Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mount Townsend Loop Hike on the Main Range

Charlotte Pass to Kosciuszko

The forecast for Charlotte Pass was fine with the chance of shower and light winds. A daytime maximum of 13, and an overnight minimum of 7. We thought we were lucky for this time of year, in late March the overnight temperature on the Mountain averages close to zero. A few extra layers were removed from packs, in anticipation of higher than expected temperatures.

Upon getting out of the car at the top of the Pass the conditions were very different to the expected calm sunshine, causing a few back to their cars for that extra layer of clothing. A cold wind was howling at around 50km/h from the southwest. A band of rain clouds, consistent with a cold front, was crossing the mountains into the distance.

Against the wind, we set off down the wide well formed road towards Rawsons Pass and Kosciuszko.

Up the ridge to Seamans Hut

The first part of the trip was a fairly steady (but not steep) incline to the Snowy River. The Snowy has a well constructed bridge at this point, with no risk of getting our feet wet. There had been some rain a week or so previously, and this section of the track was lined by small creeks running down to the track from the mountain to the left. Certainly it didn't seem like we needed to be carrying the 3litres of water each for this section. The Snowy would have been a reasonable refilling point too.

On top of Kosciuszko

Once past the Snowy the track rose more steeply, and Seamans Hut was visible up at the top of the pass. The hike up to the Hut was the first time we noticed that we were carrying 20kg of extra weight on our backs. The Hut walls provided shelter from the wind, nice views down into the Snowy River Valley, and of Etherudge Bluff, which itself rises to 2150m. It was time to give the little espresso pot a work-out over the camp fuel stove. The resulting short-black was better than the one produced in the cafe near the office in the city - perhaps due to the effect of altitude on the beans.

From Seamans Hut the journey to the top of Australia is a short one, only another couple of kilometres, and largely flat with the exception of the final 800m climb. We dropped packs at the junction with the Main Range Track, and eight middle aged men with KB made a sight on the rocks on top of the mountain.

Kosciuszko to Wilkinson's Creek

Campsite at Wilkinson's Creek

It was only 1.6km from the start of the Main Range Track near the top of Koscioszko to the Wilkinson's Creek turn. There was no clear indication from the track of where to turn, and certainly no indication of a campsite. There was an old track, which has some wire preventing erosion going all the way to the creek, but it is overgrown near the junction with the Main Range Track, and impossible to see. The place to turn was almost at the lowest point of Muellers Pass. The Main Range Track descends all the way from Kosciuszko to Muellers Pass, so the lowest point was easy to judge, just at the point where the track first begins to rise towards Meullers Peak.

There were no specific campsites, but lots of soft areas around the creek area that looked like they had good potential for camping. There were many flowing streams a few hundred metres to the north which offered plenty of opportunities for water. The water in Wilkinson's Creek itself was fairly still, and looked less suitable for drinking. We pitched camp here, the tent pegs went into the soft ground cover easily. The area were we chose to camp was at 1930m. Although it looked exposed in the wide valley, the area was actually considerably sheltered from the winds on the ridge. We didn't fully realise how much shelter it offered until we came out of the valley. Camping on Mount Townsend was the other option we were considering. The saddle there was considerably more exposed to the wind, and there was no water. Camping on the actual summit of Mount Townsend would have been impossible, there is simply not enough even land to pitch a tent.

Wilkinson's Creek to Mount Townsend and Return

Walk to Mt.Townsend

There is no track to Mount Townsend. The wildwalks website suggests a loop via Mount Townsend, passing first to the north of Lake Albina, and then returning directly over Muellers Peak to the Main Range Trail. The walk to the north of Lake Albina doesn't exist from what we could tell. The trip down to the lake was steep and rocky, and it was even steeper and rockier up to the ridge to Mount Townsend the other side. It may not even be sensibly possible carrying a pack. The southern route over Muellers Peak seems possible, but it seemed between to skirt Muellers Peak to the south, and join a goat track of sorts on the saddle between that peak and Mount Townsend.

However, since we were already at Wilkinson's Creek, we started from there. In retrospect this proved to be a good starting point for the Mount Townsend attempt. We could see the entire route in front of us, and we could choose the best compromise line between the steeper route to the west (left), and the route up to the saddle on the east (right). There are no real tracks from the creek to the summit, but the ground cover is low and rocky, and it is fairly easy to plot an appropriate path.

