Hiking around Monte Rosa in four days (150km, 11000m of ascent)

So while I typically blog about my adventures around the world, I do have another hobby I love almost as much as travelling – hiking and mountain running!   So my ‘holiday’ this week is a wonderful jaunt around Monte Rosa – through the mountains of Switzerland and Italy – 170km with c. 11,000 m of vertical ascent.  To make life easier, i have signed up to a stage race, as it means there is company and you get the luxury of clean clothes ferried from town to town.  Fortunately its a small race with only about 150 people doing the four day version.  I am recovering from a chest infection I picked up in Niger and have an old back injury which is a pain, so will be taking this race nice and slow 🙂

Day 1 Grachen to Zermatt, 37km +2224m/-2206m, 8hours

Start line

Up at 5, a quick breakfast and three espressos and off to the start line.  Given i am sick, i hung to the back, and promised myself i wouldn’t run.   Unfortunately it took more self discipline than I possessed to walk when everyone was jogging past, so i gently jogged the first 10k and then settled into a steady hiking pace.

View from Europa Hutte

The first 14k was pretty flat, and then there was an epic 1800m climb up to europa hutt.  I managed to overtake quite a few people on the way up, but to be honest was puffing like thomas the tank engine as my breathing was off.  I loaded up on coke at the checkpoint at the hutt then headed back down to cross the longest swing bridge in the world – 500m and hanging over a sheer drop.  I am petrified of heights, so kept my eyes firmly fixed on the back of the runner in front, 100m ahead.

Worlds longest swing bridge

Between the bridge and the next checkpoint, 9k away, I was blissfully alone, and the trail was wonderfully technical (but bless the swiss they had ropes so you wouldn’t fall off).   I got overtaken by one lady between the bridge and the checkpoint at Taschalpe.

I love motivational check point signs

From there it was an easy couple of hours up and then down to Zermatt with epic views of the matterhorn (which I have never seen before).   I wanted to run down the hill, but knew my back wouldn’t thank me in the morning, so strolled and tried not to be irritated as i was overtaken by three people.

Trail markings and my first view of the Matterhorn

I came in 33rd woman out of 52 in just over 8 hours, which is not bad given how ropey I have been feeling!  My delightful roommate Tabea actually came in fifth, but she is not in social media, so she didn’t know!  Time for carbs and a lie down.

View of Matterhorn from above Zermatt
Day 1 race photos
Day 1 race photos
Day 1 race photos

Day 2 Zermatt to Gressoney la Trinite 42.9km +2984m/-2971m, 11 hours

View of the Matterhorn from 2000m

We were up at five and loaded up with coffee, croissants and nutella!  Our host at the City hotel was delightful and even patted our back on the way out.   The start was a bit more frenetic than usual as everyone knew we only had 1.5km before we got stuck on the single track to do the first relentless 1700m climb up to Theodul pass at 3300m.  After the first hour people were huffing and puffing behind me, and I slowed myself down as i knew we had at least two more hours to go.  The views on the way up of the Matterhorn were amazing, and i managed to get some photos in between huffing and puffing myself (note to self, it isn’t a great idea to race when you are recovering from a chest infection – it makes breathing very difficult).  The glacier at Theodul pass was amazing, though i did lose feeling in my fingers

The glacier at Theodul pass
The glacier at Theodul pass
Heading down to Italy

From the pass we headed down into Italy, which was unfortunately hidesouly ripped up mountain side for skiers near Lago Cima Blanche (Checkpoint 2).  We eventually got up to the Col Nord with stunning views down to Grand Lac, and it was like being back in the alps again.  It was a long technical way to Refugio Carrera, and i thought it would never arrive.  I was grateful i finally got there at 1.30pm, as the cut off was 2pm.

TMR this way
prayer flags
Italian lakes
Italian lakes

From there, i struggled mightily up the 700m of climbing to Saleroforko.  The people in front of me disappeared in the distance, but at least only one person overtook me – i was going so slowly it was going backwards.  The heavens opened up, the fog rolled in, but it was still nice to see the view from the pass.  From there I rolled down the hill – a punishing 1000m of descent over 3k into the town of Gressoney.  I only jogged about 1km today (in zermatt) and hiked the rest, so was heartened to finish before quite a few runners.   Came in 36th in 11 hours (one hour before the cut off out of 52 starters (6 DNF’d).

The last pass before heading to Gressoney

I was soaking wet and freezing so went for a shower, and then sorted my email.  Thankfully we are in Italy so while too long, dinner was a wonderful four course affair with appetisers, risotto, roast beef and tiramisu!  excellent

Day 3 Gressoney la Trinite to Macugnaga 48.2km +3276m/-3583m, 12 hours

Today was supposed to be the longest stage, one big uphill in the morning and another in the evening….., I decided to pace myself and not worry about the cut offs, as I had pushed it too hard on Day 2 and run out of steam in the afternoon.  Our first big hill climb was directly underneath a chairlift – there was a lot of grunting from my fellow runners up the hill.  (For those of you who aren’t accustomed to ultra running, there was a lot of blowing your nose with your finger and peeing in bushes also).   It was a tough climb, but there was coca cola at the top.

Heading up the Passo dei Salati
500m is still a long way when it is straight up!

This followed by a very long 2000m descent through beautiful villages into Alagna- one of the adorable villagers even left out free tea for the ‘athletes’.  And when we finally made it to Alagna  there was an outstandingly good checkpoint with boiled potatoes!.

