By now, I think it is pretty evident that I enjoy tramping and am going to do as much of it as I possibly can, while I have the chance. Illinois, and my second home of Iowa, are devoid of major elevation changes. New Zealand, on the other hand, has plenty of opportunities to climb mountains. When I heard the tramping club was headed to a place called Fiordland, I put it on my calendar weeks in advance because I knew I wanted to go.
Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to just want to go. I wanted to go, along with 300 other individuals. They had room to take 100, which really is a substantial amount, but at the same time it leaves many people unable to go. The process of who gets to go is as fair as it can be. However, fairness = luck. Here is the process:
1. Go to a meeting and listen to the 12 different tramps that will ensue (ranked into easy, medium, and hard categories)
2. Decide which one seems like the best fit for you
3. Talk to the leaders of that particular tramp to see if they think you are actually ready for the tramp
4. If they give you the go ahead, write your name down on a slip of paper and put it into a hat for the tramp you want to do
5. Hope that no one else wants to go on the same tramp (because then your chances of going are better)
6. Wait for your fate
There were multiple tramps which sounded amazing to me. For those of you who know me, I have a terrible time making decisions. This same problem arose. I had narrowed it down to three tramps, but couldn’t decide which one to try out my luck with. There were so many variables to weigh. Meanwhile, the time was ticking and they were getting ready to pull names out. If I didn’t put my name in, I wouldn’t even have the chance for it to be pulled out.I ended up throwing my name into the tramp called Livingstone Ridge. So did around 20 other people. There were only 6 spots. Ugh, I have the worst luck. I took my seat, not getting my hopes up that my name would magically be pulled out as one of the lucky few. How could it? I had already started thinking about what my plan B could be for the weekend.
The leaders pulled out five names, none of which were mine. One more left. I sat on the edge of my seat. Ok, so I obviously hadn’t given up all hope – I definitely still wanted to go. They pulled out the little slip of green paper. One more lucky person. Please be my name, please be my name…
Somehow my name was actually called! I was the lucky last individual that got to go on the Livingstone Ridge tramp. My friends who had put their names into the hat for the same hike, weren’t so lucky. I knew no one else going on this tramp. That made me nervous, but I wasn’t giving up my spot now! Plus, by this point, knowing no one is more of a regularity than knowing any one.
The tramp began with an overly long bus ride. Finally at 1am we made it to our final destination which was a concrete slab on the ground with a roof over the top. Ah, what a magnificent spot for a bed…I rolled out my sleeping bag and beckoned sleep to come. Although I was a bit sore in the morning, it was a fairly comfortable slab of concrete.
My group woke up at 7:30, packed up our gear, and had breakfast. This consisted of Muesli with Skim milk powder – you add this powder to water and it supposedly turns it into milk? Well, it turned the water white anyway, which was a nice psychological trick for my brain to pretend it was milk. Then we hauled our bags onto our backs and headed on our way.
This is the first time I have ever had the chance to use a pack. My pack could hold 70 Liters. So basically, I could carry me on my back…all day long…up a mountain….I could barely lift my pack up onto my back. Then, when I did finally get it up there, I felt as if I could topple over if anyone barely touched me. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. The last tramp I went on my arm went numb, I certainly didn’t want to have that problem again, but it seemed imminent with the weight on my shoulders.
However, the pack is a wonderful invention. Once I got my “sea legs” under me I didn’t have a problem. You buckle a strap around your waist that somehow magically transfers most of the weight you are carrying to your hips, instead of it all being compressed onto your shoulders. Although I did have a minor scare of the loss of both of my hands to have the ability to make a fist for a short time (which I think must have been caused by being cold…?) my arms never went numb and my shoulders were not sore.
We started off on the Routeburn track, which is a well-marked and well-used track in Fiordland. From the first step we took, we were climbing upward. Why wait? After about an hour we made it to the top of the marked path. Just because this was the end of the path does not mean it was the end of our journey. Far from it.
Now was the fun part. Bushwhacking. Finding our own way. Going whichever route looked to be the most fun. Knowing that no one has ever tramped in the exact same route as we were tramping, and no one will ever be able to replicate it in the exact same way. That’s refreshing.
Although the use of GPS systems seem to make map reading non-existent, the knowledge of how to read a topographical map comes in extremely useful up on a mountain.
My group was hiking along the top of a ridge. I guess I originally was thinking that meant you do a bit of incline, reach the top, and then get to meander along on more or less flat land for a while. This ridge did not have that in mind. Instead, we were always increasing our elevation. Flat land decided to take a vacation to Illinois.
Once we reached one peak, there was always another one looming up ahead, a little higher than the one we had just conquered. However, every peak we mastered left me with a sense of accomplishment.
Once we reached our highest elevation, which I believe was 1543, we took a long break to absorb the amazing scenery around us. Snow-capped mountains sat quietly in one direction, while pristine lakes laid lazily in the valleys. Meanwhile I was breathing in wonderfully fresh air. Not to mention the weather. The weather could not have been more perfect. The speaker who said that Fiordland gets one or two days of sunlight a year? I got lucky yet again and got that day. I was on the top of a mountain, laying on my back, soaking in the sun like a lizard. Life could not get any more beautiful.
What goes up must come down. Straight down. We had spent all day climbing up the side of a ridge, but we were sleeping down in the valley. There was no easy way to get back down. The side of the mountain was basically straight down. It was extremely mentally draining. I wasn’t fond of the idea of falling to my death. One would think a downhill slope would be easier than uphill. On the contrary, I believe they are as equally as hard. A steep downhill slope, I find actually worse than uphill. At times, taking a seat in the long grass and sliding down was the best idea. “I never did get to go sledding this winter, so this could make up for it”, I thought. Oh boy. Do not underestimate grass and its ability to turn into the fastest slide you have ever been on. I started sliding down and there was no way to put on the breaks! Who forgot to install the breaks!? I decided I would take my chances with just slowly walking down.
Eventually, we made it to a dense forest. I kept wanting to stop and just look at the incredible scenery in front of me. This was totally different from the ridge. Here, life grew from every space possible. Moss grew on the trees. There were new colors of green, which I have never witnessed before. The greens of the forest blended into a magnificent harmony. If my knees had not been aching from the continual downhill slope, I would have loved to keep hiking this all day long and into the night. However, finally making it to the hut, was a sense of relief. I could rest up for the night and continue on with the rest of my journey in the morning. My tramp could not have been any better.
- A view from the top of the ridge