Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Southern Alps of New Zealand

Arthur's Pass is what I had come to New Zealand for. I suppose I didn't know that when I stepped off the plane, but it's what I discovered two days later as I stood above the clouds at the top of Waimakariri Col looking at the West Coast of New Zealand...


The small stream I set up next to for my first night in the mountains.

Let me rewind. I'm getting ahead of myself.

As I drove into Arthur's Pass Village it was late afternoon. I just made it to the ranger station before it closed and I was greeted by a mild woman who kindly helped me choose a route through the national park.

I of course was chomping at the bit to do the most difficult and critical route on offer. I was already playing out how I would summit every peak along the way, and how I would arrange my tripod just so on some narrow ledge above a heart pounding plummet and get the most amazing pictures of grand vistas...

Waimakariri Riverbed. Hiking west.
Let me tell you something: park rangers in New Zealand are not the same as they are in the United States. She made passing note of the extreme difficulty, required equipment (of course I had none), and technical glacier crossing of what I thought would be the most fun route that I could accomplish in 4 days. And then she set me on my way with a route guide that also may have made mentioned something like "Suitable for experienced back country hikers only. Alpine experience and equipment essential".

What, like boots? That's alpine equipment right?

Now, I told her the amount of experience I had and she made little effort to deter me, so I walked out on my merry way. Had it been the United States, the park rangers would, and should have, physically restrained me when I told them my plan. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

I didn't hike long for the first day, as it was already early evening by the time I got to the dry riverbed that marked the beginning of my trek. I made my way for about three hours, heading west as the sun started to melt below the mountains ahead, before making my way to a grassy patch next to one of the many tributaries running down to the Waimak River. I set up camp as the light quickly faded and was soon laying under the stars. Eager for an early start the next day, I drifted off to sleep.