We had an early wake up call again today, but rather than moaning and groaning about it I decided to hop out of bed and motionlessly eat my OSM bar for breakfast. Alana, who has always needed a little time to get her saliva and stomach acid flowing in the mornings, saved her breakfast balls for when we set out on the trail at around 6:50. Today was going to be the pinnacle of the hike, the longest and most difficult day, nothing but steep uphill followed by steep downhill.
Not wanting to put off the misery of a two hour uphill slog any longer we started walking, our legs screaming in protest as they worked out all the stiffness accumulated from the previous days hike. Fortunately, the weather was clear but cool as we made our way up the series of switchbacks that lead to Mackinnon Pass. Eventually we emerged from the forest and were rewarded with some pretty spectacular views of the valley we had just come from.
The views only grew in scale and splendor as we drew nearer to the pass. I felt a pang of longing for the little yellow flowers of yesterday, but today we had a few varieties of white flowers with different sized and shaped petals for company on our walk. There was a memorial to Quintin Mackinnon, who discovered the pass in 1888, at the top of the pass. There were also phenomenal 360 degree views of the valleys on either side of the pass and the mountains that surrounded them. There was so much to soak in as we made our way across the pass and began our descent.
The scenery on the way down seemed very similar to the way up, but it was a whole new forest and set of mountains in the background that we hadn’t been able to see before. Alana and I often talk about if you can ever reach a point where you become over saturated by all of the stunning mountain landscapes on all sides in a place like this and start blending them all together in your mind. I think it’s certainly possible, especially if you’re moving at a quick pace like in a car, but generally hiking is pretty slow going. I think something about the slow but intent pace allows you to really focus on all of the individual aspects of each scene you pass and fully contemplate and consider all of the differences between this mountain or fuzzy moss covered tree and the next. It really is a never ending source of amazement for me. It is like a meditative state you can enter while walking, and one of my favorite parts of these hikes.
This is just my point of view though. Alana has a slightly different take on the experience of hiking up and down steep mountain trails all day long:
“That morning I woke up feeling pretty good. It’d be two hours to the top, and then downhill is easy, right? Right?!
Well, my mood went downhill as we began our ascent. As I grew out of breath more often and felt like I’d never feel nice again, I grunted and glared at Richard. I stared out into the surrounding bush of trees and moss, gasping for breath and stuffing another breakfast ball down my throat. Get this: I stared at the bark of a tree when two feet to the left was a beautiful view. Exhaustion does interesting things to a person, eh?
Eventually I actually had enough calories to both hike the seemingly endless switchbacks and appreciate where we were. Grabbing onto the straps hanging off the back of Rich’s backpack helped. Thanks for that, buddy, pulling me up the mountain. We paused for a break here and there and sweat poured down my face, while comparatively, Rich’s face might as well have been a desert. Was I too hydrated? Was the 5 months of sitting on my butt in an office catching up with me?
Maybe. But what can you do when you’re in the middle of climbing a mountain? Sulk? Oh, I sulked! Let me tell you, I can sulk so hard while hiking, just call me the Sulk Master. Rich says he goes into a meditative state. I start counting my steps. Telling myself a story. Pretending the pain is pleasurable (it works, sometimes). Anything to distract from the sulk.
After we cleared the tree line, my mood brightened. “You get some sun and suddenly you’re awake!” Rich quipped, bless his heart. He is the shining example to loving me at both my best and my worst. I waved at him, grunted happily, probably pushed him, and took advantage of my better mood to practically bound the rest of the way up to McKinnon’s Pass. We made it and it was worth it.”
Because there was still a danger of avalanches (we could see a lot more snow on the mountains from up on the pass than we could down in the valley), a section of the main trail was closed and we had to take a very steep emergency detour on our way down. Our legs were screaming by the time we reached the bottom. Something about all of the balance and stabilization needed when going downhill makes it much more difficult and unpleasant than going uphill in my opinion.
Not long after we reached a shelter where we could leave our packs while we took a side trip to the tallest waterfall in New Zealand. It was a forty five minute walk uphill to get to the Southerland Falls but it was well worth it. The journey wasn’t so bad without the extra weight of all our stuff, and we got to cross a few really cool bridges along the way. The waterfall was a really incredible sight. The water pounded down into a pool from 580 meters up and there were beautiful mountains all around. The mist from the waterfall sprayed out a pretty good distance and felt nice and refreshing. We took a pretty long break here to chat with some friends before we made our way back down to the shelter to pick up our packs and continue on to the hut.
We had another hour of downhill to get to the hut and it didn’t take long for our legs to start protesting again. We eventually made it to the hut and had feasted on our block of cheese and trail mix. Then we took a quick walk down to the river and had a nice long soak in the frigid water. It was nice that there was a place to swim so close to all the huts. It really feels great after a day full of walking to get off all the accumulated sweat and dirt. It also helps you stay awake and the cold temperature is nice for the sore muscles.
I got out and put on a change of warm clothes again, but since we were at a slightly lower elevation it was a bit too warm and I ended up working up a good sweat cooking and eating dinner (same three veggies with 豆干 in a butter chicken sauce over rice).
Our walk took around seven hours today, so when we finished dinner at around 7:20 I was pretty much ready for bed. It probably didn’t help that I had skipped my afternoon nap.
P.S. All picture captions were written by Richard.