Australia’s 10 highest peaks

posted in: Mini Adventures | 0

Written by Lucie

Jacob, Lorelei, Mark and Lucie spent their Christmas 2012 break conquering the ten (plus a few more) highest peaks on the Australian mainland, all in the Snowy Mountains and making up part of the Great Dividing Range. Here’s how we did it.

Day one

We started our hike at Charlotte’s Pass in the Kosciuszko National Park (after eventually managing to get a parking spot on the edge of a slightly precarious road. We were rather ginger when reverse parking and crossed our fingers that the car would still be there, and on all four wheels, when we returned!).

Entering Kosciuszko National Park

We were about 20m from the car when some day walkers looked at us aghast and asked how long we were going hiking for (four days). They seemed a little nauseous at the idea of carrying a full pack, sleeping in a tent and walking for a few days in one go!

We smiled, shrugged and started on the Main Range Track to Blue Lake, 5km away. The path first dropped steeply downhill to the Snowy River where we made sure we were totally topped up on water and then started the long climb up to the mountains. We were quickly above the tree line and wouldn’t see trees again (at least not up close) until we were nearly back at the car.

Blue Lake is a gorgeous pool, nestled at the base of the mountains and we stopped for lunch on some seat-like rocks. There was some already sketchy cheese on offer and there were a lot of flies trying to get involved with our tomatoes but we loved it. There were a few too many day walkers at Blue Lake, but after that point most turn back so we got to enjoy a peaceful walk from there on.

Blue Lake

After lunch it was back to the uphill slog, which Lucie hated. Some way further up we hung a right off of the path to climb up to the top of Mount Twynam (2196m) and bag our first peak. Mark, Jacob and Lorelei took some pictures, lorded over Blue Lake and consulted the topo map whilst Lucie lay under the trig point and hated on life and uphill hiking (fortunately, she got over it pretty quick and remembered how to hike as soon as she got up and checked out the stunning views).

Peak number 1! In the bag

Looking at the topographic map in retrospect I feel like we should have made the effort to drop down to south-west to get to Little Twynam. But, at 2120m, we decided it wasn’t worth it. Similar decisions we made for Mount Anton (2010m) in the north-east, Watson’s Crags (2023m) to the north-west and The Sentinel (1905m) to the west. The problem with this area is that there are so many peaks nearby you could spend weeks getting sucked in to “oh, that one’s pretty close, we might as well climb it too.”

However, we did venture a short distance to the west of Mount Twynam to reach an unnamed peak of no obvious importance. The folks and their altimetre at Aussie 10 had declared this peak to be ‘Mount Dubious (2136m). At 2136m (confirmed by our topo map) it would come in at rank 11. It was close and easy and sort of on our way!

Can you spy Jake and Lorelei?

We then set off gently downhill and met up with Main Ridge Track.

Summiting Carruthers Peak (2142m) was pretty much a given because it’s on Main Ridge Track. We took our photo and then continued on. It was a very pleasant walk, grassy, little Alpine flowers, those furry Alpine daisies, some bugs…

Alpine daisies

(Actually, over the course of this hike we came to despise bugs. In particular, the flies that would swarm us and the big green march flies that really hurt when they bite. But for now we were happy with the bug situation.)

We continued on and took a very small detour to Mount Lee (2105m), because the apex is only about 20m off of the path.

But now it was starting to get late so we were on the hunt for a campsite. There were already some tents pitched just off Main Ridge Track but we thought they looked exposed to the wind. We chose to pitch on the eastern side of the ridge, protected from the wind and ready to catch the morning sun to make sure the tents would be dry before packing up. We eventually chose a spot below Northcote Ridge and right by a largish patch of remaining snow, which we thought had serious potential as a cheese fridge.

The edge of our cheese fridge. Plus a tiny Jacob in the background

We found a flatish patch of land, pitched our tents and cooked and ate dinner in the ‘kitchen’ (some flat rocks), whilst being attacked by march flies.

