Australian Alps Walking Track
(Dead Horse Gap to Kiandra)

Day 1 - Dead Horse Gap to Mount Twynam (20km - 910m ascent - 380m descent)

It was 5.40am when Rob gave us the wake-up call and it took an effort to leave my warm sleeping bag to break camp in the pre-dawn darkness of a cold alpine morning. It was to be the pattern for the walk - rise early, walk hard in the morning and early afternoon, set up camp and rest in the late afternoon. The clear starry skies that I saw before retiring had disappeared under a cover of cloud and the cold wind was slowly picking up, giving us our first clue of the day ahead.

We were on the road before 7am, as the clouds tinted red with the first rays of the sun on the eastern horizon (what do they say - red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning?). I was just getting over the shock of putting on a 24kg pack for the first time in 3 months, when we crossed the bridge on Dead Horse Creek to start our first climb of the day, a long haul up through the snow gum forest of Dead Horse Spur, sadly skeletal after the 2003 fires. Most trees had survived, but with only a metre or so of basal regrowth after 5 years, recovery was going to be a slow process.

Climbing Dead Horse Spur through the forest burnt in 2003

A fine specimen of Aseroe
- the anemone stinkhorn fungus

Early morning view back south from the spur

The frost was heavy on the tussock grass and track, but soon we above the tree-line and traversing the upper ski slopes of Thredbo. The cloud was descending as fast as we were ascending, obscuring the tops of the Ramshead Range, and the wind was now gusting fiercely across the ridges - enough to blow you over if you were caught off-balance and off-guard, I mused.

A prophetic thought - 5 minutes later WHUMP!! (expletive deleted) - I found myself lying face-down on the stony path, driven nose-first into the ground by my heavy pack, nose bleeding, lip swelling rapidly, face completely numb. Rob decided that we should descend to Eaglehawk Station at the top of the Thredbo chairlift for a cleanup.

I had mental images of heading sadly down the lift with my walk over after two hours, but with no signs of concussion and teeth OK, I passed the first aid check, so we all had a steaming hot cup of coffee and headed off into the face of the wind (note: I found out on completing the walk that I had actually managed to break my nose).


The stop had given us the chance to don full wet weather gear and, with the temperature at 3°C, the wind gusting at up to 80 kph and mist scudding across the ridges we were glad for the extra protection. The paved track out from Eaglehawk changed into a metal grill track that takes hundreds of people each day from here up to the top of Kosciusko, at 2328m Australia's highest mountain. Even in today's weather, there were still day-trippers out making the pilgrimage to the top of the continent.

Ice covered metal grid highway to Kosciuszko

Gorillas in the mist?

Lake Albina

Karen heading off on the grey brick road

A cluster of everlasting daisies

We climbed quickly on this ice-covered grid highway, but Kosciusko was hidden by the clouds. It was too cold and bleak to take a break, so on reaching Rawson's Pass we pushed on, heading partway up the mountain before turning off onto the Lakes Walk Track, descending the leeward side of a long spur down to Mueller's Pass. Here we were greeted by the view of Lake Albina, perched at the top of Lady Northcote Canyon beneath a low leaden sky.

Lake Cootapatamba with cloud hiding Kosciuszko's southern spur

Just beneath the cloud layer near Rawson's Pass

The track now led us up the steep western flank of Mt Northcote, high above the lake and increasingly more exposed to the strong westerlies. Passing a section of prostrate windswept feldmark vegetation, we found a quasi-sheltered spot on the edge of the cirque formed by Mts Clark, Northcote and Lee for a quick bite of lunch.

The extremely fragile windswept feldmark plant community

Main range ridgeline - Mt Northcote (2131m)

When clouds freeze

The cold was seeping in while we sat, so we soon set off again to start the climb up to Carruthers Peak, disappearing quickly into the cloud layer, where grasses and herbs were covered with ice, mist that had been freeze-blasted onto their windward sides. The bleakness and whiteness and fierce winds that roared in our ears of this landscape were surreal.

Club Lake beneath cloud covered Carruthers Peak (2150m)

Jim heading up the icy route to Carruthers

Suddenly we were walking on the flat before starting to descend again. We had just crossed Carruthers Peak, famous for its superb 360° alpine views, but today offering only fog and streaming mist (you can see what it could have been like by reading a description of the Kosciuszko Lakes Walk). Nonetheless, we did see a special sight - the second blooming of the alpine wildflowers. Actually it was just ice crystals on the dead flower stalks but the effect was magnificent.

The ice flora of Carruthers

The descent of the leeward side of Carruthers was more pleasant, but was short-lived as, on reaching the saddle, we began a long and steady climb up towards Mount Twynam, following an old 4WD track through the frosted grassy landscape.

Crossing the saddle below the peak, the track led us down and around through the red and yellow landscape of tussock and dock to eventually reach a grassy platform amongst a jumble of pale cream granite tors on the leeward side of the ridge. It was a very welcome campsite with water just 50m away and a view to the south from the Guthega ski fields to the mountains that we had just traversed.

Looking westward over The Sentinel and Geehi Valley from the Carruthers-Twynam Saddle

Rob crossing the frosted grasslands on the climb up to Twynam

A field of ice daisies high above Blue Lake

The colours of Twynam

It was a very welcome campsite with water just 50m away and a view to the south from the Guthega ski fields to the mountains that we had just traversed. With the cloud lifting and the sun brightening the landscape it was hard to realise that we were just a few kilometres from the windswept fogbound frostlands of Carruthers.

The blue on blue of ridges fading into the distance

Late afternoon sun on our campsite beneath Twynam

It was 3pm when we set up camp and by 4.30pm we had eaten - the long series of climbs had worked up a ferocious appetite and, stomach full again, I relaxed in the late afternoon sun feeling pleasantly exhausted despite my sore face; now I knew why the others were early to bed last night. It had been a hard day at the office - even track-hardened Rob and Karen agreed on that.

Day 2 - Twynam to White's River Hut (15 km - 420m ascent - 820m descent)

The wind changed direction and shook the tent throughout the night, accompanied by the pattering of raindrops. Around 2am, the sound became much softer and, when I opened the tent flap three hours later, my headlamp beamed out through the thick white fog to reveal the ground covered in several centimetres of snow. Nearby, other lamp beams were cutting through the fog like laser swords - the camp was stirring. After a dodgy packing up (its hard to fold and pack a tent in the dark in a strong wind), we were on the path by 7am.

Pre-dawn at the campsite below Twynam

All ready to set out into the fog, wind and snow

Rob led us out into the misty white landscape following the faint foot track that snaked around invisible ridges, granite outcrops and peaks. For the most part we were enveloped in a cocoon of 50m visibility, occasionally less and occasionally the views opened up for a brief glimpse and visual verification of where we were. We walked through frozen grass, snow and frozen flowers above 1900m, clearing as we dropped below this mark, but reappearing as we crossed the slopes of Mt Anton and later as we began to climb back up Mt Tate.

The icy wind blew fiercely from the northwest and the scudding clouds that swept across the ridge drove the water droplets into our gloves and faces. I'm not sure what the temperature was, but Jim had to abandon drinking from his camelback when the water froze in the tube. It was not the type of day one would choose to cross the Main Range and Rolling Grounds, but it had an ethereal beauty nonetheless, while the clusters of flowering gentians and scent of lemon as we brushed passed the low shrubs on the way down from Tate lifted dampened (literally) spirits. In the end, a combination of good map reading skills and GPS brought us out at Consett Stephen Pass with few detours to search for the faint trace through the snow and slippery tussock grass.

Rob leading us across the Main Range

Below 1900m the snow cleared ...

