The Mount Kosciuszko Summit Hike
“You might want to pack an extra layer if you’ve got one. There’s 70-kilometre winds up there.”
This is not what you want to hear from the person at the Kosciuszko Express Chairlift ticket desk.
We thank her for the information and take a few steps away. I look at Lori, who was already a little apprehensive about this hike, and now she looks utterly terrified. She’s forgotten to bring her jacket, so I tell her she can have mine. I reassure her that if it’s too windy she can always just come straight back down. She’s happy with that, so we move on to the start of the chairlift.
We board the chairlift. It’s a bit hairy at first but the views are incredible. Lori’s fight or flight is well and truly in flight mode but there’s no escape, so she embraces it the way she always does. We settle in and enjoy a smooth trip toward the top as the views get more and more breathtaking.
As we approach the end of our ride, though, those winds that we were warned about take hold. Lori screams as a gust of wind (and another, and another) feels as though it’ll tip us right out of our seats. It’s a tense few minutes as we finish the trip, but soon our feet are back on solid ground.
We step away from the shelter at the top of the chairlift and get a glimpse of how unpleasant this walk is likely to be. The faster of the wind gusts are enough to blow us over.
“Babe, I’m gonna do the whole walk but you can just head straight back down if you like. I’ll completely understand.”
Lori doesn’t give up that easily.
“I’ll at least come to the lookout,” she declares. “It’s only a couple of k’s.”
So onward we trudge, and trudge is definitely the word.
Although Mount Kosciuszko is the highest mountain in Australia at 2,228 metres above sea level, the Kosciuszko Summit Hike isn’t really all that tough on a good day.
The chairlift leaves Thredbo at 1,365 metres and takes riders up to around 2,000 metres, so the remaining hike only climbs a total of about 635 metres of ascent over 6.5 kilometres. It’s never terribly steep and almost the entire track is a boardwalk.
Today isn’t a good day, though, and as we climb toward the Kosciuszko Lookout there are times when we feel like we’re taking one step forward and two steps back. The boardwalk is wide, but the winds make staying on it a challenge at times. Our ears ache, and the wind is too loud to bother with any conversation along the way.
Eventually, we reach the lookout and spend a minute or two trying to stay upright while we read the information board and enjoy a brief glimpse of scenery between the fast-moving clouds.
Lori bids me goodbye and I continue on to take on the summit alone.
The clouds break and the winds calm down as I descend from the Kosciuszko Lookout. A smile slowly spreads across my face as I realise I can finally start to enjoy this place I’ve yearned to visit for so long.
“Looking around the vast landscape, I feel like I’m in another world. A land strewn with granite boulders of all shapes and sizes, and crystal-clear snowmelt streams, zig-zagging their way between the native grasses. In every direction, waterfalls tumble and cascade over piles of stones and outcrops.”
The Lake Cootapatamba Lookout
Left is on the ascent and right is on the descent. Amazing what a slight change in the weather can do at this altitude.
Surrounding the boardwalk, there are all kinds of native wildflowers. They’re pretty and delicate, but they stand firm and tall, barely wavering in the huge gusts of wind.
After the relatively short descent, I’m climbing again toward the Lake Cootapatamba Lookout and the chaotic nature of the weather here quickly becomes obvious again. By the time I reach the lookout platform at the next peak, I’m surrounded by thick cloud again.
I stop to read the information board about Lake Cootapatamba, but I can’t see far beyond the sign.
“Good thing we stopped here,” I joke with a fellow hiker, rolling my eyes.
Moving on, I have a moment of that amazing feeling of isolation that always attracts me to hiking when the cloud gets so thick that visibility is down to a metre or so. This track is so well trodden that it’d be rare to snap a photo in summer without at least one other hiker in it, so I enjoy this for what it is.
Once past the Main Range Track turn-off, the ascent reaches its steepest gradient and the crowd of hikers becomes denser; the look on their faces more determined to reach the summit.
I approach a couple who are in their 70’s (if not 80’s) and slow down to walk behind them for a stretch and make sure they’re okay. They’re zig-zagging back and forth across the boardwalk with the blustery winds, seemingly walking sideways much more than straight ahead. But as I come into line with them I realise they’ve got smiles on their faces. They look far more grateful than I am to be here.
“Nice day for it!” I yell over the squall.
They laugh and agree, and I bound on ahead of them with a renewed perspective. I acknowledge to myself how hopeful I am that I’ll be doing the same at their age.
The track rounds a bend and the summit cairn comes into view. There is literally a line of 8 – 10 people waiting for their photo with the summit cairn, but there’s nothing to see around it except for dark grey clouds. I stop nearby to take a photo of my own and then have a snack and decide I might as well head home.
