Somewhere along the line I had this grand idea to attempt pack running between huts. Last week’s heavy pack with 10 days’ worth of food had convinced me to try this plan sooner rather than later.
The rough plan? Hitch from Te Anau to The Divide. Run to Mid-Caples Hut. Sleep. Run to McKellar Hut via Greenstone Hut if I had the legs. Sleep. Run back to The Divide and hitch back to Te Anau. Take the lightest bag without compromising safety. This meant I would be out for 2 nights (all going well) or 3 (if running with a pack was a little beyond me). I hadn’t actually looked up the distances, but figured they wouldn’t be anything stupid.
Why the Greenstone-Caples loop? It was nearby, I’d done the Caples before so I knew what half the track looked like, there was a road at both ends, wardens at the huts and sufficient people on the trails (but not too too many) should I get into strife. Plus, it was a safe trail if the weather closed in.
The execution? I hadn’t rushed out of bed nor was pack finalisation a quick endeavour so it was at the late hour of 11am that I set out to run through Te Anau to the Milford Rd in the hope of a hitch. I always marvel at what does and what does not affect my head space. Running unknown distances between huts with no idea if my bag was too heavy for such a plan? No issues there. Standing alone on the roadside with my thumb out and worrying that I’d left it too late to catch tourists heading north for the day? Hell! I almost gave up and thought about going back and booking a bus for the next day. Then I looked at my watch, realised that I’d only been waiting for 10 minutes (LOL) and told myself to calm down. It was not very long afterwards that a lovely Singaporean couple stopped to give me a ride. Yay!
We got on like a house on fire and before I knew it we were 85 km down the road at The Divide and parting ways. They did a triple take when they learnt I was going to do the Greenstone-Caples track, which they knew was a 4 day tramp, as my bag didn’t look anywhere near big enough. They asked if I *really* had a sleeping bag in there. I laughed and said no – I just had a sleeping bag liner. I’d never left my sleeping bag at home before! Fingers crossed!
And I was off – wheee. The first bit was runnable but then I walked up the hill to the Key Summit turn off. I figured I had the time for this quick out and back and was rewarded with some reasonable views of the surrounding peaks. I ran back down to my pack – and can definitely say that it was wicked to be trail running with mountains poking over crests and some snow-capped.
It wasn’t long before I was at Howden Hut and making use of the flushing toilets (!) – the Great Walks Huts do have good services.
On I ran through lovely, runnable forest before reaching the flats at Lake McKellar. Here I got my walking mojo on and ticked off the switchbacks up to McKellar Saddle. I’d done this leg two years ago in the rain so it was great to have views at the top.
This saddle is also one of my favourites – flat and wide at the top and lots of nicely shaped mountains around.
Now it was all pretty much downhill to Mid-Caples Hut. Lots of birdlife, lovely views whenever a landslide had opened up the forest or I entered the flats. The track was well-graded and maintained – perfect and easy to run. I was actually happy to be running and not walking it.
I did have rather tired legs when I arrived at the hut – just over 25km and 800 vertical metres of climbing. I was pretty happy with how well I’d been able to run with my pack.
Dinner was a packet of salt and vinegar shapes and two pre-made steak sandwiches. Yum, just so yum. I was not jealous of everyone around me eating Backcountry.
Everyone retired at 9pm for bed so I did too. It was rather warm in the common area and also my bunk room. I was curious to find out how warm I’d be in my sleeping bag liner!
I’d only woken up a little chilly the once – stupidly I’d left my buff and gloves on the shelf and was too lazy to go and get them, which meant I was less comfortable than I could have been. Regardless I did manage a very decent 10 hours sleep :D Next time I would make sure I had every warm layer within reach while sleeping.
I had a banana and some oat biscuits for brekky before heading out at the leisurely time of 10am. Most people had already left the hut and were on their way to McKellar Hut via the saddle. I took off in the other direction but with the same destination in mind. My legs were feeling pretty damn tired. Guess I shouldn’t have gone for an 18km run the day before yesterday … maybe I should have stretched more in the hut too instead of chatting …
I crossed above a gorge and then I was off.
This part of the Caples track was less wide, graded path and more undulated single track through the forest. Again good weather, lots of birds around and no people.
It didn’t take me too long to reach the swing bridge and head towards the Greenstone Valley. The trail was lovely here and there was a very, very beautiful and green swimming hole.
I thought there wouldn’t be much running up the Greenstone Valley, but the slope was runnable more often than not.