Descending to Alagna
Descending to Alagna
Village houses

From Alagna there was an endless grunt up a 1700m climb.  it wasn’t steep enough to kill you, but it was too flat to get you to the top fast.  I was going very slowly, but so was everyone else.  I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make the 12 hour cut off in Macugnaga.  We were all moving so incredibly slowly

I reached the summit with two Swedes with 2h45m to go before the 6pm cut off, so we thought we had plenty of time to go 14km…. except it was 17km, and lots of it was pretty bouldery.  I kept waiting for the mythical checkpoint that was supposed to be 4k from Macugnaga, and when it finally arrived (3km after my GPS said it would), they had updated the sign to say I had 7km to go to Macugnaga and only 45m to do it in.  Oh well, i could have run it in that time, but my back really didn’t want to.  So, i strolled into town arriving about 10 minutes after the cut off.  Hilariously the Race director decided later that evening to extend the cut off by 20 minutes as the course was longer than it had been previously.  I wasn’t too fussed either way, i was just happy to have made it.  I scoffed down two pieces of pizza and hobbled to the hotel.  My lovely roomie Tabia bought me some crisps and that was pretty much my evening, I wasn’t hungry enough to go for dinner

Colle de Turlo
On top of the Colle

Day 4 Macugnaga to Saas Fee 20.2km +1728m/-1400m, six hours

Another night of not much sleep, and up early again for the steepest start of the race…. a 1500m grunt up Monte Moro to the border with Switzerland.  The sky was clear, and we had the most extraordinary views of Monte Rosa in the morning light.

Monte Rosa as the sun comes up
Above the clouds
Full morning on Monte Rosa

Unfortunately I clearly wasn’t paying enough attention to my feet, and too much attention to the mountain, so i tripped and badly twisted my knee.  It felt ok provided i didn’t put too much weight on it, so i continued up the hill slowly to finally arrive at the best checkpoint of the race 3 hours after starting (apple strudel was amazing!).

Trail marking above Monte Moro
Final glance at Monte Rosa before heading down into Switzerland

After the checkpoint we passed the famous golden madonna and begun the icy boulder scramble down into Switzerland.  Unfortunately twisted knees and downhills are not happy companions, so while it was a stunning beautiful morning, it was a tortuously slow descent.  I descended a full 1500 m and 10k to the road, and then managed to hitch the final 4 k to the half way check point at Sass Fee before dropping out.

Cows! Big cows!

The great thing about it was a midd-day icecream and a good gossip with all the other runners who had timed out at this checkpoint, and we had a bus back to Grachen.  I spent the afternoon in the sun cheering runners in and eating sausage and chips.  It was a great race, highly recommended!!!

The final motivational sign I saw



Grachen, 8 September 2018

New Zealand – The Caples, Kepler and Routeburn

The Routeburn and the Kepler are two of the most popular tracks in NZ.  It is impossible to get a reservation for a campsite or a hut, so instead we decided to just bash them out in one day each instead of three.  And to avoid having to get a bus 300km from Glenorchy we decided to walk 40k over the mountains on the caples track instead…., cheaper and it seemed a more elegant way to join up the route

Lake Howden

Day 1 – easy stroll and a bivvy on the caples

We left the greenstone carpark about 3.30 after taking the shuttle from the Rees valley.  Papa scout was amazed that a shuttle even went to the carpark given how remote it was, and I was in love with Joanna our shuttle driver who stopped to let us get coffee and cake, charged my phone for me, and offered to take our rubbish to town for us (there were no bins in the carpark).

Papa scout trying to avoid sand flies
The paths on the caples are some of the easiest in NZ, as doc has used a mechanical digger to bulldoze a route through the forest.  While it doesn’t look great, it does make for very easy waking so we busted out a quick 20k in four hours.   Finding a camp site was a bit tricky, and for a while we contemplated pitching our tents on the trail, but we eventually found a spot which was vaguely flat and set up for the night.   After more dehydrated food which I didn’t want, it was off to bed with the earplugs as the birds were being pretty chatty.

Bivvy on the caples

Day 2 – 19k out to the divide

I was awake at 6.15 but there wasn’t much light so I made breakfast in bed and had a litre of coffee, and shouted out papa scouts wake up call at 6.45.  We broke camp at 7.15 and meandered up the saddle.  We had plenty of time to kill as our shuttle wasn’t until 13.30.   We stopped at the lovely Howden lake for an hour for a substantial second breakfast (I am a hobbit), and then wandered up to key summit.  After annoying the gizzillions of tourists who were up the hill by running back down from the summit, we made it to the divide carpark with two hours  to spare.  We contemplated hitching but I didn’t have a great deal of confidence in the driving ability of the tourists here, so we killed time by eating some more and doing yoga.    While we had planned to head straight out on the Kepler, the weather forecast was very dodgy so we decided to have a posh dinner out a redcliff instead…. venison and spätzle…. and then sleep on an actual bed (albeit in the backpackers dorm) after having a shower…. what luxury

After running up to key summit

Day 3 – up the Kepler – 42km, 1500m of up, 7 hours

The forecast was for gale force winds and it was a grey and gloomy day.  We decided to head out on the track and go as far as we could while the weather held.  Being purists, we walked to the start of the track from town and then the flat section to Brod Bay, about 10k.   Apparently no one does that, as shortly after Brod Bay we started overtaking hikers who had taken the boat over to the bay to skip some of the trail.

Lake te anau from the control gates
The climb up to luxmore hut is lovely, with nice easy switchbacks on a beautifully graded trail.   We were below the tree line for much of the climb enjoying the ferns and the luminous green of much of the kiwi bush.

Summit of Mt Luxmore in 90k winds
When we broke out above the trees, the winds started howling so we sped up and shortly after arrived at Luxmore Hut.  The weather was turning and there were 90k an hour winds on the tops, so my original plan to walk all the way along the ridge wasn’t a great idea, plus the views would have been rubbish.  Instead we climbed up to the summit of Mt Luxmore, trying not to get blown off the trail and then called it a day and headed back.

