Monday, January 15, 2018

Saying Goodbye to New Zealand

In the past two years of dating Joe, we have yet to spend a Christmas together. We have always managed to spend so much of our time together before, with either traveling or Climbing but right when Christmas Day was upon us, we would go home to our families and see each other soon after. 

PC- JDStylos Our first Christmas together

We had found ourselves in the small coastal town of Hokitika when Christmas Eve was upon us. We explored around, and found ourselves eating breakfast on the rocks that overlooked the Blue Gorge and soon parked the car by Kaniere Lake for the rest of the day. We laughed and talked about what are families would be doing on Christmas Eve (even though it was actually still the 23rd back home). A can of chili beans was heated up in the Jet Boil, and placed into tortillas with red peppers, onions and sharp cheddar cheese to make our Christmas Eve wraps. We watched the sunset over a beautiful quiet lake while I skipped rocks and we ate a package of mint cookies, the most perfect first Christmas Eve together.

PC- JDStylos More importantly, burritos

In hopes that the crowds would all be home for the holiday, and with a little bit of research on Christmas Day we decided to hike up to a small Alpine hut called Mt.Brown Hut. With a later afternoon start, and some distant dark clouds overhead we started up the trail. Spider webs grabbed my face and legs, making it apparent no one had been up there anytime recently. The trail went up and up and up, until the large Beechwood forest was behind us and the alpine tussocks swiped our legs as we finally saw the hut. After 3,100ft of elevation gain the sight of the Hut was so wonderful. Just as we stepped inside the wind outside wrapped around the little 4 bunk hut, and the rain convinced us to stay inside. 

PC- JDStylos Mt. Brown hut 

We changed out of our sweaty clothes into warm dry layers, with thoughts of my family at home cooking Christmas Eve dinner, eating pie and telling stories around the table... it was hard not to feel a bit homesick. The feeling was short lived though, as we laughed, ate food, read stories and enjoyed this small little alpine hut. Even if it felt a million miles away from home, we went to bed content. 

PC- JDStylos

The morning sun warmed the hut and we awoke to the sound of the metal stretching in the change of temperature. We stepped outside to watch the local ground dwelling birds, called Weckas run around and greet a beautiful day. After some brief exploring, we said our goodbyes to the small orange hut and headed down a wet and muddy trail back to the car. 

PC- JDStylos

With such a successful trip up to Mt Brown Hut we quickly started to research more huts in the area. We knew we wanted to go to Arthur’s Pass at some point, so with good weather in the upcoming forecast we drove West to find our next adventure. 

PC- JDStylos The Devils Punchbowl

We explored a bit of the town and after talking to some fellow hikers that were headed over to Crow hut and talking to the DOC about the hike- we decided to go there the next day.

We set up the car near the town at a free Camp spot with a large stone three wall shelter with a fire place. The night went on to attract plenty of other hikers and travelers, and after talking we soon learned we would all be climbing the same mountain tomorrow. Joe and I would be the only ones to be carrying over to the hut in the valley on the other side. We laughed and enjoyed the camaraderie that the Camp site brought.

PC- JDStylos 

The next morning we arrived at the DOC to purchase our hut passes, only to be informed two other groups were ahead of us and one more walked in right behind us, all headed to Crow Hut... if we wanted a bunk we better get on our way. 

PC- JDStylos Summit of Avalanche, Rolleston behind me

The track that lead to the top of Mt Avalanche was steep, but we intentionally made our packs as light as possible and as a result we flew up the mountain. We passed day hikers, and I started to feel like all this hiking was paying off!! We arrived at the top of the peak and were greeted by plenty of other hikers. Most importantly our whole group from the night before was enjoying the summit, what a fun coincidence that was. 

PC-- JDStylos

Mt. Avalanche is one of the most popular hikes in the park, so when we headed the opposite direction from everyone else we were happy to have the solitude. Though it did not last long. As we dropped down the opposite ridge, fellow hikers all headed to Crow Hut, hiked along with us. 

