xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: The Alpine Way.

Monday, 19 May 2014

The Alpine Way.

After our pleasant stay in Canberra we set of early on a bright and sunny Saturday morning to visit the Kosciuszko National Park. It turned out to be a great day with one major disappointment, the one and only disappointment of our holiday.

We left our quite comfortable motel in Canberra about 9-00am and visited the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. A feast of culture, particularly seeing Blue Poles and Sydney Nolan's nineteen piece Ned Kelly series.

Around 12-30pm we filled the petrol tank and set off on a 350 Km trip along the Alpine Way into the Kosciuszko National Park via Jindabyne and Thredbo Village.  The drive mainly consisted of steep descents and steeper climbs with plenty of hairpin bends, but the scenery was magnificent.
Navigator Lesley, enjoying a latte at the Bredbo Community Centre.
The drive through the increasingly hilly terrain was quite pleasant. We stopped for lunch at the local tavern in the small town of Bredbo. There are very few towns along the Alpine Way until you reach Jindabyne, which is as scenic a spot as you could ever wish to see. It is so beautiful that already two motion pictures have used it as the location for their stories. One was Somersault (2004), a romantic comedy drama, starring a young Sam Worthington. The other was Jindabyne (2006), a murder mystery starring Debra Lee Furness, also known as Mrs Hugh Jackman. 
Beautiful Lake Jindabyne at the start of The Snowy River.
The town is situated alongside Lake Jindabyne, the vast expanse of water formed when they built a dam across the Snowy River around 1962. It was one of the 16 dams constructed as part of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme. In fact the original town of Jindabyne is sunk beneath the lake. They say that when the lake level is low you can see the spire of the old Jindabyne church. Apart from that spire's brief atmospheric contact, the environment of the church is now wholly water. The current town of Jindabyne was relocated to its present site prior to the dam being built. 
About to go down the mountain...again. Imagine the early explorers hacking their way
through this thick, mountaneous bush country.

Lake Jindabyne is about one third the size of Sydney Harbour. Around 900 metres above sea level, Jindabyne, is one of Australia’s highest permanent settlements. Surprisingly, it does not get a great amount of snow, usually only about three light snowfalls a year. It is the supply town for the ski lodges at Perisher and Thredbo which are well and truly in Australia's snow belt in the Great Dividing Range. It may surprise some people to learn that Australia has a greater area of snow than Switzerland. But, then, Switzerland is a very small country.  About a half an hour after leaving Jindabyne we came to the Ranger's Booth where you pay $27 each to enter the Kosciuszko National Park. The good news was, that as seniors, we could enter free of charge.

Then the very helpful, youngish blonde ranger asked, "Are you staying overnight in Thredbo?"

"No," I replied." I am just going to drive my wife to the top of Mt Kosciuszko and then we are heading for Wodonga in Victoria."

"You cannot drive to the summit and more. They closed the road to the top years go." I was aghast. I looked at the ranger in amazement and told her that I had driven to the summit in January, 1961.

"Yes, well a lot of things can change over fifty three years." was the semi sympathetic reply.

“That’s true,” I said, “And not always for the better,” 

She looked at me for a slow ten seconds, as if I was the living proof of my last statement. Then she smiled, handed me my Alpine Pass and said, “I guess that’s true, too.” She then explained that there were a couple of ways that we could drive near to the summit. It seems that if we drove back to Jindabyne, there was another road that we could take that would bring us about 8 kilometres from the summit and we could walk the rest of the way. 

Or we could drive into Thredbo, catch a cable car (“If they are operating in today’s windy weather.”) and trek about 6.5 kilometres to the summit. Then my Long Term Memory kicked in. I remembered that on my trip in January, 1961, it was from Jindabyne that we had driven to the summit on that road that now ends 8 kilometres short of the top.

I returned to the car and gave Lesley the very disappointing news that she was not going to be driven to the summit of Australia’s highest mountain. Well we did need to be in Gippsland to meet our friend, Angela, on Sunday and it was now mid-afternoon on Saturday. We did not like the idea of backtracking to Jindabyne and we definitely did not like the idea of walking six to eight kilometres up hill and back in rarefied air to reach the summit. If we were going to make such a journey to the top we would need to start off early in the morning and we did not have that amount of time to spare. Basically, we just did not have time to spend at least four hours walking to and from the summit. I tried to ease Lesley disappointment by telling here that the summit of Mt Kosciuszko was just a hill in a tableland of hills. Not very good, I know, but the best I could come up with.
Deep in the Kosciuszko National Park.
A bush toilet. How convenient?

Leather Barrel Creek Picnic Area.

