Hiking the Main Range Track to Mount Kosciuszko

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.

The Snowy River.

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.

The Blue lake.

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.

Hiking in the fog.

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.

Lake Albina.

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.

Snow!

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 steep path at the start of the Main Range Track going anti-clockwise. You can just make out where it crosses the Snowy River at the base of the hill (no bridge!)

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.

Crossing the river was a challenge!

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.

We’ve made it!

The summit of Kosciuszko.

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.

Back at the Snowy river crossing, the end of the hike. Here you see some people who have chosen to do the circuit clockwise. Because of our short legs we had to take our boots off here!

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!

Bear 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.

Kosciuszko summit views.

Gorgeous views from the top!

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.

The easier Summit Track.

Seaman’s hut on the Summit Track. Built to provide emergency shelter and named after a young skier who tragically died in a blizzard.

Some Useful Tips

  1. Prepare for all weather conditions. The best approach when hiking is to dress in layers, adding or removing them as the weather conditions change.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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, bear 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:

 

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6 Comments

  • Eloise

    Awesome! We hiked the exact same circuit at the end of the year. We found the hike itself easy but the weather made it more challenging than expected with strong winds and low viz.
    While reading your article, I wondered if we met you on that track as we had the exact same weather conditions! Did you also need to cross these rivers barefoot with water up to your knees? That’s what motivated me to carry on while we were facing the strong wind with no viz at all on the crest: there was no way I’d turn back and put my legs in that cold river again!! 😉
    I don’t know how these runners do it. I mean, first running uphill and downhill for 20 km is already a great achievement, but just wearing shorts and singlets when I’m freezing with all my layers?! Seriously!?! ahah

    When the weather cleared up, it looked amazing. I loved the hike and, like you, I’d be pleased to do it again (but with fewer clouds and less wind – of course). Have you thought of doing it in winter?

    January 15, 2018 at 5:37 pm
    • Simon Collins

      Hi Eloise, Yeah the conditions weren’t great on the day we did it (30th December) and the couple of days before. The first couple of hours weren’t much fun! Once we made it beside lake Albina, it became much more enjoyable. We had to take our boots off to cross the Snowy River too. You’re right that it certainly motivated us not to turn back!

      I imagine that the people jogging must be locals. I know a few people who enjoy doing that sort of running but I’d think you would want to walk it first so you know what it’s like. Not for us! I guess running keeps them warm, but in those conditions you’d want to be pretty sure footed. If you twisted your ankle half way through and had to walk the rest of the way you’d be risking hypothermia.

      If you did it the same way as we did on the same day, then we may well have bumped into each other. It’s a small world!

      I’m not sure we’d do the same circuit in winter. I think it would be tough to navigate the Main Range track with all of the snow. Apparently the road to Charlotte’s Pass is closed for some of the time as well. But it would be nice to maybe do the Summit Track in winter if that is possible, or maybe take the chairlift up from Thredbo and walk along the path from there to the summit.

      January 15, 2018 at 6:14 pm
      • Eloise

        Yep, same day, same story. It’s a small world indeed! 😀
        We were just behind you, so our paths may have crossed when you went down!

        I’d love to reach the summit in winter, one way or another. It must look very different!

        January 16, 2018 at 12:13 am
  • Cindy

    Hi Eloise!
    Thanks so much for your informative blog on the Main Range Track. I’m still deciding whether my friends and I should do the track Clockwise (Summit walk to summit, then Main Range track down to Charlottes) or Anti-clockwise (Main Range track to summit, then summit walk to Charlottes). I’ve been hearing mixed responses.
    – do you think walking back down through Main Range is easier? I’ve heard that Main Range track from Charlottes pass to summit has a lot of uphills and only one steep downhill (ie, if I went back down through this way, i will be walking mainly steep downhills and one steep uphill)
    – I’ve heard that if you go up to the summit via the Main Range track, the views are a lot better than coming down. Have you heard of people who did it clockwise? I can barely find blogs on it,

    Thank you!
    Best wishes,
    Cindy

    February 11, 2018 at 4:47 pm
    • Simon Collins

      Hi Cindy,

      Glad you like the blog. As far as doing the the track clockwise, we don’t know anyone who’s done it clockwise, but there were definitely people doing it that way, as we saw them coming back up the hill as we returned to Charlotte’s pass.

      It may be slightly easier to do it clockwise. The summit track is a gentle gradient to go up, definitely less steep than the first up hill portion of the Main Range track (after you cross the Snowy River). There are some steeper portions after you go pass the track that heads up to the summit, but again it’s probably gentler than the first slope up from the Snowy going the other way.

      Wild Walks has a great overview of the circuit, including a topological map and further down the page a cross-section showing the terrain along the hike:
      http://www.wildwalks.com/bushwalking-and-hiking-in-nsw/kosciuszko-np-south/main-range-walk-charlotte-pass-to-mount-kosciuszko.html

      As far as view’s go, I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes. It will also depend on the weather. For example, as you can see in our video, we had pretty much zero visibility on the first section of our walk. If we’d gone clockwise we would have had better views on the second half of the hike when the weather had cleared up. I’d say that the scenery along the main range track is a little bit nicer than the summit track because you have the two lakes to look at. I suspect in the morning you’re more likely to get mist, so if you want nice views of the lakes, doing it clockwise might work out better.

      The final thing to think about is that if you go clockwise, you’ll have to cross the Snowy river at the end of the hike. The pros of that are that you may find it more refreshing in the afternoon rather than first thing in the morning (it was really cold and we had to take our boots off to cross). The cons are that you have to concentrate while crossing so that you don’t fall in. That’s probably easier in the morning when your legs aren’t tired.

      Hope that gives you some more ideas. I think that either way you do it you’ll have a great time. Just make sure to be prepared for all sorts of weather. As you can see from our video, it’s pretty changeable!

      Cheers,
      Simon

      February 13, 2018 at 7:44 pm

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