PC- JDStylos, these mountains felt very similar to the Sawtooths back home

Light grey clouds kept the sun from baking us alive as we walked on the exposed ridge. Mt Rolleston filled the horizon with sheer rock ridges and glaciers filling the stream beds below with cold melt water. 

We all arrived to the skree field that lead to the valley below at the same time. We agreed to leave plenty of space between us, as to make sure not to dislodge a head smashing rock on the person in front of us.

PC-- JDStylos This skree field took more than an hour to descend

The six of us carefully spaced out, stepped, slipped, slided and plodded down the never ending rock field. Deep small pebbles made for secure footing but when the pebbles turned to shallow sand you were quickly reminded of how steep of a grade you were on as gravity tried to rip your feet out from under you. 

By the time we made it to the valley floor we were excited to be on stable ground again. The hut was not far off and walking through the door with plenty of bunks to choose from felt like victory. 

PC-- JDStylos Crow Hut

The hut never filled up, but a few late day hikers arrived to finish off the day with a good group of hut dwellers. 

The next day was a long plod through the valley. After a few river crossings, one minor slip into one and some very wet shoes we stood on the side of the road, with our thumbs out and smiling as we gave the universal sign for “we need a ride”!

After finding our way back to the car, and settling in at the Camp ground, we looked at the weather for the upcoming week.

Rain... and rain... oh and more rain.

PC- JDStylos... Our only photo of Mt. Aspiring, our original main objective of the trip. Very accurate photo for this trip

So with Arthur’s Pass about to pummeled by quite the storm we headed back to the West Coast in hopes to find something to do while we waited. 

Not the best plan, as all it did was rain there too. So after much frustration, we decided to drive back to our favorite town in NZ called Wanaka. 

PC. JDStylos

The next few days were filled with some beautiful sunshine. We found a good place to sleep right near some great rock climbing.  As if it weren’t enough that we had failed to bring our rock shoes, I failed to see the edge of our neighbors van door and walked my head right into it. Blood dripped down my face, but luckily enough Joe and the other neighbor came to the rescue with a fix it kit. 

PC. JDStylos I got ice cream after this photo 

With my new battle scar we decided to take the next day and make it an easy one. We opted for a brief 30min run around the lake shore, and just as we were about a minute from the car, a root FLEW out of the ground, grabbed my ankle and yanked me to where it came from. I walked the rest of the way back to the car only to reveal a nice bloody knee to match my head. Luckily the closely parked mothers were quick to bring bandaids and betadine to clean up the mess. 

With all this trouble, we still loved Wanaka. We managed to stay about four days with only minor problems here and there. But rather than stay and make anymore trouble we went into town to do some research on where to go next. 

PC-- JDStylos... Can you tell I've never chopped wood?

We tend to be on a bit of a back track, as that evening we found ourselves looking at Mt Cook while trying to get WiFi in Twizel. We stayed at one of our favorite campsites and watched The movie Groundhog Day. 

The next morning we drove into the town of Tekapu to fill up water before driving down to our next little hut objective. After getting slightly lost we eventually found our way to the trailhead. 

We hiked through flowers covered in busy bumblebees and hiked through fields of golden grass. Though beautiful, the hike had no sense of scale and the ascent of the little saddle seemed endless. The sun baked us as we hiked and once the clouds gave us some reprieve, we ate some snacks and immediately started to feel a little more enthusiastic. 

PC-- JDStylos, our last hut of the trip, Camp Stream Hut

We rounded the corner, and the valley took shape with The Camp Stream Hut just coming into view. The wood pile was stacked high, and every metal barrel was stressed at the seems with wood. The rustic walls had seen many of people as the door said “1898”. This little hut was filled with the most character we had seen. 100 years of smell from fires, cooking, shepherds, and hikers alike filled your nose. The concrete foundation was worn with the foot traffic over the years, and treasures left behind lined the walls. 

We read, listened to stories, played games and explored until enjoying our Spaghetti dinner than was originally planned for one of our summit day climbs. Oh man did that taste good!!

