The day starts out grey and cloudy, but by the time we are on the trail the sun is peeking through the clouds, shooing them away. It’s nice, but I am already grousing. Pluck and Moxie have abandoned me, leaving me on my own. I am dreading how hard this hike is going to be. Despite yesterday’s hike being “easy” my legs are actually still pretty tired.
We are heading to Mueller Hut to see the glaciers from an "in the clouds" kind of perspective. The trail offers approximately 500 feet of flat kindness in the very beginning, then takes a hard left turn straight up the mountain side. The Kiwis have been so kind as to install stairs, but this does not soothe me as whichever Kiwi installed the stairs has much longer legs than I do. Ireach and stretch my leg up, lean forward, then push down on my knee with my hands for each stair I climb. We have already climbed a lot of stairs when I see “1000 Stairs to Go." Great.
Hikers going down encourage the hikers going up. “You are pretty much done with the hard stuff.” They say. Somehow I doubt this. We arrive at a picnic table overlooking a stunning view and some of the other hikers celebrate that they made it. The French girl we were hiking along with pulls out a cigarette and starts smoking.
(This is the "Long View" of yesterday's hike.)
“We are here!” No, no. We are not. Andrew points up a scree slope to the top of the peak of this mountain — no more stairs — just gravel, small rocks, and giant boulders piled on top of each other. If you really squint, you can see a trail marker right at the tip top of the ridge, guiding us up and over the saddle.
Most of our hiking buddies turn back down, but one group of Asian people, including a girl with perfectly straight ironed hair, a flat brimmed cap that reads “MONEY,” and a backpack adorned with many gold zippers carry on up the hill.
“Oohuugh.” I think to myself. If “MONEY” is going to do this, I guess can too. But WHY? Why do we leave one beautiful view to hike to another beautiful view? It’s a conundrum I usually understand quite well, but cannot comprehend today.
“Things that suck build character. Things that suck build character.”
I crane my neck to see up to the saddle, I have to look straight up. I imagine a giant boulder letting loose, rolling down and squashing me to my death.
“Things that suck….”
There goes “MONEY” up and up. I follow.
We finally get to the saddle, and sit for a good while with a snack. Things that suck apparently also lead to a really excellent view. We can see the glacier in detail from this angle, the pattern it makes as it slowly slides down the craggy slope. The mountain rumble sounds deeper and much louder. A crack in the snow and ice lets loose and scares the bejeezus out of us, its bang like a loud bomb, crashing, sliding, rumbling, grumbling. It’s pretty magical.
We enjoy a snack of camembert and raisins, then continue on - even taking the lead in front of MONEY as she is busy with a selfie stick.We find snow fields and a flat boulder warming itself in the sun. I lounge on the boulder like a lizard, intending to warm up and nap. Andrew makes a snowball. “Look! There is the hut. We’ve gone far enough now, we don’t have to go any further if you don’t want to.” He says. Why does he toy with me like this?
I squint up at the red hut. “Ok, sounds good.” And lay my head back on my boulder.
“Oh come on, we’ve come all this way.” He says. I knew that offer was too good to be true. I hoist myself up and trudge up and up again. We arrive at the cheery red hut where most hikers are peeling off their packs, opening up warm thermoses of tea and preparing to sleep over for the night. We enjoy the view and the sun for a few minutes then start back down the hill.
Pretty soon, who comes over the crest to climb the stairs to the hut? You guessed it. MONEY.
Exhausted, but I am still glad I made the trip. My legs shake and tremble with every step down. The stairs are so steep, and without hand rails I am a bit concerned one errant step on these wobbly legs will send me to my death.
But, the downhill view is out of this world, too.
Reaching camp seven hours after we started the hike, I stumble over to Sister Mary Francis, drag my camp chair from beneath the bed and use my last spark of life to unfold it. I collapse into my chair and listen to the avalanches in the distance as the stars take over the pink, then blue, then black sky.
"So, what do you think?" I ask Andrew. And here is his report:
I have said for a long time that the most beautiful place I have been is Glacier National Park, but there is a new king. There is something about the sheer power the ice has when massed upon a steep mountain slope that does the same indescribable thing the ocean does to me when I look out upon it. The Fox Glacier and the Franz Joseph Glacier were beautiful, but since they have retreated in the last decade the steep walls of the canyon are very unstable and the falling rock makes it unsafe for tourists to get any closer than half a mile from the glacier fronts (unless you are willing to pony up $85 per person for a ranger let hike, then suddenly it is safe.) Beautiful, but not to the point of knocking Glacier National Park off its throne.
Then we went to Milford sound, the size of the sheer cliffs, the largest sea cliff in the world, going nearly straight down 3000’ and another 1000’ under the water before leveling off into the sub marine valley. A close contender, the combination of two things I love so much, ocean and mountain in such immediate proximity.
After Milford Sound, I felt like a burnt out druggie. I used up all my dopamine and I struggled to find the exploration of little town an beaches thrilling again. At the risk of building things up in my head too much, I started to pin my hopes on our upcoming trip to Mt. Cook. With the glacier-milk lakes, suspension bridges over roaring ice cold water, 1000 year old ice cubes for my Whiskey, new friends, epic hikes and the rumbling mountain that turns pink at dawn and dusk, this area lived up to the hype I had set up in my mind. It now holds the “most beautiful place I have been on earth” title.
A few days from now I will probably still be walking and talking like the burnt-out Ozzy Osborne of 2017: the full tilt days of my youth having taken up all my resources, struggling with the emptied dopamine reserves and trying to find places that, while beautiful in their own right, just aren’t able to get me to that high I burned into my nervous system.
This is not the look I'm going for. Hopefully, we will recover soon.
The next day, we hike again. We don't want Mount Sefton to feel left out!
As I look at Mount Sefton and its corresponding glacier lake, I puzzle:
Why does Pluck and Moxie leave me just when I am trying to jump into my most epic experiences? (Fatigue is the first symptom of self doubt.)
Why do I keep going anyway? (To show Pluck and Moxie they should have just come to the party.)
If I am tired, why don't I just pull up a lawn chair? (Rest is a tool used to help you to go further. My mom says: "You can sleep when you are dead.")
Can one have a "work ethic" while on "holiday"? Should one have a "work ethic" while on "holiday? Am I on "holiday"? (I should probably figure this out.)
Why do I over-think everything? (Ask my mom: it is what I do.)
What would Ozzy do?