Eric and I once again began at 7am from the hut. We walked in the forest every now and then we caught a glimpse of the mountains in the clearings, but it was obviously that we were losing elevation and moving away from the glaciated summits. More and more massive tote bags of gravel litters the trail. We pondered how they got there. Helicopter? They were rather annoying to navigate around. We ran into few people. One gentleman from the Netherlands who had been stealth camping without a permit by Lake Mackenzie (don’t do this out of respect for the park please) and another young with a very strange accent. As it turned out he was German, but he spoke British English. We passed Earland Fall with its long lacy stands of water tricklng in a sweeping cascade above us. There is a detour bridge downstream for early season when the normal trail is flooded.

It wasn’t very long until we reached the final hut on the Routeburn: Howden which sits beside a lake which happens to be called Lake Howden. From the hut on can go right  to the Divide Carpark and Key Summit side trail or left to the Greenstone/Caples Tracks. Eric and I opted to take the side trip up Key summit. The Divide Trail goes uphill for about 15 minutes before reaching the Key Summit turnoff. The trip is supposed to be 1 hour return. The climb itself is quick and a trail, not a scramble. This is a alpine nature trail on top which circles the summit offering wondrous views. Definitely worth the time out of the way to get one last look at the glaciers. On our way down we found that Key summit is a popular day hike destination. Several guided groups were on their way up (why some hires i guide for this I have no idea) and some individual as well. When we saide hello to on Irish couple they burst into happiness and asked “Are you also Irish!?”

Back at Howden we had lunch and then headed onto the Greenstone/Caples Track. Off the Great Walk, suddenly any sign of humans vanished. We wandered through the level forest for about an hour before coming to a clearing. Here the Caples Track split for the Greenstone Track. We followed the Greenstone Track on the right toward McKeller Lake. We followed the shoreline several yards above the bank in the forest. I was exhausted at this point and could hardly move. The lake seemed to never end. Luckily, we rain into a Brit who had just finished his swim in the lake. He followed behind up telling jokes making for reget my exhaustion until we reached McKeller Hut on the far side of the lake.

This is no permanent warden at the huts of the Greenstone/Caples. There is only one who rotates between all of them. There were town bunk houses and a kitchen. Like the rest of the huts, there were flushing tolits and running clean water. However, only Great Walk huts have gas stoves. We knew this and were prepared to eat dry food for dinner and breakfast over the next two days.

We took a walk to the lake passing the guided walk Lodge. Sand flies, buzzed about and we were happy that we had put on more bug spray. They’d been a particular nuance that day. These little black insects swarm and bite if you stand still for more than ten minutes.

Back at the hut Austin and Janie arrived… two American from Colorado who would entertain us for the rest of the evening along with Jon. Jon told us we could use his stove to boil water so while Eric and I ate some couscous Eric also ate sausage that Jon had leftover) the 5 of us swapped crazy stories about our travels past and future. Jon was pretty much certain that Americans were crazy by the end of the conversation! He was especially entertained by the fact that we have a “Bible Belt” and changed “french fried” to “freedom fries” when France refused to invade Afghanistan with the States.

A group of friendly middle-aged  women also stayed in the hut with us. They gather together every year for treks. They had an amazing about of conveniences: bottled wine, wine glasses, cheese, crackers, large towels, extra socks…. oh how we wished for new clothes! And the food fantasies were beginning too…

13.7 miles

2099ft Ascent /  Descent 2847ft

 

 

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