Day Eight: Above Junction Flat to Cameron Flat

I watched an impressive sunrise and then moved on through the last part of the bushfire razed territory.

Today I felt like I was simply ticking off the kilometres. It rained on and off and I came across a fair number of people once I was down out of the high mountains (maybe 10 or 20 or so people all up?) There were wire bridges to negotiate and I clearly was in energy deficit because I kept stopping to eat more food.

There were some pretty sections and plenty of flat sections.

The last part of today was the unhighlight of the hike (and possibly my whole trip). You have to walk through cow paddocks! My best piece of advice is to try to keep west if you can (there are two sets of orange markers). I took the eastern side and found myself face to face with many cows out to protect their calves. The very last thing I had to do was try to dodge speed boats soaring down the river between me and the road. I was glad to be done with this section!

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It’s ridiculously easy to get a hitch back to Wanaka once you hit the road. I think i stood there for 40 seconds. For the first time ever after completing a long hike I didn’t have a specific food craving. Hmmm what to eat for dinner ???

This was a classic eight-day hike and probably one of the best I’ve ever done. If I wasn’t out of time and food I would have carried on to Aspiring Hut and then over the Cascade saddle and finished in Glenorchy once more (where I’d been the day before starting this hike). I’ll be back NZ!

Here are the links to the other days: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7.

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Day Seven: Top Forks Hut to opposite Mt Aspiring via Rabbit Pass

Today was absolutely fabulous and totally within my skill level. Also quite a long day, since I walked part of my day 8 plan as well. Good night!

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Ok – I guess you want more details? See yesterday’s post for the ascent to the top of the waterfall (technical part one), which I managed with my pack on without issue. The lovely couple in the hut accepted my decision to traverse solo and kindly offered that if I had to turn back at any point I could fly out with them in 2 days time. (thank you!)

It wasn’t all blue skies today, sadly, and there was a bit of cloud around but I was still hopeful that I’d get good views.

The walk along the flats above the waterfall was atmospheric.  There were clouds billowing along overhead and the views came and went.

And then, there I was, at Rabbit Pass. The views were stunning and there were avalanches going off on the peak next to me, mostly behind the cloud forming off of it.

There were two technical parts left. The first was to get over this:

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Which might look straight forward in the photo, but it was steep and there wasn’t much traction. I had no issues getting across; however, it would have been pretty hard (possibly even impossible) in the wet. I was next pummelled with crazy strong winds. I made sure to be mindful of the edge at all times.

Finally I found the orange marker where I was to descend.

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Just one  technical challenge to go. The first 30m were ok and then it got steeper and less secure. Every footstep now caused loose rock to pummel down the mountain and most things I tried to get a handhold on simply broke off. I was glad I was by myself – I wouldn’t have liked someone coming down behind me!

I’ve tried explaining this decent to friends without much success. The rock was loose but also grippy if you were covering enough surface area. I have no shame in saying that I sat down, praying my pants would survive, and bum slid my way as carefully as possible down the mountain. At one point I lost hold of my sturdy stick that had supported me for weeks and watched it bounce down a good 30m or more before it came to a halt. (I made sure to collect it!)

Here is a picture looking back up.

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I crowed in delight but the smile didn’t last long as I took in the chamois grunting and banging its front hooves at me. I exclaimed to the ‘Gods’ – there was no way i was going to survive river crossings and tricky traverses to be stopped thus! (I hoped). Begrudgingly I climbed back up the mountain a ways and contoured around before descending the valley.

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It was time for lunch! I was starving! This first course was devoured.

I have a fear of heights and one of my coping methods is to carry a chocolate bar to consume in my moment of ‘need’. I had carried a Pixie Caramel for 6.5 days now and had not needed it. With no exposed sections to go I devoured this unknown sweet, which Pip had put in my basket. Chewy caramel coated in chocolate. Heaven. Note to self, eat more before leaving NZ.

Post lunch it was a beautiful trudge along the valley to Ruth Flats. It was impressive with Fastness Peak in the background. I had planned to camp here but pushed on to make my chances of getting back to Christchurch the next day higher. Instead, I ended up camping up away from the river with views across to Mount Aspiring, where there was a creek not too too far away to collect water.

