Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day 2 - The Milford Track

The second day we we're making our sack lunches by 7 am and on the trail by 8. Between waking and hitting the trail, the clouds dissipated and blue skies appeared. Our group included about 30 walkers from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan. Once on the trail we all spread out. Some took off at a brisk pace and we didn't see them until the dinnertime. Most of us, however, leap-frogged along the trail, stopping to take photos and marvel at vistas and wildlife.

Colin and Liam took off ahead of us with their new friend Lucy, an 11-year-old from California. Doug and I walked quietly along, just the two of us. We were amazed. No more bribing with chocolate treats and energy bars at every rest stop. The boys and Lucy were gone, almost flying down the trail. We finally caught them, when they stopped to check out a magnificent, huge red beech tree. At that point with Lucy’s parents, we set some hiking guidelines. The kids could hike ahead but had to stop before all river crossing and forks in the trail or any other unusual features. With streams every few minutes, we decided they wouldn’t get too far ahead.

Day 2 was nine miles of easy walking, a warm up for the climb over McKinnon Pass on Day 3. It was also Colin’s longest day of walking ever! Most of the day we walked sheltered in the beech forest alongside the Clinton River. To reach Pompolona Lodge, we climbed into grasslands passing through many avalanche paths. The U-shape canyon walls loomed on each side and were striped with waterfalls.

Pompolona Lodge perched on the side of the canyon in the treetops was my favorite lodge. At night tucked in out bunk beds, Doug told us a “ghost” story of sharing a bunk bed with his brother Dan and of vomiting on Dan from the top bunk. We fell asleep to that cuddly image.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday warm-up on the Milford Track

With Doug traveling for most of the last month, we all wanted some time together. So at the last minute, we decided to kick off the holiday season with a tramp along the Milford Track. You can hike the track independently or walk the track as part of a guided Ultimate Hikes group. Reservations for independent walkers usually have to be made months to a year in advance. We booked just several days in advance with Ultimate Hikes. My sister had told me a while back about a new camping trend call glamping (a.k.a. glamorous camping). Walking with Ultimate Hikes is definitely glamping. All we carried was a change clothes, a few toiletries, our lunch and water bottle. Everything else was waiting for us in each hut. Along the trail the guides set up rest stops with hot drinks and soup. Each night our family shared a bunk room. There were hot showers. And sinks to wash hiking clothes and amazing drying rooms that dried our hiking clothes by bedtime. After a hot shower, we'd head to the lodge for a beer and snack to play games, chat and read until dinner.

The first day we joined our group in Queenstown for the bus ride to Te Anau. In Te Anau we boarded a boat to cross the lake to the trail head. I was feeling a little sheepish about the glamping. Worrying that I was softening my boys for "real" camping. Reminding myself that I had been an "A" camper in high school and didn't need to be babysat by guides.

We were heading deep into the Fiordland National Park. Our final destination would be Milford Sound, which has an average annual rainfall of more than 22 feet. I was actually amazed that Doug had agreed to the hike. Doug hates hiking in the rain and getting wet. But he succumbed to the lure of the wild lush landscape, abundant waterfalls, hidden lakes and U-shaped glacial valleys.

Rain was pouring down as the boat reached the trail head. All walkers pulled out their rain jackets. Almost everyone was off the boat and I had Colin and Liam zipped up in full rain gear. Doug was missing. I found him on the corner of the boat deck frantically pulling everything out of his pack. With round, panicked eyes he turned and gasped, "I can't find my rain jacket! It isn't in my bag." I didn't know what to do. I wanted to laugh or run far away. Instead, I prudently checked through the rest of our packs. No rain coat. In fact, we haven't found Doug's rain coat to this day! Doug took off at a very brisk pace for the first hut. Luckily the first day's hike was all of a mile. At Glade House, one of the guides magically appeared with an extra raincoat. I quickly changed my tune and decided that maybe a little bit of babysitting/coddling would be okay.

Merry Christmas!

With the holidays, we are thinking of our family and friends spread far and wide. We hope you the new year brings you laughter and peace.