Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mount Kosciuszko

Images will be added soon
Route: Mt. Kosciuszko Circuit ( Thredbo - Main Ridge - Charlotte Pass )
Weather: Mostly sunny with occasional rain
Date: 16th - 18th November 2007
1. Austin
2. Su Ling
3. Ramesh
4. Florence
5. Jason
6. Jian Sheng

Total Distance: 30km (to be confirmed)

On the 16th of December 2008, six mentally unstable hikers decided to tackle Mt. Kosciuszko (Kozzie) Circuit in two days. The plan was to meet up at Austin's home at seven something in the evening and leave by eight, reaching Thredbo by four o'clock in the morning. Unfortunately ( as always ), Su Ling was held back in her university due to power failure which resulted in her losing many weeks of work. So what does she do after the tragedy? Climb up Mt. Kozzie of course!!! In the mean time, the five of us aspiring blood donors sat around Austin's mosquito infested compound. Why? As I said...mentally unstable. The unexpected setback was however planned for. Being a group comprised of Singaporeans and Malaysians, we were very well aware of the dreaded Singapore/Malaysian Timing and gave ourselves a 4 hour buffer for our estimated 8 hour drive.

2 hours later at 10pm, Su Ling arrived and once our backpacks were loaded, we were set to go. Well...almost. 15 minutes into our ride, Florence announced..."I'm hungry" which resulted us having to stop by an Indian restaurant. Coming out from our warm and fuzzy van into the cool windy night, Florence hugged herself and made a statement (which shall not be published) that will not only stun us, but one that we will probably won't forget either. After about 20 minutes, when everyone is back in the van, when Florence is sitted happily at the back of the van with her curry rice, with me beside her shouting at her when she almost tipped the sauce all over the place, we were finally truly on our way to Mt. Kozzie.

What happened during the drive to Thredbo was a blurry memory due to me sleeping at the back seat, undisturbed by my fellow mates. Aaaaah...the benefits of not having a driving license.

When I finally awaken from my well deserved slumber, we were in a some tiny pleasant little town, lost. The roads were singled lane in each direction, lined with rows of trees with an occasional street lamp in between which gave it a "You are Sixteen, going on Seventeen" Sound of Music ambience to it. Going to the police wasn't of much help either because it was closed. Who wouldn't have guessed right? Even Clark Kent needs some sleep. After some detour and a toilet break at the town centre, we eventually found our way and nothing much happened after that besides trying to keep the driver awake.

At around 6 a.m. 17th January 2007, we stepped out into the lightening cool dawn of a village called Thredbo.The village itself was situated along a hilly contour and what struck us most about the place was the architecture of the buildings that covered the face of the hills. Being a tourist hotspot during winter, one would expect Thredbo to be filled with high rise apartments and hotels to accommodate the skiers/snowborders/look-see visitors. No, not Thredbo. Cosy wooden cabins, cottages, small private modern homes which integrated well with the older buildings littered the whole of the village. Ramesh, our residential architect was evidently impressed.

Parked in front of the Visitor's Center below the hills, we discovered that we couldn't obtain our walking permits and aiflift tickets because it only opens at 9 a.m. Being the organiser of the trip, I knew that it was entirely my fault but being myself, I played the "I didn't know" escape route. With nothing to do for the next 2.5 hours, we exercised what all Malaysians and Singaporeans do best...EAT!!! Out came Austin's BBQ stove (no, we did not intend to carry that on our walk), and in no time we were having a big and hearty breakfast. So there we were, sitting around feasting on crispy bacon and eggs with some bread, topped up with steaming hot coffee and tea, overlooking the hills and river stream across the car park. At that time, dawn has already passed and it was a cloudy morning.

After eating and cleaning up our food scraps, we still had an hour to spare so we decided to take a nap (is this suppose to be a bushwalk or a luxury tour?) in the van. Flies were starting to emerge (pesky flies!!! ARGH) and we did our best to drive them out of the van and tolerated with the remaining few. Our short nap was a disturbed one, not accounting our unfortunate driver, Jason, who was in a deep coma.

At 9 a.m. Ramesh and Austin went off to get our permits while Florence headed off to purchase the airlift tickets. The rest of us were either changing into our walking attire or repacking our bags. Unfortunately, while we were repacking our bags, we somehow neglected to pack our 3 lofts of bread which was meant to be our staple diet for the hard day's walk. Luckily, we were able to cope with it in the coming walk with lots of eggs, cucumbers, cheese, ham and raisins.

