The Kosciuszko Alpine Classic: A Bikepacking Trip Before the Bushfires

The Kosciuszko Alpine Classic is just a name I came up with for a ride I did with my two good mates, Ben and James. We had organised a week off work in late October to go and spend some time in the Australian Alps. The route would see us riding primarily through the Kosciuszko National Park, taking in the wild brumby infested Long Plain, then going up and over the highest rideable trail in Australia, and also along some of the newest and flowiest single track built in the region. It was going to be classic!

We rolled out of Canberra at around 6 am, having driven up the day before and stashed the car at my cousin’s place. The weather looked great for the next few days, not too hot and not too cold. We followed the endless bike paths that wind out of Canberra and took the scenic Brindabella Road up into the hills of Namadgi National Park. It was good to be back on a proper bike packing mission. After a quick lunch at Bulls Head picnic ground, we followed the undulating gravel roads up and along the ridgeline. A few hours later and some moderate periods of hike a bike we crossed the ACT border into NSW and dropped a couple of hundred metres into Kosciuszko National Park. After a few more hours of pushing and riding, we finally got to the lovely Pockets Hut, our campsite for the night.

There are hundreds of huts scattered throughout the peaks and valleys of the Australian Alps, ranging from well built and amazingly insulated to very basic dirt-floored corrugated iron sheds. They were mainly built by cattlemen and farmers in the early to mid 19th century when many new settlers took to the hills to graze and farm cattle. Many have been destroyed by bushfires over the years but some still remain.

It was a fresh night and an even fresher morning as we stuffed our gear back onto the bikes. The Long Plain area of the national park has an abundance of wild horses; over almost every crest there are brumbies off in the distance, and sometimes right in front of you. These horses are an invasive species, with the term ‘brumby’ meaning feral or wild horse; they are descendants of lost and escaped horses from the time when people farmed the area. With the current population estimate being over 6000 (it has been double this in the past) in the national park alone and with no natural predators, they cause erosion, the spreading of weeds and many other problems with the fragile alpine ecosystem. The population is regularly culled using trapping and sometimes shooting. It’s a controversial issue as they are such majestic creatures and amazing to see when a band is in full gallop.

Once out of Long Plain we decided to detour on the tarmac to gain some ground as there was snow forecast for the coming days. We wanted to get a head start on the weather if we were going to cross the highest pass in the country. We made it to the eastern end of the Jagungal wilderness and camped with a bunch of school kids at Round Mountain Hut.

We woke at 5.30am the next morning and got going swiftly off into the undulating grassy double track of the Jagungals. This area is an amazing wild land of snowmelt rivers and dense snow gum tracts. The spooky skeletal trees that dominate these alpine areas are remnants of the bush fires that have raged through over the years, with the cold and snow turning the blackened trees grey and ghostly. The constant up and down gradients of Grey Mare and Valentine Trails are slow going and in between the hike a bike sections there are lots of river crossings, some waist-deep. The Jagungal region has an almost ethereal beauty that feels very isolated? but in a positive way, and coupling that with the difficulty of actually riding a bike though it makes for an amazing experience.

The Indigenous Australian people would travel from all over the land to meet in these alpine areas for trading, intertribal corroborees, marriages and the initiation of young men. During these times they would also harvest and feast on Bogong moths, gathering them from caves and rock crevices. They would roast them to remove the wings and scales and then eat them or grind the cooked moths into a nutritious cake that would keep for weeks. The Aussie alps are a place that contains a lot of history, dating back well before any of my own ancestors would pass through these areas.

After dropping down from the Jagungals on a rip-roaring rocky descent we began the climb back up to the Kosciuszko Road. The wind and rain were crazy up here, and we battled 50km winds and horizontal rain for the last 10km to the summit trail. The Kosciuszko summit trail is the highest rideable track in Australia, snaking its way gently up towards Seaman’s hut and then to the base of Mt Kosciuszko. We didn’t walk the trail to the summit as by then a thunderstorm had swept in and lightning was cracking around our heads. We wasted no time getting off the mountain and down into the ski town of Thredbo.

We had a comfy night in a hotel and ate a full cooked breakfast before setting off along the newly extended Thredbo Valley River Trail, 35kms of flowing single track descending down the valley towards Jindabyne. Inclement wind, snow, hail, rain mixed in with sunshine followed us along the twisting trail for the entire day. I caught a rock at some stage and tore a sizeable hole in my rear tire that wouldn’t hold air so we pulled up stumps in Jindabyne, where I could source a new one from the guys at the local bike shop, Sacred Ride.

The next two days saw us head north from Jindabyne and gain some elevation along Happy Jacks Road to reach Happy’s Hut for the night. This is a picturesque shack looking out over a grassy plain situated in the northeastern Jagungal wilderness area. After a frosty night there we decided to make the push back to Canberra. Dropping off the high plains into the town of Adaminaby for some bakery treats, we then went back into Namadgi National Park for some undulating climbs and descents, leading into Canberra and its endless bike paths.

I think the best thing about going on trips like this and riding through these types of places is that it makes you want to learn more about the country you pass through, how it has been used in the past and what will happen to it in the future. It gives you an invested interest, having ridden, walked, pushed through, camped on and connected to the land, which is definitely a good thing.

Editor’s note: one of these huts and countless acreage was recently burned by the rampant bushfires in New South Wales. Find out how you can help in this entry