3 peaks in 2 days in the highest of Australia.
Between the states of Victoria and New South Wales are the Australian Alps. A vast and protected mountain area. Home to the highest mountains in this country, including Mount Kosciusko with 2,228Mts. above sea level, the highest of all.
To end the year I always try to do it with a great gesture, or a great farewell; And what better than a 5-day challenge in a mountain area with great climbing difficulty.
And it is that the Kosciuszko National Park has a peculiarity: the absence of routes or trails added to a dense vegetation.
A 6-hour drive from Melbourne our first base camp is at Native Dog Flat, a camping area in the middle of a plain between mountains. Surrounded by streams and ready to receive campers entering the park.
This camping area has a peculiarity, and that is that it is divided into two areas: One for regular campers, and another for campers with horses.
As you read it, this area is prepared with paddocks and pens for those who enjoy walking through the mountains on horseback and becoming one with their best equine friend.
The plan is to focus on this first base camp and spend a night's rest before the first challenge.
A starry and calm night helps us to prepare the energies to get up at dawn.
After setting up camp, a 15-kilometer hike awaits us to our new camp at Cowombat Flat, or the Cowombat Plains.
The trail, called the Cowombat Trail, is winding, with multiple ups and downs, and luckily it's the same trail that all-wheel-drive park rangers use to guard the park.
The greatest difficulty here is not the terrain, but the very weight of the backpacks which contain all the food supplies for the rest of the route.
After about 5 hours of walking with brief stops for the "morning tea" which is nothing more than an excuse to eat some snacks and get some air, they take us to this beautiful plain in the middle of the mountains.
A natural refuge from the elements, Cowombat flat is simply a beauty. The greenness of the grasslands leaves far behind the memory of the forest fires that devastated this area almost 17 years ago. Nature has regained lost territory and repainted the mountains green, providing local wildlife with refuge from the elements.
The mountain climate, specifically the alpine mountain climate in Australia is changeable. Not only is the sun more intense due to the altitude, but the winds are changeable and can reach great speeds. Nights can still get below 10 degrees in the middle of summer, and of course well below it, with snow, in winter.
In our case, the climate has been changeable. And although we arrive in the middle of a radiant sun, just a few hours away the weather changes dramatically to envelop us in a fairly dense fog.
The Brumbies. The introduction of non-endemic species and how they affect food chain.
At one point in the afternoon, a group of wild horses visited us, a couple of adults with their foals in close formation and keeping their distance from our camp.
Brumbies, is the term used by Australians to name the wild horses that inhabit the mountain. These animals are one more example of how the introduction of native species affects ecosystems and the food chain.
Several decades ago, a little more than 70 horses were freed from a farm in the region, which were left unattended when their owner died. Over time, these horses bred to a number that is still being determined, but is estimated to exceed 20,000.
Like rabbits, they are not native to Australia, and were introduced by man affecting the local flora. Brumbies are considered almost like a pest, despite their beauty, because of the way and speed with which they kill the grasses that feed other local species.
The appetite of wild horses is immense and the speed with which they devour grass and plants does not keep pace with their natural growth; In fact, in the middle of the plain Victoria Parks and the Association of Ranchers in the area have established control areas surrounded by wire to visualize how the plants should grow without interruption without the action of the horses. The results are dramatic, I must admit.
It is a contradictory feeling to admire the beauty and resilience of these animals in the midst of these conditions, and to know the damage they cause to the environment.
The Pilot. First summit.
After a nice night preceded by a nice night of campfire. Dawn wakes us up with the chirping of the thousands of birds in the area very early.
After a good breakfast with oatmeal and dehydrated fruits, we prepare ourselves with light backpacks to crown the Pilot.
We are right on the border of two states, Victoria and New South Wales, and the Pilot is on the other side of the border, in New South Wales.
The route takes us about 5 hours to climb, the main obstacle being the terrain itself, since only a portion of the route can be done on clearly marked trails, the rest we must make our way directly with the body and arms, and even with the hiking poles among the undergrowth.
It is a route that gets more stony as we get closer to the summit, and the weather still continues with a thick fog. However, the reward that nature gives us by crowning the summit, and rising above the clouds, is a sunny and warm day. Enough to dry clothes damp with sweat and condensation.
Only a few peaks that stand out above the clouds can be seen around us. It's time for lunch and taking a nap to recharge your batteries.
It is incredible to note that at the top of this mountain we find remains of horse excrement, and again I experience both admiration and concern for the ecological damage they represent.
The way down is much easier, as we do the mountain cliffs from where you can still see many trees still burned by those fires.
Cobberas # 2 and Moscow Peak
Two new summits await us today, as well as the hardest part of our journey. 19 kilometers with full backpacks at a cost!
Our new camp is on the other side of Moscow Peak and at the foot of Cobberas # 1, you have to collect everything and carry it.
This mountain circuit is characterized by the complete absence of trails, by its degree 4 difficulty, and the imperative need for adequate physical conditions to complete it. Having knowledge of navigation, whether in the use of GPS or compass and map is essential.