As it turned out, storing our fresh food in our cheese fridge overnight was entirely unnecessary. As soon as the sun dropped behind Northcote Ridge it got really chilly and we were very jealous of the people camped further up the hill, still in sunshine. We were already in our thermals so after we’d eaten and cleaned up we dived into Jake and Lorelei’s tent to play 500 until it was time to sleep.

Mark, Jacob and Lorelei in the tent.
Behold! The mighty cashew!

Day two

We woke up to discover that the water in our drink bottles had frozen solid overnight, but the morning sun was really good and we quietly gloated about our east-facing campsite.

Once we had retrieved our food from the cheese fridge and were ready to set off we headed up the steep hillside to meet back up with Main Ridge Track.

Only a short way along we veered slightly to the left to summit Mount Northcote (2131m). It was a fairly easy, grassy walk up to the top of Mount Northcote, but, as we had come to expect, it offered superb views. The four peaks of the previous day were to our right, at least five peaks were in front of us, and the rest were to our left. Behind us was the start of the Snowy River and the walking path that we would be taking on our way out.

Along Main Ridge Track

After taking in the view and getting a summit photo we left the peak, went back down to the path at Albina Pass and then crossed the path to ascend the other side.

The next peak on our list was Muellers Peak (2125m). We didn’t actually have to climb Mueller’s because it comes in at number 13. However, we were in the area and needed to check out some of its neighbours so we decided to stop by.

Muellers has become a dirty word for us. We suffered from a momentary loss of judgement and made a really stupid decision: we got enticed by the cheese fridge at the top of the peak and felt compelled to hike up Muellers Peak with our packs. And leave them there.

After a stop for food we put our cheese and sprouts into the ice, next to many, many plague soldier beetles that were also inexplicably drawn to the cheese fridge. We also had a small run in with a funnel web spider that thought Mark’s ankle was a good thing to climb. Fortunately, he was wearing gaiters (Mark, nit the spider) and quickly de-spidered himself and we got moving.

We worked our way north along the ridge and got a bit confused about which of the many peaks was the one we needed, and which were just false peaks. We climbed a fair few and kept stopping to check the map and compass.

There was lots of excitement at the top of one of the many ‘maybe’ peaks that we have now named ‘Wicked Sweet Peak‘. But you’d have to ask Jake and Lorelei about that. =D

Jake and Lorelei

At long last we finally summited the real Alice Rawson Peak (2167m), bitched about how hard it was to figure out, had a mini-freak out over whether the next peak was actually Alice Rawson, decided it wasn’t, and got the hell out of there.

Thankfully, Mount Townsend (2209m) is pretty obvious and required a fun little boulder climb to reach the top. We took pictures, complained about Alice Rawson a little more, and then continued south-west to Abbott Peak (2145m). The last peak on this ridge was Byatts Camp (2159m), just a little further south-west of Abbott Peak.

On top of Mount Townsend

This section was all quite fun. Alice Rawson Peak to Byatts Camp lies along a ridge with very steep slopes down to the north-west. The views were great. Alas, we needed to continue moving, and now the true problem of our Muellers cheese fridge decision became apparent: in order to get back to our packs we could either retrace our steps around the big up and down horseshoe, or we could just drop straight down to Wilkinsons Creek and then climb straight back up the west side of Muellers Peak. We chose the later.

Going down was really fun. The slopes were covered with long slippery grass and we found out that all you needed to do was sit down and push off and you could slide down a fair way. Or you could try the luge approach, or the skeleton approach if you were really brave. We had races and a good laugh.

Then we had to climb Muellers and it was less fun. But we eventually made it, went over the top and picked up our packs and fridge items. We then walked down the South side of Muellers Peak to Main Ridge Track, thus completing an ascent or descent on each face of Muellers Peak. Whoops!