The clouds break again as I descend, and I catch some of the best views of the hike. The wind is still pretty intense, but there isn’t as much being blown around. The result is more about watching the native grasses wave patterns in the distance, and watching cloud shadows dancing across the landscape.
This is why I came here.
Need to Know
Length (km): 13 km
Time (hrs/min): 3.5 – 4.5 hours
Grade: Moderate / Grade 3 (According to the Australian Walking Track Grading System)
Region: New South Wales
Park: Kosciuszko National Park
Closest Town: Thredbo
Map: Though thousands of people do this walk without a map every year, it’s always wise to carry one. This 1:25,000 map of Perisher Valley should cover you.
Further Info: If walking with kids, seriously, plan for everything. You’re exposed to the elements, there are a few bits that the littlies will consider pretty steep, and even in the middle of summer there’s the potential for pretty tough conditions. Too many people take on this hike completely unprepared. The track is snowbound between June and October. You can cross-country ski or snowshoe, but there are no snow poles marking the route. Private vehicle access is closed between Perisher and Charlotte Pass in the colder months. See the Thredbo website for chairlift prices. Park Entry Fees also apply. See the NPWS website for pricing and access information. Guided walks are also available – enquire at the Thredbo visitors centre.
Access: The walk starts from the top of the Kosciuszko Express Chairlift, which is accessed via Friday Drive in Thredbo Village. There is parking on Friday Drive but you would be best leaving your car at your accommodation.
Other Summit Walk Options: If you’d rather either ascend or descend without the chairlift, there are a few other options…
- Merritts Nature Track (17 km / 5.5 – 6.5 hours total walking time) is the most direct route from Thredbo Village to the summit. It leaves from the Thredbo Bobsled (a few hundred metres east of the chairlift) or from the top of the chairlift.
- Dead Horse Gap & Riverside Walk (23 km / 7.5 – 8.5 hours) is a much longer option, so I’d recommend descending rather than ascending this route. Trailheads are near the bridge to the bottom of the chairlift (signed as Riverside Walk) or just north of the top of the charlift (signed as Dead Horse Gap).
If you’re up for driving about an hour from Thredbo to Charlotte Pass, there’s another option with no chairlift…
- The Main Range Walk (22 km / 9 hours total walking time) is the preferred route of many hikers but is obviously much more difficult than the route I took. WildWalks has an awesome summary of this hike. Make sure you bring a map for this one. The map mentioned above should do the job.
Accommodation: Boali Lodge – Thredbo
Having never stayed in a ski lodge before visiting Boali Lodge, I’ve got no idea what to expect.
I’m still not sure if it’s a typical ski lodge, but when we arrive it’s immediately apparent that this is unlike most accommodation I’ve experienced before.
We arrive just before dinner time and on seeing the menu, I get my first clue that this place is out of the ordinary. We’re being treated to a three-course meal from the chef/manager, Carolyn Major, and all three courses sound incredible.
Boali is very focused on socialising with other visitors, so we sit down at a table where our dinner companions have set our places next to theirs (Boali has a roster for setting dinner places and all guests are expected to contribute). We enjoy great conversation with another like-minded couple and share our BYO alcohol while we chow down on some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.
After dinner we retreat to our basic but clean, well-designed and well-equipped room (with ensuite) and get ready for the short walk to the Thredbo Hotel for a few Mount Kosciuszko Pale Ales, to top off another great night of our precious, kid-free school holidays.
When we wake in the morning we’re treated to bacon and eggs for breakfast (with optional fruit and cereal). While we eat, Carolyn prepares a platter of cold meats, chopped salad vegies, antipasto and condiments, so that we can make ourselves a packed lunch for our day’s hiking. There’s even muffins and fruit we can take with us.
Did I mention that this place is only about 100 metres from the Kosciuszko Express Chairlift? It’s the perfect spot for a stay in Thredbo, whether in summer or winter.
Need to Know
Boali Lodge has 14 rooms (all with ensuite) that are suitable for couples, families or friends. Prices vary depending on your required room configuration, the ages of your children, and the season. Check the bookings page on the Boali Lodge website for full details.
The Lodge is also equipped with a luggage lift, laundry, TV room, sauna, secure storage for ski equipment or mountain bikes, a relaxing lounge room and balcony with spectacular views across Thredbo Village to the surrounding mountains.
Have you visited Mount Kosciuszko National Park and Thredbo Village? Got it on your bucket list? If you have any stories, updates or corrections, please let us know by commenting below.