I must warn you that you should NOT take this route if you do not have equipment and no knowledge of navigation. There is no telephone signal for many miles, and the height of the undergrowth does not reveal many landmarks. If you lose, or suffer an accident, there is no way to ask for help but many hours away, not for that reason they call it “the wilderness”.
The route is quite slow. The undergrowth and bushes have grown back blocking the path, and only occasional trails left by the horses in their path, alleviate the passage a bit.
This is one snake zone, so it is necessary to walk carefully looking at the ground where you step.
Likewise, there are many burrowing holes left by wild rabbits, which present a natural trap for anyone who steps without looking carefully. The risk of a ankle sprain it's real, and medical care here is unthinkable.
The route continues with many obstacles for hours. As we get closer to the summit of Cobberas # 2, the number of rocks increases and their size increases; while the weed disappears.
The top is within reach, and after unloading the backpacks, the last 10 meters to the summit are between rocks.
The view is just amazing. 360 degrees of green and mountains. There is not a road in sight, nor a town, simply a green sea surrounds us wherever we look.
The sun has given us a little warmth, and the breeze a little fresh and pure air to the lungs. The feeling of peace is the prize when arriving here. The other is the fragrance of the flowers. Smells of jasmine, mint and other flowers are an incentive to tiredness, it is like doing aromatherapy in the middle of the forest!
After this first feeling of triumph, we load our backpacks on our back again, because we still have a long way to go to reach the camping area at the foot of Cobberas # 1; and we still have a small obstacle in the middle: the Moscow peak.
Fortunately, although the descent of the first peak today gives us a little encouragement, the route takes us through the mountain range in a winding route with moderate ascents and descents; however, already at the foothills of the Moscow, the steep climb really exhausts the legs, especially when carrying the whole backpack with a still wet camping tent.
A couple of extremely steep climbs between large cliffs exhaust us, so we must make a couple of stops to drink water.
Personally, I've been sweating a lot, and dehydration makes me run out of water before my time. Thanks to a couple of colleagues who share some excess water, avoid dehydration and the cramps that this causes.
Almost at the top, a couple of stones to climb make my legs strain a bit and I feel a little pain in my crotch. A ligament may have been stretched a bit more than it should.
Hence, I decided to slow down a bit and take it a little softer.
When I almost reached the summit of Moscow, I decide to stay a few meters below, while the rest of the group drop their backpacks to go to take photos at the top of the summit.
On the way down, we had to stop and check the map and compass a few times to find our way to the camp.
At a given moment we must negotiate a gorge through a stone passage. Below, more rocks, and on the back, the complete backpack. This certainly adds a bit of adrenaline to the tour.
Camp # 3
We finally reached a new plain. The remains of a couple of fires indicate that other campers have passed through here at some point in this area.
The first is to set up the tents, the second; look for a water source.
After a while walking down the mountain we find some small streams of water, but they are not drinkable because the horses have stepped on and turned the area into a complete neighborhood.
In the distance, sunbathing, one of our companions spots a pair of snakes. Which reminds us how dangerous it is to walk carelessly, and how useful it is to use gaitors on your legs to protect yourself against a surprise bite.
After finding a slightly cleaner water source, we loaded as much water as possible to avoid having to go back down. Some of the colleagues decide to drink the water as nature filters it, others put a couple of purifying tablets in it.
Night falls late in spring and summer in Australia, at almost 9pm. so we group around a campfire each with their dinner to have dinner together and talk.
The mist descends on us again, so much so that not even the full moon passes through it. It is a damp and very cold night, probably about 8 degrees centigrade.
The next morning the companions decide to leave at 7.30 am towards Cobberas # 1 and the Middle Peak that is next to it.
My crotch discomfort gave me a bad night and I have made a decision still against my ego; stay in camp and avoid injury. After all, there is no nearby medical attention, and I shouldn't take chances.
And it is that in this type of situation the judgment is the most important thing. You must know your body and know when to say NO. There will be other opportunities and many other challenges. In fact, there is another excursion to Bluff Mountain on the agenda in 15 days.
The break was well deserved, the break has taken effect and the legs are strong again. The pain is almost gone.
When the companions arrived, we gathered camp and began the descent. We still have 4 to 5 kilometers of descent between stones and brush; and I can notice the exhaustion of some of the group members who slip and trip more often than normal. Lifting their feet above the ground branches, roots and climbing between stones is clearly heavier for them.
For me it has been an incredible experience. Tired but relaxed, seeing my car in the distance is a feeling of accomplishment. I almost hug my vehicle where I have left a couple of reserved provisions and clean clothes, including an orange that has caused envy among my colleagues ... but it is mine ... only mine!
6 hour drive back with a stop for fuel and a burger in Brimsdale makes it quick. Especially with the idea of getting to a hot shower and washing my clothes, which really stink after so much sweat and days up.
Until next time….