Five Passes

Published: January 26th 2011
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Jan. 19, 2011 - Sugarloaf Pass
We left our peaceful stay in Invercargill on the 18th, and traveled to Queenstown. Cool place. I hope to get to chill there a bit. We got our food, and headed out to Glenorchy. We stayed in a hostel and set out from there.
It's Jan. 19th, and by 11:00 we're on the trail. The trail wouldn't last for long, however, as we are doing a route (my favorite!). We hike through dense forest for a while, and suddenly we're above tree line. The views are very cool up there, unobstructed by the trees. When we at last reach Sugarloaf Pass I am grateful for mostly clear skies. This pass was rather easy going. I hope for more like it.
We head down the other side of the mountain to have lunch, as it was too windy and a bit chilly at the top of the pass. After several more hours of tramping we get to our first camp site, and put up our tents. There are no huts on this route. Dinner is glorious (breakfast burritos!), and we even got to have a small campfire. Life is good. Today was great; probably my best day of tramping yet. Soon I'll be going like a pro.

Jan. 20, 2011 - Park Pass
Today began at 8:00. We had our morning oat meal, and then it was back into my wet socks and boots. We head up the valley. Again, we are in the trees. We make pretty good time towards Park Pass. As we're headed up, we have a river to cross multiple times. It is here that Chad unintentionally provides the funniest moment of the day.
Not two minutes after telling me not to attempt to cross by jumping to some out of easy reach rocks (the water was flowing fast and furious here), I turn to see Chad preparing to leap to said rock. He jumps and actually sticks the landing... then the rock slowly tipped over, sending both it and Chad into the river. Adding to the hilarity was Chad's water bottle, which had fallen out of his pack, slowly floating away down river. Luckily, it was recovered, and Chad was unharmed (if a little wetter then he wanted). We push on.
Just before beginning our final ascent, we meet another tramper. He's decided to stay under a rock bivy for a few days to enjoy the fantastic surrounding views of the valley. I don't blame him, the valley is amazing. He gives us a useful tip on a rock bivy where we're headed. This tip would later prove to be invaluable.
We break and have lunch at the top of Park Pass. The skies are clear, and the wind is down. Life is good. Soon it will be less good. We start down. This only takes about two and half hours. Not too long. However, it was steep. Very steep. And damp. And STEEP!!! Rather nerve racking really. Then, once at the level(ish) ground again, it begins to rain. Not hard, just a fine unrelenting mist that still leaves you thoroughly soaked.
We trod on forever, up a new valley, following another river. Turns out that traversing wet rocks is not as much fun. It's slick and potentially dangerous. In fact, at one point Chad falls pretty hard on his wrist. I hope it's nothing more then a hard bruise. Finally we spot the rock biv, and make for it.
It's awesome. Like a small cave. A rock biv is the result of one or more giant rocks falling together in such a way as to leave a dry area underneath, which one can shelter under. There is room enough for me to stand, and most importantly it's dry! That night we don't even bother with the tents, and instead just sleep on ground pads and sleeping bags. It was a 10 hour day of tramping.
Side Note: In the middle of the night my entire toenail of my right big toe came off. I was expecting this, and it was thankfully completely painless. Still, it looks... strange. Part of me feels like I'm becoming Brundlefly. (Extra nerd points to anyone who got that reference.)

Jan. 21, 2011 - Cow Saddle
We decided to make today a short day. After yesterday, we were all ready to take it easy. We lazily lounge in our Man Cave until noon. Then we set our for a short tramp up the rest of the valley to our next pass, where we intend to camp, right at the top of the relatively low Cow Saddle.
This pass is very easy to reach. To compensate for this Life had it immediately begin pouring rain when we start our walk. Naturally, it hadn't been raining at all today until now.
When we reach the saddle a few hours later the rain finally lets up just long enough for us to set up camp. Then it rains again. We use a brief lull in the weather to make dinner. The rain returns before we're done, and we all seek shelter in Chad's tent to finish eating.
It would continue to rain off and on all night. Wasn't much to see today, on account of the poor weather. I don't mind too much. You know going into tramps that this kind of weather in inevitable from time to time. Even being trapped in a tent, I'm enjoying myself out here. It's very peaceful, and the gentle sounds of the rain are quite relaxing.

Jan. 22, 2011 - Fiery Col
Today starts early... sorta. We wake up at 7:00. We get up around 8:00. After breakfast, we get going around 10:00. We stalled for two reasons: First, we're all lazy in the morning. Second, it was finally sunny and clear. Cow Saddle looks great with clear skies, and the warm sunshine was a very welcome change. We could also clearly see our next objective, Fiery Col.
This is the steepest pass that we'll climb. Going up is challenging. While the previous two passes we're relatively grassy along the ascent, Fiery Col is very rocky. There weren't that many rock carins to mark the way, and there is not a trail. We have to pick our path ourselves. We make excellent time up. This may be one of the most beautiful passes I've ever seen. Clear skies in every direction. We seem to be surrounded by fabulous mountain peaks and valleys, all vying for title of most spectacular. Far away, I could even glimpse a sliver of the ocean. We break for lunch at the top.
Soon we head down the other side. Again, we make good time. My speed is improving. We tramp along some rolling green hills. Some are steep, but not that bad. By 4:00 we had located a suitable place to camp. We sat around for a bit, enjoying the views, then had dinner.
Tomorrow morning we'll hike the fifth and final pass. I'm looking forward to to it. For the rest of the evening I plan to read a bit and then pass out. Again, life is good.