... only to reappear as we climbed 2050m Mount Tate

Another hard climb awaited us on the far side of the pass, up into thicker snow and onto the top of the Rolling Grounds, a place of so-called featureless landscape, granite outcrops, and a bad reputation for navigation in conditions such as today. We turned north, trudging over the tor covered rises and low saddles - the Rolling Grounds are well named - as wind whipped across the ridge line from the west. However, the cloud began to lift and the odd patch of blue sky appeared. By the time that we reached The Granite Tors, the sun shone down to reveal the magnificent tapestry of this region - Mexican waves driven through the golden tussock stems by the wind, rust-red patches of dock, shades of green of tussock and low shrub, silver patches of alpine herbs with a thick scattering of large grey-white granite rocks. Ahead, we could even see the rocky crest of Dicky Cooper Bogong, the iconic peak of this part of the Snowy Mountains. After 5 hours in the snow and mists the world was clear again!

Heading across the so-called "featureless" Rolling Grounds

The sun emerges to reveal the colours of The Rolling Grounds

Looking toward Dicky Cooper Bogong

With a clear sky it was easy for Rob to pick the spur that marked our route down to White's River Hut, first dropping down to cross a marshy valley before crossing one more ridge to leave the Rolling Grounds. Ahead, the river tumbled down a long steep gully into a forest of ghostlike burnt trunks of snow gums.

White's River Hut

Ghostly snow gum trunks

In the thick scrub above White's River

There were no tracks here and we made our first navigational error of the day, dropping too quickly off the ridgeline, which meant a long stretch of bush-bashing across the steeply sloped gulley, the fallen branches and burnt shrubs from the 2003 fires lay in wait to snag the unwary while the dense regrowth hid them well and blocked progress. It was hard-going for 2 hours, but eventually we reached the welcome sight of White's River Hut, with its fireplace, rustic bunks and shelter.

Relaxing in the comfort of White's River Hut

View over the fire-damaged landscapes of Munyang

It was not the planned stop, but given a second very hard day at the office, it was not too difficult to change plans and stay there for the night - I just hope that "Bubbles" the resident bush rat didn't mind sharing.

Day 3 - White's River Hut to Dershko's Hut (27 km - 550m ascent - 660m descent)

We arose at the same early hour, but it was much lighter. The previous night the others had decided that daylight saving ended this weekend and duly reset their watches. Just before leaving, I had checked and we actually had one week to go - I said nothing - it really was much more pleasant getting up with a bit of light instead of total darkness. For the next week we would have our very own small and mobile time zone. With no tents to pack up, it was also pleasant to enjoy a hot breakfast and not feel rushed.

Dicky Cooper Creek

When we got underway, the sky was once again leaden. We were now on a wide gravel road, climbing steadily up to Schlink Pass, a good way to warm up in the brisk wind. Crossing the pass, we started an equally gentle descent, past the Schlink Hilton Hut, to reach the junction of the road and the Valentine Firetrail.

Early morning push up to Schlink Pass

The sadness of burnt forest

Turning on to the trail, we climbed up into the Jagungal Wilderness Area, its grey-crowned ridges a testimony to the ferocity of the 2003 fires. Aptly named Ghost Hill was now even more ghostlike with its pale grey mantle of dead tree trunks. However, for the first time in days we heard the calls of birds - magpies, ravens and rosellas - and that was nice. A series of short steep pinches and descents brought us to the headwaters of Duck Creek, which we followed down to the brilliantly red-painted Valentine's Hut - an excellent place for morning tea in the miserable conditions.

A flood of memories hit me as I sat in the hut - I had been here 34 years ago on my last cross-country skiing trip. A few kilometres up Duck Creek, my ski had broken through the crusty snow half way through a turn and my knee took the indecision between my body and my pack as too how far things could twist - I tore my cartilage and had to ski 20 odd kilometres back to Munyang the next day with a knee the size of a balloon. I felt my swollen nose - maybe I should avoid this part of the world!

Valentine's Hut

Crossing the Valentine River ....

While I was musing away, a light drizzle had begun to fall. We headed off into it, rock-hopping across the Valentine River before climbing steeply up into the mists of the higher ranges to the north. The track led us across this wide spur before dropping steeply to the Geehi River.

Another tricky bit of rock-hopping and we were across to the other bank, only to be greeted by an equally steep climb up and over the next ridge to descend once more to the grassy plains of Back Flat Creek. To our left in the distance the impressive 120m Valentine Falls plunged out of a cleft in the mountains, the water rushing on to join the Geehi.

