Friday, February 8, 2013

Journal Excerpts from the Rees Dart Track

Day 1: Bus from Queenstown to Glenorchy, bus from Glenorchy to trail head.  Dropped off with 5 other trampers.  Two Canadians, one solo Calafornian, and a father/son duo from Australia.  First half of the day was sunny.  Walked through private pasture land.  Mostly flat but parts of the trail have been washed away by the recent flooding.  Some creativity required.  Some dry trail but most of the first 4 hours were boggy.  Multiple river crossings.  Afternoon, rain.  Left flats and began ascending as we entered Mount Aspiring National Park.  9 hours to hut. 

Day 2: Cloudy, turning to snow around lunch time.  Passed over Rees Saddle.  Snow, rain, sleet, then sunshine.  Slippery decent to hut.  Arrived at Dart hut before 4pm.

"Morning Coffee-Dart Hut"
Day 3: Despite some soreness, I feel better than I have for a long time.  An hour of stretching and then a pack free day hike to the Dart Glacier and then Cascade Saddle.  A rather technical track.  Lots of water crossings, steep, and many areas have no trail.  Glad I didn't have a pack on today.  To the top and back, 10 hours (for me), shorter for Chad because he ran back to poop.  (There are no broad leafed plants on the trail.  And no one likes to wipe with scree.)

Day 4: Downpours.  Rest day at Dart hut.  Turned sunny in the afternoon.  On a recommendation from the warden, I went on a hike, off the trail through the bush, along a ridge line.  Made several mistakes here: One, I wore sandals in order to keep my boots dry for tomorrow.  Sandflies were ruthless to my ankles. Two, my thin pants do nothing to ward off attacks from the speargrass which can puncture skin with the slightest contact.  Three, should've found myself a walking stick.  Once in the low bush, the ground is irregularly covered with dense mosses, shrubs, and grasses, and it's difficult to see where solid ground is.  So with my sore legs and inadequate clothing I made my way through a foreign landscape and found myself a cozy moss cover rock to sit on and overlook the river.  Not long before the sandflies were making a feast of my feat and I resigned myself to the fact that today was not a day for adventures.  Quick dip in the river.  Breath takingly cold.

Day 5:  Fast pace.  Our companions left yesterday so just Chad and I on the trail. Chad coming down with a cold.  My mouth is breaking out in coldsores.  Getting low on fuel.

Day 6:  Final day.  I want to be done walking but I'm not ready to be out of the woods.  Save for a trail detour at a major river washout area, trail is not very technical.  Plenty of time to dwell on our imminent return to Queenstown and civilization.  Feeling like a child as I drag my feet.  In my best whine, I want to shout, "but I don't wanna go!"

Favorite part on the trip: the challenge of organizing and cooking good, nourishing (and light) food.  As we've done in the past, Chad organized the route while I planned the food.  That way are never short of an adventure and our bellies are always full.  Lessons learned regarding meal planning and cooking:
1. You only have so much fuel.  (The coal fired stoves in the huts were an added-and necessary-bonus on this trip.)
2. It's impossible to make biscuits over a stove that only has a setting for high heat.  Next time, I'm making soup and dropping in the biscuits like dumplings.  On the third night, I got so frustrated making biscuits that i went to bed hungry and let Chad eat the whole backpacker meal.
3. A two serving backpacker meal feeds one Chad
4. Chad's aluminum camp pots that he's had since he was 8 are not indestructible.  Nor are the sporks

Bragging point: Besides the 1 dehydrated backpacker meal we bought, I made all the meals from scratch, dehydrating veggies from the garden in the earth oven before we left.  I think the other folks in the huts were a little jealous!  After watching all of them choke down meals from a bag night after night, I new the extra weight was worth it. 

Pleasant surprise upon leaving the trail: Hans, the driver that picked us up at the end of the trail, was a great storyteller and full of fun facts on life and the trials of living in rural New Zealand.  Plus, he was the animal trainer for the Lord of the Rings movies.  Seems like everyone here has a connection to the films.  His other accounts were of packing coal in on horseback up to the backcountry huts with his daughters when they were little, working as a chef in Queenstown when money was tight, and most recently, how he lost his garden and his pigs in the recent flood of the Rees river.  He and "The Cook" had to climb a tree to escape the rising waters and after living on their farmlet for 30 years, for the first time are thinking about selling and moving on to a new adventure.

Why We Tramp:  Before leaving for our trip, a friend of mine (who would never dream of spending a night in the woods) asked me just why one would want to "do this."  I gave her a few reasons why I like to hike, camp, carry a 45lb. pack up mountains and across rivers, etc. but I also asked people we encountered along the way to see what they had to say.  Here are some responses I got.
"To be in nature." -Pat
"I'm inspired by the pioneersmen.  I want to be like Lewis and Clark, or Jeremiah Johnson.  To feel the high of being on a dirt path." -Andrew
"Punishment and reward." -Chad
"To get away from the office and test myself, to see beautiful scenery, and to do it while I still can." -Terry
"The scenery, the quiet, and the amazing country. (Not for the self torture.)" -Ben
"It has something to do with my relationship to the plant.  Freedom."
"For the sense of achievement and the views."
"To get away from the madness of the modern world."
"It's the closest I can get to another universe."
"To get out of cell phone range."

The common themes seem to be to either get away from something-work, society, technology, or to go to something-wildlife, stunning landscapes, nature.  Besides Chad, however, who called the labor aspect of tramping "punishment" no one seems to do it for the work and struggle required.  I find that modern technology and most areas of work, do not require much physical exertion.  It's why we need sports and gyms, and weight loss programs.  But there was a time in our collective evolution when walking with your home on your back over a mountain, across a plain, and through deserts was a part of existence.  Physical discomfort was apart of everyday life.  Bumps, bruises, a growling tummy, insect bites, and cold bath water were not out of the ordinary.   Silly as it may seem, I think I crave these things just as much as I crave that view from the top. 


  1. I just want to clarify something. When I refer to the physical aspect of the tramping and being on the trail as "punishment", I do not mean it in a self-immolating way. I feel that to truly appreciate what you are participating in and get to see/do, you should work for it. Hard. Plus, activities like this are a physical and mental challenge to myself. I like to see what I am really capable of and where my breaking point is. Never know when I'm going to have to run away from the zombies!

  2. So great to hear about your adventure Liz and Chad. Kelly and I were day dreaming with your photos wishing we were back on the trail counting the hours to our next hut. Lots of love and be well. We miss you.

    Matt & Kelly