time reversal

the stories of four physicists separated by the whims of fate

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NZ Part 3: The Routeburn Track

February 12th, 2009 by liz

The Routeburn Track is another one of NZ’s great walks. This one is 32km long and is considered NZ’s premiere alpine crossing. It crosses over the main divide of the southern alps at Harris Saddle. Unfortunately, the road distance between the two ends of the track is 350km. Since I didn’t fancy taking a bus 350km back to get my car, I decided to hike up one side of the Routeburn to Harris Saddle, and then hike back to my car. The only problem with this plan is that the distance between “The Divide,” where I started, and Harris Saddle is about 19-20km, and the elevation gain is about 1000m. Party on!

Small waterfall along the track
Small waterfall along the Routeburn Track

I started out just before 10am, and made good time (2h50m) to Lake Mackenzie, which is the traditional first night’s stop. After a quick lunch of bread, cheese, avacados, and tomatoes (did I mention I missed fruits and vegetables?) I started up the steep climb towards Harris Saddle. Unfortunately it was quite cloudy, so the alpine scenery wasn’t as spectacular as advertised, but it was still an awesome hike. It was really cool to look down at the valley floor from that high up, and watch glaciers melting into waterfalls on the mountains accross the way. There were also a ton of waterfalls along the Routeburn track, one of which was 174m tall. I eventually made it to Harris Saddle at 3pm, where I ducked into the emergency shelter to tape up a blister on my right heel. I swear that leg is just falling apart.

Liz by harris saddle
Liz by Harris Saddle

My ankle held up well, but my knee started aching on the return trip. I still had 19km to go and a lot of it was downhill (bad for knees). I thought that this was really bad news, but advil came to the rescue. It’s a good thing I never go anywhere without enough painkillers for a small army. I passed many people on the way back down who told me repeatedly that I was crazy for doing this hike, until I met up with 2 german kids 20 minutes from my car. They asked me if I had done the whole Routeburn that day. “No, but I hiked to Harris Saddle and back. That’s about 8km more than the length of the Routeburn,” I replied. “So, you think that non-experts could do it all in one day?” they asked. I looked at them and thought, “man, that’s going to be painful for them,” and then told them if they were planning to do it to start really early and bring LOTS of food. Then they asked me if I’d had good weather. “Well, it didn’t rain,” I said. They started laughing, but then realized that I had a point.

Bit of sun peeking out at the end of the day
A bit of sun peeks out at the end of the day on the track.

I got to my car at 8:30pm, 10 hours and 40 minutes after I’d started my 38-40km walk. I just finished taking the best hot shower of my life. What a way to spend my birthday! (and I wonder if I’ll be able to walk tomorrow?)

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  • 1 Terry Feb 12, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Liz- I am having such fun reading your journal! This adventure you are on is wonderful and I WISH I WAS DOING WHAT YOU ARE DOING!!!!!!!
    I want to mention how much I enjoy your great writing! Very vivid! Keep up the great blog and travel safe! xoxoxAunt Terry