It began as all good adventures do, on the OUTC bus. It was Friday night and we were on our way to Fiordland. Goon was being passed around and everyone (or maybe just me) was feeling merry. It was after midnight before we made it to the campsite at Cascade Creek. I was sent on a recon mission to check out the campsite and to find the vans with the rest of the party. It was a brisk few minutes running down icy roads but eventually I found the van. The sight that presented itself resembled Shackleton’s ship stuck in the ice. Punters were huddled up, moping around waiting for their gear out of the bus. It was a rather sorry sight. It turned out that they had arrived 2 hours before us (We simply enjoyed Gore too much), so they were pretty ready for bed. Fast-foward and the bus made its way down the road to the campsite. Soon the gull wing doors opened and an avalanche of gear was tumbling out. It was chaos as everyone frantically looked for their bags. The disorganised mass of punters then started to make its way towards where the tents and flys were set up. A grumpy and rather round middle aged man emerged disgruntled from his caravan.
“Who the fuck is in charge? What on earth is bloody going on?”
“Oh we’re from the tramping club”
He stomped back into his caravan before reemerging to grab his chairs and tables. It didn’t take long before they were out of there. Perhaps our reputation preceded us. Hamish reckoned we should have just told him to piss off anyway. It wasn’t long (with exception of the Americans trying to put up a tent) before everyone was fast asleep.
I was awoken by the rustling of tents and the murmur of punters. I had no clue what time I was supposed to be awake. I was quite relieved when Beth passed my tent, giving me a chance to quiz her on transport plans. As it turned out I could sleep for another hour, yay! By the time I eventually emerged from my tent there was already a group cooking breakfast on the picnic table next to my tent. I hastily started to pack up my tent, wary of the wrath of hungry punters, or worse, hangry Cara. She eventually came over to grab the cooker as I was fumbling about with the tent. It wasn’t long before she returned complaining that I had picked a dud cooker. Bugger. Cold porridge isn’t exactly the most motivating breakfast in the world. Luckily Scott let us borrow his cooker (Sorry Scott!) and we were on our way to a steaming bowl of oats.
I was eager to get our walk under way, lest Fiordland curse us with unexpected rain. With the help of the other leaders we herded all our punters into the bus, ready to set of. It wasn’t far from the campsite to our drop off point, The Divide. We piled out here along with Charlotte & Asia’s group and Joe & Ali’s group, both of which were bound for Livingstone Ridge. The beginning of our walk was a stroll in the park. A gentle well-maintained walk up the Routeburn, accompanied by a glorious day and fist bumps from an elderly American gentleman. I let the pace slacken once we had gotten to the Key Summit turn off. The punters breathed a sigh of relief. Two people had independently had told me that Lachie was worried we would be too intense. Luckily, with a beautiful day ahead of us I was in no real rush. From the turn off the track drops down to Lake Howden Hut before diverging into the Routeburn and Greenstone tracks. We stomped down the track towards the Greenstone. The route march was lightened up by the usual tramping small talk, including educational lectures in the fields of botany and bird watching. We took another break on the Greenstone Saddle to get some energy in us before we crashed into the bush.
We were to follow the tracks of Danilo whose trip to Lake Roberts was our inspiration. His route took us for a short traverse of a swamp before heading into the bush, tracking around some lakes and then up and over a saddle to Lake Roberts. The bush bashing was a bit of a shock for the American punters but they took it like champs. The undergrowth wasn’t that dense and we made slow but steady progress uphill. This wasn’t enough for Cara, who decided to split and forge her own route. She was powering in front of us, so I admitted defeat and followed in her tracks. The forest evolved around us as we gained altitude. The trees grew shorter, the scrub thick and the going tougher. Nothing we couldn’t handle. After a bit of scrambling we were out onto the tussock, from here it was just a little bit of a grunt up to the small lakes on our route which marked our lunch stop. This would have been an opportune time for some blasting of Lord of the Rings music. There was good variety in our lunches. Samuel went with canned tuna heaped up on a wrap. Lachie had accidentally bought aioli instead of hummus. As for myself, Cara had catered my lunch, packing an entire wheel of brie along with crackers and hummus, plus carrots and an apple. A luxurious spread by my standards. Every so often we would catch Samuel doing his best Captain Planet Planeteer impression. From the looks of it he was just as successful as the power of heart (Really he was just using his GoPro from a hand mount).