Near Luxmore hut
Papa scout was having an ‘off’ as he calls it, with ‘heavy legs’ but that didn’t stop him busting out a cracking walking pace of 7k an hour for the last ten k, my legs could barely keep up…. especially as his are quite a bit longer.  After seven hours of effort on just two muesli bars we did spend much of the last five k figuring out what we were going to eat and in what order….. for me it was rump steak, chips, fried egg, mushrooms, caramel slice, lolly cake and two coffees at 4pm, followed by half a chicken, half a loaf of bread, grain waves, pikelets and Nutella and half a Moro bar at 7.30.   And I was still hungry!!!!   Can’t wait to get home to eat some proper vegetables.

Day 4 – back to the routeburn – 5k hike plus 15k bonus running miles

Unfortunately we are having to stretch our three days of walking to five, given the camping restrictions and the vagaries of track transport, so we didn’t head off to the start of the Routeburn until 13.30 from te anau.  We did rouse ourselves by eight though to go for a run along the lake shore, and then went to town for coffee and yet more food.  French toasted banana bread, bacon, strawberry muffin, ginger kisses and coffee.  Honestly am getting tired of eating but I am also starving most of the time!   It will be nice to eat normally again!

Tents on the greenstone saddle
We were lucky with the weather today and arrived up the divide to stunning sun.  We got to the greenstone saddle campsite in under an hour and set up our tents.  It was only four so we went for a gentle 10k run through the forest down the greenstone track to Mckellar hut and back.  For once I went faster than papa scout who was really having an ‘off’.   Had a lovely, albeit too brief chat to Chelsea from Paeroa who is wisely taking some time out and enjoying a wonderful haerenga around our beautiful country including getting out into the bush.

Chelsea at the mckellar hut
Back to the campsite for dinner and then early to bed as it is pretty damp and cold. It took me about ten minutes to kill the c.50 sandflies who had managed to join me in the tent and am now well wrapped up and ready to sleep and it is only 19.30.

A group of four turned up at 19.45 and were about to pitch about 3metres away from my tent when I asked them what they were doing!!!  I never understand why people think it is ok to go out into the bush and then pitch their tent on top of you.  They were friendly enough kids and when I warned them I was getting up at five the were happy to shift further along.

Day 5 – out to the Routeburn road end – 32km, 1300m ascent

I awoke to a very wet tent in the damp greenstone saddle and was too cold and lazy to change out of my pajamas, so I made some coffee and got ready to go, only to find papa scout also preparing to leave in his pajamas!  We warmed up about half an hour in and got changed on the trail!   The morning was mostly quiet, no one was moving in Howden hut when we passed just after 7.

The lovely lake mckenzie
We made it to the lovely lake McKenzie by nine and knew we were close as we started meeting folks on the trail.  From the lake we were at Harris saddle by 11 and it was an irresistible day to head up conical peak.  I have been over this way many times and I couldn’t help but tell everyone on the summit how lucky they were to get the view from the peak!  To see the Hollyford reach the sea at the end of Lake Mckerrow and to marvel at the lovely Lake Harris from above –  these are rare gifts from the weather gods in these parts.

Alongside lake Harris
From the saddle we wandered down to Routeburn Falls hut, where we bumped into the hut ranger on the trail – the same one we had met on the Gillespie pass last week – small world!    He was heading up the saddle to work on the trail.  Our doc wardens are national treasures!

Lake Harris from conical peak
After a royal lunch of brie, Nutella, pancakes and flatbread sitting on the rocks above the falls we meandered down the valley where I bumped into another lady I had met at the Oturere hut in Tongariro three weeks ago.  Papa scout reckons I talk too much and this is why I meet so many people.

We arrived at the road end at 3 having made cracking time in spite of the leisurely pace, long lunch, and the side trip up the hill.  8 hours from start to finish including all the stops – not bad given we were carrying all our gear!

Routeburn flats
I had a swim, cleaned and dried my tent, and kept busy killing sandflies until the shuttle arrived at four.   Papa scout is flying home tomorrow and reckons his legs are done,  I reckon we both have enough juice left for one more run up the summit of Ben lomond at dawn tomorrow.    We will see!


– the Kepler – on a good day it is an easy day walk to Mt Luxmore or further onto one of the shelters before the descent to Iris Burn.  For my money the section from Luxmore Hut to the hanging rock shelter is the best section on the Kepler, so if you don’t have time for the full hike or can’t get a reservation for a hut, you can see all of the great views in a long day walk (shorter if you take the boat)

– the Caples – is easily walked end to end in 6-7 hours, and would make a nice overnight loop with the Routeburn if you camped one night at greenstone saddle.  This is also a great hike for new trampers as the trail is easy and well graded with no exposed sections

– the Routeburn – my favourite day hike!!!! But definitely too crowded to do as a traditional tramp.  Huts are impossible to book and full of people who don’t understand tramping culture.  If you do want to take a bit longer you can camp legally and for free at greenstone saddle and on the north branch of the routeburn behind routeburn flats hut

– transport.  From glenorchy to the caples or routeburn, I highly recommend the lovely folks at glenorchy journeys.  On the divide side you can use tracknet or buckleys to get to and from te anau

New Zealand – Over the cascade saddle trying not to crap my pants

I have long wanted to traverse the pylon and the cascade saddle – reputed to be the most beautiful pass in NZ – but had been put off by the multiple fatalities that have occurred when people have slipped on the path, as well as not having had the right conditions to make the ascent.  This time, the weather window looked perfect and I had papa scout (a goat on the hills) for company so we thought we would give it a go

Our tents in the aspiring valley

Day 1 – 10k, 2 hours

We had just got out of the Gillespie pass that morning, so we had an obligatory stop at wanaka for Eggs benedict and banana bread and two coffees, as well as stocking up on even more food, and then we got a taxi to raspberry flat.   Being cheap, we strolled the 10k to just before Aspiring Hut and put up our tents next to the river, as it is free to camp anywhere in the park, except next to the huts.

Half way up the pylon. Crapping me pants

Day 2 – 30k, 1900m climbing, 9.5 hours of walking

Up with the dawn, we headed out just before 7.30.  The climb up to the tree line was lovely, plenty of switchbacks and lots of tantalising views of Tititea/Mt Aspiring peeking through the trees.  We came out of the tree line to one of the multiple signs warning us to take extreme care given the fatalities….. with my vertigo it is hard for me to get the balance right between taking extreme care and not having a panic attack.

