First, and most importantly, one must be indoctrinated into the cult of Charlie the Unicorn. Charlie has two fellow unicorns who are instigators – Pink and Lavender.
Among my group of friends, we have decided Marie is Charlie as we are always trying to talk her into crazy adventures (although in reality this role does rotate) and Karen and I are Pink and Lavender. It’s important to keep in straight that Karen is Pink and I am Lavender as I detest pink with a passion (and find lavender slightly less offensive).
Back in April 2011, I tore my ACL and had a less than straightforward recovery. I expected to be getting back in shape and more or less up to my usual high jinx by October. However, as the months wore on, I realized it was increasingly unlikely that I would be able to do something “big” in 2011. What’s my definition of “big”, you ask? Loosely speaking, it would be traveling internationally to climb a glaciated peak at least 18kft high, but alas, that did not look possible this year.
I realized that one of the seven summits, Mt Kosciuszko in Australia, is a straightforward hike of just ~10 miles and ~4000ft gain to a height of 7,800ft. I typically would not use my hard earned vacation time to hike something so easy, but this seemed like a bonafide challenge in my current state where hiking 5 miles on flat ground with trekking poles was difficult.
I tried to work my charms on Charlie to convince her to go on this grand adventure, but I was unsuccessful. I had better luck with Pink, and after convincing her spouse to give her an international hall pass (while he was drunk – he is convinced this was not fair play), Pink and Lavender began not to plan their excellent adventure.
Karen and I are both, by most standards, high-powered professional women with demanding work travel schedules, deadlines and pressure. As the date approached, we both kept remarking how behind we were on planning. I had two major components taken care of – renting the car and securing our hotel in Sydney. Otherwise, that was it. It was the most unprepared I have been for any vacation, let alone an international one, but we surmised we would have the 12-hour flight to bone up on Australian attractions. Instead Karen turned me into a True Blood addict by watching a full season on her iPad over the Pacific Ocean.
We landed in Sydney during the day and vowed to stay up until at least 9pm to try to get on Australia time. The most challenging part of the entire trip was driving out of the airport being on the “wrong” side of the car and the “wrong” side of the road. Not to mention no easy route into Sydney (thank goodness for GPS)! We chose to walk all around downtown Sydney to absorb the sunlight and help our bodies fight jet lag. We walked the entire Sydney Botanical Gardens (which are massive!), along the waterfront, and checked out the iconic Sydney Opera House. We managed to stay up until 8:30pm and I fit in my yoga routine, portable ultrasound and electrical stem treatment on my knee before passing out.
On Day 2, we had bad weather and chose to check out the gimmicky, but still fun, Sydney Wildlife, Aquarium, and Imax. By this time we had formulated our plan of attack for the rest of the trip. We would try to make it down to Jidabyne (the closest town to Kosciuzsko) in one shot and pick a day to summit based on the weather forecast.
We navigated due south through gorgeous countryside much like that of the California wine country. If memory serves, it took us about 7 hours to get to the small town of Jindabyne. We found a cute little hostel named Mooses xxxx that was completely empty. I’d definitely recommend it – a steal, very comfortable, and has a full upstairs lounge complete with a pool table, comfy couches and a full movie selection. We thought we would do a warm up hike on Tuesday, and then attempt Kosciuszko on Wednesday, but the weather forecast showed that our best chance would be Tuesday to avoid some nasty impending storms.
We were up early at 6am and made the lonely windy drive through the park to the Charlottes Pass trailhead. It was cold, windy, and foggy and we worried about the weather turning on us. There are two options to hike Mt Kozzy – you can go straight up and down the easy fire road (Summit Track) or hike the single track trail called the Main Range Track. We decided to go up the easy way to ensure a summit and see how my knee behaved, and then we would descend the Main Range to get some variety in the terrain.
We set off at 7:30am and the hiking was easy at first. I was glad to have my poles for support and still a bit nervous about whether I could do the total mileage. Pink told me during the long drive that one of Charlie’s reasons for not joining the Australian Adventure was her concern I wouldn’t be able to complete the hike. This gave me the impression that the whole trip would not be worthwhile if I could not make it to the summit. Pink’s response was that if we couldn’t hike, there were plenty of other things to do in Australia. This had really taken the pressure off of me in terms of feeling responsible for her trip potentially being ruined if I couldn’t make it, but I still felt the personal pressure of wanting to accomplish something meaningful in 2011.
The hours slid by slowly as we hiked slowly but surely upward, making our breaks short to keep from getting too cold. The area is beautiful and there was no one else around. I could imagine how it would be a great place to ski in the winter. We made it to the Seaman’s Hut where we took a break and surmised that there were 45-60 minutes to go. I began to feel confident that we really would make it!
Towards the top, we were surprised to hit a several snowfields that we would need to traverse given this was Australia’s summer. I was very thankful to have my poles. My operated knee was still not ready for uneven terrain – it wasn’t strong enough to hold my weight if I foot were to slip. Despite that, I gave one of my poles to Karen. She has an unreliable ankle and we would be equally screwed if her ankle decided to roll this far out on the trail.
We trudged on to toward the summit with the views expanding all around us as we edged upwards. When we arrived at the top, we plopped down for a congratulatory round of summit pics and had our lunch break. It was technically one of the easiest hikes to a summit I have ever done, but given the difficult surgery recovery and how uncertain I was about whether my knee would hold up, I was ecstatic to reach the top!
I also realized that we had met the main objective our of trip, that which we few nearly half way around the world to complete, and I felt immensely grateful to Karen for making the journey with me. Amazing that she would leave her family over Thanksgiving and come so far not knowing whether I would be able to make it or not…
We chose to return the longer, single-track trail called the Main Range Track to make a loop. I’m glad we did it, even though it was a bit more than I should have bit off (made the round trip total 13 miles and my knee was killing me at the end) because it was really beautiful.
At the very end, we very carefully boulder-hopped across the Snowy River and had to surmount one last evil hill. At the top, we read a sign that said it’s advisable to start with the Snowy River crossing first in case the river is running too high to cross. We shuddered at the thought of coming that far and then having to retrace the entire 13 miles if the river was impassable.
We did some yoga stretches and spent the next day and night in the Kosciuzko National Park before heading back to Sydney. This time we drove a slower more scenic route up the coast, camping at beaches along the way and stopping to hike, wine taste, or take naps on the sand. Despite our lack of planning, we managed to find a place to stay each night and they were all quite spectacular.
Looking back at this trip now, I am reminded that its not just about the personal accomplishment of making it to the top of one of the Seven Summits, but about the great people we spend time with along the way. It was a most excellent adventure…thank you for your friendship, Pink!