First hike, hard hike [Avalanche Peak, 03.-05.01.2020]

„Why did we pick this as our first hike?“ Bridget asks, catching her breath after a long uphill section. I frown while trying to slow my heartbeat. „Because it was the first on our route?“

We are somewhere in the middle of the 1.100 meters in altitude we have to tackle today – uphill and then downhill again – to Avalanche Peak, 1.833 m. Our guide book calls it ‘the south island‘s answer to the north island‘s Tongariro Alpine Crossing’. Having done that day hike I wonder in what crazy good shape I must have been back then in 2017.

We arrived at the Avalanche Creek Shelter campground in Arthur’s pass yesterday afternoon. The first day ever of driving on the left side of the road for me was weird but not too bad. Bridget made an awesome co-pilot and helped me navigate through the roundabouts and crossings. “Left, stay left. The leftest as possible. But not too left, there’s the ditch.”

After we picked our spot for two nights we went to use the long daylight – sunrises around 5:30 and sets after 9:30 – for a small preparation hike. Our guidebook told us about an unmarked trail to the not so popular waterfall here. The waterfall isn’t popular because the official lookout is rather boring, the book says. And the more famous Devil’s Punchbowl Falls being right next to it probably also didn’t help. So, we went along the easy walking path for 20 minutes until we reached the creek and then turned off grid. We climbed over boulders in the stream bed towards the slowly growing sound of the Bridal Veil Falls. “So much about an easy warm up hike,” said Bridget, lying half ways on a bigger boulder and using all the practice from our last year’s bouldering sessions at the gym to get herself up the obstacle before it was my turn to try it. “How did you do that?” I asked when I tried her technique myself.

A couple of times, especially when I saw the numerous big trees which had been swept down during the last heavier rainfalls, I doubted if it was the right decision to go off the trail. But I tried to be less German and enjoy our little 2 hours adventure.

Our warmup hike all along the creek

The wind blows sharply above the tree line. „I feel like all my complaints are now unjustified. Climbing and bouldering really helps with hiking up this rocky and really steep track.“ We take a sip from the water bottles and continue on Scott’s Track uphill towards the peak.

During the uphill climbs and stumbles we discuss important topics like which Lord of the Rings character we think we would be and what song we have stuck as an endless repeat in our heads.

After 3 1/2 hours we reach the top of Avalanche Peak. It is windy and the black rocks on the last bits are spiky and sharp. We set every step carefully and try not to look around or down the sheer drop to the left while moving. At the top a young kea, the mountain parrots of New Zealand, waits for us in hope for food or something to take away from us. „Ah, they are such cheeky fellows!” an Australian lady would later describe it perfectly when another Kea sneaked up on us in a café in the valley.

We enjoy our peanut butter buns in the sun behind a big rock to give us shelter from the wind and take in the views. “I can’t believe this was our first alpine hike together”, I tell Bridget and make a mental note to plan some time this summer in the European alps.

My knees complain on the way down back to the valley. With this being the first longer hike since our trip to Ireland in March and without hiking poles I am looking forward to tomorrow being a rest day on the road. The views to the open valley with mountains in the back soothe the many steps downhill and the perfectly dry weather – ‘you can only be sure of the forecast on the morning of the day you actually want to set out’ the ranger at the office has said – makes us feel very lucky.

After three hours downhill we dip our feet into the refreshing ice cold mountain water of the Bealey River and head towards the small and only cafe for our first New Zealand pies after our first alpine adventure together.

Fun fact: We stayed two nights at the Avalanche Creek Shelter campground to get adjusted with our life in the van. Funny enough, we wouldn’t stay longer than a night per campground afterwards.