jen yu: new zealand 2007 - day 6

new zealand 2007 - day 6

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kepler track, luxmore hut
march 23, 2007
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I awoke to a cacophony of snoring. I was pretty sure Jeremy was part of the chorus, except when I stirred, so did he and I knew he was awake. It was pitch dark and we gathered our belongings as quietly as possible, absconding to the kitchen where we could pack and eat without disrupting the other occupants. We had never done a hut stay before, and we both agreed that huts suck unless it is pissing rain and cold out. It just runs counter to everything we love about being in the backcountry. I don't seek out meeting other people and I certainly prefer the smell of the backcountry to the musty stink of 48 other trampers at close quarters. And unfortunately, one annoying loudmouth (like Ms. Canada) can overshadow any of the pleasant interactions with others.

Departing Iris Burn Hut at 7:15, we kept a steady pace up the trail. It was steep, but not horribly so, and the track was so well graded that it was a pleasure to hike. We encountered the first hiker from Luxmore Hut just shy of bushline. He was singing to himself and happily trotting past. His friend followed a few hundred meters behind him. The friend asked us how much further to the hut and we in turn asked how the alpine crossing was. He said it was gorgeous with the sun rising and the lovely weather. "You will have no trouble," he said in a French accent. He pumped his fist to the side, "It is spectacular." And he was right.

Emerging above bushline is practically a religious experience in New Zealand, because the world opens up before you and the air feels different, free. We hiked out to an overlook, peering down at the valley floor far below. The track continued to climb the ridge - boardwalked in steep places to protect the terrain from erosion - up to the Hanging Valley Emergency Shelter. We paused here to apply sunblock and nosh on a snack while other early risers from Luxmore Hut arrived around the bend. The bulk of the climb was over and we could see our path across the ridge, up and down and up and down. The winds were gusty, but not overly strong.

By the time we reached the next emergency shelter, Forest Burn, our feet were feeling the effects of the previous day. Several other hikers had paused there on their way to Iris Burn Hut. We devoured our lunch of salami sandwiches, apples, and cookies. I went to use the outhouse which was perched on a ledge overlooking the Forest Burn (burn is stream). As we left the shelter, we rose to the Luxmore Saddle that passes below Mount Luxmore. It was a fairly short scramble to the top, but we were uncharacteristically uninterested in the summit as the winds had picked up. The last section of track was a 300+ meter (1000 foot) descent to Luxmore Hut. This day we arrived early (1:40 pm) and were able to pick good bunks by a window (the BO in those bunkrooms can get downright stifling). This hut was nicer than Iris Burn. Luxmore Hut was nestled on a ridge in the tussock overlooking Lake Te Anau and several ridges of sculpted mountains. The decks and kitchen had fantastic views over the countryside.

With the afternoon free, we hiked to the nearby Luxmore Caves where I decided to turn around because it was totally dark, inclined, and slippery. Caves are just not my thing. We filtered more water and then returned to the hut to have an early dinner packed with calories. Once again, we stayed up for the hut meeting and then turned in to bed as soon as our tickets were collected.

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