Js & apples on the beach, and then continued onwards to Sydney.
Driving on 2 lane country roads is one thing on the left side of the road. Driving in large cities such as Sydney are another. With Kristine navigating from our ipad and me driving, we somehow missed the exit to Ben’s neighborhood called Coogee and ended up going through the Sydney harbour tunnel dumping us out on the north side of the harbour and in downtown. It was stressful to say the least especially with us not being city folk. We eventually turned ourselves around heading south back through the tunnel and found our way to Coogee. We finally arrived at Ben’s apartment around 8pm after 2 hrs of navigating through the streets and highways of Sydney on the left side of the road. Whatever – at least we made it. It was finally great to meet Ben and for Kristine & Ben to reunite as it had been some time since they had seen each other. After some pub food and a beer, we turned in. We spent 3 nights and 2 days in Sydney with Ben, and despite some of the worst weather Ben had seen in Sydney thus far living there, we had a great time touring the city and visiting Manly Beach.
The first day we crossed the harbour from downtown Sydney to Manly Beach on a ferryboat in some pretty rough seas, which was very exciting.
We hiked for a few hours out to North Head and encountered some of the strongest winds I have actually ever stood in. The winds literally picked us up a few inches. North Head is the gateway to the ocean from the harbour and afforded great views of downtown Sydney.
The weather was so bad when we finally walked back into downtown Manly Beach that the winds actually blew a roof off a school over our heads (way over our heads) and the ferryboat was not running due to extremely rough seas. The power actually went out for awhile while we had some lunch and when it came back on we went to the movie theater and saw Batman: The Dark Knight Rises! I had seen it before but Ben and Kristine had not. Awesome to say the least and even better the second time. I believe it to be the best of Christopher Nolan’s three Batman movies even though Heath Ledger’s Joker character is my favorite. We then hopped on the high speed ferryboat back to downtown Sydney at night with some serious rocking due to the high seas. However, taking the boat back in the dark allowed us to view the city lights and Opera House lit up. It was pretty incredible.
On Saturday, our second full day in Sydney, Kristine & I did a great 14km (8 miles) run from Coogee Beach to Bondi Beach and back based on Ben’s recommendation. There was a great paved path the entire way with plenty of ups and downs. The weather was chilly and windy, but we managed to have a good time. That afternoon, Ben took us around the city, we visited St. Mary’s Cathedral, and toured the New South Wales Museum. We topped off the day with some awesome authentic fish & chips at a Coogee pub.
We had considered dropping the rental car off at the Sydney airport and flying back to Melbourne, but considering the time it takes for air travel and traveling with our heavy gear bags, we just decided to drive the 11 hrs back to Melbourne. We were both so glad we did this. It was actually a really nice drive and we saw some terrific countryside. We said our goodbyes to Ben at around 8am after he made us some awesome Sydney coffee, which he had done for us the past two mornings as well. Ben was such an amazing host and it was so fun exploring Coogee and Sydney with him those 3 days. After numerous flat whites and 11 hrs of driving, we rolled into Melbourne and actually found Henry’s apartment with no problems. We were actually getting very used to this left side of the road driving. A few hours of olympics viewing on the TV ensued and we hit the sack. On our last day in Melbourne, we again toured around the city and had an amazing finale dinner with Henry at an extremely high-end steak restaurant in downtown Melbourne. Thanks so much, Henry! Flying home on Monday, August 13, we reflected on what a wonderful trip and experience this Australian adventure had been. It was really made possible by Henry and Ben’s generosity. They were so very instrumental in showing us a good time, the sights and sounds of Melbourne & Sydney, and being gracious hosts. So, thanks, fellas!
I think Kristine & I are so happy we decided to go to Australia this summer. Kosciuszko was a really fun day and hiking the peak in winter made it that much more challenging and special. We are just so fortunate the weather held clear and sunny for us that one August day. I am constantly reminded of the saying “there is no better time than the present” and this saying just reinforces the desire to really pursue your dreams and goals now and not wait until later. You never know what the future may hold. I will end this trip report with the following picture of a store front in Melbourne. Kristine absolutely loved this saying. Enjoy!
We’re off to Aconcagua this December 2012 for our 6th of the 7 summits together!