One of many signs telling me I might die

I would have loved to have taken some photos on the way up between the trees and the pylon but mostly I had my hands too busy holding on to the side of the cliff!   While the path was fine given how dry the day was, it is easy to see how lethal it could be when wet.  Papa scout kept an eye on me and eventually we made it to the pylon for one of the best views I have ever had in NZ.  I rewarded myself with half a pack of ginger nuts and tried not to worry about what the descent down the other side would be like.  Honestly no amount of money would have got me to descend back down the same way.

The view from the pylon

From the pylon to the cascade saddle was a stunning walk, albeit across some hairy slippy sections.  And the view of the dart glacier from the cascade saddle rendered me speechless.   Honestly the best views I have ever had in NZ and worth the near crapping of the pants to get there.   We hadn’t seen anyone since we left the valley, so it was an incredible privilege to be enjoying the view in solitude.

From the saddle to dart hut it was an interminably long and hot walk….. which only took 2.5 hours but felt like longer.  Mostly the trail was fine,  though some sections had vanished so I did quite a bit is swearing as I navigated my way across some of the steeper sidles.

We eventually made it to the dart hut after 6.5 hours (the guide had said 10), and decided to have a huge lunch but keep going.   Papa scout and I could win an eating contest at the moment as my appetite is insatiable.  After most of a block of cheese, more gingernuts, mealmates, and a litre of coffee we headed off again up and over the gentle Rees saddle.   It was an easy and lovely way to end a tough day strolling through a high alpine valley.

We were delighted to get to the hut and only find one occupant – a young Israeli who was still in shock about how tough the climb was over the saddle (he had done it the day before).  Not long after a very skinny Japanese guy struggled in with a 25k pack, a classic case of all the gear and no idea – he was carrying two stoves.   I had a dunk in the river which is the next best thing I could have to a shower and then got eating.  I was in bed by 8pm as we each had our own room and I needed to escape the Israeli who was determined to give me hiking advice.

Day 3 – 20k flat stroll to the carpark, 4.5 hours

I was confused this morning to see a face popping up at my window at ten minute intervals from 6am.  After having coffee in bed, at 7 I finally went out to ask what he wanted.   So it was our Japanese friend, who asked me to call him a helicopter as he was tired and didn’t feel well and didn’t want to walk out?!?!?!?

View down the Rees saddle

Hmmmmm.   So I do have an sos button on my de lorme, but I am not pushing it for a tired guy whose name I don’t know.  I explained I didn’t have a chopper on speed dial and I wasn’t hitting the sos button and incurring the $10k fee unless he was dying.  I asked him if he was dying.  He said he wasn’t.  So I told him to rest in the hut for a day, hydrate, eat and walk out tomorrow.   We gave him some food (apparently he didn’t have much left in spite of a 25k bag) and left him to it.  He decided to walk out and we eventually saw him arrive about 7 hours after he left…. obviously not dying then.   At this point I have a rant on the tip of my tongue about people going to the bush poorly prepared and expecting choppers to come get them but will keep that to myself.

It was a lovely, easy but muddy stroll out, with some stunning views of My Earnslaw.    We made it in four and a bit hours so had ample time for another dunk in the river and some laundry before the shuttle arrived at 2.   Next stop, the caples track

Additional notes

– the start and finish of this track are 2 hours drive apart.  From queenstown you can get to raspberry creek carpark via wanaka with alpine connexions, or from wanaka with Karim at wanataxi (a great deal at $140 for the taxi)

– from muddy creek to glenorchy and queenstown I recommend the wonderful folks at glenorchy journeys 

– for route notes, check with doc, but these are the most recent for the cascade saddle and Rees/dart

February 19, 2017, Muddy Creek Carpark

New Zealand – Up and down the Gillespie pass

We had originally intended doing a longer tour through the makarora region, but the stories about people dying on the rabbit pass had put me off!  So instead we settled for a wonderful wander up the Gillespie pass and over to Lake Crucible…. one of the finest days I have had in the mountains in a long time 

Makarora river

Day 1 – an easy stroll up to young hut – 25k, 4.8 hours

We were dropped off in makarora and had an unpleasant walk up the highway followed by a wander through some paddocks.   We hit the river and it was flowing faster than I expected, but not so worrying that I wouldn’t cross it.   Papa scout and I adopted the kiwi approach of holding each other’s packs and crossing together.  Honestly it was at the limit of what was sensible as the water hit my waist and the current was strong, but we were fine and papa scout had survived his first proper river traverse.   As it happens, a young English guy had been swept some way down the river the day before when the river was higher, and everyone else took the long way round that day including a 100kilo doc warden.  Oh well.    We made haste to young hut after finding out that the hut had 30 people in it the night before (and 20 mattresses) and enjoyed the easy amble up the valley.  Luckily we got a bed, unlike the few people who slept on the floor that night.

Stream in the young valley

Day 2 – a bonkers day trip to Crucible Lake and back – 32k, 2400 up then down, 10.5 hours of walking

Several younger Israelis had told us my plan for today was impossible!  Well it turned out to be possible but it was a long day!  Rather than stay at the Siberia hut which is always heaving with rich people who fly in on the helicopter, we decided to do the equivalent of three days of walking, or 22 doc hours of walking, in one day.  

Mount awful
Up at 6.15 per usual we passed the campers at the start of the pass track, and we were first up to the Gillespie pass to enjoy the stunning views of Mt Awful with the early morning sun by 8.45 after a 1000m climb up a slippery track with some of it on my hands and knees.  Breathtaking! 

