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Thursday 27 February 2003


Milford Track (Day 3)



Makinnon Pass and Roaring Burn Valley on the Milford Track

Getting up so early (6:15) was fun (not!) – we made lunch, then had breakfast and I was out the door on the track by 7:40. I’d decided to move fast, so could spend time on the pass, and also at Sutherland Falls.

I took about an hour to reach Lake Mintaro where the DOC hut was. The views of the Clinton Canyon in the early morning sun were spectacular. The track rose steadily through the forest, and at the lake started to break in and out of the trees. Every so often there were great views up and down the Clinton Canyon and of the imposing mountains flanking the canyon.

Soon I crossed the Clinton to the true left and the track began the ascent through the forest. I started passing heaps of independent trampers and a few guided walkers. I found that often people didn’t realise there was someone behind them. The climb was very nice – it has switchbacks and the gradient was quite gentle, so I could maintain quite a fast speed. Soon I broke out above the bushline - by this time I was walking alone again. The views were awesome of the huge stadium-like head of the canyon where the beginning of the ancient glacier had been. The track went up a few more switchbacks through alpine tussock, with the occasional tiny patch of snow in a drainage gutter.

After about 50 minutes of climbing, I crested the pass and came to the Mackinnon memorial – a very large rock cairn with a stone cross atop it. There were fabulous views now across over the pass, to the north of Mount Eliot, the Arthur valley and the Sutherland Falls valley, although the falls and Lake Quill were hidden behind a ridge. The Quill glacier which feed Lake Quill was visible, however. There was not a single cloud in the sky. To the left and right were Mount Hart and Mount Balloon, towering over the pass. On top of the pass, there were several beautiful small tarns.

I crossed to the north side of the pass – a place called 12 second drop – a sheer cliff to the valley below. Scott (the guide) was waiting there with some drinks brought from Pass Hut. I sat and looked at the view and ate a snack, and talked a little. Shortly, the “Mafia” showed up – a Kea. He hopped around the area looking for food, then went to the memorial where others had arrived. I took some photos and moved on up the track to the highest point – a hill on the pass, where I sat for an hour looking at the views and writing my diary – it was excellent.

I moved on to Pass Hut, where a new guide, Helen had put hot water on. She had come up from Quintin Lodge. There were several Kea at Pass Hut, and they would brazenly jump up on packs, or try to make off with lunch bags. They are very cute and comical though so we were not really annoyed. The hut had wires holding the roof down to the concrete slab, since the previous huts have been blown down twice. There were patches of snow, and another tarn right near the hut. It had one side for independent trampers – pretty empty, and one side for guided walkers, which had a cooker bench and memorabilia. The toilet has one of the best views anywhere – straight down the Clinton Canyon. From the pass, you could see both Pompolona and Quintin Lodges, although not from the same place. I ate lunch at Pass Hut, looking down the Clinton Canyon, had a cup of soup, then started the descent.

The descent was again fairly gentle, but rocky – it circles around the head of the Roaring Burn, below the Jervois glacier. It took quite a while before I was back into scrub, then forest. During this time, there were great views of the valley, including a brief glimpse of part of Sutherland Falls. I was descending quite fast. Once into the forest, the track came to a series of waterfalls on the Roaring Burn. The track descended on boardwalks and stairs beside the waterfalls. They were very beautiful. At the bottom of each fall, there was a pool with amazingly clear green tinted water.

After this, the track descended through lush temperate rainforest beside the river and was quite rough. There were several more waterfalls along the way – at many, the water had cud a deep narrow groove in the rock, which made the water shoot out very fast, rather than just falling straight down.

Sutherland Falls

Finally the bottom of the descent, and I crossed the Arthur river on a swing bridge, and walked into Quintin Lodge. It had more of an open feel than Pompolona Lodge – like Glade House, except it was surrounded by forest, except for the disused airstrip. I had a quick look around, a drink and snack and emptied out most of my pack.

The walk out to Sutherland Falls took half an hour to 45 minutes, and was a slight uphill. For a long way before the falls, I could hear its roaring sound. There were beautiful glimpses through the trees, then suddenly I reached the bottom of the falls. The roar and the spray was amazing, even from about 50m away. One rock in the centre of the splashpool, was being hammered by the full force of the falls. The centre part of the flow gained speed as it fell intact, however the edges of the flow disintegrated into mist-like spray.

It had been recommended to walk behind the falls. I’d brought my swimmers, so I got changed – into just speedo’s and boots, and went for a walk behind the falls. As I neared the falls, the spray and outward wind became very strong. Walking through behind, the wind driven spray made it almost impossible to see. It was also quite cold, with the wind generated by the falls. Every so often, there would be a hail of larger droplets. Suddenly the blast slackened off and I found myself out the other side. After a brief look around, I returned the way I’d come.

It didn’t take long to dry off in the hot sun, but my boots were completely soaked. One of the guides – Helen – turned up, and walked with some others behind the falls. When she came back, she seemed full of energy and very talkative, but I soon found out that this was just how she is. After lazing in the sun for a while, watching people go behind the falls, the falls fell into shadow, and it got cold – time to go. The falls are 580m high – three leaps. The top leap alone is taller than the Sydney Tower. Looking at the people going through gave an awesome sense of just how big the falls were. I walked back with Helen and talked a little.

Back at the lodge, I relaxed for a while before the briefing and dinner. On the walk out to the falls, I’d noticed that my left shin was sore – I hoped I didn’t have the beginnings of shin splints from the descent. Dinner was again pleasant, and soon it was time for bed – My wet boots had been put in a special boot cupboard in the drying room next to the generator.