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A kiwi came to say hello but I hadn’t seen a single person since leaving the hut that morning :) I fell asleep to beautiful bird noises.

Here are the links to the other days: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 8.

Day Six: Day trip to Waterfall Flats

Today I purposely left my tent and most of my kit at Top Forks Hut (to avoid temptation) and set out to do a side trip up to Waterfall Flats to check out the first technical challenge of the Rabbit Pass crossing. Two of the kiwi gals decided to join me, which was lovely. They were super nice and totally like minded.

When we hit waterfall flats we left Jess at the bottom with my PLB (just in case) and Nina, quite an experienced hiker as well, ascended with me. I knew from my research that we would ascend the face like a question mark. We made a promise to each other not to go up something we couldn’t get back down and then started the ascent.

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You know that feeling where your heart rate goes up because you’ve been told something exposed is coming up? I had that…

We made light work of the switch backs. Then we found a trickier part, which i managed but had made harder than i had to, so scampered back down and went up an easier way. (I wanted to find a route manageable with my full pack on). We made sure every foothold and handhold was good (which was really only possible because everything was dry). We stopped to admire the view around us. Then, it struck us, we were above the technical part! I could totally do this by myself! Because I now knew that if I got stuck later on i’d be able to turn back.

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We gave Jess a thumbs up and then climbed the last part to look down from above the waterfall and behind to the flats where I would walk the next day. The view was worth it.

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We made our way back down again without any issues and I memorised the route I would take the next day. (Yaaaaaaay)

We looked up to see a solo European coming down from Rabbit Pass (the direction it’s recommended not to go!) His eyes and hands told the story. As soon as he joined us at the bottom he took out a cigarette with shaky fingers and lit up! It turns out he hadn’t done his research before leaving home. The track had been recommended to him in the reverse direction but he was in the South and didn’t want to travel North to end up back where he started. (I on the other hand had.) He vowed to never try Rabbit Pass again :P

After he left we went skinny dipping at the bottom of the waterfall and then returned to the hut. I was excited now!

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To top the day off, the gals produced some massage oil back at the hut and gave me a hand and neck massage! Thanks!

Here are the links to the other days: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 7, Day 8.

Day Five: Lakes Diana, Lucidus and Castalia

Today the weather was stunning and the view from Top Forks Hut to Mount Pollux and surrounds was breathtaking.

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I headed first to Lake Castalia at the top of the north branch, where I met up with the German family once more.

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I wasn’t feeling game for the chilly swim but enjoyed sitting by the lake’s edge and taking in the atmosphere whilst chatting away.

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Heading back down the valley again I stopped first to admire Lake Lucidus from the less visited vantage point and was rewarded with another impressive avalanche just across the lake from me!

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A group of 3 kiwi gals (Nina, Jess and Lillian) joined us up and we all went for a chilly swim in the deepest and clearest part of the river we could find.

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All up it was a great, relaxing day.

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Back at the hut I was now starting to get eager to find a group to cross Rabbit Pass with. I didn’t fancy the idea of walking back out the way I’d come (though the thought of a helicopter ride from Siberia Hut was tempting. Apparently they take hikers back at a bargain rate after dropping tourists off). I was asking lots of questions (to see if I could do it solo. The DOCS staff had refused to give me info when they found out I was on my own). A couple flew in to Top Forks Hut that afternoon (they’d retired from epic outdoors adventures) who had crossed Rabbit Pass about 10 or so years ago and they told me not to do it and then described the terrain to me. There are three technical parts to the crossing and the man told me that the first one can only be traversed in one direction. This was concerning news indeed… it meant if I got stuck further along I would not be able to go forward or back. Something I definitely didn’t like the sounds of. Hmmm!

At about 8pm 3 very loud guys burst into the hut, dropped their packs and went screaming and hollering down to the river for a swim. I was to learn shortly afterwards that they were planning to cross Rabbit Pass the next day. The older couple breathed a sigh of relief that I would have someone to go with. Yay for a group… though they didn’t seem like the type of company I would usually pick …

When they returned I grilled them to find out their experience. Turns out they knew nothing about what the Rabbit Pass was so I told them all I knew and said we best get started early the next day (which, being Spanish, they didn’t like the sound of!). They did a group huddle and decided to pull the pin. They would return to Kerin Forks and exit with a jetboat! Whhaaaat!

