Hiking the Main Range Track to Mount Kosciuszko
After spending a wonderful Christmas in Pambula, New South Wales this year, we were feeling the side effects of eating way too much food, and certainly not enough hiking! So it was just as well that after leaving Pambula we drove north to the town of Jindabyne, an all year round haven for skiers, hikers and bike riders. Jindabyne is located right next to the Kosciuszko National Park. This park contains Australia’s tallest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko along with the premier ski resorts of Thredbo and Perisher Valley. In the summertime the park is popular with hikers, wildlife lovers, and both road and mountain bike riders.
We figured that a great way to burn off some of the extra calories we’d consumed over Christmas would be to hike to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko, via the Main Range Track.
What is the Main Range Track?
Mount Kosciuszko is situated on the Main Range of Snowy Mountains. The Main Range track is a hiking trail that takes you from Charlotte’s Pass across this range, and finishes just next to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko.
Along the way the track takes you past two beautiful lakes and provides some incredible views over the rest of the national park.
Depending on how you return to Charlotte’s Pass and what detours you make along the way you’ll end up walking a little over twenty kilometres. It’s a full day hike.
When is the best time to do the Main Range Track?
The best time do tackle the Main Range track is between November and the end of April. In the colder months the trail is covered in snow and is very hard to navigate. Plus for some of that time the road to Charlotte’s pass is closed to cars anyway. You would have to be a very skilled hiker and navigator to tackle the track in those months.
Even in the summer months you should be prepared for all conditions. The weather can change rapidly. For example in our case we started the hike in the morning and had fine weather and sunshine for the first half hour or so. But as we continued, the weather deteriorated; fog set in and the wind increased to gale force speeds.
The weather continued like that for the next couple of hours. It was pretty miserable and we almost considered turning back. It wasn’t a lot of fun! However we couldn’t feel too sorry for ourselves. As we were battling the fog and high winds, we came across three endurance runners happily jogging the trail in the opposite direction, wearing just singlets, shorts and sneakers. If they could do it so could we!
The weather improves
As we reached the part of the track that passes by Lake Albina, the mist began to clear, and the sun returned. It stayed with us for the rest of the day. The wind was still quite strong throughout the remainder of the hike, but with the sunshine and improved visibility we didn’t care.
As you can see from our photos, small sections along the way were still covered with snow. However we only had to walk across one small section of snow that covered our path. The rest of the hike had no further obstacles. Of course the situation could be quite different at different times of the year.
What’s the best way to tackle the track?
There are three ways to tackle the Main Range track:
The Anti-clockwise circuit
The first is to take the track one way from Charlotte’s Pass up to Rawson Pass. Then you take the Summit Track (which is the old Kosciuszko road) back down to Charlotte’s Pass. This is the circuit we took. With our short detour down to see the Blue Lake, and our quick hike up the summit path to the top of Kosciuszko, we ended up walking around 22km in total for the day; a decent effort!
The argument for walking the Main Range track first is twofold. Firstly, you get the trickiest part of the hike out of the way early on, and then you can relax on the Summit track back to Charlotte’s Pass. Secondly, you avoid climbing up a steep hill just before arriving back at Charlotte’s Pass. The Summit track winds its way very gradually up to Charlotte’s Pass, whereas the Main Range track has steeper gradients.
The Clockwise Circuit
The second option is to hike this same circuit but in the opposite direction. We did see some people doing this. The final option is to go both out and back via the Main Range Track, avoiding the Summit Track altogether.
I doubt many people take the last option for a day hike, so really it’s a choice between the first two circuits. In our case it might have made more sense to start on the easier Summit track because of the weather conditions that we had on the day. By the time we reached Rawson Pass to begin the Main Range track, the visibility might have been a lot better. However it’s still pretty hard to predict how the weather will play out on any given day.
Another reason to head clockwise around the circuit is that the first section of the Main Range track involves crossing the Snowy River by walking across a set of rocks. If you are unlucky enough to loose your balance and fall in while crossing the river, it would be better if it happened at the end of your hike. In our case, with almost the full length of the hike still in front of us, we would have had to call it a day if one of us had fallen in. Otherwise we would have risked getting hyperthermia when the weather deteriorated.
Whichever way you tackle the hike, we recommend getting up there early (we arrived at Charlotte’s Pass around 7.30am). You won’t be rushing to finish the hike before sunset, and a large part of your walk will be in the cooler hours of the day.
How long does the hiking the track take?
The complete circuit takes around seven to nine hours depending on your level of fitness, and how many stops and side trips you make along the way. It took us around seven hours, with about five and a half hours of actual walking time. This included the short return walk from Rawson Pass up to the Kosciuszko summit, before we set off down the Summit track. It also included a short 800 metre detour to a viewing platform in front of the Blue Lake.
How hard is the track?
The Main Range trail is well marked and is quite easy to follow. It is paved in some form or another for much of its length. Although one part of it is a narrow dirt track, it is always clear where you need to head.
