Feel the Routeburn

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Queenstown faded in the rearview mirror as we set off for what was to be the most arduous part of our journey: a 3-day trek through the Alps. Backpacks loaded, we stopped in Te Anau for food and gas before leaving civilization almost for good. Our group had divided into two, with us starting at the Divide and the others at the Routeburn Shelter. Our group would start with a cruise through Milford Sound while the other would conclude with it. We made it just in time, stopping only to wait for a one-way tunnel through a mountain to give us the green light and nearly have Katie P’s sandal stolen by a roving Kia bird. They really like rubber and will pick apart cars if allowed to – they were particularly interested in my rubberized camera strap and would cautiously hop around me. And then a place listed as one of the ten most beautiful places in the world (according to Anthony): Milford Sound.

The cruise took place on a cloudy day and it didn’t quite live up to such lofty claims but it probably could. The slopes are covered in Rata trees that flower a brilliant red and on a sunny day at a different time of year the fjords and waterfalls would’ve been amazing. It was still quite pretty and we got to see seals lying on the rocks for warmth, Post Office Island, a little island where passing ships would drop mail to this remote area, and some very nice waterfalls not to mention the fjords themselves. The tea provided was itself memorable in that it needed more sugar than tea to make it palatable. Then we camped out on Lake Dunn, with some of the girls playing cards while Anthony and I played around with long exposures and using the headlamp to spell out things. Albrie, Anthony, and I played some cards. I have to say that Albrie is always upbeat, smiley, and this is very nice especially in a group that seems to mostly be grumpy.

The next morning I was up at 8:30 and besides Norm, Albrie, and myself, we had the morning to ourselves until 10:00 when Norm finally woke everyone. We didn’t get out of there for some time after, and Kristen was particularly annoyed they were in the van while Anthony and I cleaned up the table after everyone – we didn’t realize they’d loaded up. Regardless, we hopped in the van and then Anthony and I waited for the group for about 20 mins before setting off. The two of us just took off at our own pace because the girls seemed pretty grumpy and it was wrecking what was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the rainforest was alive with sound, and besides which I like to stop for photos and take side excursions off the trail which I have more time for if I walk ahead. We caught sight of an endangered bird and spent about a half hour trying to get a photo of it. It was hard in the trees because I couldn’t manually focus quickly enough and auto focus seemed to choose the surrounding branches over the bird.

The forest was really great and we found a log that looked like the log they hide under in LOTR and made our way up the steep trail. We got past the top and came upon Earland Falls, which was absolutely amazing. A big and high fall that was bearable because it broke on a rock about 100 ft. above us, which also spread the water along a rock ledge. The sun was at just the right spot in the sky to cast rainbows all over the falls and Anthony and I took a bunch of photos and had already been in and out of the falls when the rest of the group arrived. The waterfall seemed to buoy (pronounced like boy as in buoyancy, crazy Americans!) their spirits and we all hung around and had a snack before leaving this magical waterfall.

We made it to our camp just before 6:00, over at Mackenzie Hut. We went down to Lake Mackenzie which was pretty nice but suffering from Didymo and extreme cold and took a quick dip before having our pasta for dinner. We met with the other group here and it was sort of unusual to be back together with our different experiences. It seemed like everyone was kind of in an unusual state and there was some awkwardness. Brad, Chris, Anthony, Amanda, and myself looked at the stars on the lake and tried to get some photos but to no avail.

We set off early the following dawn, and after a little more head-butting with Kristen, went on our way for our longest hike – about 13 km with packs loaded and so on. We stopped for lunch at Harris Saddle, a small ridge between two peaks, and Anthony and I made our baguette with pepperoni, salami, tuna spread (mostly for moisture), olives, and chive and garlic cheese. This relieved us of quite a bit of weight and was the envy of most of the others I think, though we did share with everyone that wanted some. Then, off again. While the first day’s hike was mostly forested and shielded and thus cool, this hike was alpine, above the treeline, and we were quite subject to sun. We traversed a couple mountains, slowly descending and came upon an alpine lake which was pretty amazing. It feeds the Routeburn falls, which was to be our next meeting point with the rest of the group. As we made our way down, getting warmer, I was aching for a swim in one of these nice little streams we kept crossing. We did refill our water but Anthony was in need of a washroom so we pressed on.

Finally, we reached the top of the falls for which the Routeburn is named. There were quite a few pools breaking its fall and I told Anthony he could go ahead as I wanted a dip more than almost anything at this point. Remember we’d been walking for three hours with big packs in almost 30 degree weather. He didn’t want to miss out on the waterfall though and I had found a pool that was deep enough to jump into from the cliff above, though Anthony was skeptical. I put my canyoning skills to good use and showed him how it was done before he took a jump. It was cold as heck but really, really refreshing. I went from hot and tired to instantly energized. And it was a lot of the fun. Since we’d found this pool off the track a little ways (like I said, a good reason to walk faster) the rest of the group almost walked by us before I called them over. Everyone except Albrie (who I think is hydrophobic perhaps) took a jump after some coaxing and from that point on we were all in good spirits. We went down to the Routeburn Falls hut and hung around with the beautiful view before continuing down to our camp. After some cards, more pasta, and a nice long chat/massage circle on a small deck by the camp kitchen, we went to sleep and the Routeburn was almost over.

We awoke with a a 2.5 hour hike out to where the van was parked and we made good time getting there. I dropped my bed roll and had to go back about 15 mins to grab it from Norm and still managed to finish about 10 minutes ahead of the group. We had completed the Routeburn and all felt very accomplished. We loaded the van and took a picture by the sign with my dying camera, which snapped one photo and then died on timer for the second. Then, off to Queenstown for a Fergburger, a well-earned shower, and a meeting with PC4. A bunch of us went on the louge again, taking on PC4. Dave and I were neck-in-neck at one point passing a slow girl that wasn’t with us. We were coming up on a tunnel and the road narrowed and I was inching ahead and trying to squeeze in, thinking he’d relent. I was forced onto the bank and bounced down hitting Dave’s luge and toppling us both. Dustin, Katie, and Brad all came within inches of running me down as I tried to pick up my fallen cart and Dave did the same downhill from me. We got to the bottom and I was relatively unscathed but Dave had scraped his leg and arm well enough to have them both bleeding. The man is intense and I think I’d have loved to be on his tour, though I felt horrible about my half of his damage. Especially as I’d convinced him to buy us five luge rides and we’d pay our gondola fair when we were at the bottom. But we both survived and he was completely non-plussed by the whole thing, and we laughed about it later before our group took off for our next destination: Wanaka. Via, if I may mention, a road that is really windy, steep, narrow, and doesn’t allow trailered vehicles such as ours on it.

View Routeburn Photos

No comments: