One thing I had really wanted to do recently was to go out and spend some time alone trekking. I have been on some trips by myself but wanted to travel lighter and have to rely on myself to deal with whatever came across. Maybe I felt like this will give me a bit of preparation for my trip or maybe I just felt the need to be alone.
It’s a funny thing when exactly what you wish for comes true. Its one of the surest pointers I know to show you that you are on the right path, even if you are struggling to see it. On the sail over I had been chatting to Dave and John about different things to do while there and told them I wanted to go trekking, they both had done a lot and we discussed the different options available.
I Spent the first night at Dave’s and the next morning we had a chat about what I wanted to do, looked at the weather and decided that today was the day, I had three or four days of good weather and this was perfect for a trek into the Nelson national park. We packed my backpack; Dave lent me everything, ice axe, cramp-ons, Gore-Tex pants and jacket, sleeping bag, the lot, even the de-hydrated food. After a quick trip to town we were on our way and Dave assured me that the area would blow my mind.
Almost before I knew it I was alone, Dave was gone and there was total silence. I headed up the path and experienced the most amazing feeling of cam and inner stillness. The first hut was about three hours walk away and steadily uphill, the path itself was well defined and offered some amazing views over lake Rotoiti and St. Arnaud. Somewhere up ahead of my lay a hut that would be my home for the night. Often I just stopped, listened and looked, trying to take it all in. There I was, surrounded by amazing mountains and small patches of snow further up the path. I reached the hut with lots of light left and a big smile smeared across my face. Sitting, with a cup of hot chocolate on the steps, silently observing the mountains, the trees, the frost covered ground and clear blue sky above was an incredible feeling. Dinner, made by candlelight, and eaten outside between the star speckled sky above and the twinkling lights of St. Arnauld gave the impression of floating in space. Occasionally a car would pass over a ridge below like some slow moving shooting star, different only from the many I saw overhead by its speed. I sat there simply observing for quite a while.
Woke early, just before sunrise, to go shooting. The valley to my right pointed east and as the sun came up it flooded with the softest, crimson light which set fire to the hills, valleys and town far off down below. There are no words I could string together to fully describe it. A truly awe-inspiring start to the day. A strange thing did happen last night though, all the tea lights burned out long before I went to bed having only my head torch left, but awoke during the night to find one tes light burning again, didn’t know what to make of that. After a big brekky I shouldered my pack and set off again, the next hut was nine kms away.
Following the path up over the hill to the beginning of Robert’s ridge was a fairly easy walk and at the start of the ridge I sat and had some lunch, salami, cheese and a pickle with snickers for desert. One thing I had no shortage of was chocolate; Dave had slipped a big block in my pack as we were leaving the house. Onwards and upwards I continued following the ridge along. The scenery just got more and more spectacular, snow capped mountains off to my left and smaller mountain ranges heading to the horizon on my right, ahead the ridge climbed higher and the snow line approached. We certainly got the weather right; the sky was cloudless with a light, cool wind blowing. A long sleeved thermal, t-shirt and long pants were warm enough and even the borrowed boots fit snugly, no small thing. Arriving at the snow line and strapping on cramp-ons made the transition to true mountaineer complete, at least in my head anyways, and I continued my ascent up along the ridge. The sound of the snow melting, when you stopped and listened, drifted past like whispered secrets, just out of earshot and too many to make out. I took my time, stopping to take photos and look around; it felt like it was almost too much to physically take in. the feeling of being part of what was around me gave a sense of being very small and infinitely vast at the same time. I secretly hoped some of those whispered secrets would register subconsciously.
Coming over a ridge with a steep slope falling off to my right I stopped, assessing the best route along. The thought of swapping to my ice axe did cross my mind, and I soon paid the price for not listening to my gut instinct. As I made my way along the slope I lost concentration for merely a second, catching my cramp-on on the leg of my pants and tripping myself. The next few moments registered in slow motion but happened in fast forward, I hit the ice and began to slide. I managed to roll onto my back and turn feet first as I slid into the rocks, twenty or so meters below. Suddenly sitting precariously in a cluster of loose rocks and shale looking down to into the valley below. It scared the SHIT out of me. I was alone and couldn’t afford to be so careless. I swapped out to my axe and slowly made the climb back up to the path above and across a few steeper sections further along. I was shaken but didn’t want to stop for too long, giving fear and worry a chance to grow. Looking back at where I had fallen I realized just how lucky I had been. A few meters past where I fell the ice running down into the valley lay uninterrupted for a good forty meters before being broken up by larger rocks. It was a lesson learned and suddenly found me at the edge of my comfort zone. I vowed to be more careful.
