It’s hard to believe that six months have elapsed since our last post, and this time a year ago we were furiously dehydrating food and acquiring new bits of kit for the traverse. High time one of us got around to finishing the blog I reckon!
Alexis’ last post had us (Alexis, Mark and myself) arriving at the Hollyford road end, met by my dad and Allan. Dad drove us to Homer Hut where we spent a few days making arrangements for the long Fiordland section ahead of us, and spending time with various parents.
Having struck the first fine weather for some months, the hut was crowded with energetic people who had been town-bound for too much of the summer. Being a bit weary from the trail at this stage, we didn’t share such stir-crazy energy and hastened to get back to the solitude of the hills.
My parents had brought a food drop in to Homer Hut, and my dad hoped to join us for the next section during which we planned to run the Milford track in reverse and kayak the length of Lake Te Anau. But first we had to officially ‘get’ to Homer Hut, as we’d arrived from the Hollyford Road end by car. Dad spontaneously decided to join us for this section too, so in his trademark running shoes he took Allan’s place as we headed from the Hollyford Rd up Moraine Creek (Allan’s knees still playing up). In glorious Fiordland weather we approached Lake Adelaide, stopping at a smaller lake on the way for a swim - one of the few times we did this for enjoyment rather than to just get clean - and arrived at Gill’s Biv in late afternoon.
There are two rock bivs around Lake Adelaide, the other being Phil’s, and both are palatial. Phil’s biv even boasts a toilet and a tiered bunk system, while Gill’s gave us each separate sleeping platforms (though if I recall correctly, Alexis and Mark opted to share the 'Honeymoon Suite') and spectacular views of the lake and sunset. We spent the night in Gill's as it was closer to our route in the morning. The next day we headed up past Lake South America - named as such on account of its shape - and through Gifford’s Crack. This is the standard route taken by climbing parties as an access route to the northern side of Mts Sabre and Marian, but is in itself a reasonably perilous climb. The route certainly required care and though we didn’t use the bolts, we would have done so if the rock had been wet.
Gifford’s Crack tops out on Adelaide Saddle, and it’s just a short hop to the top of Barrier Knob from there. Rather than taking the ‘sui-sidle’ to the Gertrude Saddle we opted to climb the knob and descend the much less exposed way. The short snow-field offered a challenge to Dad, who was treading very cautiously with crampons on his running shoes (those who know him won’t be surprised by this madness!), but Alexis saved the day by cutting steps for him in old-school guide style and we were away. Descending from the Gertrude Saddle back to Homer Hut was a bizarre experience – being the first decent day for many weeks there were hundreds upon hundreds of people walking up to the saddle. Apparently the walk had been advertised on Lonely Planet as the best day walk in New Zealand and the news had spread. I was shooting out a continuous volley of "hi..hello...hi...hi...how's it going?...hi" as we headed down the valley.
So here we were back at Homer Hut, having arrived properly this time. Alexis’ friend Jono came to to join us for a day or two, and wanting to make his drive down from Christchurch worthwhile we decided to have a crack at Mt Christina while the weather remained decent.
Alexis and Jono had been thwarted by Christina once before, having picked the wrong path through the labyrinth of bluffs that cut off the original route. Their knowledge of the mountain proved useful this time though, as they successfully zig-zagged through the maze and up on to the snow below the ridge. The guidebook beta for the route is perhaps deliberately vague, and didn’t note that the easiest route to the summit is via the North Peak. Thinking that surely the authors would have mentioned this, we decided to take a direct route to the ridge and ended up soloing some easy though worryingly loose rock rather than taking what we later realised would have been the easier route up the snow-field to the North Peak. At one point, a dishwasher sized boulder blew out from under Alexis’ feet and tumbled down the mountain, taking all the smaller surrounding rocks with it. With typical nimble grace, Alexis managed to jump away, and luckily the rest of us were spread out diagonally below, but it was unnerving to watch the boulder bounce all the way down almost to the highway leaving a trail of dust and the aroma of gunpowder.
With no further misadventures, we reached the summit and were treated to a spectacular view all the way down to the Eglinton, and across the peaks of Fiordland – Tutoko, Pembroke and the Lady of the Snows. The descent was straightforward thanks to the cairns that Jono had built on the way up to mark our route. We were sure to kick them over on the way down though, so as to preserve the purity of the mountain and not spoil the challenge for the next party.
Back to Homer Hut for a third time, we had run out of time (and the enthusiasm) to run the Milford Track, so opted to bike along the road crossing the divide one last time before reaching the beginning of the track to Dore Pass. This was (forgive me) the door to the head of Lake Te Anau where our kayaks and the beginnings of our watery journey awaited us.