At the summit of Gillespie Pass

Descending the other side of the pass was a knee jarring assault above the tree line followed by a rocky rooty ride through the bush down to Siberia flats.  
The view up to Crucible lake

When we arrived at the flats we found 20- 30 other hikers, mostly young Israelis, making a start on the trail up to Crucible lake.  The start of the trail was a hands and feet grunt for 300m of ascent and I was delighted that we swiftly overtook all the young kids on the way up while not getting too out of breath.

Crucible lake

We made it to Crucible Lake after 5.5 hours of steady hiking and had a lovely lunch in the sun.   Honestly stunning!!!!  

At crucible lake

When the crowds arrived, we decamped and headed back down to the flats to begin the second traverse of Gillespie Pass.  It does seem bonkers to climb over a huge hill twice in one day, but the mountains look delightfully different in the morning versus the afternoon sun.  
In the Siberia flats
To our amusement, as we were making the ascent, we passed all of the Israelis who had told us our plan was impossible, descending the hill which we had come down six hours earlier.   

After stopping for mandatory chats with the kiwis that we passed (something papa scout finds bizarre as it isn’t part of French hiking culture), we made it back to the hut at six and proceeded with our standard ritual of shoving food in face.  To our delight there were only eight of us in Young Hut, and we heard from the ranger that the 20 bunk Siberia Hut had 50 people in it, many sleeping on the veranda. 

Mt awful in the afternoon

Day 3 – a sleepy stumble back to town

Honestly, after yesterday’s scenery we didn’t much pay attention to what we passed.   We returned down the valley, and reforded the river.  While it was calmer, we did manage to get wet to chest level, but it was an easy ford.  

Additional notes

– you can do this tramp as a circuit and stay at Siberia Hut (which has fly in tourists) or Kerin Forks (where you normally need to arrange a jet boat to get there and back as the river is tricky to ford).  Most people do this, we just couldn’t be bothered with the logistics of Kerin Forks or the crowds at Siberia 

February 17, 2017, Makarora 

New Zealand – Scrambling the richmond range with papa scout

My hiking buddy Manu has turned up from France to join me on some of the more interesting trails in the South Island, starting with the Richmond range – described as a route only for experienced hikers and not to be attempted in bad weather.   Manu was a bit sceptical when I told him we had to carry 8 days of food and be prepared to wait it out in the huts if the weather wasn’t right, but conditions on the hills persuaded him that hiking here was a serious proposition!

First of many river crossings
Day 1 Nelson downtown to Rocks Hut – 23km, 4 hours

This was a cruisy day!  We arrived on the flight from Auckland, bought some fuel and started walking from the bustling metropolis of downtown Nelson.  The short way into the Richmond Range is up the Dun Mountain Track, a beautifully graded old horse track that climbs gently for 17km up to the Dun Mountain saddle.  Manu was appropriately sceptical about my claims that NZ tracks were hard….hmmmmm…… little did he know.   We grunted up the hill with 8 days of heavy food in our packs and eventually left the easy trail to scramble over the pass to the lovely Rocks Hut.   We were lucky, the hut only had 8 people in it, and beds for 16…. Apparently the night before it had been heaving with 18 squished in.   In bed by 8pm, and was grateful for no snorers

Standard kiwi path – follow the orange
Day 2 Rocks Hut to Slaty Hut – 25km/ 8 hours

This is the day the range began.  After a relatively gentle walk down to Hackett Hut (the guide said 5.5 hours, we took 3), the real hiking began with a relentless slog up the river and then up the hill to Starveall Hut. I love that NZ trail builders always seem to be short of funds, as they don’t bother investing in any switch backs….. the path took the shortest and most direct route from the bottom of the hill to the top.  It was a wonderful example of a classic kiwi trail and I could feel my calf muscles groaning by the top.  We passed a Te Araroa hiker on the way up who was surprised to be overtaken, but even Manu was knackered by the top.  The view from Starveall was lovely, but given it was only 1pm (the guide said 6 hours to get there from Hackett and we took 3), we thought we should push on, and we made it to the lovely Slaty Hut on the tree line below Mt Rintoul at 4pm.   Manu is astounded how few miles you can cover in NZ relative to the alps!  We both admitted begrudgingly that we were knackered so had a kiwi tramper shower (one cup of cold water and no soap) and got down to the serious business of shoving calories in our faces.   We were joined for the night by the lovely Swiss Lion – Lionel a.k.a Swissless and Clement the energetic German software programme!  Fortunately none of them snored too much, and we had a lovely evening discussing global politics in a mix of french, english and german and listening to the wind howl around us.

Mountains under the clouds heading up My Rintoul
Day 3 – Slaty Hut to Tarn Hut – 21km/8 hours

The guide warned of attempting Mt Rintoul today in bad weather, and describes this section as the most difficult part of the Richmond Range traverse.  I can see why having hung off the side of the mountain at various points of the day questioning WTF I was doing up there.  Fortunately, although there was plenty of fog, the wind had died down and there was no rain.  So we decided to give it a go, although we realised there was no hut for 8 hours.   It was a hairy day.  I have vertigo and no balance – those things are probably related.  

Grunting up Mt Rintoul
 I was ok grunting uphill over unstable rocks, but have more trouble keeping my balance when skidding down scree slopes.   It was a blessing for once to have a hiking companion as there really are very few people hiking out here (we only saw two other people for three of the days we were out, and they were the two guys we shared the huts with), and if something happened to you, it could be a while before anyone noticed.   We made it to the top of Mt Rintoul in the fog, and managed to pick our way to the other side. 

At the top of Rintoul wondering how the hell I would get down
  I heaved a big sigh of relief when I finally skidded my way (mostly on my butt) to Rintoul hut where we stopped for lunch and coffee and to admire the hardy goats who were eating the grass in front of the hut.