PC-- JDStylos, the hut always matched the landscape so well in every light

We awoke early in the morning to what sounded like rain pattering the hut only to realize that the slight change in the temperature caused the huts walls to awaken and greet the new day.

PC-- JDStylos

It was hard to say goodbye to the small hut and all the character it had to offer, as there is a chance it might be our last of the trip. We arrived back at the car late that morning and drove into town to fill waters, grab some groceries, fill the gas tank and start the drive towards Christchurch. 

PC-- JDStylos, reading past hikers that used the hut

We've settled in well here at the hostel in Christchurch. We enjoyed a real bed, shower, and washer for the first time in over two months. It's felt like luxury. It's been a bit tricking to get the car sold but we're working on it!! With about two days to go before we fly out, we're trying to relax and enjoy the city before we are engulfed with travel and jet lag! 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Half Way Through New Zealand

New Zealand

I envisioned New Zealand to be this epically magical place, where we would hike, be completely enamored by unworldly beauty and most importantly climb big southern mountains.

The Wanaka Tree PC-JDSTYLOS

Truly, New Zealand has been something of unworldly beauty, just minus the climbing part. I’ve managed to not write any recent blogs because we just haven’t been able to get any Climbing in.

Hike to Brewster Hut PC-JDSTYLOS

After Barff, we set our eyes on a route on Mt.Brewster. With weather moving in fast, we were quick to head to the mountain, but in the process didn’t give ourselves enough time to recover from our physical efforts on Mt Barff. We hiked to Brewster Hut at the base of the climb and were taken aback with how tired we felt. So rather than push ourselves to the point of exhaustion we opted to enjoy a beautiful blue bird day at the hut instead of going for the summit.

Brewster hidden in the clouds PC-JDSTYLOS

When we arrived back to town we decided to spend a few days resting and took a couple of days to hike to a “local” hut. Meg Hut is only a couple/few hour east hike from the road. We arrived to an adorable quaint shepherds hut only to be surprised to see 7 middle aged guys were spending there weekend away from the family there. They thoughtfully gave us the last bunk and offered one of their’s. What turned out to be not exactly what we had thought it was going to be still turned out to be a good night.

Meg Hut PC

We stayed in Wanaka in hopes to find something else to climb. When that didn’t happen we decided to head North towards Mt.Cook. We took in the eye widening beauty that is Mt.Cook. I’ve never seen such a massive mountain range. We smiled in excitement and pointed out Tasman, Dixon, Cook and her three peaks as they towered above anything nearby. 

Along with Mt Aspiring, Mt Dixon was on our list of climbs while we were here. After talking to plenty of people and with such warm weather we had assumed that the climb to Dixon and Plateau Hut (base Camp) were out. 


When we arrived to the Mt.Cook visitor center, we initially had planned to ask about some good hikes with beautiful Mountain View’s. After finding and talking to the Climbing rangers our faith was restored in our attempt to climb to Mt. Dixon. We had a short weather window, and cold temperatures that were sure to secure the quality of the snow. With about 95% of climbers flying into Plateau Hut, we were excited to be climbing in. With this probably being the last chance of the year to head up, we left the DOC Center with a jump in our step and a plan in our minds. 

After we had packed our food bags, and prepped everything for the following day departure, that night we climbed into bed with big intentions for the following days. 

Cards at Brewster Hut PC-Jdstylos

Before I even realized what was happening I quickly started to get cold, sweaty and a fever. We put the climb off for a day and got some rest but soon after our plans for our climb quickly fell down the drain as for the next 4 days I was laid up in bed. I eventually went to the doctor for a prescription to kick my infection.

After so much time lost, the weather warmed up and we threw in the towel and left the Cook area to go on and find new things to do. With almost all the climbs melted out we’ve tried to switch our mindset to get some good hiking in with the time we have left.

We have moseyed our way to the west coast, and between fighting off sandflies and rainy days we found a sunny afternoon to check out the tourist filled Fox Glacier. 

