JAN 24th, 2018
What an adventure.
Probably one of my most last-minute and least-prepared trips yet.
I had met Pascal in a campsite earlier that week out by Lake Hayes. He was also travelling solo in a van, as I noticed he was working on some video editing. Naturally, we made conversation instead of hiding away in our vans like self-isolating anti-socialites.
Although it feels good to do that sometimes.
Being from Munich, just about an hour outside of the Alps, I could tell he would be keen on a mountain adventure. The next morning, we exchanged contacts and agreed to go on a hike or something, since it was his last week in New Zealand.
Always down for spontaneous adventures.
We texted later that evening and formulated a loose plan. He said something about climbing Mt. Critchton, Which I didn’t think was a major peak or glacier around the Queenstown area...
Should be fine, right?
I looked it up online and was slightly bummed to see it was just a 2-4 hour loop trek at the base of the mountain, near some historic gold-mining infrastructure. Either that or the trip report I read about where a couple got lost and spent 22 hours getting soaked in the rain trying to climb this thing.
Well, let’s just start early and see how it goes.
I met Pascal in the parking lot for the loop trek, prepared the remnants of my fridge for lunch, and had a banana. I was running out of water, but I thought my full Platypus would be enough. I brought extra layers just in case.
We started on a mellow, rolling trail, and knowing that we were both into trail running and hiking, that this would be a breeze. I enjoyed hearing his stories about his last three months in 'Neuseeland' and a bit about where he grew up in Germany.
About fifteen minutes passed and Pascal stopped me along the trail, and pointed up the bush, saying that’s where we needed to go. He had a GPS map downloaded of the route.
Oh my god, is this guy gonna murder me and drag me off into the woods?
He seems harmless enough.
“Are you sure you’re okay with this…?”
“Yeah, sure, let’s do it.” I lied.
I knew I wasn’t quite mentally prepared for this.
But I already started calculating my orientation, and new I could always navigate my way back down.
“I just don’t know if this is a… trail?” I didn’t see a path anywhere.
I felt the environmental conservationist inside of me screaming for the poor moss I was tramping on.
I went with the inkling of faith that everything would be just fine, and we traipsed up through the woods with good traction.
Moments later, we found a faint trail and followed that, which was a bit of a relief though branches had been strewn across as if someone didn’t want us going up there...
We enthusiastically ascended the steep trail, eager to get above the tree-line. Once we did, we could see the summit, and how far away it was.
Oh man, that’s far. And steep as.
But I knew he’d be down to turn around if either of us felt uncomfortable.
I like people like that.
I also didn’t want to give up so easily.
What kind of girl would I be, anyways?
So we climbed for a few hours until we stopped for a late breakfast of some fruit and nuts. It made me happy to see that he had grapes, bananas, and some nuts to graze on.
Cool, I’m not hanging out with some meathead.
No judgements though…
With a strong breeze and clouds coming in, we kept moving to stay warm. We ascended the ridge in towards the clouds. Just one more ridge. And another. And another.
We gained about 6,000 feet, or 1,880 meters.
Legs are feelin’ good.
Not sure about this summit though.
Looks kinda sketchy.
We kept checking the GPS map, making sure we were on the right track. The trail was pretty sparse, but we came to the conclusion that the direction was pretty much just… up.
6,000 vertical feet of up.
But I would opt for adrenaline and fresh air over a Stairmaster in a puddle of my own sweat in a stuffy gym any day.
Looking behind us, it was cool to see Lake Wakatipu, so vibrant and blue in contrast with the grey clouds beginning to shroud around the summit of Mt. Crichton.
Now is the time to turn around while we still can… but man, that descent is a steep one.
Even if I was up here on a splitboard…
We kept pushing higher, knowing it couldn’t be much worse than the traverse, and that we were practically halfway there.
Once we reached the zig-zagging ridge of choss, it was just a matter of navigating through gravel and skree. We were able to avoid the parts that looked the most sketchy from the lower ridge. It felt like we were in some scene of Lord of The Rings, on a straight up mission through rugged terrain. Just epic scenery.
We stopped a few times to evaluate the map, and make sure we were on the right track.
Just before the summit, we found bones from a mountain goat scattered around. I had to restrain myself to just snagging some horns for my van... but maybe that was what gave us bad karma for the next limb of the journey…
The Summit looked easy enough, though shrouded in clouds. The wind was coming and going in bursts.
“Let’s just go touch it, just to say we did it.”
We scrambled the last few meters, and followed the ridgeline over an anti-climactic summit, definitely fun nonetheless. It always feels good to accomplish the objective.
