“Kangaroo!” I hear Steve shout from the backseat… My droopy eyes spring open to see a rather large kangaroo 20′ in front of our car which is going 100 kph. Sitting in the left front seat I reach for the steering wheel and slam on the brakes. Then I realize I am not driving, John is, and he has brought the car to a stop a few feet from the kangaroo now going full tilt down the center stripe. But why is this kangaroo in Colorado…? Hey, maybe I am not in Colorado!
I write this report from my house in Colorado Springs where just yesterday I climbed Mt Kosciusko in Australia… I left summer yesterday and 80 degree temperatures while it is snowing outside my window currently. Jet travel is amazing but the Internet as an international communications tool is more so. The Internet bridged all of this confusion when, in Oct, I posted a short request for information about Mt Kosciusko, the highest point in Australia and one of the “Seven Summits” of the world. Within hours I received helpful, informative replies from around the globe. One reply from Steve Robertson at the Australian National University, in Canberra, contained an offer to me to accompany him up Mt Kosciusko on Nov 18th when I would be free from business obligations in Canberra. I quickly hammered out a definite reply, “Yes!” We traded emails for a few weeks prior to my departure, working out meet arrangements, clothing reqs, etc. He asked if I could x/c ski… I said yes, but poorly and I was better going uphill than down; he said …”not a problem”
I rang Steve on Wednesday night once in Canberra and he said he would be by at 6:00am (Friday) at my hotel. Although it was almost summer in Australia, a freak gale storm had dumped one meter of snow in the Snowy Mountains about 10 days earlier. Steve suggested x/c skis would be the order of the day (read backcountry/telemark skis) so we stopped at a local outdoor store in Jindabyne (right outside of Kosciusko National Park) to hire some skis, boots and poles for my use. Steve and John Furlonger are AVID (read desperate and expert) skiers eager to ski any remaining spring snow in the region before the hot Australian sun melts the remaining snow pack. They chose the Charlottes Pass approach to the mountain and we ended up stopping just short of the pass where a snowdrift still blocked the road. Steve, very generously, supplied me with a pack, water, soft drinks, candy bars for the trip and we supplemented this with a sandwich at the local deli. We strapped our skis to our packs and headed up the gentle track to Mt Kosciusko.
Before I had arrived, Steve sought to ensure that this “summit climb” was nothing more than a hike, and this is what I was expecting. About an hour or so of walking brought us to an alpine emergency hut that was built by an American family after their daughter perished on the mountain in 1928. From the hut, we continued up the track to the base of Mt Kosciusko proper at snowline. Tim for the skis; sure you could kick step up the slope but since the mountain is so gentle, why not a unique approach? I was having the time of my life, gaining the summit ridge just shy of a cornice. A kick turn sent us up the final slope to the summit and then we were there… even a hike up a gentle mountain is to be savored when you are experiencing a new culture and new friends Steve and John were probably counting the countless numbers of times they had already been there, but they were great gents about it.
We took some pictures, admired the view and decided on the next phase of the journey. Steve and John took off down a steep face (to me); carving graceful s turns down the slope with their precision telemark turns. I headed along the ridge, skiing down where I thought I was up to it, and walking where I thought I could die. :-). The plan was to complete a traverse around the Snowy River Basin and to take in some lakes along the way. Along the way, we would climb Mt Lee and Mt Carruthers. Then we would head down to the Snowy River for a final crossing before ascending back to Charlottes Pass. We traversed the high ridge where Steve and John enjoined me to practice my downhill skills. We arrived at another steep face that they promptly skied while I traversed to the saddle where we were stopping for lunch overlooking Lake Albina. We put fresh snow in our soft drinks to cool them down and we enjoyed a lunch with a view.
The weather was clear, some high clouds, and quite warm. Sun cream was important and I have since found out I forgot the tops of my hands that are not quite red as I type. After lunch, we again strapped our skis to our packs and made for Mt Carruthers. Coming down the other side, they decided to ski a 45 degree couloir while I quickly plunged stepped down avoiding a great glissade due to these long sticks on my back. At the bottom was Club Lake which was just starting to melt and where a green and orange alga was starting to grow. From the lake we alternately skied, and hiked to the crossing of the Snowy River. On the last gentle slopes to the river I finally managed a controllable turn or two. The river was running fast, knee deep, and of course ice cold. Rolling up the poly pro we waded in our boots and gaiters, using our ski poles for support. Boy was it cold, but boy was it fun being 8,000 miles from home wading the famous Snowy River.
After the crossing, the short, but steep ascent to the pass was left. It was a great day hiking with some new friends who have now been invited to visit me in Colorado! A dinner of seafood, chips, and beer at a local eatery topped off the day. Steve and John were headed up there on Saturday to repeat the whole thing concentrating on the skiing… animals! My thanks to Steve and John for hosting my visit, for going up Mt Kosciusko for the umpteen time, teaching me some new skiing skills and being good mates. Recognition to the Internet and rec.backcountry and rec.climbing is also deserved.
As the kangaroo disappeared off the side of the road, John put his Saab into gear and accelerated down the dark road. Oh, yeah… now I recall… I am in Australia, not Colorado!
Beta: Mt Kosciusko, 2228 meters 18km hike/ski, 7.5 hours Elevation gain: 2,000 up/down