Dinner time PC-JDSTYLOS

After having seen so many glaciers, both Joe and I were fairly unimpressed with the tourist viewpoint of the glacier. With so much receding in recent years, you can barely see any of the glacier anymore. We started to walk down as I watched a guided group step over the twine fence and near a sign that said “guided groups only passed this point”. Even so, my curiosity got the best of me and I started asking questions to the guide.

She quickly reassured me that if you have any sort of Climbing knowledge that we should definitely go check out the glacier. That the sign there doesn’t mean you can’t get up there, mostly just to deter people from doing so. She mentioned the ice climbing possibilities up high and pointed out the gulley to the right that gives access to the glacier above. 


I took my new found knowledge and tried to suppress my excitement as I ran the idea passed Joe. We decided that tomorrow morning we’d see if we could get up there and find some climbable ice. 

The next morning the clouds loomed above us as we trekked out towards our objective. It was a short work to get to the toe of the glacier. Originally we thought we might have a wicked river crossing to do but after further inspection we decided to gain the glacier true left and traverse across the ice until we met the gulley. We carefully crossed the ice, with stones and gravel melted and frozen into the water ice surface, the travel was overall smooth and uneventful. We made it to the base of the Gulley when suddenly, just like in NZ fashion, it started to rain. The guide from yesterday warned us about one thing, and that was to be no where near that rock Gulley during the rain. So we promptly turned around after an hour and a half of Climbing. We spent the rest of the day hanging out in the car, watching the rain patter against the windshield and decided to give it one more try the next day. 

Unlike the day before the sky was cloudless the following morning. With the new found knowledge of the glacier we made it to yesterday’s high point in little to no time. We started up the Gulley and both Joe and I knew this was no place to stop and rest. We scrambled up and over the loose rocks and through streams. Massive house sized boulders loomed above our heads, still sleeping. Carefully not to wake them we climbed swiftly through the rock field to where the white ice of the glacier was now in view. We climbed out of the Gulley and sat on the rocks while we changed our shoes and placed crampons on our feet in preparation for a change in the terrain. 

Guided helicopters buzzed above us as they went in for landings onto the glacier. Most of the time when you are on a glacier you feel completely alone in the world. With guide companies bringing clients onto the “accessible only by helicopter” glacier all hours of the day, you feel a bit more like you’re in the city than on a living, breathing, crevassed glacier. 

Helicopter PC-JDSTYLOS

We stayed clear of the helicopters, and made detours around their landing pads. We stopped and said hello to one of the guides who pointed out the best ice climbing areas. He quickly warned us of the rock fall danger near the sides of the glacier but seemed happy to give us any information we were looking for. 

We thanked him, and went on our way. Unlike most glaciers I’ve been on the crevasses on the Fox Glacier are mostly filled in. So for the most part glacier travel was relatively easy. We saw the ice climbing locations not to far in the distance. Guided groups climbed away on massive semi vertical sheets of ice. We jumped across small crystal blue creeks that ran across the top of the ice and stepped methodically across the spines of ice walls. Late season conditions made the ice form into magnificent sculptures and shapes of all kinds. 

After four and a half hours of hiking, Joe and I decided that even though we hadn’t technically ice climbed anything we were both ecstatic with just getting to climb and play along the glacier. Without the luxury of a 5min helicopter ride back to town we decided that it was probably a good idea to start heading down. 

We made quick work of the glacier travel and arrived back to the rocks where we changed our shoes. Before we knew it we were quickly scrambling back down the Gulley. We didn’t dare to look up, only ahead at what move was next. By the time we climbed up and back out of the way of the rock fall danger we both agreed that we were glad to have the Gulley behind us. 

We made it back to the car by mid afternoon only to watch dark grey clouds roll into the glacier valley. We were glad to have left when we did. Both of us felt happy and physically felt great. It was so wonderful to feel like we achieved one of our goals.

Rock throwing competition PC-JDSTYLOS

With some success we smiled and said goodbye to Fox Glacier and kept making our way North. With rain pouring out of the sky we tried to enjoy some smaller towns along the way. 