On top of Mount Townsend

It is certainly a more difficult and strenuous path to the top of Mount Townsend than Kosciuszko. We had our packs at the campsite, and were only carrying KB, but it was still a challenge. It took us about 90 minutes to reach the summit from the creek. Once on the saddle there is a work track to follow. Once at the grassy area near the top, there are two wooden posts which mark the easiest climbing trail over the rocks to the absolute top.

The view back to the creek is nice. The view to the north over the remote country is better.

We descended the way we had come, back to the campsite.

Wilkinson's Creek to Mount Carruthers

Wilkinson's Creek walk
from the Main Range Track

There was only one practical way from the creek back to the track, and that was returning up the hill the way we had come. It was only 1.6km, but it was a fair bit of exertion with packs to start the day, up 150m or so from the creek back to the track.

We started the climb up Muellers Peak, and once past it we could see Lake Albina below. At this point we were wondering exactly what we would have done if we had done the trip anti-clockwise following the wildwalks map to Mount Townsend, with the trip down and back up to Mount Townsend looking very tricky indeed.

Lake Albina viewed from Mount Northcote

We were getting optimistic about our progress at this point, thinking that the rocky outcrop we were passing was Mount Carruthers, but it was Mount Northcote (2131m), even the mountain in the distance was not Carruthers - it was just Mount Lee (2080m). The wind was as strong as at any time during the trek, and the track was narrow along side the cliff at this point. It was blowing us and our packs around. We were glad we selected the valley around the creek as a campsite for the previous night.

Club Lake from Mount Carruthers

We finally reached Mount Carruthers (2150m), which was at the top of a long set of stairs kindly built by National Parks. Once we were at the top, it was hard to see how we could have mistaken it for any other peak. From the mountain here you can see across Club Lake below, all the way back to Charlotte Pass.

There was little water on this section. The track traverses the ridge, and access to the lakes and creaks would be difficult. Fortunately we still had some remaining supplies of Guiness and Kilkenny on hand.

Mount Carruthers to Charlotte Pass

Starting from Mount Carruthers was the longest decent of the trip, with the track descending almost all of the way to the Snowy River.

Blue Lake

The highlight of this section of track is Blue Lake. We could see the lake from the track, but went a little way down the Blue Lake track to the small lookout, which gives a view across the entire lake. The track continued down to the lake, but the wind was continuing to blow.

There is no bridge over the river on this track, only stepping stones - some of which have a bit of a wobbly which can make things interesting with a pack. By now the sun was shining, the wind had gone, the river valley and river made for a picturesque setting. The little espresso maker came out again on the camp stove, some chose to rest weary feet in the stream. The short black was good, perhaps more likely the effect of the pressure balance within the espresso maker. Life was good.

The final climb

Only 600m was left for the journey back to Charlotte Pass, but this just happened to be the steepest 600m of the entire trek. Still, with the end in sight, what's one more mountain?

Back to the Pub

We stayed the night before and after the hike at the Jindy Pub, which turned out to be a little better than its reputation. Nice views of the lake from the rooms and balconies.

Jindabyne seems to be great place to find cheap accommodation during the off season. The pub was a great base for this trip, with $8 schntizel on the Thursday we arrived, and $10 ribs on the Saturday we left. The share accommodation worked out at $25pp per night including a cooked breakfast, which doesn't even make it seem worthwhile pitching a tent.

Random Advice

Do the walk clockwise. You will encounter fewer walkers on the Main Range Track, then you will on the Kosciuszko track. Mount Townsend is easily identified coming from this direction, but you can't easily see the peak coming the other way. You save the best scenery until last, and you will have a lighter pack on the second day for the steeper walking.

Don't believe any map that advises walking to Mount Townsend via the north of Lake Albina. Have a look at this image in detail before you attempt it, you have to get from the track on the right, to the far side of the lake. If you are walking off the track, the contours are more important than the ground cover in determining which routes are passable on a map.

Take a good map or GPS. The Main Range Track, Kosciuszko Road, and the Blue Lake Lookout Walk are well marked on the route, and on google maps. If you stick to those trails, you could get by without a map in summer. Anything off that, and you are essentially navigating yourself, and the rocks and mountains quickly obstruct any landscape features you may be navigating by. You can download our track to your GPS, by downloading the kml here


  1. I reckon you guys rock for middle age men. I particully like the handsome man with the blue jeans and blue jumper and beanie. He looks like a spunk!