We lazed around here for half an hour. The sun danced across the sky, baking the earth and roasting us in the process. We certainly weren’t complaining. Eventually we managed to build up the motivation to start the real uphill slog. There was a bit of bog navigation and stream jumping before we could get to the base of our big climb. There was a bit of debate over which route up and over we should take. After much discussion we came to the consensus that the path up the left would be the most viable. The gradient started out okay. However, the higher we climbed the steeper it became. Soon we were hauling ourselves up on tussock. The rocky patches offered some reprieve from the treachery of the slippery grass. It was on one of these sections that Lachie uttered a memorable line:
“I’d eat an orange if you peed on it” — Lachie
“Eyebrows” — Me
He still hasn’t eaten the orange yet. Lachie, if you are reading this, you better watch out, I am coming for your eyebrows.
Isabel supplied some inspiration music to get us up the hill. After what seemed like an eternity the ground began to flatten out and we were onto the scree slopes that lead up to the saddle. The American girls were not a big fan of scree. The going was slow as we wound our way up the rocky slope. No one was hit by rock fall so that was a plus. Up, up, up. Towards the saddle we were channeled into a rock gully. Moving up this was a bit of an art but at least it wasn’t wet. We were relieved to reach the saddle. Sadly there was a shelf below us obscuring the view of the lake. I was eager to keep moving as I had the forecasted rain in the back of my mind. Eventually the others got the message as I made my way downhill. The next issue was navigating from the shelf down to the lake. To the left and straight ahead the route would take us down a series of very steep rock ledges. Luckily Cara scouted out a possible route to the right, shuffling around some outcrops before dropping down rockfall. I rounded up the troops and down we went.
This decent was far from easy. It was a bit unnerving when Cara pointed out that the rockfall was relatively recent. Like a worried mother duck I pushed the punters on with comments like “We probably don’t want to stand on here for too long”. Apparently that was quite motivating. As we descended we heard the occasional cheep cheep from an evasive rock wren. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t spot it. By this point my focus was on getting to the lake so I could stop for the day. Powering ahead almost cost me my dignity as my choice of path was less than desirable. I slid down the slippery edge of a creek, a fraction away from becoming a mud cake. I duly signaled back, in my most dignified fashion, for the others to go around. 20m above the lake there was a small plateau with a stream running through it, which looked to me like a good campsite. I wanted to get Cara’s thoughts on it before I set up my tent. The punters all filed in over the next minute or two as I waited. However, Cara took forever and a day. After about 10 minutes she emerged coming down the slope. It turned out that she had found the rock wren, so had given it the runway treatment for 10 minutes.
She just shrugged when I asked her about camping, so we began setting up camp. Samuel had brought a 4 person tent, whilst me and Cara both had one person affairs. There was also a fly to chuck all the bags under. As I fluffed around with my tent Cara did a disappearing act, heading over towards the outflow of the lake. I hobbled off in the same direction. Lake Roberts empties over Earland Falls, a 174m waterfall visible from the Routeburn track. As I made my way around I looked up and saw grey clouds roll into the valley. Not the best. I eventually found Cara, dabbling at the edge of the cascade of water that forms the top of Earland Falls. As we walked around she pointed out a rock biv that she found. It would need a bit of cleaning up but it looked dry, with enough room for three.
We slowly made our way back to camp. Cara was keen to start prepping dinner and I was forbidden from helping (Edit: Apparently not true). The sun was shining so I took the opportunity to inflate the aquanaut I had carted all that way in the hope I would be able to take it for a paddle. Many breaths later and it was semi-inflated. Good enough. I made my way awkwardly down to the lake where the others were sitting, carrying the raft above my head. After gaining consent to skinny dip I launched my craft, stripped down and jumped in. In all honesty the experience was much better than I had ever envisioned. I was careful not to drift towards the outflow of the lake. I wasn’t so keen to try white water rafting on this occasion. It was rather picturesque on the water on my craft. The sun came in and out of hiding as I was on the lake. I decided to land before I lost my chance for a proper dip in a bit of sunshine.
