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Wednesday 26 February 2003


Milford Track (Day 2)



Clinton river and Surrounding Mountains

We were woken at 6:45 by people going to take a shower, since the generator had just been restarted. The hot shower and full size towel were very nice. Breakfast was porridge, cereal, juice and tea / coffee / milo and a plate of hot food – egg, bacon and tomato – very civilised.

As I write this, I am at the highest point on the Milford Track, on a rock at Mackinnons Pass The weather is completely clear and warm. Surrounding the Pass are two enormous glacial carved valleys – the Clinton and the Arthur. On either side of the pass and across the valleys, enormous rocky and snowy crags tower above me. The pass is very pretty itself – covered in alpine tussock and with several small tarns on the top, there are also patches of bare rock and snow. The views are certainly up there with the best I’ve seen anywhere.

We made our lunches before breakfast – Sandwiches with a variety of fillings – We also grabbed some snacks – muesli bars, cookies and chocolate. By 8:45, when I set out, most people were ready to go, or had already left.

I found I was near the end of the group, which suited me fine, since I’d decided to dawdle near the back and admire the views, this was made especially possible because the track was wide and well graded, so you didn’t need to look at your feet often. The track started by crossing a large swing bridge over the Clinton. The water was amazingly clear – tinted slightly green. The river was a fairly shallow, smooth flowing stream – few rapids. The track followed the river for the whole day. The morning consisted of walking through magnificent beech forest, where practically every tree was hanging all over with moss – Many tree trunks were entirely clad with moss. Every few hundred metres, there was a little path to the river – usually just a metre or two long – the views of the river were so pretty, with the mountains as a backdrop. The water was clear enough that I saw a couple of trout just sitting there, keeping up with the current – very easy to see in the clear water. I was on my own mostly, which was nice, although occasionally someone would pass me when I stopped for a picture or a snack.

After a while, the Japanese ladies group and passed me while I was stopped – They were amazing – all between 50 and 70, and they walked like a regiment – group leader in front, and the women behind, right on each other’s heel – practically marching in time. All had long sleeves and pants, several had gloves, fly nets and trekking poles. They were a little awkward to walk near, since they didn’t stop very often, as I did, and were hard to pass. I found that when I was behind them I was at the back of the group, since the back guide was there. I settled on getting a fair way ahead of them and walking slightly faster and I didn’t see anyone for long periods.

There was a wetland area near the start of the day where there was an amazing variety of moss and other small plants growing directly on the ground. There were even some very tiny sundews – The views here were great too, since no trees could grow in the bog. Along the way also was a very large beech tree which James (the guide) said was estimated at 700 to 1100 years old! So it could have been here before the Maori! Its girth however was only about 2m in diameter. A bit further along, there was a very old telephone hidden in a hollow in the back of a tree. There used to be a telephone wire down the length of the track.

The Clinton Canyon and The Prarie on the Milford Track

Before lunch, the Clinton split into the west and north arms – we followed the west arm into the start of the Clinton Canyon. There was a small hut and shelter for lunch. Scott (the guide) had arrived first and had hot water for tea, coffee and soup. There was also juice and water. I ate the lunch I’d made in the morning – it was a little squashed, and sat in the sun for a while. Shortly after lunch, the track emerged from the forest into an area which is clear because of the frequent winter avalanches. We were now in the Clinton Canyon – it was awesome – only about 700m wide at the bottom, it is an enormous U shaped valley carved by a gigantic glacier in the ice age. Peaks towered 1500m above on each side of the canyon.

Further on, “The Big Slip” rock slide covered part of the floor of the canyon. In 1982 the rockslide slipped down and dammed the Clinton River, forming Dead Lake – named because of the beech trees killed by the rising water forming the lake. There were many waterfalls – narrow ribbons of white water cascading down the canyon walls which, from the valley floor looked almost vertical. The views from this entire section were amazing. The track soon came to hidden lake – a small lake at the bottom of another waterfall. Not long after that, I came to the “swimming hole”, a fairly deep small lake with a waterfall. This one had no eels though. Many people, myself included stripped off to swimmers and went for a “swim”. It was very cold – about 10m across, which was about as far as you would want to swim in that temperature. We estimate 8°C. I swam across to a rock where I sat warming a little in the sun before returning to the shore. It was very refreshing, and I was soon dry with the hot sun.

After about an hour there, I headed on down the track to Pompolona Lodge. It sits just past the area cleared by avalanches, in the trees on a slope next to the canyon wall. The whole Lodge is made of a series of smallish buildings going up the slope, with boardwalks and steps in between. The Lodge had a small helipad and we’d seen a chopper going up and down the valley several times with building materials slung beneath it. The slide show briefing was before dinner, - we were shown photos of the pass, and Scott (the lead guide) made it sound like it would be quite hard (I guess for some people it could be extremely hard). He then gave us the good news that we would be woken and the generator would be turned on at 6:15 in the morning. Dinner was pleasant, and by 9:30 the lounge and dining area had cleared out completely. The previous night there were people there right up until the 10:00 generator shutdown. Since it was empty, I played the guitar then piano for a while. Ray Evans (one of my room mates) wandered in and listened for a little while. Soon it was time to prepare for bed before the lights went out.

All afternoon at the Lodge, several Keas had been wandering along the boardwalks trying to get fed, or to get into the rooms to steal food. They were amazing – unless the doors were latched, they could open them – first the outer glass and metal door, then the inner flyscreen door which even had a closer on it. One room got broken into, and the Kea dragged the bin outside, where it proceeded to distribute the contents everywhere. Just before I went to bed, I shooed a Kea out of the way, and as it flew up to a rail, one of it’s feathers fell out – a fairly large one which I claimed as a souvenir.

Not long before the briefing I was standing outside near the helipad admiring the scenery when I heard a rumble and saw an avalanche cascading down from the crag above the lodge. It was not a flow so much as a lot of blocks falling which hit the rock further down and disintegrated. It lasted long enough for me to call a few others out to see it.