Rabbit Pass was calling me and it was difficult to resist and keep a level head. I still had a spare 1.5 days worth of food on top of the 2 days I was still planning to hike so I hatched a plan to satisfy the safety-ometer within.

Here are the links to the other days: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4Day 6, Day 7, Day 8.

Day Four: Kevin Forks Hut to Top Forks Hut

The first part of today’s hike was through a forest. It was easy going, on a track and a fairly nice atmosphere. I noticed quite a bit of helicopter traffic and figured there were a lot of tourists being flown in (there’s an airstrip near Top Forks Hut). As I came out of the forest into the open and another confluence (where I had another side trip planned) I noticed 2 people spread out in bright colours scampering around the river a distance off to each side of me. It looked odd. Ready for a meal, I got out my foam seat (courtesy of a lovely Norwegian I met a few years ago), my thermos of tea, wraps, hummus, cheese and capsicum and made myself at home on some rocks down near the water. It started to drizzle a little so I put on my raincoat and started eating. Then a helicopter landed nearby, which was very obviously Search & Rescue!

It was not long before one of the pair came over to chat to me. He asked me where my group was. When I said I was alone, he grilled me with a number of questions before departing. Then someone from the helicopter came over. You know you’re in trouble when a stranger greets you with your first name (which must have been radioed in). His mind wasn’t put to ease when he asked me what I was doing in the valley by myself and I pointed at the mountains around me and I asked him why I’d be anywhere else (politely!). After a lot of grilling and making me promise NOT to cross Rabbit Pass alone and that I would return the same way I had come after visiting Top Forks Hut he left me to my lunch – admitting he was impressed at my spread. I promised to search the trail for the missing man and report it at the next hut or set off my beacon if he required medical assistance. I abandoned my side trip plan since it was located in the middle of the search area.

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If you’re wondering about the details, the missing man had chosen to leave his family to walk the path through the forest whilst he made his way through the gorge. They were to rendezvous at camp that evening, but he never turned up. He left behind a wife and 2 young kids. I prayed that the newspapers would report that they were searching for a male. My safety contact would have a heart attack otherwise as my schedule put me exactly where the search and rescue team was! (Thankfully they did and it put her mind a at ease… a little)

This encounter clearly had an impact on me. It felt weird to walk along a valley knowing a man had died there the day before (I didn’t believe he could have survived the gorge I was looking at through the trees). Also I was put off from doing anymore river crossings that could be avoided. So I took the high route to the hut which added a lot of time to my journey and was not particularly fun or well trodden. I should have just walked a straight line through the water and flats. I was definitely out of patience when I hit Top Forks Hut!

When I finally arrived there was only a handful of beds left so I opted to pitch my tent nearby. The clouds were low and I made a few friends and inquired after anyone traversing Rabbit Pass the next day (only a guided group). Sitting outside on the deck before sunset I jumped to my feet as a massive avalanche happened on the side of Mount Pollux! It was impressive to see, yet a little sad because it was most likely from the glacier receding.

A few more smaller avalanches were seen that evening.

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Here are the links to the other days: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8.

Day Three: Siberia Hut to Kevin Forks Hut via Crucible Lake

Today I was in for a treat, but I didn’t know it yet. I’d met a pair of hikers on the trail the day before and they’d given me a number of side trip suggestions. For today, they’d recommended a side trip to Crucible lake. I first came across two Japanese ladies who were fanning out large and wide and seemed very glad to see me. I thought perhaps they were lost but it turned out that they were trying to avoid getting their feet wet. I knew there was a river crossing coming up so I just put my feet straight in. I tried to convince them to do the same, but they sat down to remove their shoes and I trudged off chuckling silently in my head about how silly that was.

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When I hit the river crossing a couple were enjoying their breakfast and I said hi. This resulted in the guy offering to piggy back me across the river. I should have accepted! Little did I know it, but we would meet again that night.

It was a good, steep climb up to crucible lake. Not knowing exactly what I was walking towards I was beginning to wonder where the lake was as I was almost at the mountain wall. Then I saw the moraine and trudged up it to be rewarded with this sight and the whole valley to myself!