... soon followed by a crossing of the Geehi

The distant Valentine Falls

The track crossed Back Flat Creek and its tributaries several times before climbing gently up to join the Greymare Firetrail just below the hut of the same name. Our last crossing seemed a good place for lunch - the drizzle had stopped, the wind had dropped and the sun broke through - for the first time in three days it looked like the weather was changing for the better.

View over the grasslands of Back Flat

Looking for a place to cross Back Flat Creek

Pushing on northward along the Greymare Firetrail, we crossed the waving yellow grasslands of the flat to climb a long timbered spur. The track undulated along the crest of this spur, giving us our first glimpse of Jagungal, the iconic mountain of the northern part of the National Park, but the Big Bogong was still hiding its head in the clouds. It was fast and pleasant walking, along an earth road lined with a scattering of everlasting daisies, before descending to cross the Big Plain - a sea of golden tussock grass with scattered patches of golden and white everlastings.

The track was lined with white and gold
everlasting daisies

A stroll through the waving grasslands

Hopping across a tributary of the Tooma River, we stopped for a brief chat with a couple of National Park workers clearing the fire trail. The update on the weather was promising! Once more the track took us northward across the grasslands, crossing a small timbered saddle to reach the junction of the Round Mountain Firetrail. Here we detoured, heading westward for a kilometre across the grassland to Dershko's Hut, a more modern 3-roomed timber and fibro hut, set in a pleasant hollow amongst the trees. What a welcome sight after 8 hours and 27 km on the track!

The sun chases the dark clouds from The Big Plain

The brooding profile of 2061m Jagungal (aka The Big Bogong)

Arriving at Dershko's Hut

High Country sunset

Evening alpenglow on Jagungal

We relaxed in the heat of the stove as the clouds (now billowing and white) drifted across the sky. That evening the sun's last rays illuminated the face of Jagungal in a deep rosy glow and culminated with a fiery sunset (red sky at night, shepherd's delight). As darkness fell, the moonless sky cleared completely to reveal the milky way and myriad stars at their most brilliant, far from interfering lights. It was enough to make me forget all the aches and pains in my body - almost.

Day 4 - Dershko's Hut to Cabramurra Quarry (27km - 610m ascent - 710m descent)

It had been a still night and a heavy frost greeted us as we set out at at 6.40am - a reasonable price to pay for the clear blue sky. It was luxury not to have to wear beanies and wet weather gear as we headed back across the grassy flats to rejoin the Greymare Firetrail. Ahead the sun was just rising to backlight the dark shape of Jagungal.

Crossing the upper reaches of the Tumut river, we climbed up into the shadow of the Big Bogong to undulate our way through slowly regenerating burnt forest across its lower slopes. The firetrail led us on a winding path northward as we re-emerged into the sunlight. The birds were out and the gold and cream everlastings dotted the path; the day felt good.

Sunrise over the frosted grasslands

Jagungal surveys its burnt domain

Regeneration of snow gums burnt in the 2003 fires

We were now passing through more open countryside with groves of snowgums and scattered trees interspersed with treeless grassy frost hollows. Eventually the trail dropped steeply to the grassy valley of Bogong Creek. Crossing it, we climbed equally steeply to reach the junction of Farm Ridge Firetrail - a good place for morning tea and a chance to shed a layer of clothing - at last it was shorts weather!

With Jagungal disappearing behind, our focus turned to the distant shape of Table Mountain, a flat-topped distant peak that appeared now and then through the gaps in the trees. Leaving Farm Ridge, we dropped steeply into the valley of Doubtful Creek, forded the stream and climbed the next ridge - the pattern for the day was developing, as we once again meandered and undulated through forest and open land. At last though, for the past few kilometres, we had been walking through sections of unburnt forest and it was good to appreciate the original landscape of this area.

The undulating open countryside - Bogong Creek

Doubtful Creek (or is it?)