So, with all of this warm weather we’ve set our Climbing goals aside for this trip and have started working our way north and looking into other fun, outdoorsy things we can find to do! We’ve started re-reading “Training for the New Alpinism” and are taking advantage of the immense playground at our finger tips to start training for next springs climbing objectives. We are both looking forward to going to some places that weren’t originally on the radar!!


Friday, December 8, 2017

The Southwest Ridge of Mt. Barff, New Zealand- 7,388ft, December 1st-3rd 2017

Going back to this last January, I started looking at mountains to climb here in NZ. The one that caught my eye was Mt. Aspiring. Also known as the “Matterhorn of the South”, she towers above the Aspiring National Park in high demand of respect. I researched the routes and the southwest ridge peaked my interest. Climb until you gain the ridge, then you’ll come to a couloir filled with ice. Two pitches of ice climbing leads you to the Northwest Ridge, where you gain the summit. The PERFECT route for where Joe and I were at in our Climbing, it’s all I could think about. 

I was most excited about Aspiring as it was the first Mountain and route I picked out for us to climb. So when we came to NZ only to here of warm temperatures and poor conditions, my heart started to sink and I tried not to think of the worst. We went from the DOC (Department of Conservation, similar to the National Park Service), multiple guiding companies, and to the gear stores in search of information. One of the guide companies conditions report confirmed our fears... “Southwest Ridge is incomplete”. In other words, rather than picturesque ice straight to the summit, you’re more like to discover loose and dangerous rock.  My heart sat in my stomach for a few days, to come so far for one major objective seems silly. But as Ive been told and am figuring out... that’s a part of Climbing. 

So with that, we started looking for new objectives. Asking around Wanaka, we were quickly laughed at when people figured out we didn’t have any rock gear. In a good snow year, ice screws and pickets are plenty. In a year like this, rock shoes and rock pro is the way to go. People started throwing out different options, one of those being Mt. Barff.

Mt. Barff

Everyone I've talked to about Mt.Barff doesn't know exactly why or the reason behind its unusual name. If I had to guess, I'd say that the person who christened the mountain with a name like Barff, must've puked multiple times just trying to get to the base of the snow.  Terrible skree rock lines her flanks and makes for a huge undertaking. 

We drove towards the Raspberry Car Park and encountered many fords along the way. The last looked deep and impassable for low clearance Hidey, so we parked her on the side of the road and added a mile and a half to our already 9 1/2 mile day. 

The first 3/4 of the hike is completely flat ground through the Matukituki Valley. Crossing through farm land in the presence of towering mountains on our sides and even larger beasts in front of us. We arrived at Aspiring Hut for a brief lunch and admired Mt Aspiring and Mt Barff that rose straight ahead. 

After a couple more hours of walking through flat valleys, we found ourselves at the base of the mountain that would lead us to Liverpool Hut. The sign read as: “Liverpool Hut-2 Hours. WARNING: This hike is steep and treacherous in wet AND dry conditions”.  

We started up and quickly realized that the sign was no joke. More like scrambling, most of the hike you were hand over foot pulling on roots and rocks to get you up. Over 2,500 vertical feet of “climbing” was had, with 40lbs if climbing gear on our backs. By the time we reached the hut we sat in exhaustion and stared at Barff that was peeking in and out of the clouds. 

Prior to leaving on this adventure, a local gear store employee advised us on the path through the scree rock to get to the snow. With a hand made map, Joe ate some lunch and scampered off to find the trail for tomorrow morning. I sat in the hut until his return multiple hours later. In that time a few hikers came to the hut for a nights stay, which we warned that we would be as quiet as we could at 1:30AM while we packed our bags and headed out for the climb. 

Joe returned looking tired but optimistic. With the hut being at 3,608ft, that meant we had 3,708ft to go for summit day. With an early start then next morning, we ate dinner and quickly climbed into our sleeping bags and fell asleep before the sun had set. 1:30AM rolled around faster than expected. Both Joe and I groggily changed and went to the mud room to grab our packs. We had left the hut by 1:57AM, and as we looked into the night sky an ominous cloud blanketed the summit. 