Skidding down the scree

After that it was a relatively easy walk along the bushline ridge through purple top to the old fashioned tarn hut.  We made it there by three with time to push on to the next hut but the rain had started, so we decided to stay dry.     Clement and Lionel made the same choice, and we had a rerun of the night before in the hut.  It was a smaller, older, cuter hut with a few holes in the floor, and it quickly smelt of dirty socks and laundry as the condensation built up on the windows.  I was kept amused by the sight of them all doing their stretches.
Guys stretching in Tarn Hut
   I had a relatively quiet night until about 5 am when I was woken up by three men with head torches chasing one small mouse.  I had forgotten to mention that I thought there would be mice, as I had seen a few mice sized holes in the floor.  Ooops.  Oh well, there were three of them taking care of business so I put my sleeping bag over my head and went back to sleep

Tarn Lake
DAY 4 – tarn HUT TO hunters HUT – 25 KM/7 HOURS

Another day with some hairy sections.  After a steep descent to Mid Wairoa Hut on the Wairoa river, where I fell six times on my butt, we then had to head up the Wairoa river.  This section is perilous after heavy rain as there are no bridges and the trail crosses the river 8 times.  We had agreed to tackle this section as a group the night before, as all kiwis know it is safer to cross a challenging river as a group.  As it turns out the river was calm and quiet, so while we enjoyed each others company, we didn’t need to hold on to each other as we crossed.  Amusingly, much of the trail hung off the cliff side.  I was too busy gossiping with Clement at one point and did fall down the cliff, but was conveniently stopped by a tree before I went too far.  After that, less gossiping and more focussing on the feet!!!

Lionel in the Wairoa river
We reached the delightfully orange Top Wairoa hut in time for lunch and a pee with a view!   I love the long drops on this section, for some reason they are always located in amazing spots, and given the paucity of people it is fine to go with the door open :-).  

Loo with a view at Top Wairoa
After lunch, we made the gentle climb up to Mt Ellis, where I had to endure a few sections of my least favourite type of trail – crossing steep scree slopes.   Fortunately my footing was more sure than the morning so no problems.   After that we bombed down the hill, passing a couple of TA hikers and then eventually made it down the river to Hunters Hut.   

Manu and I at the top of Mt Ellis
We had planned to go further, but figured out from Alex at the hut that the next hut along the track was full…. (which we confirmed the following morning), and I thought it was too cold to bother putting the tent up at the next hut, and Alex had lit a fire, so it was too hard to leave.  Lionel and Clement arrived and decided to stay also…. we were in a nice groove.  

Mid afternoon pig out at Hunters Hut
So we whiled away the bulk of the afternoon eating and chopping wood.  Lionel gave me a 250g of whittakers, and I demolished half of it in ten minutes – it is amazing how hungry I get when I hike.  And we were all in bed by 8.30pm, and no mice.

View from the loo with the sun coming up at hunters hut
DAY 5 – hunters HUT TO st arnaud- 31 KM/6.5 HOURS

Another glorious morning and we set off for the straightforward stroll to Porters hut up and down some boulder fields.  We made it there in two hours (versus the advertised four – a common ratio for our hiking), and then headed on to the Red Hills Hut, the last stop in the range.  This section was a bit trickier as we had to traverse the Motueka and Maitland rivers.  Frequent flooding means the track disappears relatively frequently so my short legs got a good work out clambering up and down some steep slippery banks.     Neither of us were thinking about much apart from the burgers we were going to buy when we arrived in town, so we just kept plodding on.

Porters Hut

We passed Red Hills Hut at noon, and were heartened by the guide notes that it was only 1 hour 15 minutes to the highway – which we thought we would do faster.  It turns out it was 8k, and it did take us all of the time to get there, even at the rapid pace we were walking.  We were hoofing it, ‘smelling the barn’ as we say in running.

We made it to the highway where it was going to be a 10km hitch into St Arnaud town.   There were already a couple of hikers trying to hitch down the road, so we decided to start walking.  After about a km, we arrived a some road works, where I cheekily asked the Stop/Go man if I could hitch a ride when he had  stopped the cars and he was fine with that.  (Manu couldn’t believe that!!!).  The first car we asked were a lovely Maori dad and son from Picton and they dropped us in town.  We went straight for burgers and fries, followed swiftly by cake and coffee, and then after an hour in town we headed straight out into the Nelson Lakes National Park for another three nights – but that is another post…..

I would highly recommend the range, I loved it, but make sure you pay attention to the weather, and ideally go with someone else.  More info here….





New Zealand – Round the mountain with hubby in tow

Hubby and I compromised on another hiking trip….half my usual distance and twice his!   We planned to join up the popular tongariro northern circuit with the lesser known ruapehu round the mountain track, and we almost made it happen!

Red crater
Day 1 – Whakapapa to Oturere – 24km

The advantage of starting at whakapapa is you miss the legions of day trippers hiking the tongariro crossing who start from Maungatepopo.  On a busy day there can be 3000 people, most of whom are unfit, ill prepared and too many of them leave rubbish on the mountain (I picked up a lot).   If you leave whakapapa late morning,  by the time you head up the hill most of these guys are gone.   It is spectacular!

Emerald Lakes from the top of the crossing
After the stunning red crater (which one of the hikers described as an angry red vagina) and the gorgeous emerald and blue lakes, we descended to Oturere hut – a fabulous kiwi experience with 13 kids and 6 parents, and a few foreigners – rare these days.  Graham the hut warden was a delight who regaled us with the joys of paekakariki.

Lower Emerald Lake
Day 2 – Oturere to Rangipo- 23k

We headed off early and saw no one in the two hours it took us to walk to waihohono.  Sections were quite eerie, like walking on the moon with Ngauruhoe glowing in the early morning sun beside us.