By now the sun was getting low in the sky and so we head down into the valley where we spied a good-looking creek (actually the start of the Snowy River) and some comfy, flat grass. It was a tough hike down and Lorelei dropped her pack near the bottom to go exploring for a good camping spot. Mark helped the pack down the rest of the way and we set up for the night. We had a lovely wash in the Snowy River, Jake brought out a secret bottle of Alpine homebrew and we had dinner, 500 and bed.

Chef Schmittsky

Day three

Our morning on day three wasn’t quite so happy as we’d hoped. Jake was starting to feel a little unwell and it was a long, hard slog up the Snowy River to Rawsons Pass. Particularly because the ground we ended up walking on was very overgrown and prime ankle breaking territory.

We got to Rawson Pass on Summit Walk, and were surprised to find a large toilet block, even though we were stood right next to Mount Kosci itself. And so, after a bit of a rest and applying some strapping tape to those in need, we hid our packs underneath some solar panels above the toilets and it was time to take on Mount Kosciuszko (2228m), the highest peak on the Australian mainland.

I’ll be honest, Mount Kosciuszko kinda sucks. Of all the peaks we climbed it was definitely the easiest and least interesting. Because of the mountain’s status, it is popular and the peak has been made very accessible. This is great, and I’m really happy that people get out and that the peak can be reached by people who have different levels of health, fitness and mobility. But it was still a bit lame for us.

Mark somewhere much more interesting that Mount Kosciouszko (Abbott Range)

Let me explain, and bear in mind that for two days we’ve been out in the wild, bagging peaks and conquering obstacles. We also haven’t really seen any other people or much in the way of human-made stuff.

Wilderness and obstacles

The Mount Kosciuszko ascent starts from a reasonably high saddle with a big block of public toilets, which did not smell pretty. From the saddle the path gently climbs up to the summit, winding lazily around the mountain. It’s pretty much all paved or covered with that weird rubbery path stuff. In fact, up until 1977 you could drive from Charlotte Pass all the way to (almost) the summit (you’d have to walk the last few metres, shock horror).

Not particularly wild or adventurous.


Given that the peak is so accessible and has higher (!) status that its neighbours, Mount Kosciuszko is a bit of a tourist magnet. Now, I don’t mind people and, as I said, I’m glad people are getting out and enjoying the beauty* of nature. However, it was a bit of a rude pull back into the busy real world to reach the top of a mountain and find it swarming with day walkers, like ants on a discarded apple core. Seriously, it was pretty much impossible to get a photo without other people in it.

*The real complaint about the people, however, was that they spoil somewhere remote and beautiful.

We were just rounding the last bend in the path to the top when our nostrils, which had been enjoying the fresh mountain air (apart from at the toilets) were assaulted by cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke! This should not be allowed! And there were cigarette butts on the ground, and real discarded apple cores and other items of rubbish. Day walkers suck!

Mount Kosci tried to make up for these things by offering some ground snow, but after our many encounters with cheese fridges we weren’t suckered in.

Back on track

We attempted to find a slightly quieter spot to check out the view from 2228m and then made our hasty retreat back down to our packs.

We collected our packs and started up the unnamed peak on Etheridge Ridge, which we named ‘East Peak (2180m). We called this one East Peak, given that it is east of Mount Kosciuszko, just over the saddle. We liked East Peak a lot. Not just because it was not Mount Kosciuszko and we had it all to ourselves, but it was also way more fun to climb and the last little bit was an exciting little rock scramble.

Crows on East Peak

We stopped at the top, had some celebratory green shit (super green, lime-flavoured electrolytes that make a delicious hiking beverage and pick-me-up), flicked Mount Kosciuszko the bird and continued on our way. We were now headed south along Etheridge Ridge towards the Rams Head peaks. The ridge was also beautiful, included some rock hopping, and was heavily populated by crows.