With mostly moonlight and stars we started up. Through the bush, we finally found our way to the rocks. A few wrong turns had led us astray but soon enough the cairns started to be more consistent and we knew we were on the right track. Each step was methodically thought about.  With pebbles on big flat slippery rocks, a fall would have high consequences.

 After two hours of just rock scrambling we found our first snow patch. We took advantage of the low angle and changed shoes, put harnesses on and roped up. The change from rock to snow was glorious, and rest stepping brought back wonderful memories from earlier this summer. 

The angle slightly increased on the mountain and the sun started to rise. Our hopes were high that the change in temperature would clear the dark cloud that we were now just a few hundred feet from. Up until this point the Climbing was easy. Few crevasses, and moderate angle made for smooth sailing. Soon enough we had climbed our way into the clouds. Before long the sky became the same color as the snow and the definition between the two was gone. 

I could see Joe just ahead and nothing more. The bright green rope between us glowed in the whiteout, keeping us together. The clouds would shift and we’d hold our breath, looking around for some sort of indication of where we might be, only to be engulfed again in the white. We stopped, took off our packs, threw on a warm jacket and waited.

We waited, and waited. In the same spot we sat and looked to see if the weather would be on our side. After more than an hour, doing sun dances and asking for a break the weather persisted. Should we go? Or wait just ten more minutes?? The thought of getting back to the hut and the Mountain showing her face made our stomachs turn in frustration. 

With the snow already soft and getting softer we knew our time had ticked away and we turned around following our tracks back to the rocks. When you do make the decision to go down due to weather, your mindset switches from: “please sun, C’mon, just a little less cloud!” to: “I hope I never see the sun again.”

Going down is always a tricky thing, with tired legs it tends to be the place where most accidents happen. With a summit in hand, the euphoria feeds into the thought process of thinking about each muscle movement that’ll get you down safely. Without one, it requires what seemed to be more thought and effort. 

We changed our shoes and took off our gear for the rock section. We stepped as carefully as we could. There was a few moments where my butt hit the ground but luckily those moments were met with a smile and laughter as we continued on.

We arrived back to the hut after 8 hours and 30 minutes of Climbing. We had made it 3/4 of the way to the top before turning around. Luckily when we looked Barff’s way, all there was to see what big, white, engulfing clouds. 

The rest of the day was spent in the hut. That afternoon the clouds increased and the wind picked up. Rain was repeatedly pelted into the side of the hut, and Joe and I were glad not to be up on the mountain. 

The next morning we headed down, we down climbed the roots and rocks and once safely at the bottom we celebrated with a candy bar, as we knew from here on out was just flat ground. 

Walking on “flat” ground is easier said than done. With heavy packs and tired legs the next 4 hours seemed to drag. When we reached the last mile and a half of our walk both Joe and I tried to not look ahead. I could’ve sworn the car was getting farther away even though we were walking towards it! 

Of course we got back to Hidey, took off our shoes and drove the rest of the way back to town. The clouds never broke around Barff while we were in the valley, only to solidify the decision to turn around.

While Climbing you tend to dream of the food you see in town. This trip was no different, and while trying to be good with our money we’ve only managed to eat out once the entire trip thus far. We decided to reward ourselves after a good effort and all we could think about was the Turkish Kababs and fries that were on the main drag. We had walked by the restaurant so many times, so to actually go inside was euphoric. 

We sat down, thoroughly stuffed ourselves with food and started thinking about the next climb. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

New Zealand and the Kepler Track

The three hour plane ride across the Tasman Sea seemed to fly by compared to our previous flight. Near the end, as we started to descend I looked out the window and to my right the Southern Alps started to come into view. I smashed my face into the window like a little kid and Joe leaned over me to see for himself. I couldn’t scrape the smile and excitement from my face even if I wanted to. The massive snow capped peaks seemed to continue endlessly south. I couldn’t believe we were finally landing in the place I had read and researched so much about. 

