~Bogong Peaks Wilderness~
Run No. -
Portion No.s -
KIANDRA AND KOSCIUSKO BY PLANES
The prospect of a fortnight of cool weather in the uplands of the Monaro district was very pleasing to me as I took my seat in the "smoker" of the Southern mail on the evening of one of Sydney's closest and muggiest days in the middle of January and the very thought of the snow drifts of Mount Kosciusko made one feel cool in anticipation.
The original party of four had from various causes dwindled down to one, myself, so when I arrived in Cooma, about 10 o'olock the next morning, it was as a solitary stranger in a strange land, with somewhat hazy ideas of the methods by which I was to reach the sights of the district.
After a few hours spent in looking round Cooma, which is very prettily situated among the hills, and is divided in two by a rocky knoll rising abruptly in the heart of the town, I set off on my journey in a neat little turnout. The first 15 miles of the road lay through somewhat uninteresting pastoral country, till the half-way house at Rhine Falls was reached. From there the road commenced to ascend and wind round the hills, some pretty glimpses of the plains below being afforded at intervals. At last, late in the evening, the township of Adaminaby rose before me on the slope of a fairly steep hill, the effect of the setting sun, lighting up the tree-clad hills and the houses nestling in their midst, being very fine.
Next morning, in full equipment of knickers and knapsack, I set off on my tramp of 20 miles to Kiandra, and a truly delightful one it proved to be. The day was a perfect one, bright and cool like a day in the early spring, and the cleear mountain air made exercise a pleasure. The road led round and over hill after hill, with an occasional descent, at the bottom of which one usually found a pretty little stream of deliciously clear cool water. At some half dozen miles from the town, the Eucumbene River crosses the way, with its tumbling waters unfortunately discoloured by the mining operations at Kiandra. Further on it is again met with as it crosses a plain about half way to Kiandra, and this time the pedestrian must doff boots and stockings and wade through its stony bed.
A camp for an hour at lunch time gave me renewed vigour for the next 10 miles of road, which led up and ever upward in a steady rise as it wound about the hills, till at last the traveller stood on the Kiandra Hills and caught a glimpse of the township on the opposite slopes. During the whole of the second part of the journey the scenery was very picturesque. At every corner some new combination of woody slopes and pleasant glades, with their clear rippling streams, met the view, while here and there houses, and once a water-mill, with their background of foliage, lent a pleasing variety to the landscape, so that the "kodaker" had to exer- cise self-restraint lest he should use up his plates too early in the journey. The last two miles lay through somewhat desolate country, and the township itself has all the characteristics of a deserted goldfield, heaps of "tailings," broken down houses, and never a tree in the immediate vicinity. Certainly the best time to see Kiandra, judging by phtographs, is in the winter, when the snow has hidden with its glittering mantle all that looks so dreary in the pleasant summer sun. Still, the climate atones for a lot, and what could be more pleasing than a visit to this, the highest township in Australia, where it is considered a hot day if the thermometer records 72. After a pleasant evening and a good night's rest, I set off for the caves. This portion of the journey, how- ever, was not destined to be as pleasant as that of the previous day, for after going a few miles some sharp twinges in my foot reminded me that I had crossed a river barefooted the preceding day.
However, on I trudged, and after some time I met with an old inhabitant of the district, who told me that I had about another two miles to go. Rejoiced at this, I indulged in a rest, while I yarned with my informant an old digger who related to me many strange tales of the doings at Kiandra in the days of the big rush of 30 years back. Then I cheerily resumed my way, but, alas for the veracity of mine ancient friend, after three miles more of painful walking I was informed by some passing stockmen that another three miles more lay before me. Still, it had to be done, and at last I reached the end of the well made road which runs round and down the sides of very steep hills, till it terminates in the picturesque hollow in which the cavehouse stands.
The sight was welcome to me; and after a rest, I started for a hurried glimpse at some of the caves. The marvels of nature's handiwork to be seen in these wonderful caverns have often been described before, so I shall content myself with saying that even the little that I was able to see of them well repaid the trouble of the journey.
The situation of the cavehouse is a delightful one, at tha bottom of a cup shaped hollow, with huge masses of limestone rising into tho air on two sides and steep hills on the others. A short thunder storm late in the afternoon had cleared the air, which had become slightly oppressive, and the effect of the declining sun on the dripping trees and rocks was charming. But it was late in the evening that the most delightful picture was presented, when the moon commenced to peep over the cliffs to the right of the verandah on which I took my ease. Gradually the light crept down the rugged pile of rock before me till it reached the trees and scrub at the base, and the whole of the tiny valley was bathed in a silver flood. All was silent, except for the murmur of a little stream that wended its way among the bushes, now glittering in the moonlight, now lost to sight among the shadows.
