jen yu: new zealand 2007 - day 5

new zealand 2007 - day 5

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kepler track, iris burn hut
march 22, 2007
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The Kepler Track is the newest of New Zealand's Great Walks, built in 1988 to commemorate Fiordland National Park's centennial. This route is typically done in 4 days or people can make it 3 days taking shuttles to and from various points along the track. It also hosts the Kepler Challenge, a foot race over the entire track every December. The fastest time logged at 4.5 hours for 60 km of overland trail. Impressive! We opted to take 3 days without any shuttles and we also decided to hike the loop backwards since we both prefer to climb steep ascents and descend the mellower grade.

Starting from the DOC Visitor Center long term car park, we began hiking at 6:40 am. Within a few minutes, the sun began to rise on the mountains we would be hiking around and over. The trail skirts the shore of the lake up to the Control Gates where a DOC sign welcomes you to Fiordland National Park - another gem of New Zealand's South Island.

From the Control Gates, we gently climbed through peaceful and otherworldly moss-covered beech forest. Bright pink numbered triangles marked stoat traps along the track - we counted at least 100 throughout the day. We hiked to the Moturau Hut just off the beach of refreshing Lake Manapouri. This is where we took a lunch break and rested our feet, 19.6 km (12.2 miles) from the start. Continuing up the track, I noticed that the light in the beech forest was golden, whereas the light in a different tree forest (a type of pine?) had a blue hue. The beech forests were so inviting and pleasant, the distance rolled past us quickly due in large part to the excellent condition of the track.

By 4 pm, our feet were in a good deal of pain, but we knew the hut was near. We reached Iris Burn Hut by 5 pm (35.8 km, 22.2 miles) and claimed two mattresses in one of the bunk rooms. Jeremy went back to a bridge we had crossed before reaching the hut to pump water (the water in the huts is not treated) while I gathered our food bags. We prepared and ate dinner in the kitchen while the dozens of other trampers talked in lively tones and had far too much energy. They had come over the alpine crossing from Luxmore Hut - a mere 9 miles. We returned to the bunks only to find a young Israeli woman talking incessantly to her companion sitting on my sleeping bag. That didn't bother me nearly as much as her overly exposed butt crack on my bag. I was too tired and short on patience to engage her, so I stepped outside to shoot some photos while Jeremy moved our belongings to two bunks that offered more privacy and cubby spaces for our packs.

Even though we were exhausted, we managed to stay awake for the hut meeting at 7:30 where the warden collected hut tickets and announced the rules of conduct. He gave everyone a description of the trail ahead for tomorrow - the trail we had hiked up that day. Then he asked, "Is anyone going to Luxmore Hut tomorrow?" We raised out hands... the only ones out of the 50 people in the kitchen. People burst out laughing and ooooohed as if they were in the sixth grade. It is a 1000 meter (3000 foot) ascent to the alpine crossing from Iris Burn Hut and then some up and down to the next hut. None of them had actually done this ascent, they had only come down from it. The warden came over to us first and asked where we had come from that day. We said the Visitor Center and his posture changed. He asked how long it took us - 10.5 hours. He told us we wouldn't have any trouble on the ascent, just to take our time and we'd be fine. As soon as he had taken our ticket stubs, we went to our bunks and I was asleep within a couple of minutes.

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