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Turns out it’s a popular day trip for tourists to be flown (!) into Siberia hut, head up to crucible lake and then either fly back again or catch a jet boat back from Kerin Forks. Thankfully I got an early start and hardly saw anyone.

I grabbed my belongings from Siberia Hut before lunch and headed for Kerin Forks Hut further along the track. This involved my deepest river crossing of the trip and is not for the faint hearted it seems (I thought it was one of the least scariest I’d done!). I’d done my research before leaving home so when I arrived near the confluence I set out studying the area and found the place to cross at that I was looking for.

The trick was to find the deep section and get in at the start of it and make sure you’re out before the small rapids start. Oh and make sure your pack is as waterproof as you can get it. I barely had my toes on the river floor as I crossed, so there was no way I could have carried my pack across above my head (not that I’m strong enough for that even without the water!)

I met a lovely German family and hung out with them for the remainder of the afternoon. We were entertained by a german pair who showed up closer to dusk. They were attempting to cross the river but clearly didn’t know how. They were trying to cross directly behind a large boulder and just before the rapids! I went down and shouted out some instructions. When I told them the water level would be chest deep on them they went pale and decided to get out and stay on the other side of the bank.

Later on the couple from the riverside that morning turned up. He piggy backed his girlfriend through the river! And then they gave me all their spare food since they were exiting the next day. Woo, I could do another side trip now! (They gave me a giant bag of noodles and a large bag of instant mash, which may not sound appetising to you but I can assure you that 4 weeks into my hiking trip this was gold. I think I ate double portions the next day!)

Here are the links to the other days: Day 1, Day 2Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8.

Day Two: Young Forks Campsite to Siberia Hut

Had a bit of a late start after finally getting back to sleep once my heart rate recovered from the earthquake. I made my way along the Young River South Branch and loved the section through the forest along to Young Hut. It was soooo green and pretty.

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At Young Hut I stopped for a meal break and hung my tent over the railing to dry, which didn’t take very long. I shook the dead midges off, packed up once more and continued the ascent, eventually entering a basin with impressive peaks around.

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It was time to cross Gillespie Pass.

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The weather was perfect, the views stunning and I didn’t think Mt Awful (below) looked awful (maybe it’s awful to cross ??)

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I had the whole place to myself, which was an absolute treat. I descended back down out of the alpine wonderland to Siberia Hut. I came across a Whio pairing, which was a beautiful way to end the day. I arrived at the hut as the sun was setting and everyone was tucking in for the night (perfect).

Here are the links to the other days: Day 1, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8.

Day One: Blue Pool Carpark to Young Forks Campsite

Somehow kitted out with eight days worth of food after a last minute change of plans (my friend pushed our meet-up back 1.5 weeks) I was on the track before it fully sunk in that I had some serious kms to cover and it was already 14:30. I had only just finished a 5-day hike the day before and had had not chance to visit a pub or gelateria! Huge shout out to the Lake Hawea General Store for their food selection and to Pip for dropping me off.

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Only an hour in and already I was impressed with the hike I’d chosen, as I walked past beautiful blue pools and saw so many native birds (they must have a successful stoat trapping program in this area). I spent the whole afternoon walking through beech forest. After crossing the Young Forks swing bridge I came across a campsite shelter with impressive scenery – waterfalls cascading down the steep slopes around me.

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I’d planned to walk a little further, but decided to pitch my tent. There was such a flat, cleared spot that I couldn’t resist! Perhaps my only wish was for the midges/sand flies to depart? They are now sleeping on the inside of my tent outer. Obviously ready for the morning assault!

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2am: Earthquake!

I woke with a start realising that I had no idea what to do in this situation. I was completely alone and camped in a valley downstream from a dam. The warning at the campsite had stated not to camp here during heavy rain. I’d camped here because there was no rain forecasted. But could the earthquake have been enough to crack the dam ?!?! I questioned whether I should get up and start climbing up out of the valley. After a moment of indecision I decided that if the dam had burst I’d likely be in trouble already, so rolled over and went back to sleep.

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When I awoke several hours later there was quite a chill in the air but no frost. This almost frost had left a lot of dead midges on my tent. Argh.

Here are the links to the other days: Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8.