The Roof of Oz
Words and Photos by Shane Quinnell
When people think of the Seven Summits they generally think of mighty snow-capped peaks which tower above the continent around them. Mountains of magnitude and legend like Everest or Kilimanjaro which require adventure and risk to get to and climb. As we were to find out, however, like all things, there are exceptions to the rule.
In general the seven summits include the highest mountains on each continent. Defining the list on this basis may sound straightforward but as usual debate rages in the details. In this case what is around the definition of a continent and what mountains to consider. The argument has led to discrepancy around the highest mountain in the Australasian region. According to the list created by climbing legend Reinhold Messner, arguably the more accepted list, Pankuk Jaya (Carstensz Pyramid) in the West Papuan Region of Indonesia is the highest at 4,884m. The other list created by American Businessman Richard Bass, claims Mt Kosciuszko in Australia to be the true seventh summit at a height of only 2,228m, almost half the height of Pankuk Jaya.
Whatever the case knowing that Kosci was the highest mountain in the country was good enough reason to round up old mates Paul, Becky and her Brother Jared with the aim of sleeping on the roof of the Australia.
I must be honest that I did not expect overly much based both on the mountain’s fairly insignificant height and reputation for being not much more than a hill. Even so, I was surprised when we got to the summit ‘basecamp,’ to find an overflowing car park populated by every kind of person you would find at your local shopping centre; big, small, young, old and dressed in everything from active wear to beach attire. My dreams of a wilderness adventure vanished.
We donned our Osprey packs and started out on the trail, a fairly wide dirt road, along with my parents who were planning to walk to the top and back along the 18km return path. Despite the height, the notorious Aussie sun beat down and slowly fried us as we walked. Our packs were relatively light, filled with only one night of supplies and very comfortable. My body took a bit of time to readjust to the weight which I had only carried a few times since injuring myself in a paragliding accident the previous year. This once again reiterated the training still required to tackle Africa’s Highest Summits, during our Africa Sky High Expedition this year.
The path was quite uneventful, with a very shallow gradient and even surface. While it was monotonous, it provided a great opportunity to catch up with good friends I had not seen in a long time. My parents aiming to get back before sunset blazed ahead. The rest of us, knowing we had tents in our packs and time in our pockets, continued to cruise at a glacial pace.
We reached the top at mid-afternoon, amid a throng of people having just walked up a garden path on the least adventurous mountain I had ever been up. However, while I was disappointed at Australia’s version of a mountain and more so at Bass’ version of a Seven Summit, the view was breath taking and walk was worth it. Moreover from what I could see the summit was easily accessible via wheelchair, which is not only incredible both for the disabled population and that it is possible at all.
After lunch we headed down the Western side of the mountain and found a serene place for the night with a small burbling stream and spongy grass. However, as is usual in Australia places are never quite as peaceful as they seem.
Within moments the horde of flies, including giant horse flies who bit like spiders, which had been pestering us all day interrupted our tranquillity. Later, while waiting for the sun to set we found five funnel-webs; one of the world’s most venomous spiders. Strangely, yet somewhat comfortingly as Tarryn and I only had Bivys to sleep in, four of the five were dead. Still the thought of cuddling a deadly arachnid increased my heartbeat as I unrolled my sleeping mat.
The sunset was absolutely stunning morphing the sky into all the colours of a raging inferno before the day gave way to darkness.
I woke the next morning imagining a funnel web crawling on my face and decided it was time to quickly and carefully emerge from my cocoon. We slowly packed up and hit the trail for the walk home.
The route back was far closer to our version of hiking being a much smaller track with far less people on it. The terrain also increased in complexity as we walked over the rolling hills, each some of Australia’s highest peaks. Between some of mountains were nestled beautiful alpine lakes which glistened in the sunlight. The picturesque environment helped us ignore the omnipresent mass of flies which buzzed around our heads.
Not far from trailhead we found the strikingly beautiful Blue Lake nestled in an Alpine Bowl. We left our packs at the trail junction and headed to the lake. To me this is one of the best things about Australia, you can inherently trust in people’s honesty and integrity. Unfortunately in South Africa this phenomenon is scarce at the best of times.
We decided to take the plunge into the glacial lake, surrounded by an amphitheatre of cliff faces. The freezing water stung and took our breath away as we entered it but in true type 2 fun (the type that is only fun later) fashion, left us feeling invigorated and alive.
With that mission accomplished it was time to get back to camp and away from the flies. We trudged on somewhat slowly as my damaged ankles ached in my poor choice of shoes. Note to self, listen to Tarryn when she suggests packing proper hiking boots.
We finished the trail with me still contemplating that lesson and the actions required to make sure my cartilage-less ankles would make it through the rest of my life and the adventures we have planned. Despite the unbelievable idea of Mt Kosciouszko being potentially one of the Seven Summits, it is well worth a look if you are in the area. The trip was great time spent with amazing friends in a beautiful place.