This is Day Two of my adventure on the Routeburn and Caples tracks. If you’re just tuning in, the full story starts here.
I rise in the dark and pack up my little bed as a bright sunrise slowly makes it’s way over the snow capped peaks outside. The world glows dim and red when I hit the trail. The forecast is for rain by noon so I’m making as early a start as possible to try and get to Harris Saddle before the view over the peaks disappears. I’m relieved to see the clouds are sitting pretty high as I climb further into the mountains.
The track curls steeply up the cliffs. Gaps in the beech forest give glimpses of the flats below; a birds eye view of yesterday’s terrain while the rugged cliffs above hide the wonders to come. The frenchman from the day before that didn’t like the Kepler Track overtakes me part way up but other than that it’s early enough to have the place to myself.
The first ascent rounds out at the Routeburn Falls Hut, a quaint spot near the tree line with impressive views over the flats and a series of lovely waterfalls. I’m glad I didn’t spend the night here though. The regular DOC hut is larger and fancier than the one at the Routeburn Flats and there’s another even flashier place that tour groups use across the way. The whole thing feels like a little city in the forest and I have no desire to linger here. I quickly bypass the little cluster of humanity and make the short climb up through the waterfalls.
The beech forest stops abruptly giving way to the alpine. The track meanders through a stunning basin of dull gold alpine grasses, smiling mountain daisies, rugged cliffs and trickling streams. I’m so lost in the beauty of the place that I don’t even notice the weight of my pack anymore. The track takes me high above the basin, revealing Lake Harris shining bright silver on its mountain perch. I weave through the rocky obstacle course to the lake’s edge, discovering all manner of tiny alpine plants hiding in stony crevices.
My early start pays off. After Lake Harris the track drops down to the West and the stunning vistas across the Darren Mountains come into view. The peaks leave me flabbergasted. A long range of majestic pyramids jutting up from the Hollyford Valley with a fresh dusting of snow decorating the tops. Scattered wisps of cloud draw lazy circles at the snow line but other than that the skies are clear. I can’t picture a more beautiful scene.
Not everyone shares my enthusiasm however. At the shelter I find the frenchman wearing a disappointed grimace and he’s quick to let me know that these mountains are really nothing special and there are places just like this in the French Alps. I’m beginning to think he just doesn’t like mountains very much, which seems utterly bizarre to me but at least explains his scathing review of the Kepler Track. I try not to look too bemused while he’s telling me this and quickly put the French Alps on my list of places to see.
Rather than the rain coming in, the remaining clouds seem to be clearing, so I leave my pack at the shelter and take a side trail up Conical Hill. It’s a relatively short climb but it’s fairly steep and the trail is a lot rougher than the Routeburn proper. The views down the Hollyford are even more expansive from up here though which makes it all worthwhile (even the down climbing through snow on the way back).
The sun is shining bright by the time I get back to the shelter and begin a lazy traverse along the mountain side. The Darren Mountains rear up on one side and delightful little alpine plants turn their heads to the sun on the other. My climbs are done for the day and it’s an easy amble until the descent down to Lake MacKenzie. The track turns sharply here and opposite the Darrens I spy the unmistakeable Emily Peak which I was on the other side of this morning.
The track drops back into the beech forest just before the hut. The trees here aren’t as big as the ones on the first day but it’s a very magical little stretch full of moss, pretty rocks and presumably fairies. The forest opens up as the hut comes into view and reveals Lake MacKenzie with its clear blue waters, beech trees and mountain views. Not a bad place to stop for the night, although it’s so early I almost wish I’d booked in at Lake Howden instead. My legs still feel like they’ve got a few more hours in them. Once my boots are off though, I have no regrets about spending the rest of my day sitting in the sun by the lake side.
Continue the adventure with day three.
Listening to: Quattro (World Drifts In) – Calexico