After breakfast at Waihohono, we left the northern circuit trail and wandered south towards ruapehu.   There were some wonderfully hairy sections, my favourites being those with signs telling you not to stop in case a volcanic mud slide starts

Ngauruhoe a.k.a Mt Doom in the dawn sun
We saw three people on the trail that day and arrived at Rangipo hut at 1pm to meet a lovely man and his autistic daughter who had been up for the night.  He had told her Santa had left her some presents on the mountain and she had persevered up the trail to find the presents in the hut.  Adorable!!!!   They left and hubby and I had the hut entirely to ourselves so we lit a fire and enjoyed the view

Ruapehu in the distance
Day 3 Rangipo hut to Ohakune mountain road

A glorious morning and a lovely undulating walk through the forest to Mangaehuehu hut.  Three hours and not one person.   We then headed out to Maungaturuturu hut hoping the rain would hold off

the stream in the lahar section
It was chilly but the views were stunning and all went well until the descent to Waitonga falls.   In typical fashion I fell over on the well formed boardwalk part of the track.  I roll my ankle frequently, but this time I managed to smack the bone against a rock.   Ouch!  I actually had tears in my eyes…

Incognito hubby walking into the storm
I got up and started walking hoping that would sort it out, but figured out pretty quickly that it was not in great shape.   So we hoofed it to the road about an hour further on… weirdly I walk faster when I am in pain as I figure I may as well get it over with, so we overtook a tonne of day hikers on the way.   Fortunately my lovely brother was in Ohakune so he came and picked us up and got us fully restored with cake, coffee and fritters.

the ankle
We did think about trying to finish the route the next day but it turns out I wasn’t able to put weight on the foot until five days later!   Next time!!!

More details on the walk here



February 1, 2017, Tongariro National Park

Why go to the Southwest USA?

Regular blog readers will recall my recent adventures with hubby* around Arizona and Utah.  I posted most days, using pretty average photos taken on my phone.

My hubby is an incredibly talented photographer who has finally curated down to his preferred 20 or so pictures from our trip.  His photos are so much better than mine that they deserve their own post.   For those of you who are on the fence about visiting, let’s see if these photos can persuade you.

Thanks to hubby for sharing!

bryce canyon

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arches national park


Delicate Arch at Arches National Park
Delicate Arch at Arches National Park

* note hubby does have a name.  However  he is extremely anti social media and anything remotely resembling attention.   So I have agreed to only ever refer to him on this blog as hubby to keep him firmly under the radar.

Recommended Hikes in NZ

I have met many wonderful people on my travels who want to come to NZ, and have asked for my top tips on where to hike.  Apologies for the tardiness, but here are my favourite places to run and hike in the worlds best hiking country

The Great Walks

There are nine great walks in NZ, and they are justly named as they are some beautiful tracks (what we call trails in NZ) – including the Routeburn, Kepler, Milford, Abel Tasman and Tongariro.   I would no longer do any of these walks as hikes, as there are too many people on them and you have to prebook the huts.   However, if you are new to hiking, and/or want to be sure of company, then you will be happy walking any of these Great Walks.

the Heaphy Track

If you are a trail runner, I can highly recommend running some of the Great Walks as the trails are all beautifully groomed, my fave runs are:

  • Routeburn from the Glenorchy carpark end up to the Harris Saddle or onward to Conical Hill, and back down to the carpark
  • Abel Tasman from  Awaroa back to Marahau or vice versa using the water taxis to transport you one way – about 4-5 hours (tide dependent and with some paddling stops), 30k and pretty easy
  • Heaphy as a two day run, with an ultra light pack as you only need a bit of food and a sleeping bag
  • Rakiura is an easy 4-5 hour day run around Stewart Island
Running up to the Harris Saddle on the Routeburn
Terrific multi day hikes which are not ‘great walks’

New Zealand is a land blessed with wonderful hikes, and ones I would highly recommend are (* means trails are extremely runnable)

Near Auckland 

  • Hilary trail which is a lovely stroll along the west coast of Auckland

Near Nelson/St Arnaud

Near Wanaka

  • Wilkins Gillespie Circuit near Makarora with a side trip up to Lake Crucible
  • Matukituki valley tracks near Wanaka with some wonderful shorter walks based out of Aspiring Hut
Fording the Rees river heading up the Rees valley

Near Glenorchy

  • Rees Dart circuit * – one of my absolute favourites, simply a stunning run/hike up the rees valley and down the dart.  This can be joined up with the Matukituki valley tracks in good weather with a traverse over the Cascade Saddle into the Aspiring national park.  Note the Dart part of the track is currently closed
  • Greenstone/Caples track *- two easy day runs, or a tough one day round trip, much less crowded than its popular neighbour the Routeburn
Tuatapere Humpridge Track

If you are feeling super energetic you can join up the Wanaka/Glenorchy trails in a big long loop – hiking from Arrowtown to Wanaka on the Motatapu Trail, hitching a ride from Wanaka to Makarora to walk the Wilkins Gillespie, and if you have alpine experience traversing the Rabbit pass directly from the Wilkins to the Aspiring Hut (near Wanaka), and then taking the Cascade Saddle over to the Rees track to come out at Glenorchy.   This is a pretty epic route and I am looking forward to seeing if I can make it work this summer

Near Te Anau

  • Hollyford track – a wonderful walk and you get to see the seals at Martins Bay.  This can be a bit tricky, as the ‘demon trail’ is aptly named.  If you want to go a bit upmarket and take a boat around the tough bits you can pay for a guided tour and they also chopper you out from the end
  • Tuatapere Humpridge*  – a very good track, privately run, which means you can upgrade to a private room if you don’t want a dorm.  You can also buy food in the hut, so you really don’t need to carry anything.  And they have hot showers!!!
Hollyford Track

If you are looking for somewhere to base yourself for these hikes, I would recommend the quieter bases of St Arnaud, Motueka, Wanaka and Glenorchy.  I tend to avoid Queenstown these days as it is too busy!

