After oatmeal Eric and I journeyed into the meadows beyond Routeburn Falls Hut deeper into the wilderness. The trail followed the river within the boulder fields as great mountain walls loom above on both sides. The morning was cloudy and clear. As the sun rose above the peaks golden light spilled across craggy summits. Eric was a bit slow as he, for some reason, decided to only eat two packets of oatmeal which, unbeknownst to him, equaled 250 calories. We stopped near Harris Lake, so he could catch up on his lack of energy with some more carbs. The lake a lovey hidden gem in the alpine surrounded on almost all sides by rocky walls. A boulder was nearby with a great problem that looked like a V1. I made an attempt as Eric ate, but lichen and mosses dirtied the upper holds so I down climbed. Not worth it without a proper crash pad. Reenergized, Eric stood and we followed the rocky ledge around the side of the lake and up onto the famous Harris Saddle.

Harris Saddle marks the border of Mt Aspiring NP and Fijordland National Parks. Splendid views of glacier clad mountains beyond the saddle opened up before us was we neared the edge of the saddle. A rugged and wild landscape of pure beauty that made me long for my rope and crampons! A shelter and restrooms are nestled on the saddle’s green alpine grasses. Fragile Area signs urge travelers to stay on the trail. Eric and I left our packs in the shelter beside some other rucksacks. We then followed the sign that pointed to the trip up Conical Hill beside the shelter.

Conical Hill is more of a class 3 scramble small mountain than a hill. The trail beyond rocky after the first few switchbacks. Hands are definitely needed as the route goes straight up the “hill’. I was happy to be wearing my mountaineering boots. We reached the top in about 45 minutes where our breathe was quickly snatched away at the sight of the glorious view! You could even see the ocean way off! Two men on the summit stood discussing mountaineering… we couldn’t help but eavesdrop as we took in the sprawling scenery. Descending the hill took longer than ascending since the rock was a bit damp. But we made it back down and sat int he shelter for lunch. One of the men joined us. He was a mountaineer, Don, an Aussie who had a love for the Andes and regaled us with stories of the alpine. He knew from a young age he wanted to climb and that he couldn’t afford it. So he began to business, paid his workers well, gave them incentives and built things until he could hire other people to run it while he was off on climbing adventures. A great NZ quote he told us “What do you call a wifeless climber? Homeless!”  Basically, climbers are either funded by their wives or dirt bags.

We trekked on following the side of the mountain just below treeline. Everywhere glaciers glistened in the distance and we paused every now and then to discuss approach routes up. There were massive tote bags of gravel in the middle the trail at several points  for some odd, unknown reason. Finally we rounded a corner and caught sight of the Mackenzie Hut far below us on he shore of Mackenzie Lake. The descent featured extremely long switchbacks into the treeline.In the forest more long switchbacks eventually brought us to the lake shore and Mackenzie Hut at 3:00.

The hut was one building this time. The sleeping quarters were upstairs. There was a long row of beds with not space between them on one side and then several bunks on the other. The kitchen was downstairs. It was early, so after picking out our beds and writing them on the chart, Eric and I headed out to walk around the lake. After all, there were lots of boulders beside it! We found a pretty large number of routes. I completed a first ascent of a V0 friction climb I named “Barefoot Only” since I climbed it barefoot. It was on the right side of the lake from the hut. Further on we found lots of other problems that we did not name. We were about to do the VB, V0 and V1 vertical problems with our sandals (or barefoot). Unfortunately we couldn’t do some of the awesome roof and V2+ problems without proper climbing shoes. It was fun to work out the problems in our head though.

We had dinner and waited for the warden’s meeting at 7… at 7:30 he still hadn’t come and Eric was falling over in his seat from exhaustion. At least Don entertained us and an Aussie family with climbing stories. The warden did arrive and proceeded to give a long winded safety talk which he made into a comedy routine… but it was just to late for us to enjoy it. I told Eric to go to bed halfway through. The warden did not collect our ticket after the safety talk. He proceeded to go about a project he was running trapping stoats, the little invasive weasel killing the birds. He talked about this for 20 minutes and asked for donations. Again… really not the time for this. Finally he collected the tickets and donations.


10.2 miles

2804 Ascent / 3088 Descent


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