“It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
Sir Edmund Hillary
Let’s be clear from the outset, getting 36 Year 6 students to walk 17 kilometres over 7 hours in an alpine region is not an easy task. It’s not Everest or even Everest base camp, but it’s also not a little mosey up to the shops for bread and milk. This is the story of how a group of 11- and 12-year-olds conquered the highest peak on the Australian mainland.
The day started at 5:15am for the students and included a short wait at the entrance to the National Park while we waited for it to open. As we walked up the Merritt’s nature trail early on Tuesday morning, I couldn’t help but notice that no one else was out walking, we had the entire lower mountain to ourselves. The chair lift didn’t open until later in the day and other than the wildlife the only other living things we saw were a few tradies working on the mountain.
The first 3 kilometres of the walk follows the stunning Merritt’s nature trail and slowly meanders along the edges of the winter ski runs. The steepness of the trail is considerable (almost 200 metres of elevation gain per kilometre!). About an hour into the walk, I did have a moment where I thought ‘we’re not going to make it to the summit’. It was a combination of the steepness, difficulty and the lagging tail of the group. We wisely took a couple of good breaks on this section, and I quickly learnt that jelly snakes can motivate anyone.
Emerging from the nature trail and seeing the chair lift was a big moment for the students. We had reached the first milestone and were rewarded with a stunning view of Thredbo and a valley full of morning fog. We marked the moment with a long break, food and water and a progress update to show the students how much they’d already completed.
As we embarked on the summit trail there was an air of confidence and optimism amongst the students. The Eagle’s Nest chairlift was in operation and others were joining us on the mountain, and as the alighted they all saw the Tudor students, because of their age, the matching uniform and the number of them.
The summit trail has a much gentler incline but is also significantly longer (11 kilometres return). Little glimpses of snow and the Kosciuszko summit provided motivation and further reminders of the progress being made towards the goal. Seeing other walkers on the trail also helped with motivation, especially seeing other kids walking. Interestingly, the two other school groups we saw on the summit trail had students in Year 8 and Year 9 and they had both started their walk from the top of the chairlift (They’ve had a sleep in and avoided the hardest part I thought to myself). I couldn’t help but smile when I overheard one of these teenagers say “Honestly, what’s the point of doing this?” as we walked past them on our descent.
It’s a fair question and I hope the answer was clear when they reached the summit. Not the breathtaking view and the obligatory photo, but the satisfaction of attempting and achieving and the creation of a lifelong memory.
The satisfaction of attempting and achieving is an essential part of childhood and school life. It is in the really challenging adventures, where failure is a genuine possibility, that our character is forged, our capacity is developed and our eyes are opened. As I meet Old Boys of generations past, it is obvious that many truly cherish their time at Tudor House. I sense it is a combination of the friendships, the independence, and the autonomy, but it’s also the many memorable challenges that were successfully negotiated and the wild adventures that have stood the test of time.
And so, this Tudor legacy continues with the Year 6 Class of 2023. I am so proud of our students and what they achieved last week when they all successfully reached the summit of Mount Kosciuszko. For many students, the task was right on the edge of what was possible for them. An additional 1 or 2 kilometres would have pushed them beyond their limits, but in the end the task had Goldilocks qualities in that it was ‘just right’. For a select few that still had gas in the tank I offered them an additional 3.4-kilometre return loop down to the Seaman’s Hut. That addition allowed these students to get to their ‘just right’ point. We attempted. We achieved. We celebrated.
I don’t know of any other primary schools in Australia who plan to complete the Kosciuszko summit walk from Thredbo village with their Year 6 students. But that’s what makes Tudor House so special and memorable. We have conceived a different vision for primary education and have developed a series of unique and memorable experiences that give our students regular opportunities to enjoy the satisfaction of attempting and achieving. May this approach endure and strengthen.
Head of Tudor House