The second part of a five-day trek following on from the Caples Track (see previous post).
Day 1 (Day 3 of Trip): Key Summit Return, Lake Howden Hut to Lake Mackenzie Hut
DOC guide time: 1h30m + 3 hours. I took: 2 hours + 4 hours.
As we had come from the Caples Track we started the Routeburn track at Lake Howden Hut. We had certainly had a dramatic night, one of the more "memorable" of any hut stays.
Despite being one of the later arrivals I was pleased to secure a bottom bunk. A group of 10 or so middle-aged Korean men and women were well established in the hut, sharing a massive meat stew of some kind and drinking serious amounts of what I took to be Shochu out up shallow metal cups. By 7pm they were mostly in bed. However when I was ready for bed there was plenty of snoring, and at least two of their group were shouting out in their sleep, including the fellow in the bunk above me. At midnight, there was then an almighty crash. I knew straightaway what had happened...
I reluctantly turned on my headtorch and saw a hand on the floor, then followed the arm up to the bottom half of a face, underneath the bottom bunk opposite. The Korean guy above me had fallen backwards off the bunk, hitting his head on (hopefully) the ladder of the bunks opposite, or, more seriously, the frame of the bottom bunk. He had a beanie pulled down over his eyes, which made me think he had still been asleep. He had certainly had plenty to drink, at any rate.
Thankfully the guy in the bunk opposite me took control of the situation, and I was able to stay mostly in my bunk. The Korean was barely breathing, but there was a pulse. But we tried to keep him still because of possible spinal injuries as he very slowly came round. The warden was fetched, and others in the Korean party were woken. We were discussing with the warden the options regarding evacuation when one of the Koreans announced he was a doctor (as apparently did one of the women in the group). He basically shook the guy like a rag doll and declared he was fine.
The rest of us got the distinct impression that his companions were not about to let the guy and his major concussion spoil their holiday. They soon had him walking up and down outside the hut. By 4:30am the group were on their way on what turned out to be a 14 hour epic all the way to Routeburn Flats Hut, which we would reach on the morning of the day-after-next. As you can imagine, the reports we heard suggested the guy did not look too hot, and there were a few hangovers among the rest of them.
Above: Nearing the top of the trail to Key Summit.
Our schedule was much less tough. Not starting at The Divide cutting out about 90 minutes of the trail. However we began our day by heading up the path towards the trailhead for 20 minutes then turning up the side track which climbs Key Summit. We enjoyed good weather, and these proved to be the best views of our excursion.
Above: More views from the top of Key Summit.
After this 90-minute there-and-back trip I loaded up all the stuff I had left at Lake Howden Hut, and set off on the 4 hour trip to Lake Mackenzie Hut.
Above: A steady wooded climb from Lake Howden.
Above: The highlight of this section of the trail were the 174-metre Earland Falls.
Above: Looking back to the Earland Falls. The path contours along these steep slopes, around the height of the bottom of the falls as visible here, only occasionally coming out of the cover of the trees.
Above: Arrival at Lake Mackenzie Hut.
Above: Happy in a dry change of clothing and sandals. Having said that, I should mention that for this 5-day trip I wore my Altra Lone Peak 3.0s again, as I did for the Heaphy (see review of these shoes in previous post). Once again I had the - for me - unusual experience of a multi-day hike with no suggestion of a blister. And I also enjoyed the certainty of being able to splosh through streams knowing my shoes and Icebreaker socks would be comfortable again within seconds.
Day 2 (Day 4 of Trip) Lake Mackenzie Hut to Routeburn Falls Hut
DOC guide time: 5-6 hours. I took: 8h15m
As we climbed up through the trees from Lake Mackenzie, it was already raining and apparent that this was not the ideal day to be walking the highest section of the Routeburn Track, the one consistently above the treeline and supposedly with the best long-range views on the main track. As one counters along the flank of Ocean Peak, heading noth for 4 or 5km, there should hopefully be stunning views across and down the Holyford Valley. However....
... after an early look back down at Lake Mackenzie.....
... my camera was not brought out again until I reached the shelter on the Harris Saddle, 3 or 4 hours later. I had tried to focus on keeping moving to stay warm; up to this piont I had worn a merino top and hiking pants plus my waterproofs. But in the shelter I felt wet and cold and was still feeling the effects of my chest infection. Still struggling to eat any quantity during the day, I nibbled at a Clif Bar, and put on a second merinot top and a light fleece jacket, plus gloves and two dry Buffs as a hat These remained on for the rest of the day's walk.
The weather did however improve enough for me to take a few pictures, helped by the fact that after the shelter we were heading broadly east, meaning I could usually shelter my camera from the worst of the rain.
Above: Skirting around Lake Harris. Trampers can be seen on the path halfway up the right side of the picture.
Above: Looking back along Lake Harris. This view often crops up in publications. Usually with more sunshine.
Above: Routeburn Falls Hut sits below the cascades after which it is named. There are two main falls around 50 metres apart.
Above: The evening weather cleared enough to give fine views down the valley - our route for the following day.
I arrived at the hut to find that a lot of the contents of my rucsac had got soaked through. My recently purchased Gregory pack is the first I've owned with a bag cover supplied, and I rather placed too much confidence in it. Some key items of clothing were left in various locations in the communal area of the hut in the hope that they might dry a little, and the hut warden kindly dried out my sleeping back above his log stove, which made the night much more pleasant than it might have been. But my IPod may never recover.
Day 3 (Day 5 of Trip): Routeburn Falls Hut to Routeburn Shelter
DOC guide time 2-3 hours. I took: 3 hours including breakfast break.
For the other days on this trip I had largely walked alone, meeting up wih the group in the huts. (There should be some more social photos here, but I tended to spend the evenings in recovery mode!). This was because - conscious that I had been unwell - I wanted to set my own pace in the early stages of each day to make sure I got to the end more or less in one piece.
However on the final day I certainly did not want to miss the bus! So I started at 8am rather than my previous norm of 9am. After stumbling stiffly down the rocky path immediately below the hut, the remainder of this section was easy and enjoyable, and I could revel in the sunshine.
Above: Another view down the valley towards the trail end.
Above: Looking down to Routeburn Flats and my breakfast stop.
Above: Not as many of these on the Routeburn compared with the Heaphy Track.
Above: Veronique still feelin energetic in front of the Routeburn Flats hut. Some of the group caught me up here. As the hut is a few minutes from the main path, some bypassed it and headed straight for the finish.
Above: The last section of the trail served up the most spectacular river crossing. One benefit of the previous day's poor weather.
Above: The last good long-range view.
Above: The final bridge, with the Routeburn Shelter just on the other bank.
Above: Finished my third Great Walk!
So ended an excellent 5-day walk along the Caples and Routeburn tracks. The poor weather on the middle day of the Routeburn just gives me a justification to do it again someday (though for now my eye is on the Kepler).A stunning drive back to Queenstown via Glenorchy provided an excellent postcript - I would like to take a weekend break in Glenorchy sometime soon, just chilling out and soaking up the views.
Many thanks to Colin from the Auckland Adventure Group (via Meetup.com) for organising the trip. And thanks also to the rest of the group who let me pace my own walks while keeping an eye out for me.