Listening to the Silence of Snow (Part Two) – Upper Borland Valley / Mount Burns Tarns

“On a Mish” #395 Listening to the Silence of Snow (Part Two). Upper Borland Valley / Mount Burns Tarns. Fiordland National Park. 5.3.2024. Many will be turned away from the hills if snow is mentioned in the forecast. Cold is unpleasant to most and snow usually means the coldest of the cold. I think a little differently to most and when I see a polar blast heading towards Aotearoa, I hope I can get out amongst it. To me, there is no sweeter sound than the silence of snow, and the photos make putting up with the opposite of warm worth it!

After driving up the Southern Scenic Route, I turned off the main highway and headed along the Lake Monowai / Borland Saddle Road. As I started to bounce on the gravel I caught my first glimpse of the mountains, the brief appearance instantly made me more excited about what I was getting myself into. The quiet road leads to both Lake Monowai and up to the Borland Saddle, and on this day, it was quieter than usual. Maybe it was something to do with the weather?

As the road slowly climbed, the cloud began to lift and reveal the treasures it was hiding. At this stage the forecast was near spot on, and my camping trip seemed like a good idea. I pulled off the road and drove a short distance up the Upper South Branch of the Borland Burn. Originally, I had plans of camping up higher but my hip and back said otherwise, so the new plan was to drag my gear some of the way up the valley so I could camp away from my car. I began to get my gear out and to my surprise the pitter patter of rain returned, and it also brought its chilly mates, hail and snow. This was already a ‘real’ adventure!

After setting up my tent to prevent my gear getting a cold soaking, I headed to a spot I was familiar with from a previous mish. There is a fire pit tucked under a large beech tree and the area stays dry in most weather conditions. With my breath now thick in the air I gathered up wood for a small fire to keep the cold under control. At least the cold was keeping the sandflies away.

As the afternoon rolled on into evening the clouds finally cleared and what I could see pleased me. It was close to sunset, so I used the opportunity to head up to the Borland Saddle for photos. To the west the weather still hovered over the mountains, but it was high enough to see that no hilltop was spared from the snowy onslaught. With everywhere else free of cloud, I felt like the luckiest fella on earth, or at least on the Borland Saddle! After loading up with photos of a snow-covered paradise I returned to my camp and retreated to the warmth of my sleeping bag.

Early-ish the next day I was up well before dawn. My plan was to hike / struggle my way up the Mount Burns Tarns Track, and hopefully get to the tops before sunrise. My headtorch gave me a limited view of the forest during the first section of the track. At times during the day some beech forests can appear quite spooky, so with only a tiny fraction of the forest lit up, my imagination was making up all sorts of ideas of what was lurking around in the dark. Luckily in Aotearoa we don’t have to worry about anything that can eat you, unless it is a really, really hungry possum!

The forest thinned around me, and I was soon out of the trees. There was now a small amount of light on the eastern horizon, and this meant I had to pick up the pace. The trouble was there weren’t any more gears left. My frustrations disappeared when I heard the silence created by a land covered in snow, and to add to the spectacle, I also saw the sky on the eastern horizon begin to blaze a bright orange. I was in a magical world that was so amazing it seemed like it was a computer-generated scene in a movie. As the light increased the colour began to grow with oranges, pinks, and reds all playing their own part in the constantly changing masterpiece. Just like the excellent sunset the night before, I was the only one there enjoying it. My day was off to an amazing start, and it was only going to get even more epic…

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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