At last some unburnt snow gums

Everyone was out on a sunny day

Table Mountain - our new focal point

Lunch stop at Mackey's Hut

The long and winding fire trail

By mid-day we had reached Mackey's Hut, a pretty iron hut with a verandah, just the place to enjoy lunch in the warm autumn sun. Leaving Mackey's, we continued along the firetrail eastward then north again as it wound its way through the open grasslands of Crook's Racecourse and then commenced a long steady climb to the top of a wide saddle. It was an "enervating"climb, as Jim often said. Crossing the saddle we descended to reach the grassy downs of Happy Jack's Plain, crossing first McKeahnie's Creek, the northern edge of the Jagungal Wilderness Area, and then Barney's Creek. Here we filled up with water to carry another 500m up the next hill to the old Cabramurra Quarry, a nicely sheltered campsite set amongst the snowgums and high above the frost hollows of Happy Jack's Plain. It had been another long day, but you move fast on the fire trails.

Distant Jagungal across Happy Jack's Plain

Contrails in the evening sky

Sunset at Happy Jack's

That night the sun set brilliantly again - we sat and watched as the silver contrails of jets flying between Sydney and Melbourne streaked across the sky above. All these planes, full of people leading busy lives, setting up business deals, attending meetings, developing policies - the mechanics of our country operating full bore - and down here, in an isolated part of the Kosciusko National Park, a small group of bushwalkers retired to their tents to prepare for another day in their office - the high country of Australia.

Day 5 - Cabramurra Quarry to Four Mile Hut (18 km - 410m ascent - 450m descent)

The night had been warmer than expected, thanks to the high cloud that rolled in, but by the time that we broke camp and set off, a cold wind was beginning to spring up. We strolled westward along Happy Jack's road for a short while before heading off across the grassy slopes down to Happy Jack's River. Crossing it, we picked up the trace of an old vehicle track that led us on to the Arsenic Ridge towards Brookes' Hut. Like many high country huts, it had been destroyed by the 2003 fires and the track faded away. It was unclear whether we were following people or pigs - the patches or rooted-up vegetation testifying to the presence of these feral pests in this area.

Early morning cloud above Happy Jack's Plain

Heading up Arsenic Ridge

Navigating the trackless dense regrowth of the ridge

Karen wanted to hone her navigational skills, so she led us across the trackless regrowth of Arsenic Ridge, sometimes in thick tussock grass, other times through dense 4m high snowgum regrowth to finally reach an unnamed firetrail, where we stopped in the shelter of some snow gums for a few nibbles. The sun now shone weakly through the high cloud, but it was still warm in the lee of the wind.

GPS or map and compass?

I am an unashamed technophile - I carry a GPS with uploadable maps which I use to generate tracks of my walks for future reference. It is also my primary means of navigating and when crossing the Main Range in the fog and cold, it was comforting to look at it and know exactly where I was relative to the invisible landmarks. Traditionalists like their map and compass, so it was interesting to conduct a small experiment on Arsenic Ridge comparing my GPS to the traditional methods used by Rob and Karen for navigating cross-country.

At the end, my faith in the GPS was reinforced and I was convinced that it would have led me on a quicker and shorter route across the untracked bush. The primary time saver is not having to frequently stop and recheck compass bearings against map points - you always know exactly where you are and exactly where your target waypoint is (well, within a few metres) - moreover the GPS enables you to constantly micro-adjust your direction on the fly, so you are less likely to be diverted by landscape features and can maintain a straighter course or better allow for contours etc to follow a more natural course, which will be quicker and easier.

That said every bushwalker who ventures into unknown terrain should carry a map and have the skills to navigate using it. I like my paper maps to see the bigger picture as the GPS screen is pretty small, but when actually navigating from waypoint to waypoint, the GPS will always be my primary tool (until the batteries run out).

Setting off again, Karen guided us around the headwaters of Temperance Creek and up another scrubby spur to reach the Table Mountain Firetrail, just to the east of Table Mountain itself.

The sun was getting paler and the wind stronger as we followed the grassy firetrail around the base of the mountain and westward along a ridge that led to the Nine Mile Diggings, one of the old gold fields from the Rush of 1860.

