Tim the Yowie Man: Conquering Kosciuszko
We're a motley bunch - heading up the summit track of Mt Kosciuszko. Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
Interspersed with fleeting flashes of lightning, dark clouds gather ominously on the western horizon. Ahead, hundreds of ravens fill the sky, squawking hauntingly on the updrafts. I don't know where they've all come from - it's as if they are gatekeepers to the track beyond; either that or they are warning us off.
''When you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder: if that time is 15 seconds or less, the thunderstorm is within 5 kilometres and is dangerous and we'll need to seek safer ground immediately,'' warns Kirsty Quirk, our lead guide for our evening trek up Mt Kosciuszko.
To overhead aircraft, we must look like a congo line of oversized fireflies traipsing above the treeline.
Usually a bit of cloud adds to the splendour of a sunset, but the exposed peaks of the Snowies isn't the safest spot in an electrically-charged atmosphere, especially when you are walking on a raised metal walkway.
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Suddenly, a young man clad only in a pair of shorts and sneakers runs frantically down the track towards us. No, he doesn't have an aversion to a few claps of thunder, rather he is on a mission to reach the chairlift before it stops operating for the day. ''If he doesn't make it, he faces an extra 90-minute walk down ski slopes to Thredbo village,'' says Lisa Menzies, our other informative guide, ''although I'd rather the extra walk than risk tripping and falling head first into the sharply-grooved [for grip in icy conditions] metal track.''
Our shirtless dasher is the last of the thousands of daytrippers who have taken this walk from Thredbo up to Mt Kosciuszko. The track leading to the top of Australia is now ours to enjoy. Between marvelling at patches of snow, which have miraculously managed to hang on through this summer's record heat, we are on the lookout for mountain grasshoppers (Monistria concinna). According to Kirsty, these remarkable critters ''manufacture a chemical akin to antifreeze which prevents tissues freezing and associated mechanical damage''. One thing is for sure, they won't need their natural anti-freeze tonight. It is unseasonably warm.
We reach the summit a good hour before the scheduled sunset and immediately jostle for the best positions (read: comfiest rock) on the western side of the 2228-metre-high, dome-shaped peak. Once seated, no one dares move, free of the constant tide of daytrippers at this time of day the roof-top of Australia is a place to savour, and that's exactly what we do. Sensing that we aren't going to budge, Kirsty and Lisa kindly deliver our freshly brewed coffee and snacks to each of our rocky vantage spots. Most importantly, the thunder gets fainter and the lightning show fades.
We gaze at the western horizon for the best part of an hour, captivated as the cloud bank tantalisingly shifts to allow a few rays of sun through, before just as quickly clouding over again. ''Oh, it's about to break through,'' exclaims Debbie Campbell who, along with her husband Peter, has travelled all the way from Kiama to be here for this moment. Then suddenly an expectant hush falls over the crowd, for as if on cue, the cloud bank separates and the rugged realms of the high country light up in fiery orange hues for as far as the eye can see.
To a chorus of clicking camera shutters the sun slowly slips below the horizon. For all the expectation, and more oohs and aahs than a Glenn McGrath impersonator, you'd think it would be the climax of the evening, but not so. This is officially dubbed the Full Moon Walk, and for good reason, and before we've had a chance to reload our memory cards, Kirsty and Lisa direct our attention on the eastern horizon - for the rise of the full moon.
In Broome, following the sunset over Cable Beach, a procession of motor homes and rental cars leads to the other side of town to see the moon rise over Roebuck Bay. The journey here isn't quite as long; we just have to turn our heads 180 degrees.
At first, there's speculation as to whether the tiny yellow dot emerging on the eastern horizon is in fact the moon. However, as it rises higher in the sky there's no denying it and by the time we tear ourselves away from the summit and make our way slowly back down the track we are bathed in its golden light.
Although at the start of the walk we'd been issued with state-of-the-art head torches, we wander back not even needing to turn them on. As a safety measure, we do however tie glowsticks to our back packs. To overhead aircraft, we must look like a congo line of oversized fireflies traipsing above the treeline.
Little wonder we're dive-bombed by hundreds of bogong moths as they temporarily emerge from their summer hiding spots among the rock clefts for their nightly foray.
With the lure of the summit now behind us, the hike back is much quicker and we only stop momentarily at the headwaters of the fabled Snowy River to spotlight a couple of freshwater yabbies.
When we reach Thredbo Top Station, the view of the twinkling lights of Thredbo village down below is almost as captivating as the canopy of stars overhead. In winter this is the point where Alisa Camplin and Torah Bright wannabes snap on their skis and clip on their snowboards to tackle the slopes; and in summer where weary walkers catch the chairlift down to the village. But with the chairlift long shut (I never did find out if the shirtless man made the lift in time), we pile into a couple of pre-organised troop carriers for the bumpy ride down a series of maintenance trails.
At the bottom, with the ink barely dry on our ''I just completed the Mt Kossy Full Moon Walk'' certificates, we bid farewell to newfound friends and head off to our hotels for a celebratory night cap. Oh, and in the case of your seriously out-of-condition columnist - a soak in the hot tub.
It's rare that experience exceeds expectation, but this is one of those occasions. This is the first season Thredbo has offered the Full Moon Walk, and it's not surprising that each has been a sell-out. Add it to your bucket list.
Full Moon Walk: Guided walk from Thredbo to Australia's highest peak, Mt Kosciuszko, to witness the sunset and then stroll back to Thredbo with the full moon lighting the way. Thredbo is around a 2.5 to 3-hour drive from Canberra.
Expect: Expert guides, one-way chairlift access to Thredbo Top Station (on the way up), return transport from Thredbo Top Station to the village (on the way back down) and certificate (to brag to your mates). This is a moderate 13-kilometre return walk; it is undulating, with uphills that will make most people puff.
Cost: $87 each. Suitable for 15 years and over only. The start time for the walk varies depending on the sunset time.
Best beds: The Thredbo Alpine Hotel (complete with pool and knock-out hot tub). From $169 a night for two people including a hearty mountain breakfast (love the shot glasses of smoothies).
Don't miss: There are two remaining full-moon walks this season: March 17 and April 15 (during which, as an added bonus, there is a retreating lunar eclipse just after sunset). Bookings essential: Phone 1300 020 589 or thredbo.com.au
Don't forget: Sturdy walking boots, waterproof jacket (for those prowling storms), long-sleeve top and jumper/fleece (for the wind chill at the top, brrrr) and gloves/beanie (mountain weather can quickly change). Don't underestimate just how cold it can get at altitude, even in summer. For example, during my walk, it was 16 degrees colder at the summit than in the village.
Tim's Tip: Although a scrumptious hot drink and snack are dished up by your guides on the summit, take your own sandwich - you'll burn a lot of energy on the ascent and the restaurants in Thredbo will be closed on your return.
More NSW Snowy Mountain adventures by Tim the Yowie Man:
- A challenge with altitude - surf to snow in a day
- River sledding the Thredbo River
- Snow shoeing on Mt Kosciuszko
- A fishy tale in the Snowies
- Kiandra's musical rocks
- Secret in the snow - Yarrangobilly Caves
- Cave of wanders
- Mt Kosciuszko by day
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/o The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie Street, Fyshwick. A selection of past columns is available at canberratimes.com.au/travel/blog/yowie-man.