“I keep wondering if I really like tramping… The cold and the loneliness and the fear- do they outweigh the magnificence, the terrible impersonal glory of the mountains?” – Charles Brasch, posted in Routeburn Falls Hut, Routeburn Great Walk, New Zealand
We walked the same steps, on the same trail, up and down the same mountain two days in a row. Yep, that’s right. The same 12 km’s up and the same 12 km’s down one day after another. We burned our route on the Routeburn. We knew we were crazy.
"Why’d you do it?" you ask.
The first day was a grey morning with the clouds hanging low and flat. We hoped the haze was just morning fog that would burn off. We were wrong. Those suckers hung on all day without budging. Every now and then along our 12 km climb, a wind would part the clouds and we were able to have a peek at the crests of the mountains that were hiding. My heart ached to be able to see the landscape we were amongst. We knew monstrous mountains surrounded us and we were missing out on seeing their glory!
Our destination for the day was Harris Saddle where we heard we would see a stunning range of mountains with glaciers hanging amongst the peaks. I was hoping, believing that God would part the sea of clouds for us just to see for a moment. He’s done it before! In reality, the moment of reaching the saddle was a huge letdown. The clouds were still looming and concealing what we had heard was the grand view. Only seeing more clouds, we turned back to head down the mountain.
We had to traverse the cliffs of Harris Lake again. We had been alone for a while, now. There were few souls tramping the trail with the poor weather. They had the right idea. Turning back with new eyes, I found Harris Lake to be spectacular in the mist with the clouds wrapped amongst the golden, alpine bases of the mountain walls. It was a mystical landscape. Alone, this spot was ours. We breathed the scene in. I secretly wanted to be in this place again. It was glorious!
An hour into our hike that morning, on our way up, I warned Adam, “If tomorrow’s a clear day, I’m doing this again.” We had hiked from 10 am to 7:30 pm the first day. The initial five hours were all up hill, sweating and clenching our cheeks to get us up and save our calves from exhaustion. The way down was really all down hill. We snagged walking sticks from the forest floor to save our knees. They were over worked as our brakes on the steep decline.
Low and behold, the next morning we woke up to a brand spankin’ new day totally opposite than the day before with an absolute clear sky. Well, dang. We picked the wrong day for our first ascent. My soul ached to see the mountaintops I knew were there. We could see them today without the clouds! My body wasn’t in unison, though. I didn’t want to battle that climb and descent all over again. Adam and I were pretty quiet that morning both independently battling the same inner struggle. Do it again? Or not? Adam finally muttered from the back of the van, “I think you could talk me into doing it again.” With those words, I knew I was in. Knowing Adam’s focus on efficiency, he was struggling with the idea to do the same hike again as anyone would. We already did it! I worked my best persuasive argument. “This would be an entirely different hike than the day before. We would actually be able to see the mountains!” Well, my nonsense worked and we started up the mountain again to complete the exact same hike.
My argument didn’t reign true. An hour into our hike, the clouds rolled in again, but this time it started raining. We continually second guessed ourselves. However, the clouds were high enough that we could see the mountaintops, our new view for the day, so we kept trekking up and up.
My secret wish came true as we traversed Harris Lake again to get to our destination, Harris Saddle.
As we rounded the last bit of the lake, I caught a glimpse of the anticipated grand view we had worked so hard for. I saw a tiny bit of clinging snow on a black, jagged mountain and a blue sky as the backdrop! A blue sky! The mountaintops! We can see! I started yelping and running. I was so excited and couldn’t get to the saddle fast enough! The view was a true gift! To have worked so hard to see this view with disappointment the day before and to do the same hike without the guarantee of seeing it again, oh, it was a Christmas morning experience! What a gift to see such a stunning view.
We scurried up Conical Hill to get a grander view while we had a chance with the clouds at bay.
Our second day, we hiked til 8:30 pm and got into camp near dark, but on such a high.
The gifts of the day didn’t end at Conical Hill, though. Debriefing in the van after a rushed dinner, we were silent. Adam was looking out into the sky and saw curious vertical bands of white light forming like the laser beams of spotlights shooting into the sky in the cities. But, we were in the wilderness at the end of the road at the base of the mountains. It couldn’t be those brilliant spotlights. We sat there watching as the sky transformed and a band of red and fucsia began to grow. We jumped out of Bernie giddy and dancing. We were seeing the southern lights!
To answer the question posed in the quote found in Routeburn Falls Hut, the magnificence and glory of the mountains mightily outweigh the pains and exhaustion that accessing the beauty brings.
Keep on tramping, ya’ll! We’ll be out there with you!