This is Day Three of my adventure on the Routeburn and Caples tracks. If you’re just tuning in, the full story starts here.
A storm rages through the night. Lightning, thunder and driving rain drown the snores of tired hikers. I snuggle deeper into my sleeping bag and fall into dreams of howling winds. Things have calmed a little by morning and I’m almost glad for the remaining ‘bad’ weather. I’m not sure doing the Routeburn even counts if you don’t get rained on. Besides, the wind has died down and it’s a playful sort of rain that slides down my raincoat and dives into the tiny swimming pools at my feet.
The track between Lake MacKenzie and Lake Howden is easily the most challenging section I’ve hit so far. The climbs aren’t terribly hard but the terrain involves scrambling under and over a lot of waterfalls, and with all the rain the track is basically a river most of the time. On the plus side: waterfalls! Waterfalls that are particularly happy after last night’s downpour. If it was going to rain, it couldn’t have picked a better time.
In between the scrambling there are some cool little alpine sections with tussock and stunted beech trees at their most mysterious peering through the fog. There’s also a funny little section called The Orchard that’s home to clump of ribbonwood trees that are all bizarrely the same size.
All the waterfalls are beautiful but Earland Falls is the big impressive one that gets marked on the map. Today however, it looks best from afar. With all the rain the falls are spewing out so much water that it’s impossible to get close to to them or take the regular track that passes underneath. There’s a wet weather bypass that avoids the worst of the spray but it’s a little tricky to navigate in places and I spend an embarrassing amount of time stuck in a wet alcove when I forget that I’m not taking up quite the same amount of space as usual and manage to wedge my pack under a big rock.
Not long after Earland Falls, the trail drops down to Lake Howden looking very grey and moody in the rain. A tour group has just come through though and I’m not in the mood for the hoard of people in the hut so I brave the swarms of sandflies outside for a quick lunch break. I was keen to tackle the side trail to Key Summit today but there’s so much cloud around that the view will be nonexistent. Instead I say goodbye to the Routeburn and turn off onto the Caples track which will lead me back to the Glenorchy side of the mountains.
The sun peeks out a little as I pass by Lake McKeller, lighting up the views down the valley. The easy valley stroll doesn’t last long though. It’s a steep climb up to McKeller Saddle. Each rest stop gives teasing glimpses of snowy mountains that periodically peek their heads through the low, dark clouds.
I thought I’d be a little harder to impress after yesterday’s traverse past the Darren Mountains and a night at Lake MacKenzie but McKeller Saddle is an amazing spot. High up in the alpine and ringed in by gorgeous mountains. The giants are hiding their heads in the clouds at the moment but somehow that just adds to the grandeur. The Routeburn had wonderful postcard perfect views but up here really feels like the wild. Picturesque tussocks grasses are replaced by hardy mountains ferns. Waterfalls and scraggly beech trees stream down sheer cliffs. The whole place is like a lost world drifting in and out of the mist.
The tracks descends into another wonderful beech forest to meet the Caples River. Higher up the trees are hardy and twisted but they turn into big grandaddy trees covered in beautiful green moss as the altitude drops. These wild scraggly trees are totally different to their glamorous postcard neighbours on the Routeburn but they have their own rough, unshaven charm. I don’t think I’ll be spotting any elven princesses hanging out here but there’s sure to be a few loveable rogues lurking near by…
I turn up at the Upper Caples Hut as the lowering sun turns the surrounding peaks bright red. After the bustle at Lake MacKenzie the rustic hut with only 3 other people and hardly any facilities is a welcome relief. After such a wild landscape it would be a shame to ruin the mood with an overdose of civilisation. I settle in to a beautiful sunset out the window and get ready for my last night in the wild.
Continue the adventure with day four.
Listening to: Into the Fog – The Budos Band