Going through customs in NZ was as easy as putting your passport in a machine, and going on your way. We quickly realized they care more about what you are bringing into their country then who you are. Our boots, tent, poles, gaitors and anything else that could have any sort of soil on it was throughly inspected. We were prepared for such grueling inspections, they gave us high praise and were sent on our way with no issues.

Christchurch seems to still be recovering from the 2011 earthquake that demolished most of the infrastructure here. Way smaller than either of us were expecting, the city brought a calm that I really soaked in. Soon enough, the reality started to sink in of how we were supposed to start traveling. 

Initially we planned on hitch hiking around the country. With heavy packs, filled with such specific gear we started to question ourselves. Multiple hostel goers had bought cars for traveling the country and after talking to everyone, Joe and I came to the conclusion that it would be a sensible idea to do the same.

Buying a car in NZ is nothing like the states. In a mere 24 hours, we decided to buy a car, found a car, drove it around town, purchased the car and registered it at the post office for $9.00 NZD. So with that, we welcomed “Hidey” (in relation to being sneaky, stealth and keeping hidden) the 1998 Volkswagen Passat Wagon into our lives. She’s no Ruby (The Suzuki/mobile humble abode back home) BUT she will do just fine (plus I’m only a little biased)! 

Joe and I drove Hidey from town to town across the southern tip of the country. We were on a bit of a time limit as in just a few days we were scheduled to start our first hiking adventure here in NZ called the Kepler Track. 

Prior to the hike, and along the way we stopped in multiple small towns, beaches and enjoyed other beautiful sights. The reality of where we are really started to settle in. Seeing all the sheep on the rolling hills of almost makes you wish you were one of them. They must live the most ideal life of any farm creature to roam the earth. Not only the sheep but cows, pigs and deer all live out their lives on lush green pastures.

We drove into Te Anau on Sunday and walked into the Fiordland visitor center. As we picked up our camping and hut tickets we were briefed on the quickly changing weather, sun scorched trail, and the cheeky Keas (alpine parrots known to steal, chew and rip anything they can get their beaks on).

The next day was a short day of hiking to our first camp spot so we took our time sorting gear, getting food and eventually got on the trail a little after one in the afternoon. We weren’t exactly being very weight conscious, with our Mountain goals coming up we almost welcomed the extra weight as part of our training. The first day of the Kepler Track had us winding through a forest of massive beech trees and ferns that towered above our heads. Being relatively flat we made it to the Brod Bay Camp site with plenty of sunlight. We set down our now heavy feeling packs and took one breath in, before BAM! We were immediately swarmed by Sandflies. If you have never had the pleasure of experiencing sandflies then let me tell you about them. These minuscule, nat like bugs smell your sweat, find your skin and bite a hole in your flesh before drinking the blood from the recent wound inflicted upon you. They’re small, hard to kill, hard to spot and usually come in the thousands.

They make resting especially hard. If you’re moving, they don’t bother you- but the moment you stop, prepare to be bitten! We attempted in making a fire, but sadly only smoke semi helps the problem. So we spent most of the evening in our tent away from the bugs. We did emerge after the sun went down and the bugs went to sleep to chat with fellow trail goers who were headed the other way. 

The next morning, we stepped out of our tent to be greeted by sandflies. After a few bites of muesley (a form of delicious oatmeal that is much better than traditional oatmeal) we said our goodbyes to the friends we had made the night prior and headed up the trail. The trail gradually worked its way up through the trees and with my lingering cold I found it to be harder than I would’ve liked it to be. Switch back after switch back we were passed by day hikers and trail runners all with lighter packs. After a few hours of hiking up, without warning we broke passed the trees and ferns out into our first look of the NZ alpine zone. 

Unlike the tree lines I’ve seen prior to this, where  the trees get smaller and a tree less than a foot tall can be hundreds of years old. Here the trees, were massive all the way till they just stopped. Rather than harshness of environment, the vegetation purely goes off temperature. Once it hits 9 degrees Celsius, the trees just stop.