There are hundreds of other hiking opportunities in NZ, including considering embarking to Te Araroa – the long pathway which runs for 3000km from the top of the country to the very bottom, I have only picked my favourites, and I am sure others would prioritise different hikes

Rakiura on a Rainy Day
  • If hiking, you can get a great value pass from Doc for $122 which will allow you unlimited nights in back country huts for a year (excluding Great Walk Huts)
  • There is lots of good free camping in NZ, and I use the camping NZ app to find free campsites – many of these are pretty basic and administered by DOC.
  • I highly recommend that you DO NOT rent an RV and drive around the south island – our roads are not terrifically well designed for big slow vehicles and it is much more sensible (cheaper and easier) to rent a small car and stay in hostels or camp
additional information
  • Doc – the department of conservation is a wonderful source of info with track maps and the local office can advise you of trail conditions
  • Good too maps are free to download from http://www.topomap.co.nz


West Sabine River

Teton Crest Loop Day 4 – Fords, rain and fried chicken

I am pretty sure a horse was either dying or giving birth somewhere in the vicinity of my tent last night!  A truly weird noise, moreso when you are alone in your tent with no humans in a five km radius.   I have adopted a childlike approach to wildlife – I close the flaps on the tent and assume if I can’t see them, they can’t see me.  A bit like the magic elf cloak in the Lord of the rings, I hope the animals will assume my grey tent is just a boulder.

bradley lake

In the end I had no animal encounters last night, and as this is my last night camping I am all good to cook breakfast in bed and have my tent smell like food, so I retrieved my bear canister and cooked while I waited for the sun to come up.  The sun didn’t really arrive, but the rain did.

Job one for the day was fording the inlet, which was a piece of cake…. Hilarious that the path is labelled as closed.

bradley inlet ford

Then I saw no humans for 15km as I wandered passed taggart lake and through the white meadows to phelps lake.

taggart lake

The trail was lovely but a bit boring after a while, there are only so many lovely trees you need to see

valley trail

Lake Phelps was delightful and I finally saw some people and then a whole lot of people.   Amusingly this is one of the few places in the world where you are advised to sing on the trail – it stops you surprising bears, wish I had that excuse everywhere!   I surprised a few humans this morning with my off key melodies!

phelps lake

And that was it, an easy 21km stroll down the valley with a few lakes for the final day to arrive back at the Granite Canyon trailhead.  Most people don’t do this valley section, instead they get a shuttle back to their cars from Jenny Lake, but I think the extra miles were worth it to see Surprise/Ampitheatre lakes, though these could be done as an easy day hike.

Am now in Jackson hole where I have ordered the ‘breakfast special’ of fried chicken and waffles with maple syrup – yes it was on the breakfast menu!  In my defence I have tried to make it healthier by ordering berries on the side.  It was delicious and I could have eaten two.

waffles and fried chicken at cafe genevieve

I would wholeheartedly recommend this trip as an easy couple of days hiking/camping.   The itinerary hit all of the highlights of the park and then some. The trails are well groomed and the Rangers gave great advice – Tripp at the office in Moose was fabulous, ask for him by name

Bradley Lake to Granite Canyon 21km covered.

Additional Info
  • Backcountry campsite permits can be booked in advance on line, or the day before – see the nps website , and you can figure out where you want to camp using the backcountry camping guide. Note that bear canisters are available to borrow for free, but you will need to buy bear spray ($45)
  • Jackson and Teton Village are wildly  overpriced for accommodation.   I stayed in a dorm at the hostel in Teton village which was fine for $40 a night.    Alternatively you can camp at Jenny Lake, Gros Ventre or Colter Bay, for $20-25 per night but there are no advanced reservations.  Details here .  there is some free camping en route to Jackson in the national forest but it is at least an hours drive away
  • Food and supplies are expensive here, stock up before you arrive at the REI in Salt Lake or the Walmart in Idaho Falls or elsewhere en route

Teton Crest Loop Day 3 – Dodging rocks

It is damn disconcerting to be woken up at 10pm, and then midnight, and then 3am to the sound of huge rockslides tumbling down the cliffs when you are sleeping in a flimsy tent in a rocky canyon.   I contemplated getting up and hiking out but the fear of meeting the Bears was enough to keep me in my tent.  I crossed my fingers that Eric’s tent next door would slow the rocks down if they came our way.

the rocky paintbrush canyon

When light finally came it was another sunny morning, and I got up when it was warm enough to leave the tent to unbury my food and cook breakfast (I miss non bear country where you can cook breakfast in bed).

jenny lake

And then I wandered down the canyon to the valley and the String and Jenny Lakes.  Both are lovely, but are on flat paths full of unfit day trippers many who asked how much further they had to walk to the viewpoint (not far!)

jenny lake trail

After a few miles of flatness I headed up the steep slope from the Lupine trail head to Surprise and Ampitheatre lakes at 3000m to get some stunning views of the Tetons from the east side.  The highlight of the day was overtaking several groups of twenty something day hikers with small packs, while I am lugging a full 12kg (damn bear canister).

surprise lake

The lakes were lovely so I had a late lunch and chatted with some locals.  This was my official destination for tonight but it was too early to stop so I decided to risk getting in trouble with the Rangers and hike onwards a to Bradley lake to chop off some mileage from tomorrow and to sleep at a lower altitude.

ampitheatre lake

I was stopped in my tracks by this sign…..

After I while I realised that the English translation was “path open provided you are willing and able to ford a river”.  Ok then.  But I will save the river to the morning as the camp site is just before the river.

Have chowed down on a big dinner, eating most of the food I have left as am hungry and feeling a bit crap.  Partly from the altitude and partly from too much sun (managed to leave hat and sunscreen behind as thought it would be cold, not so!)

bradley lake with the sun setting behind the mountains

6.40 pm and in my tent ready to snore, hoping no one shows up to kick me off the site given I don’t have a reservation

Last day tomorrow, which is probably just as well as my armpits are offending me, and what I thought was gas leaking from my cooking canister was actually my socks!  Thank goodness I hike solo!

From Holly Lake to Bradley Lake via Surprise and Ampitheatre Lakes

Total distance = 36km; Ascent = 1100m