jen yu: new zealand 2004 - day 4

new zealand 2004 - day 4

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rockburn track, glenorchy
november 28, 2004
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So we're in the DOC office the previous morning trying to get information on the Routeburn track, and we overhear a Portugese fellow asking about other hikes in the area. The young woman at the DOC points to a loop on the large wall map and says, "The Rockburn is a nice loop track that goes to Sugarloaf Pass above bushline. There are a few windfalls, but it's a nice track." We had been debating whether to do the Dart track or the Rockburn. We weren't sure if our car could get to the Dart Track since we had trouble getting to the Rees trailhead. With the DOC employee's description in mind, we decided to hike the Rockburn - afterall, how bad could it be?

The track started right next to our campground. We broke camp and packed everything into the trunk of the car and set off across the Rockburn on the bouncy swing bridge - boing boing. The start of the track was pleasant enough, winding through the forest, soft underfoot and level because this part led to Lake Sylvan, which was a quickie hike that many people frequented. The moss growing on every surface it could get a hold of was evidence of the considerable amount of rainfall the region receives. The beech forests were magical and we expected to catch glimpses of Woodland Elves. The lake was quiet and the sandflies were just starting their operations for the morning, it was still early for them.

Beyond the lake, the trail took on a different personality. The orange trail markers served as our lifeline in the maze of mini trails spawning in every direction. The track meandered up and down through slogs and bogs. It became a steady steep grunt up a mess of wet roots and rocks where we encountered the Portugese fellow and his female partner (she told us it was very steep going up to Sugarloaf) and three other trampers who had also stayed at the hut. Our progress was slow, and the trail markers changed and the nature of the trail grew more hostile. From the hut turnoff, we followed the Rockburn before steeply ascending away from it toward the junction with the Routeburn Hut.

The junction sign was buried under 5 large fallen trees and the trail had been washed away down a steep ravine. We clambered over, under and through a gnarled, tangled mess, dangling over some decent plunges down slope until we found the continuation of the trail. Oddly enough, it didn't bother me to squirm around in this stuff because I saw no evidence of bugs ANYWHERE. I assume it was just too cold. Thoughts of turning back entered our minds, but at that point, I figured I'd rather forge ahead than go back down what we just came up. The trail steepened even more (ridiculously so) until we popped out above bushline in the tall grasses on the squishy mud. At least we could see the trail markers in plain view!

We enjoyed the view from Sugarloaf Pass and made quick work of getting down below treeline as the weather was threatening overhead. The other side was less steep than our approach, but steep nonetheless. In terrain like this, waterfalls are plentiful and you start to get snobbish about which ones are worth stopping to photograph. We picked our way down to the intersection with the Routeburn Track. The Routeburn is one of New Zealand's Great Walks, and so the trail was a Mercedes of trails compared to our Chevy Nova of the Rockburn. When we stepped onto the Routeburn, we turned to look at our trail and could barely distinguish it from the rest of the forest floor! It was a short distance to the dirt road where we walked another 5K to the car in the rain to top out the day at around 13 miles. After such self-inflicted abuse, we treated ourselves to a motel night in Glenorchy where we discovered that the Routeburn Track was open (after blasting in the avalanche zone). We washed our stinky clothes.

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