Having returned to Cooma my next business was to see about the Kosciusko trip, and I found that arranged for me by friends. The next day therefore I was driven out to a station about ten miles on the road, and after a pleasant evening spent there I was taken another ten miles of the journey over fairly level coutry to another station, from which I was to commence the actual mountain trip under the guidance of the owner, who was going to pay a visit of inspection to some mountain property. We set off in the afternoon in a stoutly-built buggy with a pair of strong horses, and almost immediately we began to ascend, at first gently, but after half a dozen miles or so the country got wilder and the hills steeper and more thickly timbered. It was in this half of the day's journey that the value of having a skilful driver and a strong pair of horses was very apparent, especially at the approach to my old acquaintance, the Eucumbene River.
We had just arrived at the top of a hill which led down to the stream when I was somewhat astonished to see my host jump down and chop vigorously at some fairly large saplings on the roadside, and then proceed to fasten them on the back of the buggy as a drag. This precaution I soon found to be necessary as the slope was very steep, and no ordinary brakes could prevent a heavy vehicle from descending in a manner too hurried to be pleasant for the occupants. From the bed of the river the road, now a mere bush truck, led straight up the hills, generally at an angle which severely tested the staying powers of our horses. At last, after some miles of this work, we came once more to rolling country, which I was informed was the Snowy Plain, and our destination for the night. We were now some three thousand feet up in the air, so that the sight of a big fire in the kitchen of the stockmen's house was by no means unwelcome.
The next morning saw us mounted on horseback with our luggage for the next few days strapped in front of us, and consisting mainly of a plentiful supply of rugs and blankets. Our party was reinforced by a friend of my host's who had volunteered to accompany me for the rest of the journey, my host himself not being able to see me right through the trip. We were now really among the mountains, which appeared above, below, and on every side of us, and it was not very long before I made acquaintance with the famous mountain bogs which, I am glad to say,the mountain men assert are becoming smaller each year. However, judging by the number and extent of those I saw, the supply is likely to outlast the next few generations. Those bogs consist of grass covered patches of soft black soil, in which the horses not used to them sink to their knees or even to their shoulders, much to their own terror and to the discomfort of the unwary rider. The horses used to the work, however, are very clever in picking their way through the dangerous parts, and as I had been thoughtfully provided with an " old stager" I came through the ordeal successfully. Naturally our progress was slow, as any pace but a walk was out of the question, and in about three hours we travelled only nine miles, getting gradually higher as we advnceed.
The country now began to change, as instead of the thick gum trees of the lower slopes the hills now met with were seemingly capable of producing nothing but a plentiful crop of granite boulders, interspersed with low tough scrub. However I was informed that those same hills contained splendid fattening country, and indeed the condition of the sheep and cattle met with everywhere proved the truth of the assertion.
After crossing a pretty little plain we arrived at a cattle camp, and I had an opportunity of seeing how the mountain men live. And, first of all, I should explain that the country just here is of a very different character from that of the Blue Mountains or the Livorpool ranges. No beetling cliffs here or impassable gorges, but instead patches of rolling country, well-grassed and interspersed with streams with hills of no great height dotted over it. On this are depastured large flocks and herds which have been brought up from the plains for the summer months, and as there are no fences a large number of men are needed to shepherd the stock. Consequently at intervals one comes across camps, in each of which about half a dozen men live for the five months during which the mountains are accessible. These camps generally consist of two or three good tents surrounded by a palisade of bushes. Add to these a roughly built fireplace with a few round ovens as its accessories and the camp is complete. In good weather the life of these mountain stockmen is an ideal one, their work consisting of a couple of rides during the day along well-defined "beats" to see that none of their stock have shifted. In the middle of the day there is nothing to do as the stock do not move much, so at every camp one generally finds some stray visitors who drop in casually, and set to work on the ever ready and, in this appetite-producing air, ever-welcome, mutton and damper, with the accompanying billy of tea, which, with true bush hospitality are produced, without question, as soon as the horseman alights.
In wet weather, however, the work is hard, as the stock move about constantly, and the task of heading-off the stragglers on some of the rocky and boggy hills is no light one even for those magnificent riders. At our cattle camp we enjoyed an hour's spell; and, after saying goodbye to my host, we set off again up the hills under the guidance of one of the stockmen. The track now led over the worst bit of country I met with on the journey. For miles there was scarcely a sound piece of ground underfoot, and on all sides bleak hills, with their usual covering of granite boulders. One particular mile of the track merits a special description, and in case anyone wishes to construct a similar pathway I append a few simple directions. Take a mountain, fairly steep, covered with chunks of granite, and between them strew bogs for the footway, then plant the whole with 'snow gums" - that is, stunted gumtrees with their branches all twisted by the weight of the winter snow thickly enough to jar the rider's knees and strike his head as he passes through, and after scattering a few steep gullies here and there on the mountain slope, drive some cattle on ahead to mark out the track, and the road is complete. By various acrobatic feats we safely accomplished this portion of the journey , and then had some eight miles of climbing over the ordinary boulders and struggling through occasional soft patches on the hill sides. I should mention here that it was only the fact of our having to call at the cattle camp that necessitated our traveling the path described above, the ordinary route missing it altogether.