When all our tickets and permit were settled, we caught the Snowgum Airlift that connected Thredbo to our track up the mountains. The ride up on the chairlift was a pleasant one. Looking back now, I'm glad that we did not walk up to our track. Not only was it extremely steep, it would require us to waste precious time walking up. But of course, at that moment, with our bellies full and spirits high, I thought we could tackle even the heavens. Once our feet touched ground and backpacks close to our backs, we were ready to "bounce" (Ramesh Richards , 2007). Upon searching for the walking track, we realised that we had to climb a series of stairs to reach the track. From what we had to go through to reach the top of the stairs, I seriously doubted I could finish the circuit in time. Everyone was exhausted before we could even reach the track and I found it very demoralising. Our heavy bags (overloaded for a 2 day trip, mine was 20+ kg) did not help our cause to tackle the highest mountain in Australia and finishing the circuit.

Reaching the top, we were met with a track which was a metal walkway with holes for water drainage, elevated above the ground to prevent us lumbering beasts from stomping the surrounding flora (and fauna) to death. Ironically, it potentially saved our lifes too. Not too long after we were cruising along the metal walkway, Ramesh spotted a coiled snaked snugged comfortably right below the walkway. After some ogling and dawdling over the snake (what do you expect from city kids like us?), we continued our journey towards Mount Kozzie. Bushwalkng here was a whole new experience for me. Unlike my previous trips where there were lush jungles, gushing streams and moist air, I found the Mount Kosciuszko region extremely barren with small bushes covering the terrain of the rolling mountains. Some parts of the ground were either water logged or pools of water moving slowly downhill, fed by the melting winter snow. With the sun high up in the cloudless spring day, everything seems to complement each other and it was a very pleasant trip with many suprises along the way.

Our first challenge was to traverse across a snow filled path right after the Kosciuszko summit trail - Charlotte Pass intersection. Having left our bags behind at the intersection, crossing the snow laden pass was tricky but not difficult, the snow being "crunchy" as its still early in the day.When everyone crossed over in one piece, we continued upwards. At that time, many tour groups were there just to climb Mt. Kozzie. Having passed us, we finally caught up with them at the top of the mountain. I have to admit that it wasn't as spectacular as I thought it would be. I felt that the walk up the mountain was much more rewarding. Nonetheless, we sat around, looking towards the distance and absorbing our surrounding. We also took turns taking photographs on a memorial plaque made out of stacked bricks, getting to be the highest person in Australia at that moment in time. Where is the media when you need them?

During our short rest at the summit, groups of people were sitting around having their lunch, chatting and some were even exercising to keep the blood "flowing". Before leaving, a couple whom I think are Chinese asked us to help them take a photo of them together. In return we also asked them to take a group photo of us with our camera. The weird thing was, when the boyfriend was busy taking a photo of us with Jason's camera, the girlfriend was happily snapping a shot of us with her camera! Creeped out, my imagination ran wild from her wanting to keep a picture of supermodels like us or worst, poking pins into our picture in a voodoo ritual.

Hurrying our way back down the mountain to the intersection, we had a quick lunch of ham and cucumber as our "bread". I'm delighted to announce that it wasn't too bad at all. Then again, hunger has a way of transforming tasteless scrap into a fine diner. Also, being in bushland country, I had firsthand experience of getting poked in the butt by the needle sharp grass while eating. And the worst part was, the minute sharp ends broke and remain stuck in my pants, promising me a walk of constant pants adjusting to relieve the "affected site"! Woe! The agony of it all. Oh well, like what Calvin's father says (Calvin and Hobbes), "suffering builts character". I say this suffering builts a thicker butt.

After lunch and with the packs on our backs, we were off again to the trail that leads to the Main Ridge off the Mt. Kozzie Trail. Approaching the snow covered path again, we realised that if walking without our packs were tricky, now it was a whole different ball game. Being heavier and snow turning to sludge from the noon sun, it was slippery to the point of being almost impossible to stay upright while walking. Not even a quarter way through, we decided to back track off the snow path and evaluate our options.

Back to square one, we discussed and we agreed on two things. Number one, its not feasible to walk on the snowy track and we need to find our way around it. Second, we have to make a decision whether to abort our original plan of doing the full circuit or to choose a different route all together. The group continued contemplating and so, not keen on aborting our plans, I decided to go ahead in front of the group to find an alternative route around the snow path. The one thing I loved about this place is that because of the vast treeless terrain, one could see far ahead where the trail is leading and therefore find a route around any obstacles, whether its snow or a pile of huge jagged rocks. Ramesh followed suit and soon the rest followed up. Austin and Su Ling has decided that they will not attempt to go around the circuit because its too dangerous and I could relate to them especially after slipping and crawling over the sludge. But then again, I really love this kind of challenges. Mind you, its always a calculated risk and not just jumping into hot water and not expecting to be boiled.

So there it was, our group was splitted into two. I did not want to persuade them to join us because I feel that everyone is responsible for his or her actions and in the wilderness, it could mean the difference between life and death. By me persuading them and if they gave in against their better judgement, I would be responsible if anything happened to them and I cannot and will not bear that responsibility. (Below my article, I have added some space for Austin and Su Ling to write down their account of their experience)

Writing this article after 2 month from the day we climb Mt Kozzie, what impacted me the most about the whole trip was the fact that although it was a very long walk over a constant inconsistent undulating terrain (get it? ;p ), it was certainly a very beautiful walk. One could see the rolling hills filled with jagged rocks and patches of snow everywhere. Spring bushes were flowering under the hot sun of a windy spring afternoon. The path that we followed is now made up of cobbled stones which reminded me of :

Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road
Follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the yellow brick road
You're off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Okay, enough of my wonderful singing...

From the trip, I also got to know my friends better, especially Jason. I learnt that my good friend Jason Kang is a passionate "complainer". The funny thing is, he admits that he complains alot and even asked us to ignore him while he's complaining! But what I thought was important was that all of us did not mind each other's company and there weren't any discrepencies within our group.

One event however will be one that I will probably would not forget. While we were walking along a sandy path along the slope of a steep hill, we came across a path covered in...u guessed it, snow! The whole problem with this scenario was that we were along a very steep slope and the snow covered the path completely through all the way up the mountain. The steepness was such that one mistake would have plunged us down to our rocky graves. With the sludgy snow now soft and with our heavy backpack, we could not in any circumstances make a mistake. After much deliberation, Jason and Ramesh opt to go for a straigtforward approach by walking on the snow where the path should have been. Faced towards the mountainside, both walk sideways, trying to grap hold of the ice along the slope for support. Slowly but surely, they somehow managed to reach the other side of the path. Florence and I however deemed that relying on ice as a grip support was too risky so we chose to climb on the lower part of the slope which was free off ice. Griping onto some branches and God knows what, we too manage to clamber our way up onto solid ground. After that high adrenaline episode, I'm thankful until today that we made made it across safely and that's no exaggeration.

Also, I vividly remember how hungry I was while walking and I constantly harassed Florence for her raisins which was a life saver. It seems that I always have issues with bread. Or the bread has issues with me. In my previous trip to Wilson Promontory, my entire loft of bread was eaten by a possum. And this time around the bread is left forgotten in our van, getting moldy. What next?

As for our ambition to stick to our original plan, it turned out it was an ambitious one. Originally, the plan was to give ourselves 2 days to summit the 2nd and 3rd highest mountain along side Mount Kosciuszko and 1 day to travel back. Now, with us trying to do it all in one day, not counting Mt Kozzie, we managed to summit both the 2nd and 3rd highest mountain with only our eyes. So much for insisting to keep to our plans. But then again, it wasn't entirely our fault as the forces of nature were against us. Still early in spring, sunset was at 7 and we were taking longer then expected. So in the end, we all came to a consensus that we will just continue on without due delay to avoid being caught in the dark. Finding for a campsite posed another problem. About 2 hours before sunset, we decided to find a suitable campsite and we realised that the walking path was actually the valley of the snow bounded mountains around us. With the constant melt of snow, we tried to avoid camping right at the base of the mountains and so we walked on until we found a wide open plain which proved to be the perfect spot, relatively compared to the surrounding options.

Setting up tent beside a cluster of rocks and boulders, it served as a wind stopper from at least one direction as well as being the perfect spot to attend to the many calls of nature. A small stream 5 minutes away was available too and at least here, the grass were soft enough to lie down on.

So there we were, tent set up(borrowed from Jessica Tan), boots off, eating boiled eggs (kudos to Florence and Ramesh) with cheese, ham and cucumber with a cup(s) of boiled chrysanthemum tea. After dinner, we resorted to just laying around, sun in our faces from the west, looking up into the blue reddish sky, enjoying every moment of our well deserved rest. On that day, the sunset was nothing short off spectacular. Colouring the sky with bloody red, it promises us a fine day ahead.

