At the top of Australia

The valley is dark, the drifting clouds tinged salmon, our feet are sore and we are finished travelling anywhere today.

We slept in longer than planned, but the valleys were still threaded with fog when we began our drive. In an amazing piece of synchrocity, as we pulled out of our Corryong motel my random music playlist began playing a track from The Return to Snowy River.

After stopping at pretty Khancoban for fuel and our National Parks pass we continued on to the Alpine Way. This narrow winding road leads all the way across the ranges, an amazing, but hair raising construction.

Also an amazing construction, one of the world’s great engineering wonders, is the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme. The Murray 1 Powerstation  sat at the bottom of a gorge fed by three big pipes, turbine heads visible through the windows of the long building. Undergoing maintenance, the visitors centre was closed so we continued onwards after stopping for a look from above.

The vegetation along the Alpine Way varied as we went further in and depending on our altitude, for there were many slopes up and down along the way. Most spectacular were the tall stringy bark eucalypts towering over tree ferns.

As we crossed over the top of the range the bare alpine slopes of the highest mountains revealed themselves, then disappeared as we switched back.

Near one creek crossing, the waters clear and pure, we spotted a couple of grey kangaroos hopping away from the road.

B, who was driving the car, suffered badly through motion sickness near the end of the ride where the slopes were of bare grey trees and low alpine scrub. Our accommodation is only just off the Alpine Way, overlooking the valley, but our room comes with no parking. So we descended into the valley down Thredbo’s narrow twisting roads and eventually found day parking far from both our accommodation and the day’s activity.

It was almost a kilometre of walking to the base of the Kosciuszko Express chairlift. Passes are expensive, but the ride is steep and lengthy and saves hours of walking.

We sat suspended above mountain bike riders twisting their way down the slopes before riding the chairlift back up again. I suspect that it was the longest chairlift I have ever ridden.

Last time, many years ago before Alex’s birth, we walked up to Mount Kosciuszko from the more distant Charlotte’s Pass entrance. I remember being horribly sore, chafed and sunburned by the end of it, with a massive headache.

Today we were planning to take the shorter path from Thredbo. It is still 13 kilometres return, but the path is almost entirely on metal grates to protect the fragile alpine meadows below.

The walk still felt reasonably strenuous, especially for the least fit of us (it wasn’t me). But it was incredibly scenic with perfectly clear snowmelt streams burbling through the low grasses and mosses. There were still a few clumps of snow visible on the ridges and where the granite boulders cast enough of a shadow.

We stopped at the Mount Kosciuszko Lookout to eat a lunch of stale cheese and bacon rolls, the returned to the track. As I hummed tunes under my breath I imagined this as a giant Star Wars set, distracting my mind from my legs.

A few tenuous clouds touched the peaks ahead, but the sky was mostly clear blue, the short contrails of jets high in the distance. At this high up the landscape is devoid of trees and bushes, just meadows of grasses and low alpine plants between groups of rounded granite boulders. Beautiful!

The last part up to the peak of Kosciuszko is the hardest. We forced our legs onwards and upwards until we at last joined the crowds at the peak.

We were as high as we could go on this continent. At 2228 metres, Mount Kosciuszko is not a particularly tall mountain by world standards, but this is an old continent far from the tectonic action. On the other hand it means you can reach the highest point without special equipment or training.

It had taken us about two hours.

There was a bit of pressure for us to return reasonably speedily as the chairlift closed at 4pm. Fortunately, the walk back was mostly downhill and much easier. We got back to the chairlift at about 3.40pm, having done the whole walk in less than the suggested four to six hours. Not bad considering that one of us doesn’t do much exercise!

I actually shut my eyes as we began our ride down the chairlift. There was a bit of an initial drop, but then the pace down the steep slope was mostly constant. The views across the valley were amazing, but the ride is definitely not for those who suffer a severe fear of heights.

Down the bottom we headed into the village for some perishables from the supermarket. None of the restaurants or cafes were open and we were all starving and tired. So we trudged with our bags of groceries back to the car, our legs willing us to give up after the brief period of immovability on the chairlift.

Fortunately we found a car park in the small space above our apartment complex, then dragged our bags, esky and groceries down the steep road to reception.

Standing on the apartment balcony looking out over the valley we watched the last of the chairlift cars heading back to base as the village closed for the day. Tired, but with a sense of achievement. Not on top of the world, but as high as we can go.