Table Mountain - not so impressive up close

Overlooking part of the old Nine Mile Diggings

Four Mile Hut - an icon of the old goldfields

We overlooked part of the diggings from a vantage point, but did not make the detour into the old mining area. Instead, we ate lunch in a sheltered spot on Nine Mile Creek before heading up a long saddle in a northerly direction until Rob turned us all into the bush once again - it was a shortcut to our base for the night, Four Mile Hut, and took us down between two tributaries of Four Mile Creek, crossing boggy marshes and areas of jumbled mullock heaps. This was another of the sites where thousands of men once sought their fortunes fossicking for gold. Today had certainly been the day for off-piste walking.

Countryside near Nine Mile Creek

Arriving at Four Mile Hut before the change blew through

Old mullock heaps from the diggings at Four Mile Creek

Enjoying the comforts of home in the hut

Four Mile Hut, a tiny structure of iron and wood, is one of the iconic huts of high country. Size was an issue and, being the declared snorer of the group, poor Jim got to sleep in the tent outside, while others slept on the solitary bunk and floor. It was good to be out of the wind and better knowing that we were eating up the last of the dehydrated food - tomorrow was rendez-vous day with the promise of fresh fruit, bread and milk. That night the increasingly threatening skies finally delivered and the rain started to fall around 5pm. Nonetheless, in the rusty hut, full of artefacts and memories, life seemed good as we sat around a warm stove sipping Kahlua and coffee and listening to the wind rattling the iron sheets and the rain beating on the roof. I guess that up above the planes are still rushing back and forward between Sydney and Melbourne - life goes on for all.

Day 6 - Four Mile Hut to Kiandra (8 km - 120m ascent - 200m descent)

Around 2am the sound of the wind and rain became strangely quiet - it had begun to snow. Jim woke up to find his tent covered with snow and a 10cm white carpet lay over the countryside around the hut - the landscape had been transformed into Narnia. Occasional patches of sunlight broke through to illuminate this magical world further and contrast the white mantles on the trees against the dark grey of background sky.

An unexpectedly white morning greeting

The sun breaks through briefly

Four Mile Hut the morning after

We set off from the hut at 7.30am, climbing slowly up through the monochrome landscape of the forest to regain the firetrail. From here we trudged northward and upward benath the still and incredibly beautiful snow gum forest, its scorched grey trunks reanimated by the snow cover. On the path, the dry powder snow crunched beneath our feet.

Leaving Four Mile Hut ....

... to climb up through a monochrome forest ...

... and trudge on through the soft dry snow of Narnia

The patches of sun were becoming less frequent and, by the time we reached the open plateau it had started to snow lightly again. Selwyn skifield lay to our left and we worked our way across the ski-touring trails on the plateau before starting the descent to Kiandra. As we lost height, the snow cover began to thin and the isolated buildings of this old gold-mining town appeared below on a bleak and windswept landscape, the thin black line of the Snowy Mountains Highway snaking through it.

A bleak arrival at Kiandra

In the deep snow on the plateau above Kiandra

The remnants of Kiandra's goldrush

We had arrived at the rendez-vous point an hour early and were obliged to squat behind the walls of the toilet block to shelter from the icy gusts (can anyone in National Parks and Wildlife tell me why there is not even the simplest shelter in this crossroads of bushwalkers and skitourers?).

A bit after 11am, the car and trailer of our rendez-vous team pulled in, bringing food for the next week, fresh socks and underwear, plus luxuries such as chocolate milk, fresh fruit and homemade cakes. It was also an opportunity to reevaluate the contents and weight of my pack and I ended up sending back almost as much as I had received (I could picture the fair Nello's face when she found the plastic bag of used socks and underwear).

Kiandra rendezvous - all ready again for the snow and icy winds

Sadly, the icy winds that whipped across the snow on the Kiandra Plain did not dispose us to a long and leisurely picnic - we repacked our packs and food supplies quickly and scoffed our lunch. Another club member, Anthony was joining us here for the final section to Tharwa, so with the wind in our faces and the extra weight of 5 more day's worth of food on our backs, the five of us set off back into the snow-dappled landscapes of the high country - 115 km down, 100 to go!