I've covered Twynam and Tate so now it's time for the big one: Townsend. The second highest mountain in Australia, at 2,209m, wasn't on my original list of mountains to go to over the summer. But...well, I was at Mt Kosciuszko and it was just so tantalizingly close. With perfect weather and, being the beginning of February, plenty of daylight, the temptation was too great to resist. Before setting off, I checked my GPS - 3km it said. That didn't sound so bad. It was about 11am and I didn't have to be back at the chairlift until 4pm. So I left the hoards to Kosciuszko and proceeded along the main range track towards Carruthers Peak. After leaving the main Kosciuszko track, the main range track goes down. Quite a long way. I didn't really notice on the way out to Townsend, but I certainly did on the way back! Just before the track started climbing again, I decided that this was as good a place as any to leave the track and make my way to Townsend. I couldn't see a marked trail, but with the peak easily visible I just followed the contour. I stopped for some grasshoppers along the way (which I was quite excited about since I hadn't seen a single one between the top of the Thredbo chairlift and the summit of Kosciuszko) and, after scrambling across a few boulders and weaving my way through huge tussock grasses, I stumbled upon a track! All of a sudden the walking was a lot easier. However, the track is obviously not well-used as it frequently vanishes, only to mysteriously reappear several metres up- or down-slope than where you expect. Having stopped for grasshoppers along the way, it was nearly 2pm by the time I reached the summit - cutting it fine for the 4pm chairlift closing time. The views were spectacular though and, to my great surprise, there were a lot of grasshoppers right at the summit! I quickly collected a few grasshoppers, took some photos and then decided it was probably time to start making my way back. On the way down I tried to follow the track, but it did it's mysterious vanishing act and I lost the trail for a few hundred metres. However, with good weather the end point of the track is clearly visible and losing the trail is not cause for concern. I also came across a very cool alpine metallic cockroach (see photo) which I've only ever seen once before! It posed nicely for some quick photos. By now I was really behind schedule and realised that walking was not going to get me back to the chairlift in time - I'd have to run! So, after climbing back up the aforementioned hill to get onto the main Kosciuszko summit track, I ran most of the way back to the chairlift then collapsed on the chair completely exhausted. It had been a great day, but 22km felt like a very long way!
Mt Tate wasn't originally on the list of mountains I wanted to get to during the summer. However, the unpleasant weather that stopped us going up to Twynam meant that I had an afternoon free. From Guthega, Mt Tate is tantalisingly close so we decided to head across the dam wall and take a closer look. After crossing the dam wall and following a well-worn track for a hundred metres or so, we crossed over the creek whose name I can't remember and came to the base of the old rope tow that used to run up the hill. This was the first lift at Guthega. Unfortunately, the lift doesn't run any more - it would be a great run down in winter (although the dam at the bottom of the slope means that you'd want to be pretty confident in your ability to stop!). After searching around for a bit to find the track, we followed the lift line up the hill. This hill is steep! It goes up about 400m over 1.5km. A lot of the track is difficult to find, or non-existent and once you get above the top of the lift, it's anyone's guess where the track goes. So, we bush-bashed up through huge tussocks until we got to a ridge where the views were, in a word, spectacular. Mt Tate looked so very very close, over to our right, while the rest of the main range was spread out to our left. However, when we turned around to look back towards Guthega, a huge bank of cloud was rolling in. It was descending rapidly and, with the unclear track, we thought it wise to head down the mountain. The cloud was hot on our heels as we headed down the mountain and by the time we reached the dam wall again, the entire ridge line had vanished in the mist.
A few weeks later, having ticked nearly all the other mountains off my list, I returned to Guthega and decided that Tate deserved another shot. This time the weather was absolutely perfect and, aside from an abundance of grasshoppers, I came across many other weird and wonderful creatures. This time I reached the ridge line and turned right, heading for the summit of Mt Tate. It was further away than it looked, but I greatly enjoyed the walk along the top of the ridge. The summit is rocky and, much to my surprise, home to two species of grasshopper! So, on attempt #2, Mt Tate was ticked off the list. A steep, but not overly long walk from Guthega. With great views of Jagungal and the main range (and plenty of grasshoppers to catch!) it was well worth the effort.
Mt Twynam. At 2,196m it's the 3rd highest mountain in Australia. From my base at Guthega, it's about an 8 or 9km hike, although it looks a lot further away than that. Twynam is my nemesis mountain. Prior to this year, I'd attempted to make it to the top 3 times (always on skis) and each time I was turned back because of horrible weather or exhaustion after contending with sheet ice for most of the way up. After over a week of perfect summer weather, I was determined that this time would be different - I would make it to Twynam and see Blue Lake (the largest glacial lake on the Australian mainland) which was starting to develop something of a mythical quality in my mind as I was yet to see it. My Dad, my brother, Harry, and my friend, Mira, made the trip up from Canberra to come out to Twynam with me. We'd decided that the quickest way to get there would be to go from Charlotte Pass, so we met there at 9am to be met with...cloud. Damp, cold, cloud and no sign of any grasshoppers. Nevertheless, we were optimistic that the cloud would clear and it would turn into a beautiful day so we set off. We made it to the Blue Lake lookout but could barely see 5m in front of us so, once again, I was left without a glimpse of the Lake. I was now convinced that it was all a conspiracy and the lake didn't really exist. The cloud showed no sign of lifting so we begrudgingly turned back and, after a short detour to check out what appeared to be a pizza oven in the middle of the Snowy River valley, we returned to the cars and drove around to Guthega. That evening, another friend, Martina, came up from Canberra.
The following day dawned sunny, with clear skies and just a breath of wind to keep it from getting too hot. I couldn't imagine a more perfect day in the mountains or a better day to tackle Mt Twynam - for the 5th time. So the 5 of us set out. The first 2.5km of the walk is along a well-trodden track to Illawong lodge - a tiny ski lodge nestled in the shadow of Twynam, on the banks of the Snowy River. The first excitement of the day was when I nearly stepped on a large snake and for the next hour, every stick and piece of bark looked remarkably snake-like. The track takes you down to the Snowy River where you cross an awesome little suspension bridge and then it's up, up, up until you reach the summit. The track here is far less well-worn and we lost it a few times, but when you're walking through gorgeous alpine herbfield and grassland and you can see your destination, it doesn't matter so much if you can't find the track. Making a beeline for the top, we arrived just in time for lunch. The day remained perfectly clear and I got my first look at Blue Lake (ok, I admit, it does exist) and the spectacular views to the North/West of the main range. Amazing. We met a group who had walked up from Charlotte Pass but I felt a small sense of triumph that we'd walked the whole way up without seeing another soul, whereas they had walked with the crowds for most of the route. Despite being a little longer and a little rougher, I can highly recommend the route up from Guthega - the peacefulness on that side of the mountain is quite special.
On the way down it was back to business - checking for grasshoppers every 100m we went down and catching a few of the ones we saw. There weren't many though! The afternoon was pretty hot, as the breeze had disappeared so when we got back down to the Snowy, Mira and I couldn't resist the temptation of a quick dip. The water was beautiful and delightfully refreshing. Dripping wet, we made our way back the last 2.5km to Guthega, just as the sun was starting to sink. What a day!
**Track notes: From Guthega, follow the signs towards Illawong Lodge. The track is well-marked and well-worn and has recently had some fancy new stairs installed to get up the first (steep) hill. From Illawong, cross the Snowy River on the suspension bridge and follow the faint track the whole way to the top of Twynam. Don't worry, it's not as far away as it looks (although it's a good 650m-ish climb). If you lose the track, just aim for the top of Twynam and you can't go wrong. On the way down, it's not long before you can see the roof of Illawong Lodge, giving you a good point to aim for if you lose the track.
This is a bit late in coming but I thought, since over the last 2 and half months I visited 16 of the highest peaks in Australia, I should write something about it. Especially since I have a few hours to kill while I sit in my (luxurious) room in Thredbo waiting for grasshoppers to wake up (more about that later). Way back in mid-January, I started my collections for the summer with trips to Mt Franklin and Mt Ginini. It wasn’t planned that way, but it seemed like every other mountain in Victoria and NSW was on alight. An area near Mt Ginini had been burnt only a few days earlier, but the fire was out and I was keen to get up into the mountains so, with some trepidation, I decided to make an initial “scouting” trip out to Mt Franklin. My Dad came along as a guide and field assistant. We drove from Canberra up to the Mt Franklin carpark, which is about a 5 minute walk from where the old chalet once stood and about half an hour from the summit. Having never looked for grasshoppers in Namadgi, I had no idea what I would find. No records existed Kosciuscola (the genus I’m studying) at Mt Franklin. It was a hot day with lots (LOTS) of March flies but, lo and behold, when we arrived at the chalet area there were dozens of grasshoppers bouncing around. I resisted the urge to stop and collect them and we continued up the hill to the summit where we found…nothing. Despite a thorough search, we didn’t find a single grasshopper. So, back down the hill we went (a much-appreciated cool change had arrived and blown away the flies) to catch some hoppers from around the chalet. Most were juveniles (notoriously difficult to identify) and, being rusty after 8 months away from the field, it was quite a challenge to work out which species we were actually finding!
Two days later, after getting hold of a key for the gate at the Mt Franklin carpark, I headed up to Mt Ginini accompanied by my friend, Kathryn. It was my first time at Ginini and I was surprised that there were no grasshoppers to be found on the summit. It was another hot day and there were millions of flies about. So many that I’m not really sure whether we couldn’t find grasshoppers because they weren’t there or whether we just couldn’t see them because the flies were so thick. We caught a few, but called it quits early because it was just so difficult to see what we were doing. A re-visit to Ginini is on the cards, but I’m yet to make it out there. I have a suspicion that grasshoppers are actually plentiful there, but were obscured by the march fly haze.
What can I say? I love the mountains. That's what drew me to my PhD project and I've been lucky enough to spend most of the summer and autumn up here. Here you'll find some ramblings about various mountains I've explored in the search for grasshoppers, as well as other adventures. Enjoy!