New Zealand 2020
Finding the Opera House Hut has been Michelle’s dream since 2016. She did all the planning, bought the maps and prepared all the food herself; so it is only natural that I, Mickey should be the one to tell this story.
I had nobly left Michelle for two weeks of rehearsals and gigging in Sydney, and the National Folk Festival in Canberra with my beloved Squeezebox Trio. We were a huge hit, and some young women even told us they’d started a cover band after seeing us perform in 2015! But enough about how marvelous we were (which we were), the point I’d like to impress upon you is how I had boldly let Michelle do all the work, while enjoying the rockstar life – only to be whisked away after our final performance to Mt. Kosciuszko.
We drove from Canberra to Thredbo on Easter Monday and jumped straight onto the chairlift that allows you to skip 550m of elevation. We needed the boost as we had bigger fish to fry the next day and little remaining light - it wouldn’t be Mickey & Michelle if we didn’t start a hike racing sundown and the inevitable ‘head torch walk’ into camp.
This was the first time I had been back to Kosciuszko since my first hike on the AAWT and I’m pleased to tell you this time I didn’t feel like vomiting. The first day wasn’t too long, 6kms till we went off the track to Wilkinson’s Creek for an early sleep before the big adventure really began.
Next morning and it’s Michelle’s birthday! Hooray, I gave her some socks my mum knitted and we celebrated with a lavish breakfast of oats and chia…well at least she liked the socks. But we were going to need our energy if we were to find the fabled Opera-House, named so because it cost more per square meter to build than the actual one in Sydney. It was built by the SMA in 1966 to manage water aqueducts, accessible only by a tunnel from Siren Song or helicopter. The tunnel is now prohibited by the Snowy Hydro so there’s no track to it (now you see why Michelle likes it..)
There are supposedly three ways to find the hut:
We chose the rock scramble.
We were nervous because the man Mish had bought the maps from warned her off trying saying it was dangerous and difficult, but on the other hand the weather report looked great and she had heaps of birthday luck, so it felt like pretty even odds.
We set off early that morning, passed the absolutely beautiful lake Albina (which I had really wanted to get close to after seeing on our first hike), and down LNC. What can I say about that rock scramble, except that it was probably my favourite time hiking! I don’t have particularly long legs, nor am I very tall, so while I am not genetically predisposed to flying up a mountain, I wildly excel at rock scrambling and I loved every minute of it. Jumping from rock to rock, using the downhill momentum and my balance to make huge combinations of rocks for lengthy gains. All the while being surrounded by the ongoing waterfall really draws back to the platformer video-games of my childhood. I could’ve done it all day, hell, we did! (It was slow going at 0.5km an hour!)
I’ve attached a video so you can get an idea of the pace but please do know I am showing off for the camera, moving faster and taking riskier leaps. That being said in the whole 7 hours neither of us fell in the water once, or had any sort of (serious) accident.
All good things come to an end, or a waterfall, in this case the latter. Unfortunately that meant a one hour scrub-bash, that would’ve been a 45 minute scrub bash if we had’ve started on the correct side of the waterfall. The great thing about scrub-bashing is absolutely nothing, actually I take that back; the great thing about scrub-bashing is the gnarly cuts you get on your arms and knees. Chicks dig grazed knees!
After a short descent down the final dam, we made it to the Opera House in all its glory. Not only did it have a mattress, but also a fireplace! We made a pizza and slept the sleep of the victorious that night.
The next morning we had to climb back up the 1000 meters we’d descended the previous day. It was much less friendly on the knees, but it was still absolutely beautiful. After 3 hours we had had enough and decided to hike up the highest mountain we could see till we found a sealed path again. This might sound foolish but it actually worked perfectly. It saved us 4-5 hours of the next days hike and meant we could camp on Anton Anderson Saddle, marking the 2nd time in my life I have been the highest person asleep in Australia.
Day 3: Consett Stephens. Last time I hiked this pass I succumbed to fantastic knee pain and nearly to hypothermia. This time I was a lot fitter, more experienced and better prepared right? Wrong! It still beat the hell out of me. The beautiful scenery was instantly devoured by the swirling mists and the battering winds. However the elevated and exposed landscape does allow for some brief pockets of reception, and it was here we discovered that Michelle’s weather report that predicted sunny days and balmy weather in Kosciuszko was actually for Kosice in Slovakia (apparently you should write the whole name of the mountain into google..) Instead we should be expecting days of -6 degrees celcius with snow and rain.
This meant that we had to cut our hike short if we were going to avoid getting frozen. After a brief bed-repair job at Whites River hut, we made our way to the charming Horse Camp hut, which is now my favourite hut of all time. We desperately wanted a fire, but didn’t have kindling, so with MacGyver as inspiration we blew up a lighter in the fireplace and soon enough we had fallen asleep reading a book in our cosy, warm hut.
The final day was a doosy! Two separate rangers drove by to warn us that the snow was a-coming and it really put the fear of god into us. We walked out onto the highway and hitched a couple of kms with two lovely men named Matt and Dave, then we were back into the belting winds on a race against time to get to the Thredbo chairlift before it closed at 4:30pm. It meant a 25km day with very short breaks, but we made it with 15 minutes to spare!...only to discover the chairlift hadn’t been running at all that day because of the intense weather. Fortunately there was a maintenance man at the top who had just finished his shift and gave us a ride down the mountain in time for a shower and a pub meal!
Mickey or Michelle, depending who has more to say on the subject :)