One of the most challenging mountains in Kosciuszko National Park dishes out rich rewards and harsh punishments to those who venture near its lofty throne.

Story By Ken Eastwood

Change happens lightning-fast out here. From atop Mt Jagungal’s 2062-metre summit, the views stretch across alpine grasslands and snowgum forest to distant mountain ranges in every direction. Golden sunrays slice through blue haze lighting up ridges, raptors skewer past and a white alpine fox darts among the granite and grass tussocks. Even in late summer, the air is bitingly crisp enough to numb exposed flesh.
Suddenly, magically appearing from nowhere as if summonsed by a dark lord, a black, brooding cloud blocks out the light, thundering and rattling the air ominously, a warning to those who dally too long in this sublime spot. Minutes after blue sky there is merciless rain, freezing winds and lightning, sending the dwarf-like explorers in this regal landscape fleeing down the mountain to shelter in tents or the more robust sanctuary of one of Kosciuszko’s remote alpine huts.
Unlike most of Australia’s mountains over 2000m (which really are often not much more than gentle hummocks), Jagungal sits on its own, surrounded by much lower grasslands and woodlands. It is the country’s most northerly and easterly mountain over 2000m and looms over the countryside from whichever way you approach it, dominating the view with its granite battlements. It sits in the 67,432-hectare Jagungal Wilderness, one of the wildest parts in the heart of the Snowy Mountains.
There is no “easy” route out here, and experienced hikers with huge packs wander the country for five days or more. The “short” hike in is a solid but achievable two-day, 40-plus-kilometre round trip, as long as hikers are ready for all weather. At this altitude, temperatures can quickly plummet to dangerous levels and it can snow at any time of year. The rewards are horizons of glorious alpine grasslands, solitude, creeks with the freshest water in the country, wildflowers, wildlife and divine little huts.
“This is the only wilderness in New South Wales that experiences a winter snow cover over the greater part of its area,” says Craig Smith, Kosciuszko National Park ranger, whose involvement with the Jagungal Wilderness has crossed four decades. “As such it is also one of the few areas in Australia that provides opportunities for wilderness experience in a snow environment. Early spring is my favourite where you can ski cross-country beside sub-alpine creeks that are brimming from snowmelt. I particularly appreciate being able to work within such a variety of landscapes. The Grey Mare Range, particularly in winter, is always a great experience.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #83

Outback Magazine: June/July 2012