Winter’s Grip (Part One) – Whiskey Trail Camp

“On a Mish” #52 Winter’s Grip (Part One). Whiskey Trail Camp. Livingstone Mountains. Fiordland National Park. 5.8.2018. You would think that walking a track again and again would dull the wilderness senses and the location would lose its charm. Fortunately, no matter how many times you walk the Routeburn Track it will never lose its jaw dropping spectacular-ness. Most will walk the track during summer seeing the place bathed in sunshine. But for the folk that find the fortitude to fight off the freeze while winter is keeping the temperature down, a winter wonderland awaits…

The remote location of the start Routeburn Track means a drive is required, and the trip from Te Anau past the last of the farmlands at Te Anau Downs and then into Fiordland National Park is a real treat, even before starting the hike. Stunning scenery is bountiful, and I recommend you stay awake!

The Divide car park (start of the track) is usually packed with both day and multi-day hikers and can give a false impression of how busy the track (apart from Key Summit) actually is overall. Once away from the carpark things tend to get a lot quieter, and if you can get beyond Key Summit peace can be found.

The wide, and very well maintained, track makes its way up through sub alpine forest and bush as it climbs towards the Lake Howden / Key Summit turnoff. I highly recommend a visit to Key Summit, as the view from the top is world class, and will be remembered long after the aches in your legs have eased.

Many times, as a guide or just ‘on a mish’ I have joined the masses of stunned visitors marvelling at the incredible sights to behold, and many times I have looked at the hills beyond Key Summit continuing south and envisioned myself camping somewhere far from any signs of mankind. Considering I started working on the track back in 2008, it took me a long time to make my ideas a reality.

The stunning view from Key Summit

I decided to spend two nights camping on the ridge (more epicness), and on the middle day go for a wander south towards Peak 1543m. I made sure I packed extra arctic-cool warm clothing with my camping gear, due to winter clinging to Fiordland like a balled fist. I’m someone who likes to challenge themselves against the cold months, if the scenery makes the mish worth the effort.

I arrived at the car park at about 2pm to the chaotic sight of hundreds of rental cars, SUVs and camper vans parked on top of each other in a mass of motorised mayhem. I eventually found an empty park, and then quickly raced towards the start of the Routeburn Track to escape the crowds and carbon monoxide.

Considering I was hiking in a location I had been to well over a hundred times the natural garden hit me like it was my first visit. The way the moss hangs from the trees and any other green on display makes for a very good start, and I can say with confidence that is only gets better from there. I followed the familiar steps of the easy track as it cuts its way up to the magical views at Key Summit.

Winter and Fiordland used to be non-existent to me. During the time I worked on the track I would head north every winter, meaning I missed out on the snow views. On the odd occasion winter would revisit the place during the guided walking season, but normally most of the mountains are rock and tussock. There is nothing wrong with the track at all during the summer, it’s just that I am a big fan of snowy peaks and icy winter treats.

Above the famous and busy viewing area I bid farewell to humanity for a while and continued south along the ridge towards my chilly goal…

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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