If you think about it, tramping is rather a strange behavior of the modern human. I mean, does it sound fun to spend the day carrying a heavy load up steep hills and down in sometimes adverse weather, cook dinner on a single precarious flame, then spend the night cocooned in a tubular quilt without a pillow? All to end up exactly where we started, back at the car park? But the fact remains, we do it. And we do it for pleasure.
Last weekend was our tenth anniversary, so we plunked the kids with some kind-hearted friends and drove up to Nelson Lakes for a winter hike, just the two of us.
We had tried once before, two an a half years ago, to hike to Angelus Hut, “epically” situated next to a big alpine tarn. But we had been turned around by horrid weather.
Turns out we unwittingly chose the best weather weekend of the whole year. Day time temps didn’t go above freezing, but the sun was strong and not a breath of wind stirred.
I puzzled over the tramping phenomenon: Why do we do it? I stood basking in the clear winter sun, listening to the crinkle-tinkle of snow melting on scree, lazily watching the breeze pattern Lake Rotoriti far below.
I marvelled at the delicate snow sculptures, striped and swirled to perfection by the merciless wind, like the rainbow sandstones of Nevada.
I trudged along the snowy ridgeline, mountains spread out below in the magically still air, enjoying the time to thoroughly explore a thought uninterrupted by laundry duties, squabble-mending, or toilet paper control.
Perhaps it’s the chance to stride along feeling strong and capable, seemingly independent of the modern global system, to feel REAL in authentic nature, unprotected by the artificial walls we build around us….
….at least until we duck into DOC’s most excellent hut and spread out our down-filled sleeping bags on the tidy mattresses…. Or contemplate the petrol it took to power our car the 350 km from home to the trail head.
DOC even has to helicopter wood for heating into this hut, since there is not a tree to be found up here. When we poked our heads in at 3:30 it was nice and warm from the sun alone, but we were glad of the fire come sunset. Do you know, I read a whole National Geographic article from start to finish on my smartphone in one evening at the hut on this last hike. A luxury of a tramp.
Perhaps it’s the simplicity of tramping that is its appeal. The goal is to get from point A to point B and back again, enjoying oneself along the way. No communication blunders, no parsing out the best 20+ year parenting strategy, no unspoken expectations.
Up there it’s a clear black and white and sky-blue world. It’s desert starkness, unforgiving snow squeaking in the cold.
The wind, now calm, displays its punishing strength in the strained patterns it left behind.
The steep bits didn’t feel precarious, partly because the fresh snow wasn’t yet icy, and partly because we were wearing crampons.
Crampons. We stomp along, waltzing over the slippery crust with god-like powers. Near the bottom of the decent we encounter other people, mere mortals, who are clinging precariously to sticks and inching their tentative way up the ice. It’s difficult not to be smug. Of course, I’ve only had my crampons for a few months. Last winter I was a slipping sliding minion like the rest of them. When you have the right tool for the job, arrogance comes easily.
There was a lone hare running at break-neck speed over the snow near the bottom of this slope. I have no idea what it was doing up there. Probably late for a very important date.
Speaking of critters, here’s a “vegetable sheep.” This coral-like thing is actually a flower in the daisy family, perfectly adapted for eking out a living on the bleak alpine rocks.
See the ice growing out horizontally from the rock faces? That means the weather earlier in the week was coming at them entirely sideways. Freezing, horizontal gale-force precipitation.
We’re completely giddy with delight with the favorable conditions we’re enjoying!
The entire walk was on a ridgeline wandering around alpine basins. Just one or two ridges before the hut we happened upon this dragon lair. Well, really I have no idea what subterranean warmth melted this breathing hole, but a dragon sounded plausible at the time.
Are we on Mars, or on Earth? This must be one of the most scenically situated toilet blocks in New Zealand.
So I’m not sure why we’re drawn toward this strange activity we call hiking and the Kiwis call tramping. But in the end, we are. And we’re lucky to live in New Zealand, where the walks are close by, the trails unlittered, and the wilderness still breathes.
Happy Tenth Anniversary!
And THANK YOU to our friends, two families who adopted our children for the weekend and gave us the chance to play.