Sorry for the delay on pictures from Day 3 of the our Milford trek. We began the New Year by heading up north to kayak the Abel Tasman with American friends, Sarah, Morgan, Colly and Kyle Smith. Sarah and I have been friends since before I have memories. Morgan, Sarah, Doug and I all went to high school together. Both our families reconnected in the San Francisco Bay Area over 10 years ago right before our oldest, Colly and Liam, were born. The kids don't have many memories of each other, but I remember baby Colly in every detail. She was the first friend's baby I ever held. The Smiths are in the middle of an amazing family adventure traveling around the world. You can follow their journey on their blog. Sarah also already posted pictures and vivid account of our joint kayaking trip.
Back to the Milford Track. Day 3 was my favorite day. We hiked up and over MacKinnon Pass, five miles up and four miles down. In the group briefing, the guide described eleven major and six minor switchbacks to the top of the pass. The kids kept close count of the switchbacks charting our progress up the mountainside. With most of our mountain pass experience in the Sierras and Rockies, Doug and I were pleasantly surprised how easy the climb was. We were used to gasping for air at high altitude, but the top of Mackinnon pass is only 1154 meters (3786 feet) high. The tundra-landscape, dotted with tarns, reminded me of the high alpine Sierras but greener in the valleys below. Clouds and mist passed and occasionally looked threatening, but we had a dry, windless day of hiking. We had heard the stories about the group two days ahead of us. They had to hike back down to Pompolona Lodge for a second night, because literally gale forces winds were whipping over the pass. A DOC ranger described parents holding kids down on the ground to keep them from blowing off the pass. Instead, our time on the top of the pass was civilized and calm. Our guide Sam had a thermos of hot chocolate waiting for us. We sipped and soaked in the breathtaking vistas in all directions. Our only worries were the thug-like Keas lurking around our packs, looking for something to steal.
The main trail down from the hut was still blocked by snow so we had to take an alternative route which seemed more of a stream bed than a trail, and on a rainy day would probably have been a waterfall. I carefully stepped down the rocks. The kids scampered down without the slightest hesitation. The last sight of Colin was his orange bump of a pack as he bunny hopped rock to rock down the mountain. I wasn't surprised that night when he told me the bottom of his feet were sore and bruised! Doug, like a gentleman, walked with me.
By the time we reached the lodge, Colin, Liam and their friend Lucy had finished a snack and drink. Colin was snuggled in the sun on the sofa in the main lodge. Lucy and her family joined the Kirkpatricks minus Colin for a walk to Sutherland Falls. Colin decided to stay in the lodge and conserve his energy for the final hike on Day 4.
Liam and I put on our swimsuits and planned to take a dip below the falls. I don't know what we were thinking. Sutherland Falls, if not the highest, is one of the mightiest waterfall in New Zealand. It sounded like a jet engine revving for take off as we approached. I don't think we got within 100 feet of the waterfall. It created a fury of wind and water. Even in our rain jackets we were soaked. We only have pictures that glimpse the falls from a distance to keep the camera dry.
The day ended with all of us passed out in our bunks just as the sun was setting.