Time for stage three of the GR131 in the Canaries, this time to Lanzarote. Its an easy 75km, so fine to get done over two days. Most of the reviews I read of the trail weren’t amazing, so I have low expectations….. but the canaries haven’t disappointed so far.
I landed on Friday night in an easyJet flight stuffed to the gills with Brits looking for summer sun, cleared the airport in nine minutes and got a taxi to Orzola. I stayed at the lovely Perla del Atlantico with a view of the sea, and was amused to meet a Canarian who had been an exchange student in NZ – in Invercargill of all places, which as she pointed out what’s about as remote as Orzola. It was blustering like mad, with 25mph winds, so I stocked up on provisions and retreated to the apartment for supper and an early night.
Day 1 39k from Orzola to San Bartoleme and some extra bits, c. 950m of ascent
The wind blustered all night and I had decided to sleep in as the distances didn’t look very long. The sun was up before I was, so I had coffee and a muesli bar and started strolling up the road around 7.30. Although the winds were still blowing a gale, thankfully they were blowing from behind. The first section was a nice stroll from Orzola to Haría, over a small pass. The light was lovely and it was fascinating to see the farming practices – lots of retaining walls to keep the wind off, and I passed several ancient farmers in dapper hats doing tough physical labour, bending from the waist to plant seeds in the black volcanic dirt (my job feels easy in comparison).
I arrived in Haría around 10 and had a look around the market before stopping for a cafe con leche. It was a delightful town
Strolling on, next up Teguise, but only after climbing up the side of an excellent hill (Valle del malpaso) with the hiking trail cross crossing a vertiginous switchbacked mountain road, which was beloved of cyclists – I must have seen 50 coming down. Reaching the top of the hill, the views would have been epic on a clear day with the beaches on both sides of the island in view. But I had to make do with just ‘pretty good’ views through the haze.
I arrived at Ermita de las Nieves, the high point of the trail, and was surprised to see a big group of hikers (after only seeing two people all morning). It was a popular spot, with a gang of motorbikes and many lycraclad mountain bikers.
I moved on swiftly, meandering down hill to the lovely town of Teguise. All of the villages appear uniformly white and pretty. The central church was lovely, and there must have been a festival on as there were about 30 boys dressed as what looked like bulls with bells on their backs chasing kids around. I sat in the sun admiring the town square and had a coffee and a toasted bocadillo.
The final section of the day was a short 10k to San Bartoleme, which you could see across the valley from Teguise. It was a flat easy stroll across a blasted dusty desert wasteland.
I arrived at Casa Natur around 2pm having clocked 33km. I checked out the maps and decided to stroll some of tomorrow’s trail so I could take a short cut in the morning. It was a nice little bonus 6km stroll around a small peak and a caldera. I couldn’t find any good restaurant so I had a bocadillo and a piece of cake and retired early to bed to listen to the wind blustering outside
day 2 37km to Playa Blanca with c. 450m of up
I slept in until seven, had two coffees a muesli bar and a banana and headed off into a quiet Sunday morning. There wasn’t much movement around town, and it was mostly road walking until coming over the little pass near Montana Blanca. Road walking is my least favourite type of walking, followed by dirt trails. But surprisingly it isn’t irritating me that much as I am enjoying the quite bizarre volcanic scenery and I have my most padded trail shoes on.
The villages came relatively close together… after Montana Blanca, I skirted Tias, then Conil and then La Asomada. None of them had cafes, and nothing makes a hiker sadder than a town with no cafes. The road was skirting along the side of several volcanic hills, so the views down to the Arrecife coast were lovely. I remember to put my hat on as my forehead was sizzled from the day before.
The highlight of the day was coming over a small pass between La Asomada and Uga – the farming creativity is extraordinary – the terracing to carefully protect the trees from the high winds was lovely . The route was slightly marred by excesses of mountain bikers coming by without much warning.
There was a bar open in Uga so I grabbed a coke but kept going to Yaiza. I was unlucky and didn’t see the camels that regularly patrol that section of the trail. The route picks its way through mounds of volcanic rock. My morning endeavours were rewarded by an exceptional bocadillo ‘racing’ (with egg, cheese, ham and chicken), and a coffee at Miguel’s in Yaiza.
Heading off into the increasingly hot sun, it was a flat dusty stroll to Las Brenas, which was a ghost town baking on a hill about 7k from the coast. I was so hot by this point that I took refuge in the bus stop for ten minutes to get some shade.
I summoned up the courage to keep going and strolled the final 7k to town (taking my time as I was parallel processing and doing a work conference call at the same time (thank goodness for modern communications).
The town of Playa Blanca was everything I don’t like about the canaries – heaving with tourists and cheap Italian restaurants. I had a callipo and stuck my feet in the water -and drank several litres of fluid. Then back to the airport to get ready for work tomorrow
The verdict – definitely my least favourite so far of the islands, mostly due to the road walking, but I enjoyed the scenery immensely. I wouldn’t do it again, but am glad I did it
March 8, 2020, playa Blanca, Lanzarote
Hiking style – This time, I decided to go fast and light, with less than 3kg of gear and hotels booked every night.
Maps and guides – Paddy Dillon’s cicerone guide is excellent as usual But you can download the full maps here . The full maps and trail notes are available for free here. I load the gpx files onto gaia, onto which I had pre-downloaded the OS maps for spain
Packing Given the hours of daylight, I told a headtorch with me, but kept my overall pack very light. Full packing list here
Hotels – I stayed at Perla del Atlantico in Orzola and Casa Natura in San Bartoleme.