So we soldiered on along the Alpine Way, driving through Thredbo Village and on into the steep and hilly mountain ravines of The Great Dividing Range. All the time we were looking to our right to see if we could spot Mt Kosciuszko. After about an hour’s drive through the national park we saw a range of very high peaks, one of which we identified as Kosciuszko. About fifteen minutes later we came to the only Lookout we had encountered along the winding Alpine Way. Ah, yes, I thought. They have put this lookout here so folks can take a picture of Mt Kosciuszko.
Kosciuszko's  is in there somewhere.

 Wrong!  When we moved to the lookout there was a panoramic photograph depicting the mountains we could see in the distance. The picture indicated the names of the mountains that we were looking at. I saw written on the photo, "Mt Kosciuszko." Eagerly I lifted my gaze to the real mountains and then I noticed that under "Mt Kosciuszko" the caption went on to say, "Hidden behind Mt Abbott." Well, that was a disappointment, but you could not be too disappointed because of the majesty of the mountains that we could see and the beauty of the scenery all around us.
There it is, hidden behind Mt Abbott.
Here is not another view of Mt Kosciuszko.

I am not sure what schools teach these days but, when I was in primary school, every Australian child was taught that in 1840, Count Strzelecki, a Polish born explorer, climbed and named Australia’s highest peak, Mt Kosciuszko, after the great Polish patriot, General Tadeusz Kosciuszko. General Kosciuszko also distinguished himself as an engineer fighting with General George Washington in the American War of Independence. 

However, there is some fairly strong argument as to whether Strzelecki may have actually climbed nearby Mt Townsend and not the peak that today we call Mt Kosciuszko. Experienced climber, Matt Smith writing in WILD Magazine poses the question, “Did Strzelecki really climb Mt Kosciuszko in 1840?” Smith provides several answers to his question. He believess Strzelecki climbed both Mt Kosciuszko and Mt Townsend, but that the mountain he named Kosciuszko was actually Mt Townsend. 

He says, “After a laborious climb, Strzelecki’s party reached a mountain summit. But as Macarthur’s journal attests, it was not yet the highest point. It is likely they were standing on Mt Townsend. ‘We found the actual summit divided into six or more points,’ Macarthur wrote. ‘The Count by aid of his instruments quickly detected one of them as being in fact considerably higher than where we stood. A deep ravine separating us from this did not deter my adventurous friend, he determined to reach it.’ "
Smith writes that “A vigorous debate has raged since 1840 about which mountain Strzelecki actually climbed. Evidence supporting the view that Strzelecki climbed Mt Townsend and named it Mt Kosciuszko is attached to the following arguments. Firstly, Strzelecki described the summit as a ‘rocky pinnacle’, which, as I can verify from personal experience, is a far more apt description for Mt Townsend. Secondly, from Mt Townsend, it is possible to see the Geehi River, a massive drop of 1600 metres (another perspective I can personally validate). It is not possible to duplicate this view from Mt Kosciuszko yet Strzelecki when on ‘Kosciuszko’ commented on this very view.”

Wikipedia backs up Matt Smith, saying, “Various measurements of the peak originally called Kosciuszko showed it to be slightly lower than its neighbour, Mount Townsend. The names of the mountains were swapped by the New South Wales Lands Department, so that Mount Kosciuszko remains the name of the highest peak of Australia, and Mount Townsend ranks as second. The 1863 picture by Eugene von Guerard hanging in the National Gallery of Australia titled "Northeast view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko" is actually from Mount Townsend.”
Validation of Matt Smith’s argument that Strzelecki actually named Mt Townsend as Mt Kosciuszko is found in Year Book Australia, 1910, on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website. The 1910 Year Book, in a section on Australian mountains, states quite clearly “Triangular measurements of heights are not available to any great degree, and the heights of mountains given in the following paragraphs must, therefore, in many cases be taken as approximate only. Thus, the height of Mount Kosciusko is given as "about 7300 feet." Various measurements of the peak originally called by that name showed it to be slightly lower than its neighbour, Mount Townsend, and the names were thereupon transposed by the New South Wales Lands Department, so that Mount Kosciusko still remains the highest peak of Australia, and Mount Townsend, given by the Geodetical Survey of Victoria as 7266 feet, ranks as second. Officially the height of Mount Kosciusko is now stated as 7328 feet.”                                  NB. The original naming by Strzelecki left out the ‘z’ in ‘Kosciuszko’. However, it was officially reinstated in 1997.

So there it is in black and white. The peak we now call Mt Kosciuszko started out as Mt Townsend and vice versa.