Apart from a single patch of snow, we had no obstacles to tackle. This was a cake walk compared to our Cradle Mountain summit hike, where we climbed rocks and scrambled over boulders! There are a couple of sections of the track with a sustained up-hill gradient, but if you take your time they’re not terribly taxing. We are not currently that fit, and we didn’t have any trouble. In fact, considering the length of the hike, our legs felt a lot better the next day than we’d expected.
What would we do differently next time?
The main thing we would do differently next time would be to choose a day with better weather. Unfortunately we only had a short stay in Jindabyne, so we had to work with what we had. Ideally you want to hike on a day without rain or high winds.
Next time we would also pack a couple of extra clothing layers. We were just warm enough on this occasion, but if it had been a bit colder we would have struggled.
What were the best parts of the hike?
There were two really satisfying moments in the hike for me. The first was when we finally glimpsed Rawson Pass (and Australia’s highest public toilet block!) and we knew that we were nearing the half way mark. In the distance we could see people taking the short path up to the Kosciuszko summit, and we knew the hardest part was almost over.
The second best moment was towards the end of the hike. As we neared Charlotte’s Pass, we could see the start of the Main Range track in the distance, as it wound its way up-hill from the Snowy River crossing. It was a great feeling looking across at the track that we had struggled up just a few hours earlier, and realising just how far we had walked.
Are there any alternatives to hiking the Main Range Track?
There are a few alternatives to hiking the Main Range track, and both still allow you to reach the Kosciuszko summit.
The Chairlift Alternative
The easiest is to drive to Thredbo village and take the Kosciuszko Express Chairlift up the mountain. You then have a thirteen kilometre return walk to the summit. It’s an easier walk than the Main Range track and is great if you have young children. But at $37 per adult for the day, the chairlift tickets aren’t cheap!
Bare in mind that the chairlift does not work in bad conditions, such as in thunderstorms. Few people enjoy hiking in that type of weather anyway.
Hiking The Merritts Nature Track
Rather than taking the chairlift, you can instead hike the Merritts Nature Track from Thredbo village. This adds just another two kilometres each way but takes an additional 1.5 hours to ascend. This is a good option for those of you who are exceptionally fit and fancy an extra challenge!
The Kosciuszko Summit Track
The final alternative is to walk the Summit track both up and back. This is also quite a popular option with visitors. The Summit track is essentially a well graded dirt road. All of the rivers and creeks that it crosses are properly bridged. So not only is it easy to walk, but you can ride your mountain bike on it as well. We saw quite a few people riding (or pushing!) their bikes up to Rawson Pass.
Some Useful Tips
- Prepare for all weather conditions. The best approach when hiking is to dress in layers, adding or removing them as the weather conditions change.
- Bring warm clothing with you, along with a quality, wind-blocking raincoat. Even if you don’t end up using them, it’s worth bringing gloves and a beanie with you. If like us you encounter freezing cold, gale-force winds, they’ll keep your head, ears and fingers warm while hiking.
- Wear decent hiking boots. Even though the Main Range track is easy to walk, it’s still worth wearing boots that will give your ankles some extra support. You don’t want to injure yourself half way through a 20km hike! They will also give you extra grip if you need to climb over snow drifts.
- Take snacks and plenty of water with you. We took about four litres of water with us. Although we didn’t drink it all, we would have if the weather had been warmer.
- Apply sunscreen before you start, and reapply half way through. UV radiation levels are high at this altitude, and it’s easy to get sun burnt without realising. Cooler temperatures can often mask the initial symptoms of sunburn.
- Prepare for the walk by looking at a map and reading about important points of interest. We highly recommend the WildWalks excellent guide to walking the Main Range track (and other trails). You can even download a printable guide that tells you all about the route.
- Don’t forget your camera! As you can see from our photos, while hiking you’ll come across some amazing scenery.
Where To Stay
The most popular places to stay around Mount Kosciuszko are Thredbo and Jindaybyne. Thredbo is a picturesque alpine village with amazing mountain views and lots of day hikes and mountain bike tracks. Jindabyne is set on a large, man-made lake that is popular for water sports.
Thredbo and Jindabyne are only half an hour drive from each other. However, bare in mind that if you are starting the hike from Charlotte’s Pass and staying in Thredbo, you will need to drive down to Jindabyne before heading back up the road to Charlotte’s Pass. This will take you just over an hour to get there, whereas staying in Jindabyne will take you about 40 minutes.
Use the search boxes below to find accommodation in Jindabyne or Thredbo:
Would we do it again?
We absolutely would hike the Main Range track again. It was an incredible hike with just the right amount of difficulty to challenge us without breaking us! It certainly helped burn off some of the extra calories we’d accumulated over Christmas.
Whenever we do one of these hikes in Australia, it really makes us appreciate both how vast our country is, and how lucky we are to live here, where such natural beauty is only a few hours drive away.
To get an even better idea of how wonderful this hike is (and how wild and changeable the weather can be) take a look at our video of the entire circuit: