Monday, May 3, 2010

Routeburn/ Caples Tracks

After our long day in Mt. Aspiring National Park, we went to the Department of Conservation (DoC) office to check the weather, which would inform our hiking plans for the next few days.  Amazingly, it looked like there might be a good break in the weather!  We decided on the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand's “Great Walks,” with a return via the Caples Track.  We did a food shop, got a fuel canister, and arranged for trailhead transport...  four hour after deciding to go, we were on the trail!  It was awesome how everything pulled together.

We took five days to hike the Routeburn and Caples together (starting from the northeastern end to the west, picking up the Caples to the southeast).  Rather than a day-by-day account of all five days, here are the highlights:
  • I got sick.  On the first day, I could tell something was brewing.  I woke up in the middle of the first night with a fever and bloody, green snot on my hanky.  Uh oh.  I was really lucky:  Dave took all of my group gear, including food, and I was able to carry on.  I was only feeling unwell for two days.
  • We spent two nights in the huts with thirty-odd high school students.  They were part of an outdoor education class (New Zealand has outdoor education just like US high schools have physical education).  They were enthusiastic, well-behaved, funny kids, and their teachers, especially a guy named Ray, were very nice.
  • I didn't get rained on.  Considering the amount of rain that Fiordland gets, that was freakish.  The rains started late one day, after we had already reached the hut, and we managed to wait them out the next morning, setting off late for the next hut.
  • One night on the Caples, we stayed in a hut with three Germans, a Brit, and four hard-drinking, ribald-humor-loving, tough-guy Kiwi hunters.  I knew it was going to be a special night once the Kiwis started pushing the Jagermeister on us.  :-P  They reminded me a lot of the “type” of person you'd find in Upstate NY.  Made me a little homesick.
  • The Routeburn track was beautiful.  The alpine day traversed a ridge in full view of magnificent snow-capped mountains.
  • The Caples track was fun.  The fourth day of our trip we had a long descent through some pretty gnarly track.  It was covered in slippery tree roots with more unbridged stream crossings than I could count.
  • I had the most spectacular wipe out of my entire life.  It involved a very deep stream, a slippery bridge log, my hiking poles sinking waaaaaay down into the bog, a mad scramble for the muddy banks, and going knee-deep into mud.

Here are the best pictures from the trip...  not representative, just my favorites.

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