I passed lovely mossy waterfalls, a number of groups and heard lots of wildlife.
After a couple of hours I did the small side trip out to Greenstone Hut where I ate my lunch and topped up my water supplies.
I chatted away to a kiwi for awhile who was training to get back into larger tramps after a few years off. Now my sights were on McKeller Hut.
This section has forest sections, mud sections (but nothing(!) compared to The Dusky) and flats, and I loved it. It was nice not to be on a well graded path anymore and to actually be in and see the valley.
At some point I came across a French guy who was clearly struggling. He’d started from the Greenstone car park that morning and gotten to the first hut so quickly that he decided to keep going; although he was now looking like he regretted that decision. I checked he was still coherent, gave him some advice and pushed on.
I’d had a fantastic day, but I can honestly say I was excited to see my destination 38km after setting out that morning!
There were quite a number of people in the hut and two separate sleeping quarters. My natural nature couldn’t help itself – I chose the emptier room and would come to regret this a few hours later.
I found my new friends I’d made the previous night and we all chatted away about our adventures that day.
Dinner tonight was a packet of light & tangy shapes and 2 cheese and relish sangas. Thankfully the French guy showed up and I was shocked when he pulled a few kilos of bananas and 2 wheels of brie out of his bag. That was all the food he was carrying for 4 days! I gave him some chocolate and hoped he took my advice and traded some bananas for other food.
Getting into bed I made sure I had all my warm layers accessible and collapsed into sleep, I was exhausted!
Many times during the night I woke up. The temperature had certainly plummeted and there were not enough bodies in my room to warm the air. I spent most of the night in the foetal position – so tired I’d fall back asleep and then so cold I’d wake up. Repeat. At some point I gave up and climbed inside my pack liner! Why had I not slept in the other room? Why had I not carried my sleeping bag? Hah!
All was revealed in the morning when I saw fresh snow up on the peaks – I hadn’t expected the night to get quite *that* cold. Oh well, just an uncomfortable night’s sleep – I wasn’t in any real danger inside the hut.
It was a very pleasant walk / attempt at a run around the lake but my goodness my legs were tired!
I passed Howden Hut once more and then decided to drop my pack and run up and around Key Summit again since the weather was so much better today than on my first day.
Arriving back at The Divide I had to wait a little bit for a hitch. Once again a lovely couple gave me a ride and we talked about food all the way back to Te Anau.
Today I started the Dusky track. An 84km, 6-10 day walk that is claimed to be the best tracked walk in NZ. I was anticipating more sandflies than I’d ever seen before (disclaimer: I’ve been to Scotland), waist deep mud and getting holed up in huts due to flooding.
I was picked up at 0730 with blue skies about (surprisingly), driven down to one end of Lake Hauroko with seven other Dusky trampers (queue onset of rain) and boated across (~45 mins) to the northern end of the lake (rainbow, waterfalls, rain, sun, mountain peaks, smiles all ’round). BYO boat!
The captain was good for a conversation and soon we were being surrounded by sandflies at the Hauroko Burn Hut and bidding him goodbye. I was unsure what it would be like with a cluster of eight all heading off together and probably no other souls within many days’ walking from us, but it wasn’t an issue at all. In fact, I ate my lunch and then started out tottering alone for a good while. I tried to think how it came that I originally thought to do the Dusky track but I couldn’t quite remember the reason.
Right from the start the forest was a thing of beauty, which my camera couldn’t quite capture. The trees were green and the trunks mossy. And they changed. Sometimes tall and thin, other times large and gnarly. The track was more a running stream with stunning little cascades every now and then. Yes, my feet were soaked from the outset, but it didn’t matter.
At some point after the first walk wire I started walking with Josh. He’s an American who has been in NZ the past 10 years and the other solo tramper on the trip. He’s become a botanist in his spare time and was exclaiming left, right and centre about everything around us. I learnt a thing or two from him but most of it went over my head. He was very good company and we covered a diverse range of topics as we tramped along. Turns out we have the same side trip plans, which will make everything a whole lot safer to boot. Every now and then i’d hear him exclaim loudly behind me and i’d stop to check he was ok only to realise he was praising some rare tree or other. I smiled at his self-confidence – to be himself and not care that others could hear him. I do that on my own but hardly ever when others are around.
There was a section where I came close to breaking a leg as I slipped between two tight tree roots down to my right mid-thigh and my too heavy pack tilted pulling me into the muddy pool I had been trying to avoid. I could feel the pressure on my leg bone build but managed to get myself righted just in time. Phew!
Have I mentioned the mud yet?!? There was a lot of it. And it quickly became apparent that there are many, many different types of mud and i was failing at judging which steps would land me in ankle, shin, knee or even thigh deep mud. I’m determined to work it out over the next days. To get me started I’ve started a mud rating from 0-10. 0=no mud. 10=so sticky that you can’t get out even with help (let’s hope I don’t end up in any of that!). 9=stuck but someone can pull you out. 8=stuck but you can get yourself out with a lot of effort. I’m still working on the finesse of the rest of the scale. I definitely encountered an 8 and potentially an 8.5 (or is that strictly an 8?) – I was alone with both legs up to my thighs in very sticky mud and it took a bit to get out. It was still fun though in that crazy l’m now covered in mud kinda way.
The rain eased off for a wee while but then it settled back in. The last section was starting to feel like a slog and my pace dropped off so I lost Josh’s company as I tried to carefully negotiate the tree roots on some steeper downhill parts (I was starting to feel the ten days of food in my pack). I was happy to get to the hut – 9km in ~5.5 hrs! As I came into the clearing I exclaimed at the peaks I could see by the hut. Oh I was looking forward to tomorrow :)
The Halfway Hut was nice and cosy and over some span of time all the troupes arrived, we tried to dry gear, ate dinner and happily chatted away. Everyone was super nice. There were 2 Austrian blokes, a Dutch couple, a Kiwi couple, Josh and I. Josh introduced us to a new card game (shit heads) and at about 10pm I turned in for a lovely sleep.
Day 2 – Halfway Hut to Lake Roe Hut
I had a great night’s sleep and quite a lazy morning at the hut. It was still raining and I wasn’t in a hurry since it was only five hours to the next hut. I left Halfway Hut well after the other trampers; only Josh remained. I didn’t do it on purpose but I think I was keen to walk on my own for a bit. The forest was once again pretty damn beautiful! So much green!
I managed to find myself a good walking stick, since I’d stupidly left the one I had made efforts to find in Te Anau at the campground (not surprising given I’d only managed four hours sleep). I was really enjoying today’s amble and I was just smiling so much. There were hardly any muddy patches to boot (well, compared to yesterday that is!)
At one point I heard a loud crack behind me and turned to see a MASSIVE tree fall about 150-200m from me. My heart rate shot up – this was a blunt reminder that anything can happen on a tramp. I had my PLB in the roof of my pack but not my whistle … I’ll need to rectify that. I went back to check the area to make sure Josh wasn’t caught under it since it looked like the tree had fallen near the track. Luckily he wasn’t there, nor was the tree over the track.
I pushed on lost in my own thoughts, singing to myself and still smiling happily at the sights around me. I stopped where there were views of some peaks for morning tea and sat down on the river for lunch.
There were two 3 wire walk wires to negotiate today. Not long after the second one i was exclaiming at being up above the tree line and in the tussock. Hello peaks :) I went around lake Laffy and soon was at Lake Roe Hut after first checking out the views from Lake Bright.
I didn’t dally for long. I dropped my pack, pulled off the lid (it turns into a bag) and grabbed my topo. Josh came with me up to Lake Roe and then we explored a few of the peaks on the western side. The views were amazing! He commented that it was nice to share the views with someone since he often walks alone, and I had to agree with him.
I got the map out and started checking out my approach to Tamatea Peak for tomorrow. Sadly there was a snow cornice that would make the summit impossible, but maybe the Southern peak would work?? Josh had the same side trip plans for tomorrow so we agreed to head up together.
Back at the hut there were two DOC surveyors who’d been flown in for some days to monitor rock wren. Their dinner was torture to see … fresh everything! But they were very nice and we all played cards and then turned in for the night.
Day 3 – The Merrie Range
Another good night’s sleep. I got up earlier this morning and after a leisurely breakfast chatting I started preparing a day pack. Josh surprised me by saying he would push on to Loch Maree instead of doing a side trip today. So, after bidding goodbye to five of the troupes, I set out for Tamatea Peak on my own.
My plan was to ascend as much as I could safely and then, time permitting, I’d head down and then up the 1407 knoll on the other side of Deep Snowy lake and possibly ascend the Merrie Range from there. I knew from my research where to start. The clouds were coming and going but I was confident the bulk of the clouds would part to give me some views. I meandered up, ever up.
I stopped for lunch on the non-windy side of the spur in a flat section. Then, since I had nowhere I had to be, there was nothing I had to do and I knew the forecast, I laid down, watched the clouds billow past and had a nap as the keas called above me. Bliss. 1.5 hrs later I continued up the spur and stood on top of the peak just to the south of Tamatea Peak (1595m).
There was definitely no way around the snow cornice, but to my exclaimed delight I took in the sight of the basin to the east.
Peaks for as far as I could see, lakes (one frozen) and snow drifts. It was gorgeous.
I decided to see how close to the frozen lake that I could get before the snow or bluffs stopped me. I got quite a ways but then had to turn back since it was no longer safe. First I sat for awhile to take in the atmosphere and ate half a cookietime (yum) before I returned to the hut to have dinner with the Kiwis. They had a mountain radio, which provided an updated forecast at 1930 hrs.
What a nice day off :)
Day 4 – Lake Roe Hut to Loch Maree Hut
With the mist having lifted enough such that I might get some views, I set out from the hut. Most of today’s tramp kept me up above the tree line and along the Pleasant Range. It certainly was pleasant with green hills and lakes all around.
The clouds were coming and going and I was delighted to get views across to Dusky Sound for lunch part 1. Mt Solitary remained in its own personal cloud as I started the descent to Loch Maree Hut, which was only 2km away but 900m below.
Back in the tree line I was thankful that there were hardly any muddy patches – possibly helped by the fact that it hadn’t rained much in the past days.
The never ending tree roots gave great down climbing opportunities and one section had chains. Not long after lunch part 2 I arrived to stunning views and perfectly blue skies at Loch Maree. Maybe I should have stayed up high for longer ?!
I gave half a thought to continuing on to the next hut since I had only one more day of good weather before the change comes through, however there were 7 trampers (the addition of a German duo) intending to stay at Kintail Hut tonight (according to the hut log book), which sounded too crowded to me.
Instead I went for a glorious but chilly (refreshing!) swim in the Seaforth River and then lazed by the riverbank for the afternoon; sleeping and waiting for my rinsed out clothes and hair to dry. There was just enough wind to keep the sandflies away :) A flock of the rare whios (blue ducks) were flying about to my delight.
I got back to the hut at 6pm. I hadn’t seen Fran or Adam yet (the Kiwi couple). I figured it would be nice to wait for them before starting my xmas dinner, but my stomach won out in the end.
I enjoyed the closest thing to a Fondue Chinoise (Swiss xmas dinner) I could pull off in a hut while perched at a table with absolutely gorgeous views down to Loch Maree. This was certainly my favourite hut so far.
Tonight’s treat was dessert – a dehydrated Backcountry apple pie. Yummy. I chatted away to Fran & Adam and then turned in for the night.
Day 5 – Loch Maree Hut to Kintail Hut
There were some pretty sections today and the river was nice – sometimes gentle and barely flowing and other times roaring down the boulders.
I’d almost forgotten about the squelching sound of mud after two days up on the ranges but was certainly reminded of it on a few occasions.
The track climbed up the tree roots
The track right next to the river
The mud …
On the whole the mud wasn’t too bad and the way was fairly easy going but I was totally over this valley walking business!!
Somewhere along the track I came across someone’s bag of rubbish that clearly hadn’t been tied securely enough to their pack and now I had to walk out. It was also festering inside … eeew.
I’d planned to do a double day but then decided against it as this plan had put me into a rushed mindset that then had me thinking about my job and studies, which I didn’t like. This plan was further doused when I came across a couple who said that the following hut was sandfly ravished. After being eaten to bits by sandflies at Loch Maree Hut last night and kept awake most of the night by a rodent running amok (and eating through my dry bag and into my sweets!!) I was certainly not in a hurry to reach Upper Spey Hut. Instead I made an extra effort to take in my surroundings a little more.
My favourite parts of today were the views of the surrounding peaks and almost 40 ducks swimming across Gair Loch. A fantail also put on quite a display for me. I decided I was just too cold for a swim even though the water was beautiful and clear.
When I got to the hut I turned in for a nap (holidays sure are bliss!) and had another enjoyable evening with the kiwi couple. I hoped I wasn’t crashing their personal time together too too much. Bonus was another weather update via their rather cool mountain radio.
Day 6 – Kintail Hut Day
Right on schedule the heavens opened during the night. We woke to the river 1.5m higher than the day before and the path looking more like a swollen creek.