I was relieved it was so much easier than we thought.
A piece of (vegan) cake compared to Double Cone.
I’m sure there were more difficult ways to get up there, such as the exposed ridge, but it felt that we had been bold enough for the day.
The wind was blowing strong as Pascal and I laughed sharing some relief.
Little did we know, there was a whole other adventure ahead.
“Which way down?”
“Pretty much just straight down… it doesn’t really matter.”
We stopped to absorb some more views of Glenorchy and warm up in the sun before enduring the full descent, wind still whipping around us.
Navigating through semi-loose rock and thick alpine tussocks, I was so stoked to find somewhat of a trail again. My heart goes out to all of those hearty little plants we had to skirt around, doing our best to avoid tramping on them. The descent was slow-going, as we passed through some historic cairns and over a wire fence.
As we got closer to the road, visible almost the entire time, we noticed the bush growing thicker and thicker. This made it quite difficult to navigate, both bare-legged and not eager to get scraped up any more than we already were.
We tried following the GPS track as close as we could, as the route beta said there was a path just a few meters through animal trails.
“follow animal trails through the scrub and veer away from the stream on your true left to more open and easier terrain.”
Kinda vague, yeah?
We were realizing that the hard way.
Also that the beta was from a year ago…
We wandered back and forth along the bushline, looking for an opening. I started to get a bit nervous as I sucked up the end of my water supply. I had already eaten my small amount of food up near the summit...
Gosh, I really do not want to spend the night up here. I’m so underprepared… how embarrassing to be SO close to the road, but so damn lost. So thirsty. Don't want to resort to drinking pee, Bear Grylls status.
Shit, there's no service out here... Shit.
I could tell Pascal was getting frustrated as well, the spiney brush kept turning us away. Should have gotten a picture of that stuff.
We knew where we needed to go. But it was a matter of where… He suggested we climb up and over towards the north, opposite of where the GPS said to go, and follow the fence. My gut feeling told me to stick to the GPS path and keep trying to get through. But I wanted to have faith in my climbing partner and not be so stubborn.
That’s something I’m working on.
We continued back up through the tussock and faint animal trails, and like magic, there was a strong spring emerging from the hillside.
YES. Cold, fresh water.
That was a relief and definitely eased some of the tension of being a bit lost, hot, tired, scraped up and sweaty. We refilled and analyzed the situation. It didn’t look like it was going to get any less bushy from there.
“Okay, we’ll go your way now.” Pascal wasn’t feeling so hot about the idea of climbing back up and around the hill to try a different descent through the unknown either... So we made our way back over and towards the way we were originally trying to get through. But I insisted we try our best to follow the GPS coordinates as close as we could, because maybe that actually did kind of make a difference…
So maybe if we’re supposed to follow the animal trails, we need to think like the animals. Where would the goats go?
Following the coordinates, we made our way back towards the spiked wall of thorns.
We just need to push through this.
I might just be a little scratched up for future job interviews…
Sure enough, once we got on all fours, we saw a goat trail through the bush.
THANK YOU, GOAT GODS.
We followed that, bushwhacking as we went, there was kind of a trail… and that was enough for us to have some hope of making it through.
Three hours of wandering around and bushwhacking, we emerged onto some cow pastures. Never have I been so happy to see and smell the cattle.
Pascal joked about getting some fresh milk, and the cows mooed uncomfortably, huddling into a corner with their young as we passed through their living room… backyard… or bathroom… I couldn’t actually tell.
We laughed and joked feeling a bit more lighthearted as we made our way down the dirt path, happy we didn’t have to spend the night in that god-forsaken bush… Continuing down to the Glenorchy highway, we prepared to hitch a ride back to the carpark.
After a few cars passed, awkwardly avoiding eye-contact with us trampers, a large RV pulled over. The family let us climb into the back of their camper next to their son who was about our age. He was clutching a nice camera, and seemed to be a bit exhausted and disenchanted about travelling with mom and dad. Their campervan was a bit messy, clothing and such strewn about, regardless we were thankful to be moving towards a refreshing jump in the lake.
Once we got back to the vans, we made our way to the campsite as soon as we could. There was nothing better in that moment than dipping into the cool, glacial waters of Lake Wakatipu, and throwing together a modge-podge of carbs for dinner.
It kind of formulated into a miso-ramen soup, with chickpeas, kumara, white rice and some leftover red wine.
As soon as the sun went down, my eyelids grew heavy, soothing sounds of the lakeshore coaxing me to dreamland.
We crawled into our vans, satisfied with the day, and humbled having gotten our butts handed to us by New Zealand once again.