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Ascent of Mount Kosciuszko on 2009-05-12

Climber: Randy Christofferson

Date:Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Kosciuszko
    Location:Australia-New South Wales
    Elevation:2228 m / 7310 ft

Ascent Trip Report

Mount Kosciuszko Summit Day
May 12th, 2009

Background

A trip down to Australia to visit Jenny afforded me the opportunity to climb the first mountain of my fledgling mountaineering career, Mount Kosciuszko (“Kozi”). At 2,228 meters (7,310 feet), Mount Kosciuszko is the highest mountain on mainland Australia. It achieved a great deal of notoriety when Dick Bass climbed it and after climbing Everest in 1985 he became the first person to climb the “Seven Summits”. These notionally being the highest peaks on each of the seven continents.

Bass defined the Seven Summits as:

Asia: Everest
South America Aconcagua
North America McKinley or Denali
Europe Elbrus
Africa Kilimanjaro
Antarctica Vinson
Australia Kosciuszko

In 1986, a Canadian named Patrick Morrow claimed that the Seven Summits should not include Kosciuszko but rather Puncack Jaya (Carstenz Pyramid), which is a much taller and more formidable mountain. Patrick reasoned that the continent defined as Australia was really Australia/Oceania, which included a great number of Pacific Islands including New Guinea where Jaya resides. (This would also include Hawaii). Of-course New Guinea is a part of Indonesia, which is part of Asia and it’s really an island—not a continent as defined by most geographers. There are other disputes as well. Elbrus, in the Caucasus range of Russia technically falls within the European side of the traditional boundary line (which is arbitrary) between Europe and Asia but most people think of the Caucasus as being Middle Eastern as opposed to European. Many therefore argue that Mount Blanc should be considered the tallest peak in Europe. In any event, approximately 200 people have climbed some version of the Seven Summits to date.

I have nothing to add to the debate but take comfort in the fact that I am following in the footsteps of the fellow who first coined the term “Seven Summits”. The concept is probably not material to me anyways as it is doubtful I try to climb them all, or any more of them for that matter. What is clear on this fine day in the Aussie fall is that my goal was to climb the highest peak in the great nation of Australia.

Kozi was “discovered” and named by a famous Polish explorer, Count Paul Edmund Strzelecki in 1840. Strzelecki named it in honor of General Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a truly great Polish (and American) patriot and freedom fighter. Strzelecki said: “(…) that, although in a foreign country, on foreign ground, but amongst a free people, who appreciate freedom and its votaries, I could not refrain from giving it the name of Mt Kosciusko.” Strzelecki actually misspelled ol’ Tadeusz’ name and the “z” was added in 1997. The mountain is pronounced in two different ways. The Polish pronunciation is “Kosk-choosh-ko” but the Aussie’s prefer “Kozi-os-ko”. We’ll call her Kozi for short.

While Kozi may not be the highest of mountains, it is one of the oldest with rocks dating more than 450 million years old. There are no technical aspects to the climb and in fact some 30,000 people make it to the summit each year—thankfully most of them between November and February. Strzelecki described his summit day as: ”I followed the windings of the valley (the Murray) for about 70 miles to the foot of the highest protuberance of the Australian Alps, which it was my object to ascend and examine. The steepness of the numberless ridges, intersected by gullies and torrents, rendered this ascent a matter of no small difficulty, which was not a little increased by the weight of the instruments, which, for safety, I carried on my back. Once on the crest of the range, the remainder of the ascent to its highest pinnacle was accomplished with comparative ease. On the 15th February, about noon, I found myself on the elevation of 6510 feet above the level of the sea, seated on perpetual snow.” Most folks today would quibble with his description of the difficulty and we now know that the mountain is considerably higher than he measured it as.

The Climb

Judy, Kara and I flew into Sydney from Philadelphia, the day before my summit day. We traveled down to Wollongong, which is about 80 km south of Sydney. Jenny is spending the semester studying at the University there we had a nice reunion after having not seen her for three months or so. The plan was for me to head south to the town of Thredbo and bag the summit and return to Wollongong all on the next day. We were then going into Sydney to explore and visit for four more days. We had a nice meal with Jenny and ten of her friends and then retired early due to a touch of jet lag.

