Milford Track (Day 3)
In 1996, I went on a hiking trip in Patagonia. It was pretty awesome. We did day hikes from various lodges and hiked Torres Del Paine, Mount Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, and even hiked on top of the Perrito Merino Glacier. Which was really cool. On the first hike in Patagonia, our guide made a comment about how surprised he was by my endurance on the hike. I wasn't in the best of shape, but I have some pretty decent endurance and I'm stubborn as a mule. There's no way someone is going to tell me that I can't do something. I will kill myself to prove that person wrong. Which is also how I survived Plebe Summer at the Naval Academy.
Today was one of those days. Power on at 0615. Lunch making at 0630. Breakfast at 0700. And we were on the trail at 0730. Today we *only* hiked 9 miles. But we hiked up, over, and down MacKinnon Pass. We basically climbed over 600 meters, and then down 800 meters. I'm not sure which is worse, the climbing up or the climbing down.
We left Pompoloma Lodge and headed back into the beech forest. There were low clouds overhead and they had managed to keep some of the heat in the valley so it was actually a little bit warmer than yesterday as we headed up the canyon. Without any sunshine, the forest was a bit dark and mysterious, but it was a great way to start the hike. While I'm going faster than normal, SB is still ahead of me and at some point she leaves me behind. Which is fine. I'm loving just walking alone by myself.
Our first stop is at the Mintaro Hut where there is a real bathroom and a chance to fill up your water bottle. And then it's onward and upward. There are a series of 11 zigzags on the trail as it climbs up and up and up. At some point we get above the tree line and are actually climbing into the low hanging clouds that surround the mountains. Which is kind of cool. And is actually a bit chilly. We we get higher up, the wind kicks in and starts whipping around me. The wind actually blows some of the clouds up the mountain. Up, and up I go. And the wind is almost overwhelming now. Almost near the top of the pass, there is a memorial to Quentin Mackinnon. The little stone hut is almost hard to see through the clouds whipping by, but it's still kind of cool. I continue to walk up the pass spotting small ponds or tarns which would be incredibly pretty if the weather is nice. My hands are almost numb now but I soldier on through the pass and down to the Pass Hut. Sarah Beth is already there, of course, but I stop, take off some of my wet/sweaty clothes and put on a dry layer. And scarf down my lunch. We need to be at the next lodge NLT 430PM.
If going up was hard, going down was even harder. Scrambling over rocks and fording small streams, it's just slower going. Though the clouds we can sometimes see the towering rock cliffs, moss covered forests, and alpine glacier fed streams that feed cascading waterfalls. It's still pretty windy and I'm really focused on not hurting myself on the descent, so I don't really look around that much. Down and down and down I go. I only fall twice. The big ole backpack I'm wearing not only changes my center of gravity, but it's almost like a sail catching the wind. So when I step on an unstable rock (which is quite often), I need to be careful so I don't careen over. As we approach the cascades shelter, which is our break stop, there are a set of cascading waterfalls that are just amazing. I'm hot at this point and all I can think of is jumping into that water but we don't have time and I'm sure it would be insanely cold. After a break, it's another 90 minutes down, down, down the mountain to get to the Quentin Lodge.
I drop my bag, use the facilities and then Sarah Beth and I are on an optional hike. Because the 9 miles we walked up and down Mackinnon Pass wasn't enough. We are off to see the Sutherland Falls. These are the falls that made the Milford Track famous and the original discoverer claimed that the falls were a mile high. Well, they are pretty big, but not a mile high. Technically they are 580 meters high, so like a third of a mile. Now the guides weren't exactly honest when discussing this hike. They claimed it was flat. Wrong! Up and up we went, down and down we went. Over two swing bridges. And it's almost 1.5 miles to the base of the falls. Which are definitely worth the hike even if my feet were complaining the whole time. There's a small pool at the bottom of the falls and I totally would have gone for a swim if someone had told me we could beforehand. I didn't have my pack with my swimsuit and walking back in my wet shorts would have caused some serious chaffing issues. By the time we get back the lodge, the bar is open so Sarah Beth and I have a glass of wine or two before dinner.
Tomorrow we are hiking a half marathon. In the rain. Good times.