Monday, November 10, 2008

Milford Track

Snow in late spring is not usually the making of good weather for a hike.

My Milford Track hike started just like all of my other hikes - bad weather. On the ride from Christchurch to Queenstown it rained and we left nice weather behind. They were predicting snow though so it seemed like we were doing alright. Unfortunately, that predicted snow finally came down that night. On our two hour ride to Te Anau, where we could catch a boat to the start of the trail, we just looked at the inches of snow piled up everywhere. Brian and I were both trying to go as light as possible which meant shedding some gear for extreme situations. We were both a little worried we wouldn't be prepared.

Arriving at the start of the Milford Track.

After a lot of second guessing ourselves, we caught the boat to the start of the track. It drizzled or snowed on and off the entire way out there with intermittent bouts of sunshine. It was really weird weather. Amazingly though, the weather all managed to clear off when we reached the start of the trail. I'm not kidding. The last snow or rain we saw that day came down just about ten minutes before we got to the trail head. The next photo was taken about an hour after we started hiking.

On the other hand, maybe snow in spring is the makings of a good hike.

The first day of hiking was pretty short. I think we got started around 4pm and we were done by 7pm. We followed a river up the Clinton Valley. Up the entire valley (the first and second day), we were given views of the mountains around us. They rose almost straight up to 5,000 feet above of us. The tallest was around 6,000 ft. They were so big and close that it was hard to ever get a picture that truly epitomizes the scene. All of them were snow capped from the previous night's snow which made them stunning. Additionally, the sun was melting that snow which made hundreds (not an exaggeration) of small waterfalls run down the mountains around us. Inspiring.

Our first hut warden.

The Clinton Valley.

B-Nelson in front of a waterfall.

The Clinton Valley from top to bottom.

While hiking on the Banks Peninsula, a local told me that I should consider hiking up to Mackinnon Pass after dropping my stuff off at the hut if the weather was clear because it might not be clear the next day. Following his advice, Brian and I set off up the pass. We had to gain 600m in just 2 miles. The very first part of the hike up the pass was through a forest that was dropping its snow as it melted. Brian described it best when he said we were in a snowball fight with the forest and we couldn't win.

Snow in a tropical forest.

The next day's hike down the Arthur Valley from Mackinnon Pass.

Mackinnon Pass.

The hike up the pass, while arduous, did not fail to deliver when we got to the top. The views were simply amazing. We had a great view down the Arthur Valley where we'd be finishing our hike out and the glaciers around us were simply amazing. I can't say enough about it. The only bad part might have been that the next day it was JUST as beautiful. I couldn't believe we had two beautiful days in a row after dreading snow on the way out to the hike.

Trekking poles save lives, or at least knees.

Mackinnon Pass.

More Mackinnon Pass.

The Arthur Valley from Mackinnon Pass.

A Kea (parrot) on Mackinnon Pass.

Keas are a parrot of sorts. Apparently, they have the intelligence and manners of a human two year old. They are smart enough to cause lots of trouble and have no problem doing it. At a couple huts, you couldn't leave anything on the ground outside because it was expected that a kea would come destroy it with their curiosity. I heard rumors of them eating windshield wipers and even tires (spelled tyres in NZ)!

More from Mackinnon Pass.

Back up the Clinton Valley.

OK, enough photos from Mackinnon Pass. I think you get the point. Beautiful. Amazing. Come hike it or you could even come take a helicopter through the area. However, as a hiker who didn't love hearing the helicopters roar through the valley, I think you should hike.

A waterfall on our way down the Pass.

On our third day after a wonderful Oregon Chai break at a shelter near the top of the pass, Brian and I descended 970m in 3 miles. It wasn't pretty. It was steep, slippery, and wet. We had to take an emergency route down that was more of each of those due to avalanche danger above the normal route. On the way down, we didn't get too many great views due to the forest. However, every once in a while something would spring up to catch our eye - especially the waterfalls and the clear water.

Another waterfall through lush forests.

A weka tries to eat out of my shoe, while I'm WEARING IT!

There are two sets of huts on the Milford Track. One set is for independent or freedom walkers. The other set is for guided walkers. At one of the guided walk huts, Brian an I tried to take a break to eat lunch. Unfortunately, there was a weka (flightless bird) that wouldn't let us. It tried to eat everything we put on the ground, including my shoe while my foot was inside it!

Sutherland Falls.

The Milford Track guide says that you can walk behind the 1904 foot Sutherland Falls. I don't think Sutherland dormitory at Pitt was anywhere close to that high, maybe not even towers. I bet TallE knows the answer. Brian was all about getting behind the falls and I tentatively followed him in. I don't think I got within 50 feet before I got so wet and cold that my diver's reflex kicked in (where it feels like you can't breath). Brian made it a little farther, but also turned back. It might have been a warm day, but it was really, really cold.

A VERY well marked trail (for possible floods where the trail is underwater).

Yeah for mountain reflections in the water.

Our fourth and final day was a little hohum in comparison to our first three days. We followed the river out, but didn't have many views of the river or the mountains. We were mostly in the trees. They should look into cutting a few more of those down so I can have a good view without having to work for it.

Some of the bluest and clearest water I have ever seen.

The big trick on our last day was to make it to Sandfly Point where the boat would pick us up with as little time to spare as possible. The point is very aptly named. Sandflies are the day time equivalent of mosquitoes. Their bites might not itch as long, but you'll probably get more bites because there are so many more of them. Brian and I walked pretty hard in the morning, but tried to make the last three miles take three hours. It didn't work, but I think we stretched it to two wonderful hours and a short nap in the sun.

The end of the road.
At the end, the waiting wasn't too bad. The sandflies were. Soon enough the boat was there and, I kid you not, the drizzle immediately started coming down. I have no idea who we have to thank for starting and stopping the rain when we started and stopped the hike, but we owe them big. Apparently, the chance of getting 3.5 beautiful days on the Milford are about as good as winning the lottery. I feel lucky.

Rain and fog rolled in as soon as we got to the sound.

Milford Track (53.5 km) by the numbers:
Day 1
  • Launch cruise from Te Anau Downs (1.25 hours)
  • Glade wharf - Clinton hut: 5 km
Day 2
  • Clinton hut - Mintaro hut: 16.5 km
Day 3
  • Mintaro hut - Dumpling hut: 14 km
Day 4
  • Dumpling hut - Sandfly point: 18 km
  • Boat ride to Milford Sound: 20 minutes

Random stuff

I forgot one essential part of my Banks Peninsula Walk. I was applying Icy Hot patches to my groin to help with the muscle strain. The active ingredients spread around a little bit. Icy Hot definitely heated everything up. It reminded me of my first year coaching when Fraggle got a freshman, Rob Dulabon, to play Icy Hot on his scrotum for the last little bit of a Wendy's Frosty. It wasn't pretty then. It isn't pretty now.

I have a couple weird habits that are carrying over from the Ice. I always go to the bathroom when I have the option offered even if I have just gone recently. I didn't used to do this. I think it is because I didn't have a bathroom in my building all year and it was a pain to get up from work to go take care of business, especially during winter. My second carry over is body posture. I tend to keep my hands in my pockets now. In Antarctica, I did that just to keep my hands warm. Now, I just do it out of habit. I'm trying to break it because I think it conveys insecurity, but no luck yet. I'm half way there.

I don't like moving around so much. Between each of my hikes I'm taking 2-3 days to rest up or get to the next hike. It is wearing my patience thin. I'd like to stay in one place a little more, but I also want to take in everything this country has to offer in my short time here.

Along the lines of staying put, I'll be spending a lot more time in Christchurch. Once a week, I'll be practicing with the Canterbury (the region that Christchurch is in) ultimate frisbee team. I'll be playing with them in New Zealand Nationals on December 13th-14th in Christchurch. I believe they are the defending champions. I completely lucked into this. After my Abel Tasman hike, I wanted to try playing ultimate so I googled up the local scene. I found a pickup in the park and headed over to play barefoot since my cleats are in the States. After that appearance and a few other appearances, they asked if I'd be around to play on one of their teams at nationals. I accepted. It should be fun. I'll try to squeeze in a few hikes between practices.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Banks Peninsula Track

Akaroa Harbor.

After the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, I thought I was going to do another track right around the corner. Instead, I found myself riding a bus on a wonderfully sunny day back down to Christchurch. There was a rumor that our visas were not automatically renewed. Fortunately, Katie Folts had arrived in Christchurch since my departure.

Akaroa Harbor Lighthouse.

After a couple days of taking care of chores and finding out that my visa was fine, Katie and I set out for the Banks Peninsula Track. The Department of Conservation advertises this track, but doesn't run it. It was built and is run by the private land owners on the Banks Peninsula who were entrepreneurial enough to lay out the track. The major difference from a standard tramp is that you can't camp and the huts are luxury huts. It also costs more.

A Memorial to the first French Governor of Akaroa, I think.

Katie and I were a little hesitant to out and do glamping (glam camping). We are both used to more traditional camping and were looking for that type of activity. We explored a few other options that were nearby, but none seemed to fit our schedule quite as well. We did decide to do the four day tramp in two days to save a little time, a little money, and to take a little bit of the luxury out.

A Stargazer Hut at the first hut to sleep and watch the stars.

As we set out for the hike, we had a couple hurdles to cross. I was nursing a groin strain that had me limping along pretty slowly and Katie's camping gear hadn't arrived from the States yet. She just used her old school bag and I took her extra gear. I just planned to walk really slow.

Two of the many sheep who just stared at us as we walked through their pasture.

We set out on a shuttle from Christchurch to Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula on a day that was dreary, wet, grey, and more wet. I wasn't thrilled. I had just wrapped up my very wet tramp on the Abel Tasman and I was really hoping for sunshine. On the entire drive down, it just got worse and worse. When we finally got to Akaroa, Katie and I drank hot drinks, went to the museum, and hung out in the library to hide from the rain. We tried to go to a movie, but it was closed due to a medical emergency. Our attitudes were definitely not conducive to turning a four day walk into a two day slog through the wet.

Katie overlooking Akaroa Harbor.

After killing off about six hours in town, the sun finally came out. Town quickly dried out and our spirits were quickly lifted. Just after 5pm, we met our fellow trampers and then caught our ride up the hill to our first hut. It was loosely connected to the Onuku Farm Hostel and was ridiculous. It had a microwave, hot showers, gas stoves, water boilers, beds, and an amazing view of the harbor. It was definitely overkill for what Katie and I were looking for, but I can see how it would be fabulous right after you get off the Ice and want to be looked after.

A sick possum.

After a fabulous pasta dinner, we settled down to learn the game 500 and catch some Z's. Unfortunately, it wasn't going to be that easy. It started raining again. It poured. The wind blew. It sounded like a major storm was blowing outside of my old room on the Ice in 209. Luckily, the storm blew itself out and we had two solid days of good to great weather. In the morning, we also managed to get my heavy bag ported to the second hut so we wouldn't have to worry if my groin would hold up.

A friendly reminder in the 'bush.'

Two day walkers use the exact same track as the four day walkers. On our approach to the second hut, we had a little trouble. An employee on the farm we were crossing told us to just follow the fence line, I think. We followed the fence line which followed the creek. At one point, it got wet so I decided to take a detour. Two steps into my detour and just as Katie was about to tell me about her childhood adventures mud bogging, I found my very own bog and instantly sank up past my knees.

Momma cow made me nervous as we had to cross into her and her calf's pasture on those steps.

I couldn't lift my leg up without losing my Keen. After an Antarctic winter, I wasn't about to let that happen. I pulled my foot up, knelt down, and reached my hand up past the elbow to retrieve my shoe. Shoe in hand, I decided to continue on my way. (At this point, Katie decided to take the long way around and found a useful sign.) My very next step, I sank again and lost my other Keen. I retrieved it and finally waded out in my now black socks.

Where was that sign?

I headed over to the stream to wash myself off. My Keens weighed about 5 lbs each. They had mud and grass in them. Take a look at how dirty my arm was off being washed and how dirty the water is where I'm washing my shoes as opposed to where I'm not. It was pretty bad. Luckily, the next hut was just around the corner so I washed up there. It was a quaint little cottage.

Washing the bog out of my Keens.

As we were leaving the hut, we saw a penguin tour van driving by. They were going to give a free tour that night, but we would already be gone by then. We flagged the woman down and she was nice enough to give us an on the spot tour of the Blue penguins that live in the area. By the end of two day trip, I would have seen as many penguins in New Zealand as I did in Antarctica. Weird.

A blue penguin.

A beach at the second hut.

Headbutting lamb.

As we left the second hut, I found this little lamb. Most were terrified of us and ran away to their mommas. However, this one lived around someone's house. I think it was probably a pet and wicked friendly. I think it wanted food and it had no problem head butting me to let me know it. I threatened to put its head in my mouth, but it didn't stop it.

An outdoor pool table at the third hut.

At 'outhouse' at the third hut.

We quietly pulled into our third hut as the sun was setting. It was wonderful to finally be done for the day. The third hut (our second night stay) was right out of Robinson Crusoe. They had outdoor bathtubs that could be heated up with a fire. Outdoor pool tables and lots of others rustic goodies. It was fun. They still had hot showers. I still didn't use one.

Sunrise as we left the third hut.

More sunrise.

The coast during the golden morning hour.

Love the sunrise!

Our second day of hiking was an early morning of hiking. We were out the door by 6am which let us see sunrise. Beautiful! Katie assured me it wasn't that great because it was the exact same as sunset, but too early. I disagree, but to each their own. Yeah for morning people!!

The story of our hike: great ocean views and sheep.

The inlet of the third hut.

The final hut we could have stayed at was at the end of this gorgeous inlet. It was half a beach house. The other half was lived in by some of the people who kept the track up and running. Great stuff. Unfortunately, we just stopped to patch up some blisters and headed on our way.

This ladder was labeled as broken. Really?

The sun continued to beat down on us as we marched towards the end of our hike. It was fabulous. When we finally got out of the woods, I had stripped off each shirt so I could work on my tan. I still need a lot of work. I've seen one Ice person who finally looks tan, but that might just be his face. I can't believe how pasty we all are.


The final part of the hike took us over a last pass. It gave us a great look at what we had done and into the harbor that we were walking back towards. A little geological history shows that the Banks Peninsula was a series of volcanoes and the harbor was just the center crater. After time, the Pacific Ocean eroded a hole in one side of the crater and a harbor was formed. Neat stuff.

Great hike. My internet has cut off a bunch while trying to write this so I'm just going to post it and hope it works. Take care. Be well. I miss you all. This week, I'm heading out on the Wanganui River for a five day canoe trip. It should be great.

Akaroa Harbor.

Banks Peninsula Track (35 km) by the numbers:
Day 1
  • Onuku Farm Hostel - Flea Bay Cottage 11 km
  • Flea Bay Cottage - Stony Bay Cottages 8 km
Day 2
  • Stony Bay Cottages - Otanerito Beach House 6 km
  • Otanerito Beach House- Akaroa: 10 km