Starting from the abandoned town of Sunnyside, Stage 2 took me across the NSW-Victoria border and to my familiar stomping ground of Dead Horse Gap, just north of Thredbo. While the first day was a repeat of the warm weather and sunshine I’d had coming into Hotham, on the second day I got my first serious rain. It then continued to be misty/rainy/cool for the next five days. It wasn't bad weather for walking, but it did have one big negative – no grasshoppers. This part of the Great Dividing Range (GDR) is as un-explored (in a grasshopper sense) as the region I’d just walked through. I’d previously found three species of Kosciuscola in the Cobberas range, but other than that, there are no records of Kosciuscola between the Bogong High Plains and Dead Horse Gap – a straight-line distance of about 100 km. Sadly, I couldn’t add much to this. I did find a single individual of one species (K. cognatus) about 20 km west of the Cobberas, and a couple of individuals of a second species (K. cuneatus) about 20 km east of them; but, given the weather, it is impossible to say whether other species are there or not or whether they occur more broadly across this part of the GDR. I guess another trip is needed!
One thing that really struck me on this part of the walk was the different “feel” of Kosciuszko National Park. I know it sounds strange, but as soon as I crossed the Murray “River” (it’s really just a creek at this point in its journey), I felt like I was back in familiar territory. Something was different. I don’t have any profound insights as to what that difference might be, but I’m curious as to whether others sense the same change.
After Dead Horse Gap, Kosciuscola are pretty well-documented for about 50 km – across the Kosciuszko Main Range north to Mt Jagungal. This meant I had a holiday from looking for grasshoppers and could simply enjoy the scenery. The weather was “just right” for Stage 3 of the AAWT. Really, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Cool and sunny, perfect autumn weather. Except when I got up to Mt Twynam. I have a Mt Twynam curse. Every time I go there, it is cloudy. Every time! This one really took the cake though – a beautiful clear, sunny day, with not a cloud in the sky, turned into a white-out with about 10 m visibility when I was about 2 km from Mt Twynam. About half an hour after leaving the summit, the clouds cleared and it was a lovely sunny day again. Needless to say, Mt Twynam is not my favourite mountain. That distinction goes to Mt Jagungal (and North Ramshead is pretty great too).
After blundering my way across The Rolling Grounds, I was soon walking in the shadows, figuratively speaking, of this mighty mountain which looms above the surrounding landscape and is truly spectacular (I think there's a blog post from when I went up there a couple of years ago). There were grasshoppers aplenty, but with a noticeable lack of the turquoise K. tristis north of Jagungal. In this area, the landscape is dominated by large, flat frost plains: areas of cold air drainage which produces treeless vegetation akin to the alpine zone. It meant that the walking was easy and delightfully flat. On day 31, I finally got another hill - the climb up to Murray Gap and the NSW-ACT border, and then the side trip up to Mt Bimberi. This mountain is the highest in the ACT and straddles the border. It's not the easiest mountain to get to and it was my first time. Having searched for K. tristis on other mountains in the ACT (Franklin, Ginini, Gingera), Bimberi was my last hope - if this species was in the ACT, it would be here. Well, I can't say that I searched the mountain thoroughly, but I passed plenty of Kosciuscola and none of them were K. tristis. It seems like Mt Jagungal might truly mark the northern limit of this species.
My night at Murray Gap turned out to be my last on the AAWT, as back-burning in Namadgi meant that trail from the Ororral Valley through to the finish (~24 km) was closed. It was a perfect night - so peaceful and quiet. Sitting in front of my cosy little campfire, it was nice to have a moment to reflect on the last six weeks and the land the I had traversed. It is very special country, no doubt about it, and I can't wait to get back in there. It's nice to have an excuse and a purpose to go and, although many holes have been filled in our knowledge of the distribution of the Kosciuscola, there are many more to go.