Walking the Australian Alps

By Keith Scott 22 November 2013
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Travellers have trekked the Australian Alps for centuries, taking refuge in historic huts and enjoying the mountain scenery.

This year, longtime AG contributor Keith Scott embarked on a 230km trek through the Snowy Mountains, staying in alpine huts, absorbing nature and photographing his surrounds.

IT WAS TO BE a journey into the landscape and my own psyche: a 230km trek from Tharwa to Guthega in the New South Wales snowfields. It wasn’t arduous – a little more than one third of the Australian Alps Walking Track through the Brindabellas and Snowy Mountains.

I’d trained as I would before mountaineering trips: walking with a pack, running, time in the gym. But, the attraction was more than physical. It was eight days to write, photograph and explore.

The trail up Mount Tennent and around the ACT’s Booroomba Rocks was familiar – the smell of earth and decaying leaves, displays of banksias. From the second day it was less known, summoning the sense of pull I’d felt as a boy – to experience beyond the next hill: grassy woodlands near Cotter Flat; mountain gums and alpine ash toward Murrays Gap; frost plains in Kosciuszko National Park steeped in the history of the Walgalu and other Aboriginal people, white settlers, visitors before me.

Historic huts of the Aussie Alps

Much of the recent history of the high country can be found in the huts on the plains. They are places of warmth and companionship, maintained because we value the past and because they serve as emergency shelters.

Another attraction of the walk is the solitude and creative space. Time in nature helps throw off layers of civilisation; and enables you to see the natural world in a clearer light.

On my final day, I struggled in a cold south-westerly. In cloud high up in the snow grass, my single goal became reaching a poorly defined foot track on the ridge that runs south to Guthega. I stopped regularly to mark my location and check and re-check grid references.

In retrospect, it was fitting – a difficult rebirth back into civilisation.

I had a rough idea where the track was and I hit it just on dark. It appeared below my feet as a thin, barely perceptible dark line beneath the mint bushes.

I stopped in the waxing three-quarter moon, snapped on my headlamp and began the 45-minute walk downhill.

Keith Scott is the author of The Australian Geographic Book of Antarctica and a longtime contributor to the Australian Geographic journal.