Jan. 23, 2011 - Fohn Saddle
Wow... what a day. We woke at 7:00, hoping to get an early start. So, naturally, it was well after 10:00 before we got going. This suited me, as I didn't sleep well the previous night. I paid for it at first. I felt quite weary and sluggish for a bit. We started our ascent to Fohn Saddle immediately.
We still made pretty good time, and by noon we were near the top. We take a break at Fohn Lakes. These are two pristine mountain lakes. The skies were nearly completely clear, and blue. In every direction magnificent peaks rose around us, or clear paths to far off valleys could be seen. These views heal my weariness.
We continue our climb and eventually come to Fohn Saddle. It's awesome. By far this is my favorite pass we've done or that I've ever done for that matter. The pass is narrow, and the way on either side is guarded by steep and jagged rocks. Then you reach the summit, and cross into the next valley.
It's one of the most beautiful places that I've ever been or seen. There are rolling green hills, off the steep descent. Far away, I see the Beans Burn winding its way down the valley, its many braids crisscrossing. The blue river disappears as it flows into the forest at the far end of the wide vale. That will be our road out tomorrow.
Going down to the valley floor is an arduous task. The descent is very steep, and tall slippery snow grass make seeing where one is going almost impossible. As long as I've got such a great view of the valley below, I don't mind at all. Once we reach the bottom and begin the final push to our camp site, I find I'm a man possessed.
I feel a sudden surge of energy, and set a fantastic pace. I actually out hike my companions (notable only for its rareness). It's almost like I'm a new and completely different tramper. I feel reborn.
Today was great. This makes five passes in five days. This is now the longest, hardest, and maybe the best tramp I've ever done. Two more days to go! I'm ready.

Jan. 24, 2011 - The Beans Burn
Whew! What a day. Again, we rose at 7:00. This time we managed to get into gear a bit sooner then usual, and we're tramping by 9:15. We were going down the valley, following the Beans Burn. At first we clearly follow the river, walking in it along the way.
The Beans Burn flows steadily downwards, and before long we reach the forest. When we do, we're greeted by a welcome sight. Trail markers! The path path is pretty rough, but easy to follow. Today is our longest tramp, but my new found vigor seems to have carried over, and we make good time.
We stay in the forest, which still follows the river all the way down the valley, to where the Beans Burn meets up with Dart River. We've come a long way at this point, and so far I've enjoyed tramping through the forest. This would rapidly change.
As we begin the final stage of the day's tramp, we enter unmarked forest. We had considered, and attempted walking along the Dart, but the river was flowing too fast, too deep. We're forced to bush bash our way through the forest. The bush is thick and punishing. It makes the going slow, and difficult. Every root, limb, and twig seem to conspire against us. Finding the way is sometimes a challenge, but at last we emerge onto flat grassy fields.
A short walk later we are camped. Today was exhausting. Awesome, but definitely a tougher one. We had tramped about 14 kilometers, and took about 9 hours. Good news is that, because of how far we came today, getting out tomorrow won't take too long. I could use a short day (and a shower).

Jan. 25, 2011 - The Road Out
Today starts, as so many have, at 7:00. We manage to break camp quickly. Likely, this process was accelerated by the swarm of sandflies, blessedly absent for nearly the entire tramp, which had now discovered our location. We're on the trail at 9:15.
The march is steady, and my pace swift and constant. The final leg of our journey is through the forest, but this time there is a marked trail. We make great time. In just under three hours we reach the car park and our epic seven day tramp of Five Passes is complete. The thrill of victory is exhilarating. Chad hitches to retrieve our car from another nearby trailhead, and soon we're headed back to civilization.
Back in Queenstown we can finally all relax. Everyone is tired, and a little beat up from the tramp. A glorious hot shower helps dispel some of the weariness. We go get a victory meal, in the form of the biggest burger I've ever had, and drink some beers.
Now I'm chilling at the hostel. All in all, an excellent day. Really, that sums up this particular tramp. It was tough work, but very rewarding and completely worth it. Other then a handful of people, seen in passing, we had the track to ourselves. I think this was the hardest, and best tramp I've ever been on. Finally, I've breached a threshold and seem to have achieved a new level of fitness. I now feel ready to tackle any tramp that comes my way. The adventure isn't over yet; the Road goes ever on and on.

Additional photos below
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27th January 2011

Your photos all look A~ MA~ ZING!!! Glad you guys are having a good time! :)
27th January 2011

Sounds like you're having a good time...I just have one very important question...what is "oak meal"?
6th February 2011

Well... more tree-like? Similar to oat meal, but the spelling is different.
9th March 2011

I don't know about the Brundlefly reference but the lost nail reminds me of this one movie The Fly that Jeff Goldbloom was in. I watched it when I was really little, but I remembered that his nails came off when he was trying into the fly and the whole sticking to walls and the girl pregant with his mutant child. Clearly it made an impression on me. Five passes Seven days... that does sound like an impressive tramping adventure. And I'm glad to see that your new best friends the Sand files did not miss the whole experience.
12th March 2011

Good news!
You do indeed know the reference! The Fly is what I was talking about. Great minds think alike! :)

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