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Kyle’s expedition took a gruelling 48 hours of continuous trekking. A former army medic and physical trainer, he spent four months of intensive strength training and hiking on the lead-up to this attempt. Here he is atop Mount Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest mountain at 2,228m. He has already stopped by 18 peaks, and the journey is not over yet.
Hiking without a single wink of sleep for two days, with limited food rations in rapidly changing weather was an experience like no other. “Something like this is so far beyond what anyone would be ready for,” says Kyle. “This photo is about 36 hours into the adventure. I’m physically and mentally tired and questioning how much more I have left to give, but somehow by putting one foot in front of the other, I manage to keep trudging through that deep snow.”
The idea to reach all Australia’s mountain peaks higher than 2,000m was several years in the making. Five years ago Kyle put together an expedition for reaching Australia’s ten highest peaks, which sparked the idea to do something even bigger. While recovering from a broken leg in early 2012, Kyle started researching this challenging adventure in earnest. “It is only by doing what we fear that we can ever truly be brave,” he says.
To Kyle being in the mountains is always a thrill and he can never get enough. “The Snowy Mountains is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world, and one of the most extreme environments as well,” he says. Here Kyle is seen as a tiny red speck, scaling the ragged mountainside of Mount Northcote, which was the 11th peak in his journey.
The weather in the Snowies can be challenging and is often unpredictable. “The weather extremes were interesting,” Kyle says. When he started out early in the morning on 2 November, it was a crystal clear, sunny day with temperatures just below twenties: “A perfect day for the hardest challenge of your life.” That was still the case several hours later when Kyle was in the Jagungal Wilderness Area, but the weather was starting to turn.
“It’s pretty hard these days to come up with something that no-one has done before,” says Kyle. Ten hours into the expedition and the sun still shining, Kyle was close to the junction of Schlink Pass, the second highest pass in Australia. Nothing indicated that the next day he would be enduring a blizzard as temperatures dropped to -6C and winds picked up considerable speed.
A challenging solo trek in the mountains is not just a physical challenge. “One moment you feel fantastic and indestructible, it’s the best thing you’ve ever done. And then come the low points, when you feel fatigued and tired and start to doubt yourself,” says Kyle, reflecting on the mood swings he experienced while being out there. “Having to fight through those ups and downs for 48 hours non-stop was an interesting mental exploration.”
The Main Range Track felt seemingly endless,says Kyle but he was intent on completing every step. Along the way he did bump into various other hikers. “They were all interested in the story and wanted to know what I was doing, and thought I was pretty crazy. I thought I was pretty crazy too,” Kyle says.
During the 18 months of preparation, Kyle made two unsuccessful attempts at the expedition – once marred by extremely dangerous weather conditions, and the second time stopped by an injury. “You have to know when to stop,” he says. “It was an extreme and dangerous adventure, but I had a lot of precautions in place. It’s not something I’d recommend to just anyone. You have to be able to take calculated risks.”
“The mountains are the arenas to find out what we’re really made of,” says Kyle. “I’ve never pushed myself that hard. I had to continuously live in the moment and embrace all those ups and downs. The further I got the more I realised I would actually achieve this. It was a pretty gratifying and exciting feeling.”
Going for long stretches without sleep is also dangerous. Over 40 hours into the hike, Kyle started to hallucinate, an experience he had never had before. He was seeing people who weren’t there, and spotting non-existent billboards in areas to the side of the track. “I could recognise the fact that these things were probably hallucinations, but at the same time they were so realistic.” After spending the whole night trekking, the first rays of sunlight are a strong encouragement.
“Inside every challenge, high on every mountain, is the opportunity to find a strength within us to survive and thrive. It just takes us to be willing to dig deep and push on hard enough and long enough to find that strength,” Kyle says. “I’ve been reflecting on the experience and enjoying what I’ve achieved. Sometimes after extreme challenges people get caught up on the end result, but if you only focus on that, you can neglect how powerful the actual journey was.” While he doesn’t know what his next adventure might be just yet, Kyle is certain it will involve climbing mountains in some beautiful part of the world.
Home Australian Geographic Adventure Adventure Gallery: Climbing Australia’s 26 highest mountains
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