chilling feet

chilling feet

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Mark in New Zealand!!

(We have stopped along Lake Wakitipu on the road from Invercargill to
Queenstown a hundred times over and it never gets old.  The lake and the
views are just so beautiful that unless one is running short on time a stop
is absolutely necessary)
Fitting as it was, our time in New Zealand ended with one last visit from a good friend.  Mark McBride, who I ran with at +Samford University, was able to put a trip together and come visit us only a few weeks before we started sadly packing all our bags to come home. I have said it before in posts but when others have visited ( +Miriam Williamson+Gordon Paulson - who more than visited and stayed for a while - +Gwendolyn Williamson+Tim Williamson+Scott Smith+Austin Russell+Miriam Lamm, and Aunt Lois and Uncle Donald ) us all the way down under in New Zealand it really makes an emotional impact.  It is a solid statement to come so far and spend so many hours on an airplane.  So as to not make anyone feel bad, I know others would have loved to have made this impact were it not for new jobs, family commitments, and all of the in between.  Perhaps it is these difficulties that point to why a visit makes such an indelible mark on the heart.

(There is a long and hilarious story that explains this pose.  Suffice it to say it
involves +Bryan Baddorf, an old vampire video game, an upset Mark - at the
time, almost literal blood sucking, and tons of laughter had on my part.  It
is one of those stories I am glad now makes Mark laugh!) 
By the time Mark visited there were three factors greatly influencing his trip.  One, we were almost bonafide travel agents, minus the money and any real expertise besides knowledge gathered on previous trips.  And two, Mark had been paying attention to our blog posts and asked for some excursions ahead of time, which certainly makes planning easier.  The third factor was what I like to think of as the "crunch" factor, or in other words, his trip was rather short and there is so much New Zealand to see!  He knew he wanted to ski, see penguins, do a hike, and kayak +Milford Sound, New Zealand.  We set down to planning the trip and when I looked back at our seven day schedule I thought, "Dang, I hope we can still walk when we are done."
(What better picture to represent +Queenstown, New Zealand than a pink
sheep being walked around by a lady dressed up as a fairy tale character!)

As seen in the photo above, the skiing worked out and we hit up the +Coronet Peak Ski Area.  What stunningly beautiful vistas we enjoyed all day long, while skiing of course!  I'll post a few photos from the day of skiing.  Be sure to take in the background! We were originally hoping to do some skiing at night, which would also give us an extra day of rest before hiking, but it was not to be.  In the meantime we enjoyed Queenstown, gazed at a pink sheep, climbed some trees, and ate at a few wonderful establishments. The next day of skiing was quite nice, especially after Mark remembered he knew how to ski. I have always suffered from this phenomenon as a person who has always lived too far away from mountains to ski often.  The first run or two the legs get a little wobbly and there is a distinct voice in my mind shouting, "You've forgotten how and you will kill yourself!"

(Hiking the snow covered ridge line was fun and challenging at the same
time.  I kept thinking how much easier it would have been if we were not
randomly sinking up to our knees in snow)
It is such a blessing to have lived some where like New Zealand for a year.  Every time someone like Mark visits we steer part of our plans around some amazing activity we had not yet had a chance to do ourselves, but naturally is something we know they want to do as well.  In this case that was the Kepler Trek! If you have been reading our blog posts you are fully familiar with NZ's nine great walks (if not click on the link and check them out). We had managed to do three and a half of them by the point Mark came to visit and the Kepler was less than three hours from our doorstep.  The main reason we had not yet done Kepler and only did a portion of Tongariro had to do with the end of hiking season and Winter.  As seen in the picture above, many if not all of the great walks get high enough that they can become quite risky to hike in the Winter depending on weather conditions. They can be bad enough in hiking season if the wrong conditions move in while people are up this high.

