Milford Track: Day 3

The forecast we were given last night was for rain and wind, building up to gales on the pass. We were also warned that it would get worse as the day progressed so we should aim for an earlier start. I’m slow on the uphill anyway and although I had finished the last of my antibiotics the afternoon before and I was feeling much better, my lungs still weren’t completely clear, so I got up early and was leaving the hut just after 6am. The track estimated 2.5h to reach MacKinnon Memorial, with another 30min to reach the shelter at the top of the pass. I figured it would probably take me 3.5h to reach the memorial.

The day’s walk started with about 15min of an easy walk, lulling us, before the climb started. It wasn’t too steep to begin with. But that quickly changed.

Zig zag up

I took my time and had several stops for water and to take photos of the view.

Was that an avalanche I heard?

And look back on how far I’d climbed so far (the lake down in the valley there where you can see a large gravel area – that’s the helipad by the way).

Look back on the way up

Eventually, pretty much spot on 2.5h after I left the hut, I reached the memorial to the explorer who found the way over the mountains.

MacKinnon memorial

And luckily there hadn’t been much rain or wind on the way up. Though as you can see, the rain did start to come in just as I reached the memorial.

View from MacKinnon memorial

There was a bit of wind and rain while climbing the last 30min to the top of the pass, but not much.

On MacKinnon Pass

I reached the pass 3 hours after I had started out that morning. Seems like the sign post was pretty much spot on – for me anyway.

Because of how the weather can turn so quickly up the top, the shelter on the pass is fully enclosed and includes a gas stove so that we can make a nice warm drink and relax after the climb and/or wait it out until it’s safe to continue. Well, the weather forecast from the night before had not eventuated, there really was only a little wind and rain, the latter which didn’t really last very long. But a cup of hot chocolate seemed like the perfect treat before continuing on. When I went inside the shelter, it was like a party. Everyone who had passed me on the way up and several of those who had left before me were all sitting in the hut having hot drinks and chocolate. We all had a very social chocolatey visit before I decided to start making my way down in case those gales we’d been promised decided to make an appearance.

There are two ways down from the top, the normal track and an emergency track that is used in avalanche season. Winter and avalanches took out the track and they were still working on the repairs, so it was down the emergency track for us. This way is a lot steeper but I’m a lot like a mountain goat on the downhill. As slow as I am going up, I’m fast going down. Before long I was down off the pass and into the trees.

I had a stop at the cascades (forget the name).

And had to take a break as my legs had turned jelly. I don’t think I’d eaten enough to offset the climb up and down. A handful of dried apricots and some chocolate later, I was off again, still going fast but also taking time to enjoy the scenery.

In no time at all I was at the first shelter on this side of the pass. This one was more like your average temporary shelter – a picnic bench under a square gazebo-like structure, fully open, with a long drop not far away. I’d just taken my pack off to make a pit stop when a kea walked up the path towards me. It jumped up on a rock and kindly waited for me to take a photo before flying off again. I love these birds.

The track kept descending through beautiful forest

Along the river

Just an hour after leaving the pass, I’d reached Quentin shelter. I was thrilled with this as this I’d done the descent in half the signposted time. I had another quick refuelling stop and left my pack at the shelter to take the detour out to visit Sutherland Falls. This is NZ’s tallest waterfall, standing at 580m.

This was a steep 45min walk up to the falls, but worth it. There was an amazing spray coming off the waterfall as it fell into Quill Lake. A perfect place to take a break before going back to pick up my pack and continue on to tonight’s hut and my last night on the track.

More photos on Flickr.

This post has been reconstructed from the web archives of my old blog. It was originally posted on 21st Jan 2014, and I walked the Milford Track in December 2013

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