The weekend started out well. We woke early to a clear, crisp, sparkling morning and made it out the door by 630am as planned. A six hour drive ahead of us to reach Mt Stillwell in the NSW Snowy Mountains by lunchtime. The track up Mt Stillwell is the ideal trek for anyone wanting an alpine experience without any great commitment. Located just behind Charlotte Pass, a walk up this mini-peak affords the climber spectacular views across to the main-range, including views of Australia’s highest mountain – Kosciuszko. Well that’s the idea anyway.
Driving down into Jindabyne the afternoon was perfect. Lake Jindabyne was shimmering in the early afternoon sun, the light clear and sharp. No crowds. It seemed perfect. But looks can be deceiving. Especially in the mountains.
Off in the distance we could see the mountains of the Main Range. The peaks however were shrouded in heavy cloud. As we wound our way up Kosciuszko Road towards Charlotte Pass, the cloud and fog became increasingly dense and the temperature plummeted. Our idea of a lazy afternoon stroll in the sunshine, wandering through the area’s ancient Snow Gum forests receded into the distance the closer we got to the start of the track. It was bleak. It was cold, blustery and wet. In a word it was shitful.
Now anyone in their right mind would have turned around at this point and, oh I don’t know, gone back down the mountain and spent the afternoon sipping schnapps in the warm sunshine. But us? Nope. We love this. The bleaker, the better. The mountains come alive in this type of wild weather, it’s invigorating and exhilarating. With our excitement at high levels we donned almost every piece of clothing we had brought with us and headed off.
It’s a well-defined track up Mt Stillwell and at around 2kms does not take long to reach the trigged summit. The track takes you past a disused ski-lift which in this weather, with clouds swirling and the wind howling, appears like some bizarre abandoned amusement park. Strange and eerie, if not a little creepy.
With absolutely no views to speak of, we headed off the summit along the rocky ridge that stretches out behind and above the Charlotte Pass Ski Resort. Now a word of warning. Once you head off the summit there is no track. This is difficult enough in good, clear weather. With next to no visibility, it can be dangerous. If you are not use to navigating using a GPS or compass then please do not venture off the track. Many people have gone missing in these mountains in good weather. Attempting to traverse off track in this type of weather is not a good idea if you don’t have skills in navigation and are not prepared for bad weather. The threat of exposure up here is real. Don’t take it lightly. We had a number of layers on, including Gortex jackets which not only keep you dry but also keep the wind out. Add gloves, beanies, thick socks and gaters and we were positively toasty. Believe me, when apparent temperature reaches minus 10 as it did this day, you will be glad you came prepared.
We spent a few hours exploring the area, taking photos, climbing up rocky ramparts and exploring inside caves. The weather never improved, it just swirled a little less furiously on occasion. After we were sufficiently cold and windswept we headed off the mountain and back to the car with thoughts of settling into our cosy guest-house front of mind. An hour or so later we were booked into The Crackenback Farm ready for an evening of open fires, red wine and hearty food. And well earned I must say.
Mt Stillwell is located within the Kosciuszko National Park in the Thredbo-Perisher area. The Thredbo-Perisher area is open all year, but some roads and trails may close due to weather conditions or park management issues. Kosciuszko Road is closed between Perisher and Charlotte Pass in winter (June to October long weekends). Consequently it is difficult to access the track to Mt Stillwell in the winter months and the track is closed as it is often snowbound.
The track to the summit is around 2 km return but is quite steep in parts so give yourself a good hour and a half to two hours. Do not wander off track unless you are experienced with navigation.
Entry fees to the park apply: Check the National Parks website for details: Kosciuszko National Park