7 February 2007. Liverpool Bivy Hut, day 1 of Mount Aspiring NP.
Took a shuttle in from Wanaka, finishing off half a kilo of yoghurt on the washboarded road into Rasberry Creek carpark. This will be the longest trip, in terms of days, of the time in New Zealand; the pack is painfully heavy with food. Hot today, about 25 degrees C; the sun felt heavy. It took me about two hours of hiking along mostly level ground to make it into Aspiring Hut, where I took a long lunch and read some. In a first in a long time, I've probably got too much food. I dropped most of it off the hut before continuing up-valley. Headed past Shovel Flat and then up to Liverpool Bivy Hut. Intense. Steeper than the climb of McKellar saddle on the Routeburn/Caples track. The "trail" gains 500m elevation in about 1km map distance, or roughly a 50% gain. In many spots, you're "laddering", stepping on and pulling on tree roots in order to get up. From the top, there were amazing views back down-valley towards Aspiring Hut, across to French Ridge, and up to Mount Aspiring. The ridgeline to the east holds the Maud Francis and Bonar Glaciers. Many huge waterfalls.
Looking up one section of trail. Look for the orange triangle marking the route...
Looking back down what I've already come up.
Mount Banff, northwest of Liverpool Bivy Hut.
From the crest of the trail, you head slightly back down to the tiny Liverpool Bivy Hut, with room for six. There's a nearby stream to filter but no water provided at the hut. I'll be sharing with two Quebecois and an Austrian tonight.
I went back up to the trail crest for sunset photography, with massive views down the valley. Heard and saw a wild Kea!
Sunset view above the Matukituki River Valley, Mount Aspiring National Park. Aspiring is the high peak on the far left. The next, more-rounded peak to the right is Mount French. Coming down and to the right, French Ridge descends below the snow to the shoulder where French Ridge Hut sits. To the right of French Ridge, the Maud Francis glacier reaches across to Rob Roy Peak. Continuing beyond the ridgeline, you can see Liverpool Bivy Hut in shadow and the lower Matukituki River Valley. This is a composite photograph stitched together from eight individual photographs, covering about ~150 degrees of arc.
8 February, French Ridge Hut.
Not much distance today. Just across the valley. Of course, that meant starting at an elevation of 1000m, dropping down to 600m, fording a small river, and going up to 1400m on the other side. Many, many times you're stepping up to knee height or even mid-thigh. And I have fairly long legs to start with, being 193cm (6'4") tall... It's amazing that it's considered a trail at all. Think of a nasty unofficial climber's trail in the North Cascades and you'll get the idea. Some dodgy sections.
Photographed some of the falls/grotto at the base, then crossed the stream. Should have gone up to the bridge, 1km upstream. Wet feet. Stopped to dry out, had lunch early. Pushed up the other side. DOC lists it at 3 hours; I did it in two and a half with a ~15kg pack. Liverpool Hut has more of a view; this one is a little bit removed on a shoulder. A light rain started about forty-five minutes outside of the hut and has continued throughout the afternoon. Heavy winds at times, buffeting the hut. Glad not to be in a tent. Even in the hut, you can usually hear the waterfalls coming into Glacier Gorge, some ~1km away. Massive vertical drops, around 100m. For a prediction of good weather, it's quite messy. Standing water up to a four or five centimeters deep outside. No sunset to speak of, just a gradual lowering of the ceiling down to about 2000m by dusk and a gradual darkening.
Hope tomorrow's okay. I'm skeptical about camping at the saddle.
Falls on Avalanche Creek, near the junction for Liverpool Bivy.
Behind French Ridge Hut, dusk.
9 February, Cascade Saddle.
Just a few short notes here as I'm working by headlamp, after dinner, after twilight. Full Dark. Amazing display of stars above, including the Milky Way, Southern Cross, Orion, and a shooting star.
Left French Ridge Hut late this morning, about 10. Heavy mist and blowing, from yesterday afternoon through leaving. Sketchy in spots on the wet rock on the descent. Almost downclimbing in spots. Notably heavier water on the Matikutuki River. Went upstream briefly to a swing bridge and photographed a nice little pocket falls. The weather was clearing as I descended into the valley.
Light rain or heavy mist.
Looking down-valley, above the clouds.
It's a little hard to make out, but when the Kiwis warn that something is steep, you ought to listen.
Stopped about an hour in Aspiring Hut. Picked up the food I'd cached, ate, attempted to dry out socks. Left some food for others. A good forecast and clear skies pushed me to try for the saddle. I didn't have a tent with me, so the question was whether I was willing to risk suffering in the bivy sack if weather came up. The potential payoff seemed worth it. Late leaving.
It's about 1200m gain from the hut to the crest; it took me about three hours of consistently hard hiking to make it to the top in time. The equivalent effort of a good run, with my heart rate at about 150bpm while moving; took a two-minute rest every thirty minutes.
On the way up to the saddle.
It's absolutely stunning at the top. Totally stunning. If I, goddess forfend, lose all of the film and digital files, this view will still make the trip worth it alone. There are very few places that deserve a true 360-degree panorama -- most have at least thirty or fort-five degrees of missable section -- but this is one. Wish I'd had a spinshot, 617, or panorama rig. On the other hand, it also felt totally obvious that there was no way I was going to capture the entirety of it, the immensity of it. I may be one of the most beautiful places in a country that's world-reknowned for its landscapes. It competes solidly in my top ten, maybe my top five.
I stayed until late twilight, then came slightly off the crest and found a spot to bivy. I wasn't really that hungry, so I had one of my hoarded Clif Bars and hot chocolate in the jetboil by headlamp. At least some things are right with the world. It was a hard push to get up here, and a risk. Totally worth it.
Falls below Asgard Peak, south of Cascade Saddle.
A little bit of sunset color on the southern peaks.
10 February, Dart Hut.
Set the alarm to get up for sunrise this morning and made it. Overnight, clouds had come up and settled in at 1600-1700m, just a hundred meters or so below the crest, and just at the elevation I'd camped at. The surrounding peaks were higher, rising above the sea of clouds below. The Moari name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, "The Land of the Long White Cloud"; this seemed perfectly appropriate.
Sunrise from Cascade Saddle (stitched panoramic).
After photographing, I descended back into the clouds. It was immediately colder. I hiked across to the saddle, but couldn't see anything. You can make out the trail in the lower-left shaded section.
About ten minute's walk below the actual saddle, the clouds cleared and I got a view of the top of the Dart Glacier.
Looking back up the lower Dart Valley.
11 February: Dart Hut to Daley's Flat Hut.
Side stream feeding into the Dart River.
Walking along the flats, looking back up towards the peaks.
Alpenglow reflected in a side stream near Daley's Flat Hut.
12 February: Daley's Flat Hut to trail's end.
Braided streams in a gravel bed below Daley's Flat Hut, along the Dart River.
Getting back into the forests.
Yet another set of cascades on a side stream...
Ripple marks in glacial silt along the Dart River.