Phone notes regarding Day 3:
Since we didn’t have far to go, I knew there was seriously no rush to get up and go in the morning. So it was a relaxed morning, got up a bit later than usual, and had breakfast. Most of the other campers got up and were packing up and leaving pretty early. While hanging out in the hut common/kitchen area, I chatted with the hut warden for a few minutes, looked at the weather report, and talked to a middle-aged couple that were taking a rest day there. I think they were from Australia. We talked to them about our plans to hike Routeburn one direction and then back again so we could do Milford Sound and they said that we were young and fit and could totally do it. I wasn’t completely convinced because while I’m hiking with this monkey on my back, the last thing I feel is physically fit. 😀 But thanks for the vote of confidence! It definitely helps. The thing I love most about meeting these random amazing people is the knowledge you gain from them. Peoples’ previous experience is a gold mine of information! And they are generally really willing to share their experience and pass on information… all you have to do is ask and usually you can strike up a pretty great conversation. You just have to not be afraid to ask the question!
We were packed and were hiking around noon. It only took about two and half hours to get to the field where we knew there was free camping. It was free because there was almost nothing there. Just a meadow with tall, soft grass, and a composting toilet with no toilet paper.
But it was a beautiful spot. We sat in the woods near this spot to eat lunch. I was a bit worn out and would have set up camp but it was only about 3:00pm and so was a bit to early to do so. The sand flies in this meadow were absolutely terrible; you can’t still or they will find and attack you, suck your blood, and leave a bite not much different from a mosquito bite. But with the sand fly bite, it takes longer to go away and is so itchy that you usually end up scratching it until you draw blood which leaves ugly, unattractive scabs. Thankfully, if you’re hiking, they don’t bother you. You have to be stationary for them to find you. It wasn’t a spot where you could set up and be outside your tent holding still comfortably. So we continued walking to Howden Hut (where the Greenstone Track connects to the Routeburn Track) where we hung out for a couple of hours. I laid down on one of the benches at the hut and fell asleep for a little while.
At about 5 or 5:30pm I woke up, still pretty groggy and not fully conscious. George was urging me to wake up to full consciousness so we could go hike up to Key Summit; only about an hour and half walk from the Hut but while groggy this sounded like a long way. We didn’t even have to carry our packs but initially I wasn’t inclined to go. I knew I should though since it was a “summit” and the views from there would probably be incredible. I also knew that I would probably kick myself if I didn’t go and wind up seeing pictures that George would inevitably take. So, I followed along up the trail. My unwillingness melted away as we gained elevation yielding spectacular views together. The hike up the hill definitely got my blood flowing and woke me up fully from my nap.
There was a short nature walk loop trail at the top that we did and wow… such beautiful views of the surrounding mountain ranges. We spent a little bit of time up there just taking it in before returning down to Howden Hut.
We cooked dinner when we got back to the hut. Then, when the warden came around and asked us where we were going to stay. We talked about camping down at the Divide and she said there was no camping down there and that we could be fined if we did. That saved us the walk downhill there and then the walk back uphill when we would inevitably find no camping area. So, we packed up our stuff, used the restroom facilities at the Hut, and then hiked back to the free camping area to set up.
We set up as quickly as possible in order to escape the sand flies. I found the sand flies extremely aggravating and so generally stayed in the tent while we weren’t moving around. We did a little bit of stretching while fighting the sandflies which probably looked a little bit comical. George showed me his stretching routine that he uses to warm up people before they go scuba diving (he’s a scuba instructor). The sandflies were infuriating though because they would go for my eyes and my mouth and would bite my hands and gahhhh!!!! I was so sick of them. I went to bed shortly after.
Phone notes from Day Four – Rest day:
Day Four was a rest day that we had built into our trek. It was over today and the previous day that we had seriously been assessing our ability and desire to do our open-ended “option” to the end of our trek: hiking the Routeburn Track back from Routeburn Flats hut to the Divide so that we could end our trek with a stay at Gunns Camp and go to Milford Sound together. Our food supplies were getting low (not critical, but more than halfway through), but I was becoming more and more convinced that we could do it. We decided to go through our backpacks again and comb out even more stuff that would be unnecessary to carry for two days and one night of hiking. We had asked the Howden Hut warden if we could store a bag of stuff with her and she said yes.
I’m a little ahead of myself. Anyway, being a rest day, we didn’t do much. We walked to Howden Hut to have breakfast and just for something to do and to “keep the engines running” as George put it. We hung out there for a little while, used the restroom facilities, and then late morning went back to the tent. I laid down and took a nap. It worked out as a little bit of rain came through which was a good excuse to not do anything and just rest.
Later in the afternoon, we went through our food supplies to assess that situation, combed through our backpacks to take out more unnecessary stuff (as previously mentioned), and basically decided and resolved to hike the Routeburn track back from Routeburn Flats hut. I knew it would be challenging, but after our rest day, I knew we would be feeling really strong. I was surprised at how well my body was handling the intense physical exercise. So it was a go! The excess stuff we packed into the tent bag and packed the tent pieces in George’s backpack.
Once the assessment and lightening of our bags was done, it was about time for dinner and so we collected our dinner stuff, the extra stuff in the tent bag, and walked back to Howden Hut for dinner. George gave the bag to the warden and then we made dinner.
Dinner done and packed, proper restroom facilities at the Hut utilized, we headed back to camp. We put dinner stuff in the tent and then went for just a little walk down the trail back towards McKeller hut for something to do and also to escape the terrible sand flies. We found a nice open spot with a view on the trail and did George’s stretching routine again to help prepare our muscles for the workout they would get tomorrow. There we were, in the forest, right on the trail, stretching. Now, I usually like to think that I don’t mind or care what people think of me, but for some reason, all that was going through my mind was “What is someone going to think of these two people in the middle of nowhere on the trail with no backpacks/gear!?” I was trying to ignore that thought but it was just blaring in my head. Anyway, I just went with it and was ready to explain to anyone that happened upon us what we were doing and that we were preparing for the Routeburn track tomorrow. Thankfully, no one crossed our path while stretching. 😀 It was really nice though; there weren’t many sandflies in the forest at all and the peaceful stillness of the forest and mountains was incredible.
After stretching, we headed back to camp, set our alarms for about 6:15am the next day as we needed to get an early start on the Routeburn. We had heard from other people hanging out at Howden Hut that it would easily be an 8 hour hike to Routeburn Flats. I have to continually remind myself though that it doesn’t get dark here until at least 9 or 9:30pm and so even if we did get a little bit of a later start, we wouldn’t necessarily end up walking in the dark (unless walking at a snail’s pace which I definitely do not do). But we agreed that we should aim to be on the trail hiking by 8:00am; 8:30am at the latest.