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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

The Milford Track: Trouble

March 21st, 2010 · No Comments

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For independent walkers like me, the second day on New Zealand’s famous Milford Track is much harder than the first day. Between Clinton Hut, where we slept on the first night, and Mintaro Hut, where we slept on the second night, is 10.3 miles in distance and 1,200 feet in elevation gain. The Department of Conservation’s official guide book rates it as a six-hour walk. For me it was a 12.25 hour slog.

A tight muscle on my right side just above my pelvis kept me bent over and listing to the left almost all day. Not only was I a hunchback but I was also a left-leaning one.

I was also one wet hiker. The rain came down steadily almost all of the day.

Still, I managed a few photographs. This little bird insisted on getting so close to me that it was impossible to photograph, since my camera has to be at least three feet away to achieve focus. Not that this bird wanted to befriend me. Instead, it wanted the bugs that I dislodged on the trail. Finally it moved off enough. In the rain the background is a lovely soft focus.

A Toutouwai Along the Trail

A Toutouwai Along the Trail

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One of the side trips that Ross, the ranger at Clinton Hut, singled out was Hidden Lake. I was glad that I went there, especially when I found New Zealand scaup (black teal or papango) on the lake. Its golden eyes means that this is a male bird. This species, found only in New Zealand, is the country’s only true diving  bird.

A Black Teal in the Rain at Hidden Lake

A Black Teal in the Rain at Hidden Lake

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Never in my life, not even when I flew over and within Maui’s central crater, have I seen so many waterfalls. This three-stage falls got its name because of explorer Quintin Mackinnon’s rescue of another hiker.

St. Quintin Falls

St. Quintin Falls

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When the sun briefly burst forth, a faint rainbow appeared over the valley.

A Rainbow over the Valley

A Rainbow over the Valley

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At about this point on the hike I really slowed down. The pain in my right side necessitated rest stops every 15 minutes or so. I was afraid that Steve would be worried about me. At the same time I was hoping against hope that I would see him coming down the trail for me.

And then he appeared. Steve had rescued me. After 11 miles and 11 hours on the trail I was so happy to see him coming down for me! He wasn’t carrying any pack.

When I asked him if he had been worried about me, his initial response was a masterpiece of understatement. “It was a bit boring around the hut,” he replied.

He and Christine had arrived hours earlier, took a nap, and then Christine encouraged him to go back for me. Steve carried both my backpack and camera case for the final 1.5 miles up to Mintaro Hut.

Christine also encouraged Caine Friend, the ranger at Mintaro Hut, to go down the hill for me. When Caine initially asked me what my intentions for the next day were, all that I could think of was that somehow I had to go on.

“To get going as early as possible,” I replied. Instead I should have asked him what my options were.

My options turned out to include resting up a second night at Mintaro Hut and returning the way I had come up the track. Each hut has about four extra bunks for such emergencies.

We reached Mintaro Hut at 8:19 p.m. just as it was growing quite dark.

If I had been smarter and less proud, I would have taken a guided walk. That way I would have only had to carry a light load. In fact, my two-week 132-mile High Sierra hike last summer where five mules carried most of our load was essentially a guided walk.

Some people complained that guided walks on the Milford Track are expensive. At the equivalent of $2,128, they aren’t cheap. But you can’t set a price tag on pain.

By comparison, I paid $438 for the option of independent tramping. That might sound like a lot. But it was nothing compared with the tremendous help that I received not only from Steve and Christine but also from hut rangers Caine Friend and Ross Harraway in the next two days.

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