(I am not sure a person can ask for better weather than we had for our Kepler
trek.  Not only was it warm and absent of any precipitation, but we could see
for miles in any given direction - amazing!)
In fact, as we prepared to hike with Mark the DOC (department of conservation) office did not recommend anyone did the entire hike due to risk of avalanche and some snow conditions in the alpine portions of the trek.  "Even if you are an experienced Winter alpine hiker with all of the proper gear we still do not recommend anyone hiking the entire trek," the friendly DOC officer advised us. This left none of us feeling super confident about what we were setting out to do, but Sarah and I had recently experienced similar conditions on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and were sure we could recognize whether we should press on or turn around if the trek was in fact not impassable for us.  With a three person pact that we would turn around at any given moment if any other person felt uncomfortable, we started off with our gear and had one fantastically memorable hike!  Kepler is normally a 3-4 day hike, but we did what we now refer to as the Gordon/Miriam Blitzkrieg and blasted two thirty kilometer days in a row (a total of 60 kilometers making it just under 40 miles).

(Sometimes the trail gets fun and you get to climb over
trees that have fallen with no regard to the trek.  Some
trees are just so inconsiderate)
It was a challenging experience hiking Kepler in this fashion.  With the odd feeling of a day's skiing still lingering somewhere in our legs, we kept a good pace and for a while even found it fun trying not to disappear into the snow.  As the day wore on we did tire a little bit and the unexpected snow trap doors were a little less amusing.  At one point Sarah's left hip flexor began giving her a lot of trouble, causing her to limp slightly (especially on uphills in the snow, which was a lot of our first day) and in conjunction with the trails steep climbs our pace suffered a little bit.  I became fixated on a goal, one I thought not only good but fairly essential: clear the mountain ridges and snow before complete nightfall.  We had yet to hike with our headlamps and it became increasingly evident there was no way we would be at our hut before darkness completely encircled us.  Fortunately we did meet my goal (it just would not have been fun at all to hike in that snow in the dark) and we slowly worked our way down to the hut through the lightless forest.  All salutations and honors go to Sarah for continuously hiking through her hip flexor pain, which was clearly an agonizing experience.  Once at the cabin Mark went on continuous pitch-dark trips to the river to gather water for us, guarded only by his headlamp and weary legs.

(Our rescue crew ready to save us from exhaustion!  Where's Mark?? Thanks
again to Simon, Cath, and Shona for making the trek to meet us!)
One fun aspect to Winter hiking off season is that the huts have none of the normal amenities such as lighting, heating, or running water.  Oh well.  While successfully using up all of the cardboard left by compassionate rangers or guests and feeling badly for it, I was simultaneously unable to get the slightly damp logs to light, thus leaving me feeling unworthy to call myself a man.  But I was still able to cook our dinner on the little stove we brought, thanks to Mark's water, and we almost immediately went to sleep post dinner in our private hut (normally full of 20-50 people).  Once we started out on the second day's hike we had two things to look forward to besides the finish - this part of the hike was much flatter (giving Sarah's hip flexor a needed break) and our friends were hiking in to meet us from the opposite direction!  Not only did this boost our morale but it's always great to see good friends.  After a great lunch and a few more miles of hiking and we were done!

(Kayaking on a fjord can make someone feel strangely small and yet wildly bold at the same
time.  It is truly a unique way to see Milford Sound and thanks to visitors I've been out on the
sound in  kayak four times!  Truly thankful for these experiences)
Kepler was a gem and we had an absolutely amazing experience. But Mark and I shot on from there to go kayaking on Milford Sound the next morning, which also proved to be one of the best days a person can hope for weather wise.  Fortunately for us most of kayaking uses ab muscles and arms, while our tired legs could rest safely inside the belly of our kayak.  On top of our weather we had a stellar guide who happened to be an American from Alaska!  She filled us full of all kinds of wonderful Milford Sound knowledge, while at the same time convincing us of why we should visit Alaska - Mark has already been and fully agreed.

Kayaking Milford Sound was a fitting way to end Mark's visit to New Zealand.  It encapsulated the beauty of the country and the strength of our friendship in one amazing day.  Sarah and I are blessed to call Mark our friend and we are truly thankful he was able to come and visit us.

