Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I climb Kosciuszko

April 2nd

I woke up early for a meat pie and carrot cake fuel-up at the local bakery. I took the bridge past the ski lifts and began a walk up varying degrees of forest to the top of the treeless alpine of Australia. Those words, “treeless alpine,” paired to me seemed like the words “jumbo shrimp” – simply a conflict in terms. But it’s a fact, and without the gum trees, this landscape has remarkable similarity to craggy Scotland with bastions of granite atop every protrusion but the one I seek - Kosciuszko - named after the Polish freedom-fighting general because it reminded the Pole who named it of the general’s grave in Krakow.

Small delicate plants and the remnants of spectacular glacier surround me as I walk the 20-year-old rusty grating that serves as a protective track to this fragile alpine environment. The wind is fierce, my eyes water and my face hurts bad enough to wrap my bandana around it. I am on top of the continent, and there has been nothing since the ocean to slow this wind down. The winds have reached at least 70 kph pushing my considerable bulk around.

I summit, and while it may be the shortest of the continents, it still feels spectacular to stand at its highest point. There is a short, shallow lake on the way up, and the gusts blaze waves across its surface sending spray into the air. I stand up there for a few minutes and then head back down. I was happy with my decision to climb early. The wind pushed me uncomfortably down the track. When I reached the bottom, I stared into many determined, but unhappy faces planning on making the climb. I grab some hot cocoa at the highest restaurant in Australia – the only one of the seven highest continental summits to have one. The staff tells me a storm is coming and there are winds over 120 kph in Melbourne. Snow is coming, too, and I need to blaze down the trail to escape it. I was quite tired and nearly delirious when I rolled into Jindabyne.

No comments: