A Taste of Whiskey – Whiskey Trail

“A Mish a Day” #52 Whiskey Trail Camp. Fiordland National Park. 5.8.2018. Starting a Routeburn Track adventure traveling west to east from The Divide is arguably the best way to attack the track. The drive from Te Anau past farmlands and then into Fiordland National Park, is a real treat even before starting the hike. The Divide car park is usually busy with both day and multi day hikers, and can give a false impression of how busy the track actually is. The wide and extremely well maintained track makes its way through forest and bush as it climbs towards the 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 gone…

Many times as a guide or just on a mish I have joined the masses of stunned visitors marveling at the incredible sights to behold, and many times I have looked at the ridge beyond Key Summit and envisioned a camping trip high on the ridge. The stars finally aligned and at last I had an opportunity to go on a mish, and the fact that it was August wasn’t going to stop me. I decided to spend two nights camping on the ridge, and on the middle day go for a wander south towards Peak 1543m. The forecast was for possible light rain on the 2nd day, but I needed a camping fix. I made sure I packed extra warm clothing with my camping gear, and then headed up the Milford Road to The Divide car park. I arrived at the car park at about 2pm to the chaos of hundreds of rental cars and camper vans parked on top of each other. I eventually found a park, and then quickly headed for the start of the Routeburn Track to escape the crowds. I followed the easy track as it zigzagged its way up to the views at Key Summit ,and then continued south along the ridge for about an hour to an epic campsite beside a large tarn. It was late afternoon by the time I set up camp amongst the patches of snow, so I had dinner, got a fire started and enjoyed the sun setting on the mighty Darran Mountains.

The stunning view from Key Summit

When I woke up early-ish the next morning it was very cold and snowing, so I didn’t rush to get up and by the time I did it had cleared a little. I set off for Peak 1543m, making footprints in the deep snow along the ridge as I gained altitude. As I got higher up the mountain the weather went from clear to cloudy, and visibility dropped to only a few meters. To really remind me it was definitely winter it started snowing again. I decided to turn back and luckily I could follow my footprints in the snow back down the ridge, making it back to camp ironically just as the snow eased. The evening was so cold that the large tarn beside me completely froze over, and I needed to find another water source for my coffee. The next morning an early-ish start was needed as a front was coming through with heavy rain and snow, and I didn’t want to be caught out on the exposed ridge. I packed up my very frozen tent (it was still frozen when I got home!) then crunched my way back along the ridge in the snow to the Key Summit Track, and then back down to the masses of people and the chaos of The Divide car park!

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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