We had a fairly long but easy walk along the Thredbo chairlift to Mount Kosciuszko path – a steel path called the Kosciuszko Walk (yes, it was disgusting) – in order to reach our next goals on the Rams Head plateau. As we walked along we saw cheese fridges and small lakes, we wondered how cold they would be (answer: cold).

Definitely too cold for swimming, look at that snow!

Eventually we reached the point where we went off-road and started to climb Rams Head North (2177m). Jacob was feeling really ill at this point and we were all incredibly impressed with his resolve to keep going and bag all the peaks.

Rams Head North was a lot of fun. The climb starts off with scratchy grass underfoot and pretty little mountain flowers and shrubbery. The last part of the climb is all rock scrambling, or more appropriately, boulder climbing. The massive rocks add a reasonable amount to the height of mountain and Lucie was very excited. This section provided the best and the worst for her day, the worst coming when she accidentally dislodged a fairly sizable rock which went crashing down the rock pile. This would have been okay, but Mark was below her. There was a bit of screaming but the rock missed Mark and we had a relieved hug at the top. The views from the top of Rams Head North were amazing. Towards the south you can look out over the Rams Head plateau and see our next goal Rams Head and to the North it’s an unobstructed view to the rest of the peaks that we had claimed.

After we had had soaked up our fill of beautiful views we started the climb down the south side of the rock pile it (we’d ascended the slightly trickier north side) and once more touched grass. Lorelei was busy finding wild sorrel to nibble on.

As we crossed the Rams Head plateau it was like something out of another world, a slightly magical or mystical world. The plateau is pretty high up and it was very very quiet. You could easily image that nobody else existed. The ground is mostly grass, with big chunks of rock scattered around. The way the sun was coming through the clouds also gave an unnatural air to the place. The light was golden and everything looked very crisp and vivid.

Mark takes in the plateau

Due to the height of the saddle between the two peaks we didn’t have to ascend very much to reach the summit of Rams Head (2190m). Rams Head also has a rock pile to climb (although not as large as that on Rams Head North) and again offered stunning views. Rams Head was the furthest south of the peaks on our list, which meant we were able to cross the plateau again on the return journey. We steered to the left of Rams Head North though and dropped back down to the Thredbo-Kosciuszko road, and then trekked back to our packs.

Lorelei on the Rams head approach

After picked up our packs it was time to start the journey back to the car, our mission completed. We still had a way to go though.

We walked north-east on Summit Walk, past Seamans Hut (lots of Seaman hundreds of miles inland, up in the mountains) and stopped for the night at a small lake, where the snowy River once more crossed our path. We set up our tents, went for a chilly but wonderful swim in the lake, and then, of course, it was time for dinner, 500 and bed.

Seamans hut
Sunset over our Snowy River lake

Day four

Our final day was quick and easy. We continued along Summit Walk as it dropped gradually back down and entered the tree line. It was only about 6km back to the car, which we were very happy to see was still in the same place and state as we had left it!

Champions! On top of Rams Head, peak number 15

Challenge: Climb the ten highest mountains on the Australian mainland
Verdict: Smashed it. And it was wicked sweet.


Trip summary

Peak rank Peak name Peak height Order climbed
1 Mount Kosciuszko 2228m 12
2 Mount Townsend 2209m 9
3 Mount Twynam 2196m 1
4 Rams Head 2190m 15
5 Unnamed peak on Etheridge Ridge (East Peak) 2180m 13
6 Rams Head North 2177m 14
7 Alice Rawson Peak 2167m 8
8 Byatts Camp south-west of Abbott Peak 2159m 11
9 Abbott Peak 2145m 10
10 Carruthers Peak 2142m 3
11 Unnamed peak west of Mount Twynam (Mount Dubious) 2136m 2
12 Mount Northcote 2131m 5
13 Muellers Peak 2125m 6
14 Mount Lee 2105m 4
Awesome Wicked Sweet Peak Unknown 7


Many thanks to Aussie 10, whose blog gave us some great pointers, especially when we were trying to find Alice Rawson Peak!