I was pleasantly surprised when the other Kiwi lads were up for it. We braced ourselves in anticipation as the American girls observed with some amusement. I would like to say what followed next was a display of pure masculinity and Kiwi toughness. In reality it was more akin to a trio of giggling, screaming girls. The water stole any sign of masculinity. It would be a while before any of the three of us would be able to reproduce.
With that ticked off the bucket list we made our way up to the campsite for dinner. Cara in true Cara fashion had put on quite a meal of Couscous with lemon and feta and almonds and tomato and cucumber and cumin. It didn’t stick around for too long with 6 hungry mouths to feed. This was followed up by some brownie. This is why I go tramping with Cara! We finished the night huddled up like penguins, sharing tall tales and dubious stories. The sun was setting when we retreated to the warmth of our tents. As darkness descended a new threat revealed itself. Strong gusts of wind buffeted our campsite, threatening to dislodge us, throwing us into the lake. It’s safe to say we didn’t get very much sleep that night.
We rose with the sun (or the lack thereof). Our sleepless night was motivation for to get going. It was cold outside, with the wind stealing our warmth. Low cloud rolled through the valley and the weather flirted with the idea of raining. Porridge that morning was almost better than dinner. We had cinnamon, brown sugar, apple and cream. Yum, yum, yum for my tum, tum, tum. Everyone was wrapped up in their warm woollies ready for the return trip. With everything packed up it was time to walk into the clouds above.
The going was a lot better than I had expected. It was just a bit of a grunt but totally manageable. The rock wren teased me on the way back up, evading my sight but assaulting my ears. As we climbed up to the saddle we were just about blown away by the strong winds. Dropping down the other side we were given some much welcomed shelter from the gusts. To our surprise not far from the saddle we emerged from the cloud. Once again we could see the lunch lakes and the Livingstone Range. This made navigation a lot easier, a fact we were thankful for. We decided to drop down to the right following Danilo’s alternate route. I found all this talk of the mythical figure ‘Danilo’ and his route made me feel like I was looking for the lost City of Gold. Maybe I’m just weird like Cara keeps telling me. We hugged the mountain as we sidled around, careful to maintain height as to track above a steep gorge. We basically were just making a beeline for the Hollyford Valley. As we made our way down we stumbled on a strange cut in the landscape. It was only fair that we stop to investigate. The ravine hide a series of holes and caves, one of which we couldn’t see the bottom of. We decided that it would be best not to fall in there.
Down the hill we went. Eventually the land flattened out into a plateau. Walking across this plateau gave us a view of Earland Falls. It was interesting seeing the valley from a different perspective, it validated my lack of enthusiasm for white water rafting from the lake.
The American girls did some good spills walking across the plateau as the foliage hid a variety of traps. Soon we were into the bush again. The forest on this side was different from that on our route up. It was a lot more… ferny. This aided our rapid decent. We swung fern to fern, with our best Tarzan impersonation. Eventually we crashed out of the bush onto the Routeburn track. We were sad that we didn’t get a chance to startle any tourists. From here it was a rather pedestrian walk out to The Divide, with a quick stop for lunch at Lake Howden Hut.
It was around half an hour before the bus showed up at the Divide. I was a bit concerned that Charlotte and Asia’s group hasn’t showed up yet (they don’t know how to use a PLB)(Edit: I was recommended to add awkward laughter here). Everyone was trying to convince me that they were coming out somewhere else. As luck would have it while we had to wait at the Divide to shuffle transport Charlotte and Asia emerged with their group. Phew. It was on the bus that we heard the horror stories from Paul, a night spent sleeping on a rock slab and repeatably sliding down, Scott forgetting their groups cooker (sorry Scott), being drenched by clouds. Made our trip sound rather nice in comparison!