The Big 3 Day Hike

Kori’s travel blog has a guest DJ today.  Take it away, Steve!  (Hubby in the house!)

Day 1

We said our sad farewell to the Kayakers and drove ½ hour to Lake Rotoiti.  Like everything else in NZ, it was stunningly beautiful (though we’d get MUCH better views of it from up high in 2 days).  It took just a few minutes to saddle up and start our 7 mile hike to Lakehead hut.

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Wait a second, rewind…weren’t we just wine-tasting an hour ago?  Why yes we were!  Victory drinks before the hikes even start…things are just backwards down here.

The hike was gorgeous.  The trail roughly followed the lake shore, but with a lot more elevation changes than you would think.  To give you an idea, it took us about 5 hours to hike 7 miles at a decent pace.

The highlight of the hike was a refreshing plunge in the lake at the end, just minutes from the hut.  Everyone wanted to jump in, despite Tess’ warnings about the monstrous fresh water eels.  {Insert “shrieking eels” reference here}  They live to be 1000 years old and grow to 50 meters or some crap like that.  We were so hot, it just didn’t matter.  Death by eel was an acceptable risk.

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The hut was very cool.  Pretty much a hostel in the back country.  20 or so bunk beds around a family room/kitchen area.  Fun to meet the other travels from all over the world.  Everyone has great travel stories.  The huts are immaculate.

Dinner was followed by Tim Tam Slams, which are executed with no hands.  Basically, a PG version of a “blowjob” shot, with cookies and hot chocolate.  Laura, would you please demonstrate?  Video here.

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Sunset was awesome, subtle changes of color, light, and shadow my cell phone camera couldn’t capture.  I heard the nighttime sky was amazing, but who could stay up late enough to see it after a day of drinking, hiking, swimming, and gorging?  I barely made it to sundown before I passed out.

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Very fortunate statistical improbability…not one of us or our bunk-mates snored, so everyone slept like the dead until sunrise.

Day 2

Deep breath…this is the big one.  6.5 miles.  3500 feet.  With packs.  Everybody who was sounding very confident just last night is looking a little pale at the morning briefing.

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The hike starts in a beautiful birch forest.  It’s relatively flat, meaning in the states we’d call it “all uphill.”  This is the warm-up.  It potentially includes a swift river crossing that we prepared for, but no one was disappointed when the river bed was empty and our shoes remained dry.  Not to be cheated, we crossed the river at sunrise as we were instructed.

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Fun fact:  when you are told the elevation gain of this hike, it is the NET elevation gain.  So, every time the trail goes down and back up, it doesn’t count.  It’s as if the trail was flat, and not really so steep down you need to grab root and branch to stay upright, then struggle up the other side just to get back to where you were relative to sea level.  Did I mention we were wearing packs?

After about 2 hours of this, we hit the middle section of the trail where it becomes steeper.  From here to the hut, it’s up, up, up with one “clearing” that marks the end of this section and will be our lunch stop.

“What’s for lunch”, Griffin asks at the end of this mid-route planning session.

“The sandwiches you made this morning, silly,” says Tess.

“Oh, is that why all the sandwich stuff was out this morning?  I thought it was weird that people were having sandwiches for breakfast.”

“???”, says everyone.

“Um, I didn’t do that,” he says.

Classic Griffin. The kid who once brought 2 left shoes on a trip to Israel.

We prepare him for the inevitability that he’ll have to subsist on energy bars, while of course we all know Dad will share his precious sandwich when the time comes.  To sum up, the little bastard tricked me into carrying his lunch in my pack, where every ounce counts.

Fun fact:  the water is so pure up here, we can refill our water bottles in the streams, so we don’t have to carry too much.  Every friggin ounce counts.

We finish the middle section in good time.  In fact, I’m amazed how strong Griffin and Kellen are.  They only have a moderate amount of backpacking experience, but they’re killing it.  From hut to lunch has been about 4 hours.

The last section of the hike makes the previous parts seem tame.  It is above the tree line, so no more helpful roots which in other places acted like stairs.  We were no longer hiking.  We were “scrambling”, or maybe “bouldering.”  Maybe you’re sick of hearing how beautiful it was, but the thesaurus doesn’t have enough adjectives for this place.  We climbed beside a waterfall for an hour.  “Beside” means “reach over and splash some water from the fall in your face to clean away the sweat.”

Like yesterday, today’s hike ended at a hut beside a lake.  This time though, the lake is FREEZING, which didn’t stop Griffin, Laura, and I from jumping in for a victory splash.  Guess which one of us did NOT get their dry clothes out and ready to change into after the icy plunge?

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Once we defrosted, we enjoyed unbelievable views of the lake.  Too many great pictures to post.  Here’s one:

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Day 3

Wow…NOT fully recovered this morning.  52 year-old legs don’t fully rejuvenate after a good night’s sleep.  Good thing it’s all down hill from here, right Tess?  Tess?

“Not all downhill.  Undulating, really.”  she said.

In Kiwi, “undulating” must means something like “mostly uphill” because we had to climb.  In fact, we had to climb so much that I have no idea how we ended up back at Lake Rotoiti all those thousands of feet below us.  Can you even see the hut from up here, after our first “undulation” out of the valley?

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We hiked the ridge line through the clouds.  We didn’t get much in terms of views for a good stretch, but it was so peaceful and surreal being surrounded by the mist.  You really lose track of time and distance on the third day of a hike like this.

The payoff was the view of the lake at the end of the ridge.  Stunning.  From there, it was endless switchbacks to our patiently-awaiting chariot, Ernie.

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The only complication on the trip was that Griffin got a stomach thing of some sort on night 2, and couldn’t eat dinner.  He wasn’t much better on morning 3 and was feeling pretty weak having burned so many calories without being able to refuel properly.  So I took some of his gear and Laura took his pack, and he climbed like a champ to get back down.  We were all really proud of him pushing through his discomfort to finish the hike.  And Laura proved herself to be a friggin cyborg, carrying the extra pack the whole way.  (He was much better by the next day.)

We missed Kori, Borut, and Marlene terribly, but we were all so happy about this unique journey.  Everyone did fantastic, not a word of complaint from anyone the whole time.  The rock star of the trip was definitely Kellen.  He was the youngest hiker Tess or Laura had ever taken up there.

Author: foodkibbitzer

I love to cook, especially soup, and bake challah. I ride horses, enjoy sarcastic people and am a food snob. I'm busy being mom to my two boys and I play mahj jong.

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