The night however did not went as "la-di-da" as we expected. Strong winds threatened to blow our tent right of the ground and once inside, the supposedly 4-man-tent turned out to be too small for us 4 monstrosities. Ramesh's feet were practically dangling out the tent's opening and we were the perfect epitome of the saying "packed like a can of sardines". But as for me, wrapped around in my sleeping bag over my new inflatable sleeping mat, with an addition of thermal underwear, wool jumper my mother knitted over my PJs, a beanie and woolen socks, I was warm and toasty, ready for bed. Not so for my fellow teammates. According to Florence, while I was fast asleep, Ramesh had to rush out in the middle of the night to vomit. Jason on the other hand felt extremely clautrophobic and decided to sleep outside in the cold and prevailing wind. When morning arrived, we had more ham and cucumber for breakfast and Ramesh seems to be just fine. Once our tent and gears were packed, we were off again towards Charlotte Pass.

Crossing Snowy River was just pure fun! Hopping over slippery stones with the risk of plopping our boots into the freezing water below, it was certainly a welcomed change of sight and sound. Also, instead of just constantly dragging our feet and dumping it right in front of the other in a constant motion, now we had to make sure each foot does not slip and each jump perfectly executed. Occasionally, I would just stop on a flat surfaced stone and admire the river. The river itself was crystal clear and with the rising of the morning sun above the snowy mountain around us, if was a sight worth stopping for.

After crossing the Snowy River, we had to tackle the most grueling uphill climb I have ever experienced (yes, at the time of writing, I have summited Mount Kinabalu and I still think its not as hard as described in Snow River). Weighed down with over 20kg, it was really painful indeed moving step by step, breathing become a laborious chore from the exertion. By the time we reached the top, we were soaked with sweat. I sigh with relieve when I finally reached the top. Dumping my bag on the ground and slumping over a brick wall trying to catch my breath, I was given a pleasant surprise. Austin from apparently out of nowhere came into sight and we greeted each other in suprise. In my exhausted state while walking uphill, I had completely missed their campsite which was nicely set up right beside our trail behind some bushes. After our seperation yesterday, Austin and Su Ling has taken the Charlotte Pass and made camp just on top of the hill that we had just climbed. The thing that I remember clearly about their campsite was that it was infested with billions and billions of flies! They just wouldn't leave us alone. Constantly swapping and cursing, I escaped the plague by running to the public toilet situated nearby, trying to wash up whatever sweat and odour that might be attracting those blasted flies.

When everyone was done freshening up, smelling of insect repellent and Austin's tent was packed, we headed into Charlotte Pass. Unlike the Main Ridge Road, Charlotte Pass was wide and mostly flat which I was only thankful for. Thighs sore and feet aching, I could not imagine surviving another leg of mountain climbing. Along the way, we stopped by a hut which was built in the memory of a man who died here and later extended to commemorate a group of young men that lost their way as well as their lives.

Continuing on our last lap of our journey, we took a toilet break at the Kozzie trail - Charlotte intersection (did I mention that there is a portable toilet there?). About 20 minutes later and some group photos, we made our way down the familiar metal walkway. Viewing the walkway from higher ground, it looks as if the walkway was snaking its way along the rolling hills which made it mentally tiring just thinking of the distance we had to cover even if its an hour walk or so. However, when the Snowgum Airlift came to view, we felt a burst of energy and we all picked up our walking speed. Also, I was famished at that time and couldn't wait to head back down to Thredbo Village for a meal...or two.

Hopping onto the airlift, coming down was easy enough. When we touched down, we dumped all our packs into the van and headed off to a nearby restaurant. Honestly speaking, I cannot remember what I ate but I do remember myself gobbling every bit of meat down alongside my "leaves" ( I hate vegetable, but today is exceptional ) and finishing off with a cooling ice chocolate drink. An appropriate finale indeed. Once we were done, we got to our van, arranged the packs and Austin volunteered to drive us home ( Is he on drugs? Where in the world did he get his stamina from? ) Me on the other hand, placed my un-car-licensed butt right at the back seat, doing what I do best. Sleep. And as for the unfortunate bread, or fortunate, depending whose view you are looking at, me or the bread, I have absolutely no idea what has become of them and do not intend to find out either. Melbourne, here we come!!!


Sally said...

Hmmmm..enjoyed your travel commentary...well written

Ramesh said...

OMG.... one of the biggest desicion I had to make especially the icy cliff area... WOW! Made it alive. You forgot to mention the guy who had an issue with your dressing and also the journey driving to Mt.K, the amount of wild animals that crossed the roads. Thanks for organising it.