A few other sections further along were pretty steep and I down climbed a few places where I probably could have walked, better safe than sorry. Still had no idea how far it was to the hut and kept thinking if would be over the next ridge, only to be greeted by another ridge time and again. Two people caught up to me and passed me soon after and revealed that the hut wasn’t far off, was good to have tracks to follow for the last steep section too and we parted ways at the intersection of the spear grass track as they headed down that way. On cresting one more ridge, there below was the hut. It sat beside a large frozen lake that was surrounded on all sides by mountains, this hut was larger that the previous one and was still a thirty minute walk away, zig-zagging down the hill towards it. I again stopped, looking, listening and feeling all that was around me. I had made good time, there was still plenty of light, and the weather was still amazing. I looked forward to the rest and the hot drink that wasn’t far off now.
Dave bet me that there would be people at this hut, however I found no one home. Felt great to get the cramp-ons and boots off and had a look around. Made that hot drink and sat out the front overlooking the frozen lake, snowy mountains and the clear sky. Dave was right, my mind was certainly blown. I soon realized that there was no water at this hut though, the fittings on the tanks outside were broken so made a fire and put some snow to melt instead. After a rest I grabbed the camera and headed out to look around. my biggest regret was that I had neglected to pack my 10-24 lens, I had a 24-105 but that extra angle would have made a huge difference as there was just so much to capture. About fifty meters away a steam ran from the frozen lake and every few minutes you could hear the lake itself bubble and gurgle like a big sleeping giant after a large meal. No way was I walking out there, didn’t fancy being his next meal. I sat out there till the light faded, and scoped out a few spots to check in the morning.
Ate under the stars again and after I looked over my maps to come up with a plan for the following day. The steep sections on the track worried me and I considered going down the spear grass track to get out. From my map it looked steeper at first but got you down to a river that you followed out. I figured I could down climb anything too vertical if I had to. Decided against this though as had planned with Dave was to go back along Roberts ridge and at least know what I had to deal with. I slept in front of the fire that night but struggled to sleep as I contemplated the walk tomorrow, but managed a few good hours sleep in the end.
Next morning was up with the light just starting to crest over the ridges surrounding the lake. Boiled a cup of coffee, strapped on my cramp-ons and headed out to do some shooting. The light was amazing, slowing changing from deeper blues through to violets and then reds that colored the sky and the mountains encircling me. Only my crunching steps through the snow and the gurgling of the stream broke the silence and serenity. The scenes around me changed second by second as the glow over the ridge intensified and finally spilled forth.
I had one more mishap, falling again as I started up the first hill, which was good as it really brought my attention back to what I was doing. I had three obstacles before me, the trail along Roberts ridge, the crest of the ridge and the steep slope along Christie pass down which I had fallen. I made the ridge without too much difficulty and was over the crest soon after, taking my time and talking to myself as I went along. Within a few hours I was at the last, and most daunting obstacle. It was steep, and my close call still burned fresh in my mind. I chose a slightly different path, climbing up a steep section to the gulley above and make my way along that. It was a slow, simple process, ice axe, left foot in, right foot in, repeat, but I was definitely on the edge of my comfort zone. Slowly I made it through, it was a good feeling knowing I had conquered my demons and was past the worst. The rest of the trek passed fairly quickly and was at the final hut in about seven hours; there I came across the first people I saw all day. A school group playing in the snow and to show what a mountaineer I was, I slid down the bank to land on the path with style. Except that I caught my trekking pole on the way down snapping it getting to the bottom looking a bit less cool than I thought. What do you do? Laugh at yourself and keep on trekking.
The walk down the switchbacks down the hill and to the car park was fairly easy, but was a bit disheartening to realize that the actual town was on the other side of the lake, five or six kms away. I was tired, hungry, sore and extremely happy. Kept putting one foot in front of the other and held my thumb out to the odd car that passed me by. Managed a lift back to town and checked into the backpackers at about six P.M. for a long hot shower and dinner. Had the backpackers to myself and though sleep was slow to come, as I processed the days past. Morning found me on the side of the road by seven with a thumb out pointing towards nelson. Took a good three hours waiting to get from St. Arnaud to the junction turnoff and then an hour or so there to get a lift to nelson, loved every minute of it though. Walking along with my backpack on, free and open to whatever may come was an wonderful, throw in amazing green hills and river flowing past and I was fully content.
This was one of the best treks I have done, exactly what wished for and there it was, delivered to me with huge lesson. If you listen to your gut instinct and be open to what the universe has available, it will provide. Being out there alone was the closest thing I have felt to being underwater, it was freedom, it was beautiful and I felt truly alive. I learnt a few lessons out there, some that I am still processing, but I can definitely say that there is something out there that can only be grasped by being there, by being still and by being open.