Middle Earth Day 12: A Hike Into The Heavens

On this surprisingly clear morning, I planned to take the Alex Knob walk, which according to the hostel had one of the best views in town. After booking my next night there, the manager asked if I wanted to go on a free guided tour of Lake Matheson and Lake Mapourika, which can offer spectacular unblocked views of Mount Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand, and Mount Tasman. For a few hours, sure why the heck not? Stuffed in the bed of our tour guide’s pickup while three German girls sat in actual seats, I had a smooth ride down to Tasman Sea, during which I could look up and around at the surrounding mountains. We walked the beach in hopes of seeing some seals but the high tide blocked our path. From there, we cruised to the lakes for a swim. Although quite chilly, it was a great fresher while I could stare at Mount Cook in the distance, it’s ridges tiled with icy snow. In this lake hidden away from most tourists, I could not have been happier. Swimming briskly down below under the shadow of this giant, I couldn’t but feel a bit smaller, a valuable perspective. To have a worthwhile experience while traveling, you need to have a curiosity and appreciation for all things, both big and small. For some, they may seem significant. I on the other hand can get caught up in the beauty or history of a place or thing others may walk past. It is raw and true. To finish off this early afternoon adventure, we tucked into a bar for a drink a piece. I needed to get started on the hike if I had any prayer of finishing it in the daylight, so I was able to hitch a ride from our tour guide. The path winded to and fro at a relatively steady incline. At points, I had to either parkour a steep array of jumbled roots or climb it rock climb style. Either way, I gave me a thrilling break from the constant switchbacks that looked like the many before it. For the most part, the path cut through a rainforest of ferns and thick moss before I got peer out to the land and valley below. Every once in awhile I chatted up some fellow hikers that were going back down, partly to cut away at the monotonous chatter of myself and to also find out how much further I needed to go. Before the grand finale atop Alex Knob, I got to see glimpses of the glacier in its most opaque color, which sped my hike to a treacherous jog. Weaving my feet and legs through the jumbled pebbles and cut rock, I managed not to slip to my death. Once on the summit of Alex Knob, I could finally enjoy the fruits of my labor. Down below and across the way sat the indomitable glacier more jagged and blue at its core than what I saw the day before. From this viewpoint I could see the full size of the glacier rising upward to the rest of the peaks that formed a semicircle around the walking paths below and the town of Franz itself. Behind me stood the great Tasman Sea, too dangerous to be swam in due to its strong undercurrents. I could see the everything worth seeing, no helicopter necessary. Even though at the end of the day it is simply a chunk of ice, that very ice is a spectacle worth beholding. I took my time to savor its presence all the peaks lined up around it. At this height, the clouds still covered some of the most prominent peaks but I would like to think I could still see Mt. Cook blended in with the rest. While enjoying the elevation, I had a classic mountain picnic composed of chickpeas out of a can and smushed up bread (I will understand if you are a bit jealous). With the setting sun not slowing down, I needed to make my descent. On down I went, keeping my momentum onto the path and not down the cliffs, which promised gruesome results. After leaving the constant switchbacks, I found my myself on smoother yet still rocking terrain. I jogged furiously down and up the hills, weaving myself through the lonesome rainforest and feeling the rush of the mounting pace. Damn, I really miss jogging. I got back to the hostel needing to freshen up since no one could possibly tolerate the odor of a day long hike. I talked to one of the German girls that I met during the hike for a little while. Speaking of Germans, this hostel called Glowworms Cottages and Backpackers ended up being Team Germany. With the exception of another American and myself, every resident was German. I asked her plans for Christmas and found out Germans tend to celebrate the holiday on Christmas Eve. The night before Christmas they go to church, open presents, and have a nice family meal, while Christmas is more of a relaxing day to socialize and play with toys. I found that quite interesting. Anyways after she left, I went through the process of getting wifi connection. The Internet access occurred in spurts but in the little time I got I found out that my original plan to go to Arthur’s Pass for Christmas Eve and Day had fallen apart. The once open bed at its only hostel and the bus route there were both booked. I went to bed unsure of the next day’s plans with hopes of coming to a resolution in the morning.

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