Late in the evening, after seven hours in the saddle for a 19-mile journey, we arrived at our halting-place - a camp of "sheep men," pitched in a pretty wooded gully, at the base of a peak called Dickey Cooper's Bogong. Here we were made welcome, and a tent with a comfortable bunk was set apart for the use of the two travellers. The evening air was keen, so we enjoyed lying about a roaring fire while we smoked and yarned with the half-dozen occupants of the camp, not on the ordinary topics of the day - we were too far out of the world for that - but about the ever-present sheep and cattle, and all that appertains thereto; and many were the interesting incidents we heard of - adventures in the course of a long life spent with stock in the various colonies - as related by the "boss" that night.
At 7 o'clock in the morning we were again in the saddle, under the leadership of one of the crack riders of the mountains, who know every yard of the country. A few miles of stiff climbing brought us to the end of the scrub, and we were informed that we should not meet with another vestige of a tree for the rest of the day. On we rode, round hills and over well-grassed flats, higher and ever higher, while beneath us lay the innumerable hills through which we had passed during the last two days' journeying. The sky had been dull and threatening when we started, and the air was cold enough to make our fingers numb, and our guide feared that our view would be obstructed by the mist on the top. As time went on, howevor, intermittent gleams of sunshine gave promise of brighter weather, which later on was to be realised.
At last we reached a point from which we could get a comprehensive view of the whole of Kosciusko, with its group of peaks, standing high above the surrounding hills, its jagged outline and steep sides showing out clearly against the brightening sky. A little further on, after a tough climb in the teeth of a furious icy wind which swopt up the gullies, we dismounted on the lee side of Mount Twynam in order to revel in what was, to one of us at least, a novelty, viz , snow, which we here met with for the first time in the journey. My expectations, formed beforehand, of wading through drifts, and doing daring deeds in the way of sliding down frozen steeps, were not destined to be realised for the simple reason that there was not sufficient snow for the performance, an early summer following on a mild winter having cleared it all away with the exception of a few patches here and there. Still, there was snow, which we saw and tasted, and that, too in the middle of summer in Australia - a sufficiently novel experience, surely, for anyone. Here, too, we gazed on the first of the mountain lakes, a sheet of clear water of a mile in circumference, lying at the base of the hill on which we sat.
Once more in our saddles, and we had a pleasing variety in the shape of a canter along a grassy ridge, which brought us directly opposite the object of our desires. Dismounting, we led our horses down a very steep slope to the margin of a little lake of water, so clear that it seemed as if one might wade through places more than 20ft deep. Skirting this, we scrambled on foot up a rough and slippery ascent, and found ourselves on a plateau a couple of miles long, which with its ring of peaks forms the "roof" of Australia. An easy walk up a grassy slope, and a scramble over the huge mound of boulders that forms the crest of the mountain, and at midday we stood on the highest point in the continent.
Was it worth the trouble? Most decidedly it was. Turn whichever way we would, before us lay a never-ending vista of hills. To the westward as far as the eye could see the Murray wound its way through mountains covered with almost impenetrable forests, and over broad plains when it reached the lower levels - a silver streak showing clearly against the sombre hue of the wooded slopes; while on the opposite side we caught a glimpse of the first begmnings of the Snowy, traversing the base of the rugged hills on its way to the Southern Ocean. Far away to the east, when the eye had traversed the intervening stretch of peaks, could be seen the Monaro Plains with a faint glimpse of the Coast Range in the dim distance. The gods were indeed kind to us, for as we gazed on the glorious panorama that lay beneath us the sun shone out, and for an hour more we sat gazing on the wondrous view, or more prosaically taking it by means of a "kodak."
But time was pressing, so we descended to the plateau, and after hunting for some scraps of brushwood wherewith to boil our billy, we partook of our midday meal, and soon afterwards mounted for the downward journey, not omitting, however, to collect and press a haudful of the beautiful mountain snowdrops, and to bedeck ourselves with the "everlasting flower" that grows in profusion on the very summit.
The twenty miles of our return journey to the camp proved even more enjoyable than the ascent in the morning, for now we had the genial warmth of the sun to cheer us, and in the more widely extended view as we faced downwards, the contrast of the granite-crowned summits glittering in the sunlight with the gloomy gorges and the lengthening shadows cast by the high peaks we had just left, made a picture that one was loth to leave. But we had to push on if we wished to avoid a ride in the dark, and evening was just drawing in when we came to our resting-place, welcome indeed after the long day of just twelve hours, eight of which we had spent in the saddle, though in reality one feels almost incapable of fatigue in the gloriously fresh mountain air.
To reach the Snowy Plains again the next day we took an easier track, avoiding the boggy path described above. Again the day was simply perfect, and we loafed along in the most casual fashion, stopping for a yarn and a "dish of tay" at least half a dozen times , in fact whenever a stockman's camp or a digger's hut presented itself. "Merry" indeed we found it "To blow the cool tobacco cloud, and watch the white wreaths pass,
"Sitting loosely in our saddles all the while," as we rode along in the glorious sunshine on our way back to civilisation, breathing the pure mountain air that seems to give a fresh lease of life to the weary dweller in cities.- (Ref- The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)(about) Previous issue Saturday 27 March 1897).