 It was a blue bird day, and we stopped to gaze across just some of the NZ mountains. You could see our trail cross boardwalks that saved the fragile plants from being smashed. We walked across the boardwalk until our hut for the night came into view. The hut had alpine views for all to see, windows everywhere, and the best part- no sandflies! We slept in a big communal dorm room, and with it not truly getting dark until 10:30pm, it made a late night for everyone.

The hustle of morning hikers comes early, and even though being one of the last couple to get out of the bed we were still some of the first to get on the trail. The trail climbs and loses elevation the entire day. We took a detour off the track and summited Mt Luxmore (crossing our fingers it’s not the only summit of the trip!) and came back to find our bags surrounded by four Keas. Though they had not touched them, they looked mighty suspicious. 

Each high point of the trail brought different views, with no clouds in the sky my breath was constantly being take away with mountain after Mountain. After multiple hours of ridge walking we finally started to descend. One switch back led to another and then another... we found our selves back into the forest and eventually after 81 grueling switchbacks later we walked our sore bodies into the Iris Burn camp site only to be greeted by sandflies. We tried to find reprieve in the river cold enough to give you hypothermia but alas they were there too. The campsite eventually filled with other hikers, and the night was filled with laughter around the fire.

The next day we quickly left Camp and hit the trail. The trail was almost entirely through the forest and made for a monotonous day compared to yesterday. Though beautiful, we were excited to see the hut come into view and one of the most beautiful lakes either of us had ever seen. We dropped off our gear inside, picked out bunks and quickly headed for the water. It was so clear you couldn’t tell if it was a foot deep or a hundred. The water begged my aching body to enjoy its healing, cool waters. Both Joe and I swam and  mostly cleaned our dirty bodies. That night we enjoyed card games played with good friends and headed to bed in the dorm.

Early the next morning I found joe sitting out on a The rocks watching the ducks make ripples in the water. We watched the sun crest the mountain tops and quickly ate breakfast before being the first ones on the trail. My feet ached under the weight of my pack. After a few weeks of no exercise I was feeling it by this point. After what seemed like forever we stumbled into the Kepler Car Park. We had finished the hike but with 45 minutes of hiking back to where the car was parked it was hard to rejoice. A local must’ve seen our frustration as she quickly offered to give us a ride back to the car and with little hesitation we agreed and hopped in the back of the car.

We managed to not forget about the millions of people on the other side of the world celebrating one of the best Holidays that ever existed. We all dreamed about family meals, traditions and came up with the idea to meet up with our fellow hikers off the trail that night to have our own Friendsgiving in the park.  

We grilled up good ol’ traditional hamburgers and had our own thanksgiving BBQ. Apple pie and Vanilla ice cream filled our bellies to the brink of exploding. We cheered to good trail weather, food, and even better friends. 

The next day, Joe and I started to switch over our mindset. Knowing we are headed to the Mountains soon we took advantage of being so close to Milford Sound and drove the car north for a rest day. 

We stopped at multiple different places along the way but one in particular made our eyes wide. A massive field of blue, purple, white and pink lupin engulfed the valley. The smell and color overwhelmed your senses. Could such a place truly exist? I walked through them, carefully stepping around them taking in a site few get to see. 

As we drove on, the glacier carved peaks towered above the car. Finger like waterfalls fell over every single peak, each one falling more than hundreds of feet before hitting the valley floor. The sound was scattered with tourists and though we didn’t pay the money to ride the boat, helicopter or plane ride we did manage to soak in the views of big mountains that met the sea and hanging glaciers high above our heads.

The Kepler Track was a good start point to get our bodies in the mindset of heavy packs on our back and walking uphill. We headed to Queenstown to try to start researching about Mt Aspiring, but found little luck. After a quick dip in the lake we decided to make our way to Wanaka in hopes of finding some more climbing beta. 

With Wanaka being the base town for the Aspiring Region, we are right where we want to be. Now we start to focus on learning about the Mountain, and watching the weather.