There were sooo many waterfalls spilling down from the mountains surrounding our hut, which was very impressive to see. It was an easy decision to hang in the hut for the day. I did some writing and then went back to bed for a snooze. At about 11:30 I got up to feed my stomach breakfast.
The kiwis enjoyed a delicious serve of 2 minute noodles for brunch. I then played some cards, drank lots of tea, ate a lot and chatted with the Kiwis who spent the day writing their wedding vows, drawing pictures and then writing complementary stories as well as reading the hut logbook from cover to cover. Fran & Adam then produced marshmallows (!) so we made a little fire after dinner and toasted them until our sugar stomachs were full. I was taught another card game (Last Card).
We certainly did a very good job of filling our hut day :) The river was pretty much back down to the level of yesterday as we climbed into bed at the late hour of 9:30pm. The weather prognosis for the next few days looked good.
Day 7 – Kintail Hut to Upper Spey Hut via Mt Memphis
We knew the weather would be cloudy in the morning so none of us were in much of a hurry to get started. The three wire bridge outside the hut turned out to be a doosy since the tension clearly isn’t tight enough anymore. I felt like I was going to tip into the river at any moment! Then the undulating, mud & tree root fest was on again. I was impressed when we had our first sighting of the Kintail Stream. It was like it had two riverbeds – the second very green from moss (and obviously less water flow).
Up, and up. I was enjoying the view down to Tripod Hill and Gair Loch.
There were a noticeable number of tree falls, some a little tricky to work one’s way around and then find the track again.
Happily I was soon up above the tree line once more. Sadly there was still bog (!) but soon I left that behind as well as I set off to do a side trip up to Mt Memphis.
Not far into this the mist set in but it was still easy enough for me to find my way (just keep heading uphill).
I stayed up top for quite awhile in the hope I’d get some views, which I did :) though they were “bitsy” views – this would be even cooler on a blue sky day.
With map in hand, I descended back to my pack and then to Upper Spey Hut over the next few hours. I was SO excited to find boardwalk shortly before reaching the hut.
It was our last night so we all had a snack gorge. Adam found a bag of salt and vinegar shapes, which he shared (yum, just so yum). And I pigged out and had both remaining hot chocolate sachets :)
There was a lot of bird activity about – wekas, fantails and we heard kiwis as we were falling asleep!!
Day 8 – Upper Spey Hut to West Arm Hut via Mt Memphis
We woke up to blue skies. Straight away my brain suggested going back up to Mt Memphis to see all the mountains.
This would mean another night out because I couldn’t do that and make the 5pm boat. I had enough food so headed up after saying goodbye to Fran and Adam. We’d spent 7 nights together and they’d been great company.
It wasn’t a huge amount quicker only having a daypack as I recovered ground from yesterday. Who knew mud, tree roots, fallen trees, etc could take so long to negotiate.
It was all worth it. The views on top were “wow – bloody, bloody wow!” I explored the whole top of the plateau this time before ascending to the summit.
I had a second lunch back down at Upper Spey Hut, grabbed the rest of my belongings and started today’s actual walk at the early hour of 3:30pm. Goodness I love boardwalk!
About half an hour in, I came across a Yugoslav coming the other way. He fired a lot of questions at me about the condition of the track. He wanted to know if all the other legs were better than “this”. Hahaha! *Dusky Novice* He should have asked all these questions before getting on the track :P I told him today was probably the best day of valley walking out of all of them – there was hardly any mud :P Still he fired questions at me and also told me that he’d brought shoes for speed and not for mud. I think he wanted me to approve his decision?! I looked down and noticed that his running shoes were still clean – he’d clearly been bush bashing to avoid the mud. When he then asked me about the history of the Dusky track and of track building in NZ in general I said goodbye and carried on my way. LOL.
This leg of the trip was relatively good; although The Dusky (adopting the tone of the Kiwi couple) threw in some sterling boggy areas for good measure. I was pretty stoked to see the last walk wire – not long to the hut now.
I’m not sure if it was the vegetation or the time of day but there was a lot of bird activity and calling, which was great. Also, with the sun getting lower the forest took on a new, gorgeous look.