Trailhead transport I took a taxi direct from the airport to Orzola to stay the night before starting the next day. I finished the hike in Playa Blanca – a busy resort, from where you could either get a bus or a taxi to the airport. (This is partly the reason I hiked north to south, as finding transport from Orzola would have been a pain). As it turns out north to south makes even more sense as, at least when I was there, the prevailing winds came from the north
Flights – Direct flights from Gatwick to lanzarote with Easyjet.
I am working a few more hours than normal this year, but to ensure I keep sane I have planned monthly hiking trips to get some exercise. This month, I am off to Tenerife to continue the GR131 trail which covers the Canary Islands, which I started doing over Christmas, completing the trail in La Palma. Its February so the weather is perfect
day 1 – Arona to Villaflor 18km, 1400m of up
It was an unpleasant 5.45am wake up call to get to Gatwick, but worth it. I flew to Tenerife on a heaving full easyJet flight full of elderly packaged tourists, I felt like a teenager but did have to carry some bags up the stairs. We landed in Tenerife 90 minutes late, so I threw on my shorts, grabbed a couple of bottles of water and high tailed it to the cab rank. My driver was bewildered that anyone would want to walk from one end of the island to the other and seem to think it was an incredibly dangerous proposition. I got to Arona (a lovely little village) and the starting point of the trail, just after two hoping for coffee and lunch, but it was not to be, as the only restaurant had just seated a table of 15, and there wasn’t a shop. Oh well, fingers crossed I would find something en route.
The first section of the gr131 is through the lovely ilfonche preservation zone. The best views were obscured by the clouds, but the glimpses of the craggy cliffs were lovely. There was also stunning desert flowers and cacti. It was hot as hell and I was sweating buckets going up hill. As luck would have it, I passed a bar in Ilfonche (6km in) and had three bottles of Aquarius (my secret Spanish hiking weapon – it is like Gatorade but nicer and the Spanish had it for at least 15 years before Gatorade was invented).
After that the trail to Vilaflor was through a lovely pine forest on beautiful red soil. I started late, so only arrived in town as the sunset, which meant I had some lovely views as the sun lit up the trees. The best views were down on the clouds which were c400m lower down, and it wasn’t possible to see the sea at all.
I had a lovely welcome at the El Tejar, where for a bargain €15 they served me tomatoe and avocado salad, soup, grilled tuna and cake. The canaries really are a bargain. And I was asleep by 10pm
Day 238km to la caldera with 1700m up
It was a brutal start to the day, primarily due to the absence of coffee. The hotel had made me a breakfast the night before but there was no kettle in the room, so no coffee, in spite of me having some with me. I was awake at six and left at 6.20 with the head torch on. The mornings endeavours consisted of a 1100m climb up to the Degollada de Guajara, and I love seeing the sunrise from the top of a hill. The paths here are gentle even when climbing and the Spanish sensibly put nice switchbacks in place (unlike NZ where we save money and mileage by making the trails go straight up the hill).
I took it slowly, pacing myself for a hot day and the views were epic. Starting by climbing through delicious smelling pine forest and then eventually hitting barren red volcanic rock and sand, with stunning barrancos (ravines) cut through them.
I had the entire trail to myself for the three leisurely hours strolling up to the Degollada and when I crossed over the ridge line the views of Tiede (the highest mountain on Tenerife) were spectacular.
The next section of the trail was a flat but spectacular 13.5km stroll to el Portillo, with tiede to the left and cliffs to the right. After the uphill slog, the flat was nice, though I was disappointed to actually see some humans (8 trail runners and 4 hikers) in that section. It was hot and the windy and I was hungry (not much breakfast and I hadn’t packed many snacks), I was ready for it to be done….
Arriving at el Portillo was a blessing and a curse. I mistakenly went to the visitors centre in search of food and coffee. After waiting 15 minutes they sent me 150m down the highway to the restaurant. That was the most dangerous bit of my day….. bloody frightening with cars zipping by.
I was delighted to see the restaurant but horrified in equal measure at the mass of humanity – tonnes of men in leather with motorbikes and lots of Lycra clad cyclists of both genders. I had two coffees, a Diet Coke, a roll and a donut as big as my face. I shovelled food in my face looking like a hobo, and then headed out buying three Aquarius for the road.
My spirits were well restored with food, and made even better by a hilariously eclectic mix of music that kept me dancing and entertained for the 13km to aquamansa, where I didn’t see a soul. Just as well, as I was singing along to meatloaf, Dire Straits, Glen Campbell and the Moana soundtrack among other things, and I can’t carry a tune
I arrived at 16.20 in time to catch the bus down to Orotava, which is another lovely Canarian town on the hill with beautiful colonial architecture. I suspect the beaches here are horrendous and full of resorts but the hills are lovely. I’m staying at the delightful Hotel Rural Victoria, in a beautiful building but the rooms have probably seen better days 🙂
Sun 9th 30k hike to la Esperanza 1500 up, 1870 down
Another early start, thankfully with coffee! And I had a taxi take me up to La Caldera at 6am (no buses until 8am). It was a glorious morning and I meandered up the hill in the still darkness. After about an hour I started hearing cocks crow, and at one point I turned around to see lovely views of El Tiede in the south peeking through the trees looking like it was in fire.
There is an excellent few km of trail hanging off the side of the caldera. There is a sheer drop down the side into the ravine, and fortunately there are sections where the trail has handrails to stop you falling. The views out over the ocean were lovely
For the first 20km, I didn’t see a soul. The path was lovely, but not spectacular, as it was all in the forest so there were limited views.
The last 10 of the trail was a fairly uninspiring forest road which was largely an obstacle course in dodging Spanish mountain bikers. It was nice but not amazing
My feet were ready for the end when we hit la Esperanza, and google maps reliably led me to an excellent establishment where I refuelled with carne machado (pulled pork), multiple coffees and a piece of red velvet cake.
9 February 2020
Hiking style – The key issue on Tenerife is lack of water. Originally I had planned to wild camp the route, but I didn’t enjoy lugging 5-6kg of water when I hiked the GR131 in La Palma, together with a tent, sleeping bag and mat, as well as food and a cooker (with 17kg in total on my back). This time, I decided to go fast and light, with less than 3kg of gear and hotels booked every night. There is very little water on the trail, only at Vilaflor, Parador (a 7k detour), El Portillo, La Caldera and Siete Fuentes (not guaranteed).
Maps and guides – Paddy Dillon’s cicerone guide is excellent as usual but to be honest, quite a lot more information than you need. The full maps and trail notes are available for downloading at this site and are very good and detailed, and you can download all the gpx files also. Caers Bart wrote the best blog that i found, here . I load the gpx files onto gaia, onto which I had pre-downloaded the OS maps for spain
Packing Given the hours of daylight, I took a headtorch with me, but kept my overall pack very light. Full packing list here
Hotels – I stayed at El Tejar Hotel in Villaflor and Hotel Rural Victoria in Orotava. To get to Orotava from La Caldera I took the last bus down from Caldera. The buses are good and reliable, and details can be found on the amusingly named Titsa website.
Trailhead transport I took a taxi direct from the airport to Arona to start hiking (I landed at 13.35). I booked a pick up from La Esperanza with https://www.booktaxigroup.com. I was a bit sceptical about it arriving as I paid in advance, but it arrived
Flights – Direct flights from Gatwick to Tenerife with Easyjet. Annoyingly the late flight landed too late to take the Gatwick express, so I Addison Leed it home, arriving at 1am in time for a few hours sleep before heading to the office
Next time – I probably wouldn’t do the section from el Portillo to La Esperanza as I suspect there is better hiking in the Tiede national park, particularly on some of the ridge lines. The forest walks are lovely, but the landscape at altitude is stunning
This is the first winter in years where I haven’t retreated to the Southern Hemisphere to go hiking and I desperately needed some long days walking and some tent time. I did my homework and decided to give the Canary Islands a go. They have never been high on my holiday list (although I have been previously for work), as I imagined them to be overrun with package tourists. However there are some epic trail races on the islands and the weather should be great as the islands are only a few hundred miles off the coast of Africa.
I am headed to La Palma, which has the most rugged terrain. The plan is to do the volcano route from Fuencaliente to Tazacorte (about 70Km), and a few routes in the national park of Caldera de Taburiente (about 40km) over a total of four days. I have my tent and a permit to sleep in Taburiente for one of the nights and will make up a plan for the other nights on the fly
I came to La Palma via Gran Canaria airport (which was candidly my idea of hell, heaving with package tourists) and I hoped like hell La Palma wouldn’t be the same. Arriving at La Palma the excellent taxi la Palma were there to pick me up and had bought me a bombona (gas canister for my stove), as it is the one thing you can’t fly with. He dropped me at the hostel in Fuencaliente, a bargain 30 euros per night for a private room with bath, albeit not much in the way of soundproofing, and I grabbed some supplies from the shop and hit the sack.
Day 1 Fuencaliente to Puenta de las roques (32km, 2200m of climbing 17kg pack)
I got up at six-ish and finally left at 7 in the pitch black with a head torch on. The sun doesn’t come up until 8, but I knew it would be a long day and the early bit wasn’t that scenic on the map.
It’s been so long since I hiked with 17 kg on my back that I have forgotten how hard it is!!!! All my gear is very light but I was unsure what conditions would be like on the tops so had bought a winter tent (1.8kg vs my normal O.4kg), and spikes for the snow (0.3kg), but nothing can make water ultra light and I wasn’t sure there would be water for the whole route so I took 6 litres with me! It was bloody heavy hauling it up the hill (and unsurprisingly I was over prepared but better to have than not have)
With the sun on my back I eventually got in a rhythm, albeit a really slow one as I slogged up the hills. I had the first three hours in blissful solitude. I had succumbed to putting some music on and was singing away happily to myself really enjoying the views when I passed the first of the many day hikers I would see coming the other way. I lost count at 60, by the speeds they were going I didn’t expect them all to make farocaliente before dark. The landscape is surreal and alternates between pine forest and pitted volcanic craters and pointy mountains. The nicest peak was The Volcan of Deseado which I could see for most of my day, it’s a distinctive point on the southern part of the islands spine
I made it to El Pilar (after about 18km and 1400m of climbing or 450 flights of stairs according to the Garmin and 500m of descent) just after lunch where it turns out there is a tap so I carried an extra 4 kg for 18 km for nada. But I still need it for the next leg. Even better there was a snack truck! Two Aquarius (an excellent nonfizzy Spanish soft drink) , a cafe con leche, a hot dog and half a packet of biscuits later and I was a new woman!
After snoozing in the sun for a bit I strolled the 6km rolling path to reventon which was nice and easy as it was all in the forest. I stopped for a break and some food again when I got there (it took me an hour and a half, I swear I have never walked so slowly!). Apparently there is a good natural fountain at Reventon but I didn’t see it
After that it was a slow grunt up the final 700m climb over 6km to the punta de Los roques, punctuated by many breaks ostensibly to check my email, but really cos I was knackered. I saw the refugio de Los Roques peeking through the trees with the setting sun shining on it and I tried not to be too hopeful it was empty or not crowded. I was happy to tent but it was going to be cold at 2000m and I hadn’t seen too many flat spots. I eventually made it up the hill and the refuge looked delightful and was happily inhabited by a solo danish guy. So more than enough room for me (it probably sleeps 16 or 20 at a push).
I set about hydrating, soup, decaf coffee, hydration fluids, cooking and eating in front of the refugio watching the amazing view. The sun went down and the light was breathtaking on the caldera. A bit more food and a good gossip with Soren (environmental law professor from Copenhagen) and we retired to bed at 8pm after checking out the stars (which are quite famous here as there is limited light pollution)
I had a mild fright at 10.30 when I woke up with someone crashing through the door of the refugio. Two spanish guys who had had a long day, they were suitably quiet while they ate and went to sleep so I managed to get back to sleep for awhile until one of them started making the weirdest snoring noises I have ever heard. I thought he was going to die as he kept stopping breathing. I gave up trying to sleep at 6am and got up to have a leisurely breakfast.
Day 2 Refugio to Mirador El Time and then a shower (29km, 900m ascent, 2400m descent, 15kg pack)
The sun started to peak through the darkness around 7.15 so I went outside with my coffee for an epic sunrise with a stunning view of Tiede summit on neighbouring Tenerife.
I strolled out slowly at 7.30 less weighed down than yesterday but it was slow going. The route was stunning, for the first two hours I saw no one and the views out to the caldera with the sun hitting them were amazing. The walk meanders up and down the spine of the island though in most places the ridge isn’t narrow enough to give any cause for concern but I wouldn’t want to be up here in the fog.
At some point after Pico de la Nieve the route comes close to the road and car parks, so I started running into ill equipped tourists skidding on the trails which were a tricky blend of sand, volcanic rubble and scree and rocks. I was already tired, so found a quiet spot to take a break and cooked up an early lunch.
It took me quite a while to hit the summit of Roque de los muchachos at 2430m, every summit was a false one, and I was low on water and thirsty. And I took a lot of breaks! When I did get there I didn’t stay long as there were about 500 tourists. There was a water tap next to the information booth marked ‘agua non potable’ which technically means it’s not drinkable but I was desperate. I had a litre and then saw the ranger and asked him if itnwas drinkable. He said they mark it that way to deter the tourists from drinking it, but the hikers ‘should know’ it’s ok as they block the tap if there is a problem (hmmmm not sure how I would have ‘known’, but was grateful nonetheless).
I left the summit at 13.30. My original plan had been to hike all the way down to the coast and then back up into the caldera. Checking out the map, the section from el time to Los llanos was entirely urban and not pretty and the route up from los llanos looked long and hot. So I decided to hike down to el time, bus to Los llanos and sleep in a hostel for the night for a shower and then head up to the caldera the next night.
That plan though did mean I had to book it down the hill to get the bus. It wasn’t far – 16km, but it was a 2200m drop. The path was rocky and while it eventually dropped under the tree line and had shade, the shade came with very slippery pine needles. The views on the first 8k were epic though, and there were very few people
The last 4km down (with 450m of descent) from the Torres to El time was interminable and without redemption. Rocky, steep, no shade, no view, and just the type of gradient where your toes get slammed into the front of your shoes (I’m pretty sure both big toe nails will be dropping off in a month). The only positive I could find about this interminable section was that at least I wasn’t walking up it. I had a mild sense of humour failure about 1km before the end as am sunburnt (forgot sunscreen and a hat) and was thirsty, so I stopped and downed my last litre of water and hoped like hell there was water at EL Time. Better than that, there was a bar with homemade cake. Two more Aquarius and an awesome slice of the owners banana caramel cake, and I whiled away 45 mins waiting for the bus to Los Llanos (and yes I know I can afford a taxi but I like buses)
Ok the bus was late, but I did get chatted up by a retired Swiss farmer on the bus who rents a room down here for six months in the summer. He was worried about me so walked me to the hostel. The hostel Vagamundo was all I needed, not as good value as Fuencaliente as it is shared bath and I had to rent a towel for €2, but €30 is fine. Then off to the important business of getting some fluid and calories in – off to the Argentinian steak house!
Day 3/4 into the caldera
After the gr131 the most recommended hiking on the island is in the caldera de Taburiente, you can hike into the crater and then take different routes up the sides. I had a campsite booked (free, see below) and had a plan for different hikes). After a leisurely 6km stroll into the camping from the mirador los brecitos, I was checking in and the ranger told me all the routes were closed due to landslides. I feel like this is the universe’s way of telling me to have a day off, so I pitched my tent, made some lunch and spent the afternoon reading and intermittently admiring the views
When I arrived this morning there was a loud party of Spanish people leaving – around ten of them with shiny gear, and I was hopeful they wouldn’t be replaced. Fortunately the campsite is vast and I pitched at the remotest end with the best view. I did go for a late afternoon stroll to check out the hills in the afternoon light and there was one other couple camping about 200m away, but still blissfully peaceful
After an excellent and quiet sleep I extricated myself from my tent to watch the sun come up, had a coffee and slowly packed up. It was a delightful walk back to Los brecitos, though I passed about 20 people on their way in, and on the way back to Los Llanos I passed ten heaving van loads of tourists on their way to the trail so I had made a good choice on what day to visit (apparently Sunday is always quiet as the tourists go to the market)
Day 4 afternoon chilling in Los Llanos
I spent the afternoon strolling around the lovely town of Los Llanos, stopping from time to time to have some tapas and a drink! There isn’t much to do but it’s quite lovely. I will be back as the hiking here is excellent and the infrastructure works quite well (taxis will drop off and pick off easily at trail heads and the buses work well).
Los Llanos de Aridane, December 30, 2019
Water is the most problematic part of La Palma at least on the volcano route, so plan accordingly
Paddy Dillon’s cicerone guide to walking on La Palma is a good one, but is more set up for day walkers than long distance, and it doesn’t helpfully outline water sources
Senderosdelapalma.es was an excellent resource and had most of the gpx trails to download
Buying gas for my stove was my one issue that I couldn’t figure out, so I asked the taxi company to buy me some and bring it with them to my airport pick up, and tipped them generously as it saved me a lot of hassle. ww.taxilapalma.com. (Note it turns out cooking of any kind is illegal in the national parks.). They also provide drop offs to trail heads, or if you have more time and less money the island bus service (guaguas) is excellent https://www.tilp.es/regular/
It’s easy to book a campsite in the caldera de Taburiente for free, and bookings open 15 days in advance https://www.reservasparquesnacionales.es/real/ParquesNac/usu/html/inicio-reserva-paso2-oapn.aspx?cen=4&act=%202
Mountain weather forecast for the high route here (I was worried about snow when I went, as it has happened in December before)
Stayed at the hostel pension in Fuencaliente and the hostel vagamundo and hotel benohoare in los llanos
Greenland – the largest island on earth and the most sparsely populated place in the planet. 85% of the land is covered in the ice cap, the population is c 55,000 (largely Inuits), in summer there is no night, and in winter there are no days. Technically it is part of the North American continent, but it is a self ruled territory of Denmark (yes I am ticking off another territory).
The main purpose of the trip is to hike the Arctic Circle trail from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut – c. 165km of epic trail through remote wilderness with a few ramshackle free huts available for hikers use and not much else. Apparently there are ferocious mosquitos and pretty challenging weather at the best of times, but this year there have been wildfires blazing for about four weeks, and while the fires aren’t dangerous (peat fires burn low and slow) the smoke can kill you. On top of this, I broke my wrist four weeks ago, and am not 100% sure I can put my tent up without the solid use of my left hand – this is going to be fun!
Day 1 – Half day Kangerlussuaq Airport to 3km past Limnaeso Lake (c.25km)
I landed from Copenhagen at lunch time to a lovely clear sunny day. The airport was tiny and not super efficient, so I had time to pop across the road and buy gas, as well as sort out a locker in terminal before my bag arrived on the belt. I loaded up my gear, and hit the road, walking the 13km from the airport to Kellyville along the tarmac, as it is technically part of the trail. I suspect I was one of the few hikers who took the road, as I was overtaken by numerous hikers in taxis in the 2 hours it took to get there. Never mind, I overtook 20 of them pretty swiftly once I hit the trail proper. Once off the road, the landscape was stunning. No trees, but endless lakes and lovely wildflowers…. it was like a sunny Scotland.
I passed the ramshackle collection of caravans and sheds and Hundeso and pushed on to a lovely unnamed lake where I stopped for dinner and a chat with and Aussie hiker, and then given it was still light, I kept strolling until about 8pm where I pitched my tent (pretty wonkily given the wrist disadvantage) in blissful solitude and passed out (once I realised it was actually midnight Denmark time and I had been up since 6am in Denmark)
Day 2 Hiked to 10km past the canoe centre and camped above the beach on lake Kangerluatsiarsuaq (c.45k walking)
I woke up a bit cold as had gone to bed in shorts, not realising that the temperature would drop so much overnight. I was too cold to sleep and too tired and lazy to put more clothes on. It is also pretty awkward sleeping in a sleeping bag with a broken wrist. By 5am I gave in, made breakfast, broke camp and was walking by 5.40am. I passed numerous stunning white Arctic Hares – they obviously think they are camouflaged as they stand stock still when they notice you, thinking you can’t see them (which you couldn’t if it was snowing), but they stand out in the green and red scrub.
It was a stunning morning walk – I passed one tent near the ford at the stunning lake Qarlissuit, but apart from that it was totally still and quiet. After about three hours and 15km I arrived at Katiffik Hut at the head of lake Amitsorsuaq – its a typical Greenlandic hut and I was going to go and take a look but I could see about 20m down the path that one of the occupants had decided to do their morning ablutions 2metres off the trail, and that was more bare butt than I had planned on seeing in the morning, so I kept walking past down to the lake shore where I made myself a coffee and had a second breakfast.
The day heated up as I ambled the 20km down the side of the lake to the canoe centre only passing three people on the way (still packing up their tents at 10am). My feet were getting a bit sore, and I was getting a bit grumpy so I stopped for an hour at 2pm, ate some salami, and soaked my feet in the ice-cold lake. I motivated myself back to action by promising myself an early stop at the lake head in 7km. Unfortunately the lake head wasn’t particularly lovely, it was boggy and windy, so I loaded up with 3 litres of water and planned to dry camp the first nice sheltered place I saw. Unfortunately that nice sheltered place didn’t arrive until about 10km further on at 7.30pm when I had been on my feet for 14 hours and had a sunburnt nose. I tried to pitch my tent around 6.30 at the lake side but it almost blew away. At. 7.30 in the first sheltered spot, I literally pitched my tent one metre from the trail on top of some scrub on a hillside, albeit with a lovely view of Lake Kangerluatsiarsuaq …. with no more mojo to continue, and then started shovelling food in my face for 45 minutes until I konked out.
Day 3 hiked to Innajuattoq and stayed in the lovely hut (c.40km walking)
My sense of humour was somewhat restored after 10 hours sleep, and I woke up at 7am to a lovely view. It was a stunning cool day, just as well as there was a nice 500m climb up from the valley to start the day. The first 2.5 hours to Ikkattooq hut were idyllic, lovely alpine lakes, tonnes of ambling reindeer, impressive views from the plateau, and some rugged cliffs, and then eventually the incongruous hut came into view. A couple of danish doctors were in residence and they shared their hot water with me for my morning coffee and we debated the route. All hikers had been advised to take a southern diversion from the main trail as there was a risk of smoke in the northern valleys. None of us really wanted to do the diversion as there was no trail, limited cairns, and I personally am terrible at navigation. I took some confidence from the fact that they, like me, were planning to go north and see what it was like, and potentially use an escape route if required that someone on the arctic circle Facebook group had mooted.
The next three hours was a bit of a mountain scramble and then a steep descent down to a wide river valley with a ford. Unfortunately, my brain wasn’t turned on, as while I forded the river like a kiwi expert, I forgot that my phone and camera were in the pockets of my shorts, so both were drenched, and neither have worked since – hence the paucity of photos from here on in. oh well! I eventually reached Eqalugaarniarfik Hut around 2pm feeling pretty hot and knackered. The hut was full and surrounded by tents. I met some local girls inside who advised me to go south but told me everyone else had gone north. They were from a children’s home in sisimiut, and were out in the wilderness learning how to hunt reindeer, and they were very proud to show me their gun. They invited me for lunch, but I decided to keep going….., I probably would have stopped for lunch if I had realised there was another big arsed hill to climb straight up from the hut….., it was slow going. I am pretty unfit at the moment, so did have to have a talking to myself half way up ;-).
Once up the hill, the views were stunning and the rest of the path for the afternoon was a pure delight, going around the lakeshore of three beautiful lakes and then following a river valley to Innajuattoq hut. I past three Czech students heading in the other direction to me who assured me the trail was smoke free, and then I passed a trio of guys with enormous 25kg bags (a greenlander, a Parisian and a dane) but more on them later.
I arrived at the Innajuattoq hut at about 6.00, and decided to stay inside for the night. This was widely touted as the best hut on the trail, and the three occupants already in residence were delightful – Theo and Linea from Austria/Netherlands, and Jens from Denmark. I promptly started devouring a four course meal of soup, fish and potatoes and two desserts, a cup of tea and a cup of cocoa, and then started feeling normal, as the trio of guys I had passed earlier arrived. Bo, Brian and Goran…. they were like a comedic trio, with amusing riffs and they entertained us all until 10pm, well past my bed time when I finally called it a night. I slept wonderfully – sleeping inside on a mattress is a heck of a lot easier with a broken wrist even if you do have to put up with gentle danish snoring.
Day 4 hiked to Kangerluarsuk Tullek Hut (short day, 34km walking, finished at 3pm)
I woke up at 6.30 and headed out by 7.00, packing up quietly so as not to wake up my fellow hikers. Most people on this trail take 9-10 days to walk the trail, so don’t start early. They also carry huge bags – with the average weight being c. 20-25kg, compared to my 10-11kg (including all my food).
It was an easy morning 17k hike to Nerumaq hut along a river valley with steep cliffs on either side and a few lovely lakes. I have realised the walking here for me is always easy in the morning when it is cool and the sun is at your back.
I arrived at Nerumak around 10am and make some pasta for an early lunch, had a coffee and then headed further up the valley. This was crunch time as this was the smoke zone. I covered the first 10km without any worries, but then did start seeing the smoke billowing up from a neighbouring valley. Fortunately very little of it was coming my way and I knew I was walking into the wind, so if I made it a few more kms, then I would be fine. I pressed on, but couldn’t help stopping to check out the aftermath of the fire on the far side of the river.
By about 2pm I was through the worst of it and at the lake just before the ford at Kangerluarsuk Tulleq. The worst hiking hours here are in the afternoon with the sun in your face and sweat in your eyes and tired feet. I knew the hut was uphill and it is quite dry at the moment so I couldn’t guarantee there would be water, so I loaded up with 3kg of water and slogged (very slowly) up hill to the hut. I took two wrong turns, as there were very few cairns, had one sense of humour failure, and finally made it to the hut at 3.30pm having done 34km. I could have kept going, but I really couldn’t motivate myself, and I only had 20km to get to sisimiut the day after anyway.
