The bushwalk to the top of Mount Kosciuszko is the most popular in Kosciuszko National Park, with more than 100,000 people per year using the trail (or about 500 people per day during the hiking season). As a result the track is always pretty busy, and the Kosciuszko summit can get crowded. It’s an iconic walk for a good reason, with the track traversing open alpine country and passing the Ramshead Ranges, before offering 360-degree views from the Mount Kosciuszko summit. So when my daughter Amy and her friend Pearl suggest “lets go to Kosciuszko at sunset”, I quickly agree so we we can enjoy the views and avoid the crowds.
The advantage of staying in Thredbo just after Easter is that it’s a relatively early sunset, which means we can catch the chairlift up, to reach the top just before it gets dark.
There’s some high cloud around as we set off from Eagles Nest (the top of the Thredbo chairlift) along the Kosciuszko Walk. The track gently ascends, crossing Merritts Creek after 500m, with nice views to the east.
It’s very easy walking along the steel boardwalk, which protects the fragile flora and reduces the environmental impact of heavy visitation. We encounter a handful of people, almost of all them walking back towards the chairlift.
We pass North Rams Head and the Rams Head Range, which is on the left hand side of the side of the Kosciuszko Walk, just before the Kosciuszko Lookout.
After the Kosciuszko Lookout the track crosses a small gully; it’s the only place where the Kosciuszko Walk briefly descends (when walking from Eagles Nest). We’re now almost halfway to Rawsons Pass at the base of Mount Kosciuszko, with the the metal boardwalk stretching in both directions.
The late afternoon light makes for some photogenic vistas of the wide alpine valleys and rocky granite outcrops.
The second half of the boardwalk is fairly flat or ascends very gradually, as we maintain a good pace towards Mount Kosciuszko, visible directly in front of us.
Cootapatamba Lookout is 4km along the track, offering views of Lake Cootapatamba – Australia’s highest lake and one of only five lakes formed by glacial activity on the Australian mainland.
To the south is the Rams Head Range, and the bright red dot of the Cootapatamba Hut. Cootapatamba Hut is a survival shelter, designed to catch people who leave the summit of Kosciuszko in poor weather and head down the wrong valley. It’s one of only two remaining survival huts above the snow line in Kosciuszko National Park (the other is the Seaman’s Hut), and is unique in that the snow entrance is via a rooftop tunnel.
Another 15min and we’re at Rawsons Pass, where the old Kosciuszko Road from Charlotte Pass meets the metal boardwalk from Thredbo.
It was once possible to drive from Charlotte Pass to within a few metres of the summit via Rawson Pass, until the road was closed to vehicles in 1977 due to environmental concerns. You can still ride a mountain bike along the Summit Road, making Charlotte Pass the highest point in the country you can legally take a push bike.
Rawsons Pass is home to the highest public toilets in Australia – although Amy and Pearl report that they are far from the cleanest public toilets in Australia. We’ve now got the last stretch to the summit – a very precise 1.67km according to the signage – but the clouds are rapidly closing in.
We reach the top of Mount Kosciuszko (at 2,228m above sea level) about half an hour before the sun is due to set – but there’s not much sign of the sun. Not is there a single other person sharing the cold and windy summit plateau with us. I’m think`ing maybe this wasn’t such a smart idea.
There’s very limited views, with low cloud in every direction.
We wait for about 20min on the peak; theres a hint of orange behind the summit cairn. The clouds lift briefly to the east, allowing a view of the Rawsons Pass toilets, the Summit Road to Charlotte Pass and Mount Northcote above Rawsons Pass.
Just as we start to head back down the track, a blaze of orange lights up the sky to the west.
We slowly descend the wide walking track, enjoying the unexpected vivid sunset and views of the valleys and peaks that have suddenly emerged from the clouds.
The photos don’t do justice to the stunning views, as the sun slowly dips below the horizon.
It’s a very quick and easy walk back along the Kosciuszko Walk, with headtorches needed from about halfway along the boardwalk as the light gradually fades.
The tough bit is the Merritts Nature Track from Eagles Nest back down to Thredbo, which is all downhill, but very steep.
It takes under an hour to cover the 6.4km from the Kosciuszko summit to Eagles Nest, but just over an hour 1.5 hours for the last 3.8km descent to Thredbo Village.
Getting to Mount Kosciuszko
If you take the chairlift up to Eagles Nest, it’s a very easy 12.6km return walk to the Kosciuszko summit via the Kosciuszko Walk, and on a clear day you’ll be joined by hundreds of people. Getting to the summit for sunrise or sunset means you’ll probably have the peak to yourself – but you’ll need to walk either up or down to the top of the chairlift, making it a 15.8km walk (if you take the chairlift in one direction). Allow around five hours for the round trip, and make sure you have warm clothing and a good torch. You can also do a guided sunset hike which includes a 4WD transfer from Eagles Nest back down to Thredbo.
More information on Mount Kosciuszko
Australia’s tallest mountain almost received its name in 1840 from Polish explorer Pawel Strezlecki, honouring his homeland freedom fighter General Tadeusz Kosciuszko (who died in 1817). Almost, because it was discovered in a survey of the mountain range in the late 19th century that the peak named by Strzelecki had named was in fact lower than its neighbour, Mount Townsend. To keep Kosciuszko as their highest summit in Australia, in 1892 the names of the two peaks were swapped around.
For well over a hundred years the peak was incorrectly spelt as “Mount Kosciusko”; an error some blame on Strezlecki, and later on “19th-century bureaucrats who protected their mistake and unfairly blamed Strzelecki for it”. After much lobbying, including by the former Prime Minister, Mr Gough Whitlam, the New South Wales Geographical Names Board recommended to the Minister for Land and Water Conservation that the name be spelt “Kosciuszko”. The Board was unanimous in its decision about the spelling change, which was effected in 1997.
Before European occupation, Kosciuszko was a spiritually significant place for the Ngarigo people. It’s thought to have been called Kunama Namadgi, which means “snow and mountain” – but there were potentally as many as 20 different Indigenous names for the mountain, and not all were Ngarigo names.
- National Parks (NPWS) – Mount Kosciuszko Summit walk
- Thredbo.com – Sunset Hike – Mt Kosciuszko
- Mt Kosciuszko blog
- The Great Outdoors – The mountain that changed its name
- Kosciuszko Huts Association – Cootapatamba Hut
- Dangerous Roads – Mount Kosciuszko, a challenging climb in Australia
- ABC News – Mount Kosciuszko and the push to give our highest peak an Indigenous dual name