More pics to follow, of course.  SCROLL DOWN!!
(Some of these mountains are the same ones I ran over with +Benjamin Winrow back in February - a little North of this shot.  We enjoyed just skiing them this time.  Wow)
(I'm sure Gordon and Miriam will recognize this crazy tree that grows sideways out in front of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown - fun to climb out on its limbs and be silly or sit down and read)
(Such views!!)
(There are so many shots we took on the Kepler trek that came out just breath taking - still cannot believe we hiked this.  Sorry there are so many but I seriously did cut a lot of them)
(Here you can see Sarah slightly pulling on her pant leg to relieve a little bit of stress on her hip flexor.  She still enjoyed it!  She's hard core)
(About halfway along the ridge lines we could see the South Sound winding it's way along the path)
(Pausing for the view)
(We could see forever.  And it was hot in those pants.  I made the mistake of not bringing shorts)
(Living on an angle - some of the spots got a little steep and I could see why if conditions were a little slicker they did not want anyone hiking these spots)
(It's always nice looking up and seeing where the path is going but sometimes it's a nice slap in the face)
(This is a good example where looking for the path ahead can get you wondering at which peak you have to climb)
(Angles!!  Sometimes we had to remind ourselves to keep our eyes on the path with views like this)
(The South Sound looked perfect for water skiing)
(It was strange how we could see the path based on where the snow was not melting - but it was cool seeing it so far out ahead and behind when we looked back)
(Just as we started making our climb up!)
(As we hiked up there was a string of clouds - seen in other photos - but then they were just all gone!  I wonder how far away those mountains are in the distance??)
(Still a few clouds, and below is the first hut we made it to on the first day - but not the one we were ending at for the night)
(Just more views)
(No that is not a white ocean.  Here you can see the layer of clouds that we hike up and through - then an hour later they were gone as though they were never there in the first place)
(Mark hiking up through the clouds - pretty neat stuff)
(There were plenty of moments I wished I was running!)
(Goofing around as we were officially starting the Kepler trek)
(Taken on an historic bridge just outside of Queenstown.  Parts of the LOTR movies were filmed on these waters below)
(One of the views from the day we skied)
(We had finished!  But Mark's achilles had been acting up the last few miles of the hike and his face shows a little bit of that)
(Parting ways - Sarah was getting a ride back to Invercargill with our rescue party while Mark and I went on the last 10k of the official Kepler Trek loop.  In spite of her hip flexor Sarah still wanted to continue with us but the group needed to get on the way.  Seriously, she's hard core)
(I thought about not posting this pic but I decided to for a few reasons.  One, most Americans do not know what a NZ opossum looks like - this is what they look like - much cuter and friendlier looking.  Two, they are huge pests in NZ and they eat the vegetation at an alarmingly unchecked rate as there are no predators that kill them.  So NZ DOC has to regulate their numbers spreading and they use certain poisons, which you can see the effect of here.  This mother died only a few feet away from the path and had either just given birth had given premature birth in the throes of death.  It was unfortunate to see such a site while hiking but it was a reminder of the struggle for a country to maintain it's ecosystem in spite of animals that have been introduced.  Sad but if they do not do anything their forests will be destroyed.  One man was pretty upset about this and wrote about it in the next hut's comment book) 
(Maybe this photo will relieve some of the tension from the last photo.  Some natural vegetation that looked to me as some sort of forest monster waiting for us to step off the path.  Grrrrrr) 
(Such a nice trail)
(Catching one of the other boats out with us in an amazing shot by Mark)
(We saw one seal on our kayaking journey.  He was sleepy!  But once looked out behind him to see who was making all of the noise)
(Our Kiwi/Alaskan guide giving some helpful info)
(One of the many planes we saw coming to land at Milrod's ridiculously small airport)
(The tunnel into Milford - pretty crazy)
(Ridge line after ridge line - keep them coming)
(Taken right next to one of the two emergency shelters on the pass - this shelter was completely snowed in and would have taken hours of digging before a person could get in - not cool but I'm sure it's hard to keep it clear in the Winter and it's more designed for bad weather in the hiking season)
(We did not see any penguins but we did catch some sea lions)
(I told Mark this experience really made his NZ times complete.  You really don't know NZ until you've had to stop for a road full of sheep - they just won't get over!)
(Mark snags a selfie!)
(We also made it to a rugby match while Mark was there, which was really fun.  We even had a streaker that night!  I guess it's not really rugby with out such shenanigans) 
(Boom - bone crunching hits!!)
(An up close shot really shows that all seals, sea lions, etc are really just water dogs.  But they have not yet decided it's cool to be pet by humans.  I'm still waiting)