In 1940, on the 100-year anniversary of Strzelecki’s ascent, there was still an obvious doubt about which mountain Strzelecki had climbed. The inscription on the tablet placed on the Mt Kosciusko summit to mark the centenary says:
From the Valley of the Murray River
The Polish Explorer Paul Edmund Strzelecki
Ascended these Australian Alps on 15th February, 1840.

Matt Smith points that, “So it seemed that even after a century, considerable care was taken not to imply that Strzelecki had climbed Mt Kosciuszko, as it was believed that such a fact could not be substantiated.”

Smith goes on to say that “Perhaps the debate is meaningless and merely a manifestation of modern-day obsessions with records. Nineteenth century mountain climbers possessed a different mentality. When Strzelecki named the highest eminence in the country, he grouped Kosciuszko, Townsend and Ramshead together.”

Smith believes, “Strzelecki would have most likely considered each peak as ‘points’ on a whole mountain (the Snowy Mountains massif). This makes sense, as all these peaks are really part of a continuous high granite plateau. Strzelecki (and many others who followed this trend) applied the name Kosciuszko to the general mountain plateau, not a single peak.”

He adds that “Another plausible theory (and my [Smith's] personal favourite) is that Strzelecki climbed both mountains, first Mt Townsend, followed by Mt Kosciuszko. After all, as Reverend Curran stated in 1896 (and my own experience verifies): ‘It must be remembered also that the two peaks, Mt Townsend and Mt Kosciusko, are within an easy walk of each other.’ ”

So that clears that up. Or does it? The Mt Kosciuszko that we did not get see, much less drive up, actually started out as Mt Townsend, but, in order not to confuse us poor simple Aussies, the names were switched when it was subsequently discovered that Mt Townsend was a 62 feet higher than Mt Kosciuszko. That is, about 18.6 metres in the new money. So Mt Kosciuszko was still the highest mountain, it was just a diffeent Mt Kosciusko. It seems that Faith, and the NSW Lands Department, can both move mountains.

Count Strzelecki was an interesting character. He was born in Poland in 1797, but, as a young man, after a scandal involving money and a young lady, he moved to England. He was called Count Strzelecki by almost everyone, but he never wrote or used that title when referring to himself. He travelled to North America and is reputed to be the first man to discover copper in Canada. After his explorations around Australia’s Great Dividing Range and elsewhere, he returned to England and became a British Subject. Strzelecki made a name for himself organising aid for the Irish during the Great Famine. He also did good work in The Crimea during the Crimean War where he met Florence Nightingale. He was knighted for his services to the Empire. After his death, aged 76, in 1873, his body was subsequently buried in Poland alongside many of his country’s heroes.
Some of the pipes carrying water for The Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme.
So, as we reluctantly say farewell to the beautiful Great Dividing Range, just a final word on Mt Kosciuszko, or is that Mt Townwsend? Obviously, over at least 40 000 years or so, the indigenous people would have moved around the tableand on which our highest peak is found and they had  various names for it. About twenty years ago there was a push to give Mt Kosciuszko an aboriginal name in a similar way that  Ayer's Rock has become Uluhru.This move drew a lot of opposition from  some sections of the climbing and skiing fraternity and also from the Australian Polish Association, keen as it was to maintain links to Strzelecki, Kosciuszko and the Polish heritage.

It is not clear if the indigenous people realised that Mt Kosciusko was the highest point of the continent, but they certainly had several names for that location : Jagugal or Jar an Gil, Jag an Gil or Tackingal or Youngal or Conincal. All of these names are translated to mean Table Top Mountain. This surprises me, because I was not aware that the indigenous people used tables. However, if we have to have an indigenous name for Mt Kosciuszko I would definitely favour Jag an Gil. Let's face it. We may not know for certain if Strzelecki climbed the Mt Kosciuszko that we know today, but everyone knows very well that Jack and Jill went up the hill!

At about five thirty pm we left the Great Dividing Range behind us, the road levelled out and we crossed the Victorian border into rolling farmland. About six pm we arrived in the pretty farming town of Corryong where we booked into a rustic, but very well appointed motel.

After the ups and downs of the Alpine Way it was nice to walk along a level footpath. By some chance, this footpath eventually led us to a good old country hotel where we had a refreshing beer. On the way back we picked up some tasty fish and chips from a local deli and settled in for the night watching a footy match between St Kilda and Melbourne.


  1. Interesting and Staggering Facts About Mount Kosciuszko
    I invite you also to the English version of this mtkosciuszko.org.au website. There related messages are a lot of information about the conquest of Mt Kosciuszko the highest peak of Australia, and about Paul Edmund Strzelecki the explorer who gave the mountain its name.
    Check the text sitemap page to see all the titles.

  2. Thanks Bzytek, glad you liked it.I'll check out the website.


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