Monday, January 21, 2008

We changed up our route again between Wanaka and Queenstown. It meant
we had to head north a bit, which goes against our final aim but it
was well worth it. We ended up heading through Mt Aspiring National
Park which was full of jagged mountains and glaciers.

We meet a lot of people on our journey who are impressed with what we
are doing, the most common response being either "you're crazy", or
"you're keen". On our way up the Matukituki River Valley we met a
family who definitely won our respect. The couple from Seattle, who we
totally forgot to even ask their names, were out hiking with their two
young sons. One was 8 months, the other I think was 2 years. The
mother was carrying the 2 year old in a backpack with some gear, the
father had the hugest pack I've ever seen and the baby on his front.
That's dedication to keeping up the outdoor lifestyle when you also
have a young family. We were impressed and inspired (not that we're
planning on popping out kids any time soon.)

We headed up and camped just below the treeline on the way towards
Cascade Saddle. We heard that it was meant to rain overnight but clear
around midday. We planned on having a sleep in to let the weather
clear and I went to bed thinking 'alright rain, bring it on, get the
wet out of your system by tomorrow'. By that I did not mean for it to
start raining inside the tent. It deluged from around 7pm to 1pm the
next day. We tested our single wall tent to the limit, and it didn't
do so well. Luckily we were on foam sleeping mats, otherwise we might
have drowned. We woke to water dripping on our sleeping bags, our
faces, all our stuff inside the tent, and pooling in the indents in
our sleeping pads like an ice cube tray. Life was pretty miserable at
that point. Our bodies were seizing up from too much time lying down,
it was pouring out, and we needed to pee. We debated what to do, it
was approaching 12, the weather didn't look like it was changing but
we couldn't handle much more time in our cramped, wet tent. Finally
around 1pm the rain abated, by this point we were already starting to
pack up inside the tent. By the time we got going at 2 and got above
the treeline the sky was a perfect blue, its crazy how it can change
down here.

The Cascade Saddle route was another that can with serious warnings:
Do not attempt this route in adverse weather, steep snow grass slopes
are treacherous when wet, etc. We didn't have any problems, in fact,
we were delighted to find an actual trail went the whole way so we
didn't have to walk right on the slippery snow grass and tussock. I
guess a lot of people do get caught out every year who aren't prepared
or do not have the common sense to deal with bad weather conditions.

We ended up having an amazing day. The Cascade Saddle is right next to
the Dart Glacier, the closest we've got to a glacier since living in
France a couple of years ago. It was impressively deep and there was a
stunning 1000m drop off on one side back down to the Matukituki River.
It was worth the wait in the rain and the steep climb to get to it.

We saw some Kea when we were up at the saddle. Kea are a big green
parrot native to NZ who are too smart for their own good and have an
attraction for shiny and expensive gear. They are known for ripping
rubber parts off cars and shredding unattended tents. This made us a
little nervous as they hung around while we were having lunch with all
our wet gear spread out around us. Other than having to keep a close
eye on them, they are magnificent birds. Especially in flight with the
orange underside of their wings flashing as they soar above.

We then finished our route down to Glenorchy down the Dart, then Rees
River Valleys. We saw more people on the Dart/Rees loop than we have
in a while. You can always tell which are the most used tracks because
the huts are in the best condition. We feel some of these huts have
moved beyond the 'backcountry' label, we stayed in the Dart Hut which
had 32 beds, a huge kitchen/seating area, big deck space and,
unbelievably, flush toilets! Definitely unexpected but necessary I
suppose when there are that many people coming through one area.

We're now in Queenstown which isn't officially on our route - we
hitched from Glenorchy down to here to resupply. Plus we were able to
stay in the Markham's place down here which has been pure luxury for
us. Beds with sheets and a real pillow instead of a rolled up fleece
and sleeping bag, a couch to hang out on, and a kitchen with pots and
pans that we don't have to share with 1000 others. We loved it. Thank
you so much.


Impressive backpacking family
Alice and Dennis at Cascade Saddle
Alice looking over the 1000 M drop off
Dart Glacier
Inquisitive Kea