I entertained myself in the hut with Anders the German backpacker, eating more food, while he made do with soup and instant potato (I was nice and gave him some tuna and boiled his water for him), and we watched the smoke billowing from the other side of the ford. Two German ladies arrived a little later, Irena kept me entertained with the weight of the gear in her pack – she had a mattress made of down that weighed 1kg and required a special apparatus to blow it up – it was quite something. It was a tiny hut so we squished in together. I am not normally a fan of huts over my tent, but with the arm busted, it is definitely easier. I was in my sleeping bag by 8pm, and we were all asleep by 8.30pm – a big night in the bush
Day 5 last 22km to Sisimuit (arrived at 11am)
I woke up at 6 thinking the hut was surrounded by fog, but it was actually smoke, so I roused the others, packed up and headed out by 7am (after taking a wrong route for 20 minutes).
The trail sidles along the mountain side next to a fjord and there were stunning views, and then the trail veers sharply up to do a nice steep climb up to Qerrortusup Majoriaa. These high sections are beautiful, lots of little lakes and stunning views. There were a few tents dotted along the route. I met a Belgian guy about half way to Sisimiut who was making breakfast outside his tent at 10am accompanied by a very adorable local husky dog. Apparently she adopts hikers and walks them up and down the trail. Lucky for me, Snowy (as I named her), guided me most of the rest of the route to Sisimiut. Well perhaps not so lucky, as not far from the last descent (perhaps an hour from town), I forded a river, slipped on a boulder and fell hard on my broken wrist, and managed to get a great graze on my knee and as I would find out later, chip off a bit of bone in my little finger, fracture the joint and tear a tendon. Oh well!!!
I made it to Sisimiut just before 11, happy that I completed the trail in less than four days walking time. Less happy that I didn’t have a phone (and therefore didn’t know where my Airbnb was as didn’t have the address and there is no Internet cafe in town) :-). The universe always manages to sort me out, and I stopped in the first hotel I saw, got a map, and directions to the phone shop and the hospital. Sorted myself out an excellent 40 euro smart phone, got some X-rays on my broken finger, ate some pastries, and had a shower. I also had the good luck to meet Bo, Brian and Goran again. They had arrived at Nerumak hut in the evening on the same day I passed and there was a lot of smoke, so they pushed the sos button did the rest of the trail in a helicopter :-), which was nice for me as they were excellent dinner companions in Sisimiut.
Postscript – the Ice cap
I overnighted in Sisimuit, and then flew back to Kangerlussuaq. My plan had been to take a tour to the icecap and then walk the 40km back to the airport in time to catch my flight out. However, the weather had turned, my little finger was blue and difficult, and I decided to just be lazy and go on the tour and come back in the nice warm bus and stay in the excellent airport hotel. I highly recommend heading out to the icecap – its amazing and the Russell glacier is also lovely
This really was an amazing trail, and we were blessed with fantastic sunny clear weather all day, and unusually no mosquitos. Apart from the fire worries, the weather couldn’t have been better. I loved this trail and would be very happy to do it again!!!
Trail resources – I would highly recommend Paddy Dillons cicerone guide, the Greenland gps app (free), and the invaluable Facebook group hosted by Jesper and Huw
Food – take all your food with you, everything will be cheaper in your home country, and it also means you can get walking straight away. Gas and fuel are available in multiple places in Kanger, including the Isusishut which is 15m from the airport door
Gear – I took more or less what I took on the kungsleden (list here) except I took a poncho instead of waterproof pants and a jacket; and I now have a lighter mini in reach (highly recommended). I also took an extra fleece for the evenings and my heavier sleeping back (an extra 1kg in total max)
Tour – I booked with https://aac.gl to go to the icecap
Now I am finished with the 197 countries, I am quite keen to get a lot more hiking in…. so decided to sneak in a cheeky few nights in my tent and try and cover 70% of the West Highland Way over three days…. cheeky as I snuck what feels like a week of hiking in between leaving the office Friday night and arriving back Tuesday morning like nothing happened.
Day 0 – Ben Lomond. 15km 1100m of climbing
I finished a board meeting in Glasgow, changed into my hiking gear, offloaded my work gear on a colleague and hurriedly made last minute purchases of a lighter and some midge spray. I headed north in an Uber ( more expensive but three hours faster than the bus alternative)
My entertaining Uber ride to Rowardennan on the shores of Loch Lomond took an hour. My driver was a retired restauranteur who was born in Islamabad and raised in Glasgow. He had only seen the Loch once in his 38 years there so he was quite happy for the ride. We had a broad ranging discussion about the woes of the world covering everything from how the impact of the British partition of the subcontinent continues today to the Chinese expansion in Africa
It was a gloriously sunny day so I shouldered my enormous pack, with 10kg of gear and headed up to Ben Lomond. I am out of shape and the going is slow, though I did manage to overtake a few day hikers on the way up. I did a lovely loop route coming back along a ridge line with some lovely tarns and there were spectacular views down the loch.
Back down to the lakeshore and I strolled a few kilometres past Rowardennan to pitch my tent on an idyllic spot by the shore with a stunning view, and amazing phone signal. A luxury dinner of packet asparagus soup, pasta and decaf cappuccino with a slice of millionaires shortbread I had taken off the buffet lunch in the office, and to bed. Fortunately the midges weren’t too horrendous
The rain started around 10pm and continued all night! It didn’t bode well for the next day
Day 1 – Rowardennan to Inveroran 52km
I roused myself at 5.30 am and eventually got going after a coffee and a muesli bar around 6.15. The first 7k were a pretty relaxed stroll along the lake shore which ended with an excellent bacon bap and a latte at the Inversnaid hotel.
I left the hotel at the same time as some mountain bikers who zipped off at pace. I was amused to overtake them less than 2km later carrying their bikes over the rocks.
After that it was more lovely lakeside strolling past some abandoned farm buildings and a bothy until the top of the lake at Beinglas where I stopped for some toffee crunch and a Diet Coke, but was swiftly chased off by the midges.
Then – gentle steady uphill stroll following the river, overtaking lots of hikers through Crianlarich forest. The forest was lovely but the last 5km to Tyndrum was interminable, flat and boring, made worse by the rain pissing down.
My mood was restored by soup and excellent orange sponge at the real food cafe in Tyndrum. I used their power, sat out two rainstorms and finally summoned the courage to leave at 4pm
It was a long flat 11 k to bridge of orchy on a hard roman road, at least the sun was out for the first hour. I hadn’t meant to go that far but in the 10k from Tyndrum there was nowhere to camp as you can’t camp near livestock.
I stopped for pint of cider at the bridge or Orchy hotel and watched all the posh hikers who were staying in the hotel. Oddly I much prefer pitching my tent in splendid isolation on the hill with the midges and no facilities than being in a hotel – maybe I am a wee bit feral.
It was hard work going up hill after a pint (I never drink and had been quite dehydrated so it was an odd choice but I felt like one at the time). I mildly regretted it as I swayed up the hill. There were scant camping options, After dismissing the first two sites for being too boggy and windy, I found a perfect location on Mam Carraigh with a little bit of shelter and pitched the tent in the evening sun. By this time it was 8pm and I had been on the move for almost 14 hours. I had soup and pasta and some chocolate – all cooked in my tent to avoid the midges. I put all my clothes on and bedded down for the night. The sunset was spectacular through the tent doors, reflecting bright red in the lake below but the midges discouraged me from getting out of the tent to take a photo
Day 2 – to just after Kinlochleven – 32km
I woke up late at 7 and decided to make a coffee and then opportunistically hit up the Inveroran hotel down the hill for breakfast. I broke camp, the worst part is always putting on your wet clothes and socks from the day before, and was rewarded with a bacon buttie and a latte at the hotel.
The sun was shining as I set off for the 15k to kingshouse, but it was hailing when I arrived. The trail was awful on the feet, like a lot of the WHW its an old roman road so it is both hard underfoot and rocky. The landscape was bleak but striking. The hills are black, fierce and gloomy and look imposing even when the sun was shining on them.
I rolled into kingshouse hotel soaking wet and with no feeling in my fingers. I didn’t really warm up while I was there, but the welcome was tremendous. They weren’t bothered that I was soaking wet and also charging my devices. I had two pots of tea, an excellent fish finger sandwich and a scone with jam and cream and watched the torrential rain through the windows. All of the people I passed on my way to Kingshouse from Inveroran eventually rolled in, and all of them were staying there for the night. I couldn’t! A 15 hiking day would be an embarrassment. So, I geared up and headed out shivering into the rain….. Scotland must of been smiling at me as the rain stopped about ten minutes later and I eventually dried off.
This section to Kinlochleven started off badly with 5km following adjacent to the main road, but with stunning views of Buchaille Etive Mor (which I had planned to climb today but the weather was too iffy). The trail then left the road and climbed up the ‘devils staircase’ over to a more remote trail to Kinlochleven. We had half an hour of torrential rain, but the sun came out as I rolled into town.
Given I skipped my side trip today and my feet are a sodden mess I decided to stop early and camp near Kinlochleven….. but it would have been rude not to stop in town, so I spent two wonderful hours at the excellent Bothy bar in Kinlochleven eating cheesy fries, goujons and a brownie! That bar was amazing! It was warm and my shirt even dried for the first time in three days! I had to tear myself away, but I slogged uphill with three litres of water until I found a sheltered spot about 1km from town to pitch my tent with a view of Lochleven peaking through the trees.
Day 3 – 22km to Fort William
I woke up at 5am and it was raining, again at 6am, still raining…. and so on until 7.30 when it was still raining but I decided to make coffee. I eventually headed out in a break in the rain at around 8.30.
It was lovely landscape, grey and broody in the rain, which came and went for the 20km to Glen Nevis. Ben Nevis finally peaking through as I can down the final stretch towards town. I stopped at the foot of Ben Nevis for a burger. I had planned to hike up but the weather was foul and I had been up before. So instead I wandered the final 3km into town for cake 🙂
The verdict on the WHW
Pros – quite a few good pubs with excellent food, plenty of cake stops, lots of good wild camping, some stunning views and landscape, impossible to get lost as the trail is a highway
Cons – too flat, as you walk past the mountains rather than go up them, too many people for my liking, and the trails are mostly 4wd type trails which are hard on your feet
Best cake – Real Food Inn
Best cider – Bridge of Orchy hotel
Best welcome and fish finger sandwich – Kingshouse hotel
Best bacon bap and walkers charging station – Inversnaid hotel
Best sausage bap – Inveroran hotel
No need to buy a guide but the OS maps app is helpful
Definitely take midge spray and a net and make sure you understand the Scottish access code for wild camping and heed the relevant bans eg the south part of Loch Lomond. Easy access to Glasgow on the flights and back from Fort William on the Caledonian sleeper
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
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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?!?!?!?
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
– 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
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
We made it to Crucible Lake after 5.5 hours of steady hiking and had a lovely lunch in the sun. Honestly stunning!!!!
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. 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.
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.
– 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
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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
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!!!
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 :-).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
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!
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!
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.
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
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
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
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…
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.
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!!!