Finally I hit the junction. It was now only a 30min walk along a very well graded gravel road to West Arm Hut. 1000m+ ascent, 1500m+ descent, climbed over a ridiculous number of large, fallen trees – a decent day indeed. I was done. Should have saved a hot chocolate sachet ;)
Day 9 – West Arm Hut to Lake Manapouri
It was an arduous 15 min ramble to the ferry this morning. Now to go find my Israeli friend who’s gonna hug and feed me to death :D
First a shower and a visit to the washing machine are in order … I stink!
Today was my only good weather day of my spare three days in Te Anau. I headed up, with the hope to do the full Kepler track in a day and running it as much as I could without damaging myself.
I hadn’t actually trained nor did I have transport to the start, so I had no idea how I’d fare. The bail out point was to turn back at Luxmore Hut.
The alarm went off at 5am and for a moment I wasn’t sure why. Then I grabbed my running pack and crawled out of my tent. After strapping my ankle and filling my water vessels I set off under clear skies with perfect views of the mountains across the lake. It was easy going to the control gates and the official start of the Kepler track.
The leg to Brod Bay was very runnable and through a lovely forest that reminded me of the woods near my old house in Switzerland. As I went through “checkpoint 1” only a few campers had stirred. Soon after the climb up to Luxmore Hut commenced in earnest so I got into a tramping rhythm and ticked it off.
I exclaimed as I came out of the forest and into the tussock – I love alpine ridges! I very excitedly ran the next section – it was just soo stunning. I’d never run in terrain like this before and I was enjoying it immensely.
I came across a few trampers on their way down already. I stopped to soak in the views of mountains dramatically ending in an arm of Lake Te Anau and for peaks appearing over the crest.
I stopped at Luxmore Hut to use the facilities, top up my water supplies and have something exciting to eat (artisan baguette with capsicum dip and aioli – so, so yum). There were two Aussies about to set out for the day and we had a great chat. This was their first time doing a multi day hike. Good on ’em!
Up to Mt Luxmore I came across a good number of hikers. I did manage to have the summit fully to myself for a good minute; but I wasn’t bothered as this allowed me to grab a photo of myself up high.
What followed was more enjoyable ridge top running past the two emergency shelters and with views of the Hanging Valley before the descent started in earnest. It was definitely a quad buster and I crossed my fingers that I didn’t bust mine. The views were all still really sensational. A number of trampers exclaimed as I passed them – they couldn’t believe I’d started in Te Anau that morning. I did have to ask myself when I became the crazy lady who goes on 70km adventures !?
I reached Iris Burn Hut just after midday without another soul around. The sandflies ensured that my stop was a quick one. (I need these at UTA El :P)
The next 30kms were relatively flat and runnable through very lovely forest. I came across Robbie, the hut warden from Iris Burn Hut, and we had a good chat about birds in the area and patterns in hut bookings before we each went in opposite directions. This had been a well timed break as I had started to struggle but now I had my running mojo back on.
With about 15km of the Kepler track to go (not including the leg back into town) I started to hope I could scab a lift from Rainbow Reach Carpark to avoid the final 10kms. I was starting to tire! Alas it wasn’t to be and I couldn’t be bothered waiting for one of the tourist groups I’d seen to return to their car.
I was now starting to wonder if all my muscles would hold up if I kept running. Gee I longed for a big arsed hill so I had a good excuse to walk. In the end I walked most of the final 10km anyway. I had nothing to prove to myself or anyone and since I was heading out for a 8-10 day tramp in a wilderness area in two days I kinda needed all muscles in working order.
When I got to the control gates I congratulated myself and then asked for a hitch back into town. I’d done all of the viewing side trips as well so the day had been 75km in 12 hours.
I celebrated back at the Fat Duck Cafe with 2 pints of beer, a venison shank and kumara mash. Then ordered chips since I was still hungry and a tub of exotic chocolate ice cream from the supermarket.
The 2km walk to the campground from town was probably good for my tired legs but was still an effort. At 9pm I was sleeping like a baby.
The next day was a fun and well earned rest day at the campground watching the rain pummel down.
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!
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!
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
To top the day off, the gals produced some massage oil back at the hut and gave me a hand and neck massage! Thanks!
Today the weather was stunning and the view from Top Forks Hut to Mount Pollux and surrounds was breathtaking.
I headed first to Lake Castalia at the top of the north branch, where I met up with the German family once more.
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.
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!
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.
All up it was a great, relaxing day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!)
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.
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.
It was time to cross Gillespie Pass.
The weather was perfect, the views stunning and I didn’t think Mt Awful (below) looked awful (maybe it’s awful to cross ??)
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).