I awoke at 1:45 am and decided to just get up and start the adventure. The drive is about 470 km south and I was able to leave at 2:25 am. Most of my drive was in the dark but finally the sun came up and I was able to see the last 100 km or so. I reached the park around 7:45 am and drove the final 30 km up to the base of the mountain. Along the way I saw a couple of Kangaroos and stopped and took their pic.

As I neared the base of the mountain I was struck by how big it was and the fact that there seemed to be a lot of snow up there. I parked my car in the Thredbo ski village parking lot and changed into my climbing gear. I headed over and chatted with the ski-lift operator and got the lay of the land from him. He told me in was very icy and slippery up on top and that yesterday someone had slipped and broke his wrist. I showed him my gear and he commented that it looked like I knew what I was doing and that I shouldn’t have any trouble. (One of the benefits of having the right equipment!).

At 9 am I boarded the first chair lift. For environmental reasons, the Park authorities require you to take the lift to avoid the sensitive bogs in the lower part of the mountain. This probably cut out about an hour of muddy climbing. At the top of the lift I was on my own and promptly headed off to the summit.

The first 2.5 km up to the Kosciuszko Lookout was very easy climbing, mostly over a rocky path and then over a steel mesh that has been erected to protect the vegetation. In places the path was covered in snow but I was able to climb very easily with my climbing poles and my normal climbing boots. When I reached the Lookout, I could see a great deal of the path leading to the summit, which was obscured by a large cloud formation. Streaming off the down-wind side of the summit was a mass of rapidly moving clouds—I could tell it was going to be cold and windy on the summit.

I snapped a couple of pics and took a little video and headed for the summit. I was completely alone amid the rocks, streams and snow. It was probably a degree or two below zero (Celsius) but with the sun peaking in and out and the work of the climb I felt very comfortable despite my modest clothing (I carried my down jacket in my backpack). I absolutely loved this climb and could see falling in love with this sport (at least the modest challenge posed by a trek like this one).

As I ascended the weather deteriorated rapidly. The wind was blowing at 30+ mph and I was completely engulfed in the clouds and fog. Visibility was probably only a few 100 meters but the path was pretty straightforward. It did not snow but there was a lot of moisture and some ice began to form on my hat and exposed hair.

I kept trekking along and very soon reach Rawson’s Pass, which is where the trail from Thredbo meets the trail from Charlotte’s Pass (which is an alternative path to the summit). Here I was a scant 1000 meters from the summit. The trail wound all the way around the mountain and as I climbed on the western and southern sides of the peak the wind really blasted me.

Soon enough I was able to discern the small pillar at the summit about 50 meters ahead. I climbed the last few steps into a 40-mph+ wind and then there I was, the tallest person in Australia! I took quite a few pics and some video and I had the summit to myself for 15 minutes or so. Soon a fellow named Stu (a transplanted American who lives in
Sydney) joined me and we took each other’s summit pictures.

After another 5 minutes or so we decided to head down together and we walked all the way down to the top of the chairlift. We had a great conversation. He was quite the mountaineer with climbs at Denali, Kilimanjaro and all over the Alps and the Himalaya. He is 52 and aspires to be a Triathlete but he has a very bad knee. We had much to discuss and the climb down passed quickly.

We rode the lift down together, exchanged information and bid goodbye to each other. The entire climb, excluding the lifts took four hours.

I hopped in the car and drove back to Wollongong. It was great to see the landscape, which was quite striking, especially north of Canberra. At one point I pulled along side a filed that had literally 1000s of kangaroos. Later, I stopped and pulled over and sat on my car and marveled at the spectacular stars in the dark cloudless night. I reached our hotel around 8, a little tired but thoroughly pumped from my most excellent adventure!

Summary Total Data
    Grade/Class:easy
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Pleasant, Windy, White-out
Blustery



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