My Own Great Walk (Part One) – Key Summit Ridge

“On a Mish” #298 My Own Great Walk (Part One). Peak 1086m (Key Summit Ridge). Routeburn Track. Fiordland National Park. 8.9.2021. At any stage during the last decade and half if you had told me I would be the only one hiking on the Routeburn Track I would consider you insane! At no stage during my outdoors career (pre-2020) would I ever think that the Routeburn Track would be devoid of any people and I would have my own great walk…

The hike up to Key Summit and back is considered one of New Zealand’s best day hikes, and along with a good walk in the mountains you get some of the finest scenery on the planet. At most times of the year the place is busy with hikers, which makes finding a car park the first challenge of the adventure.

Oh how the times have definitely changed, and a big thing learned in 2020 was to always expect the unexpected and also how much I miss the outdoors when it is taken away from me (a recurring theme over the last couple of years).

With level 3 lockdown coming to an end I needed a mission out of my home in Te Anau and into the mountains of Fiordland, the very same mountains I have been unable to visit for nearly a month.

I had packed my bags and ready myself for a mish and then plans changed with the ear shattering alert sound on my phone telling me the country had been put into level 4 lockdown (the most severe of all levels). This meant my planned journey to Key Summit on the Routeburn Track was over.

A few weeks later the levels dropped and the people were given some freedom. After an easy hike and camp on the Post Office Point Track at Lake Manapouri, I needed more.

A mission up to Key Summit and beyond had always stayed on my mental list of things to do, as I had been up there a couple of years before and the epicness had never left my mind. So as soon as we had freedom I was off… Actually it was about 5 hours after as the level changed at midnight!

The weather had put a stop to any camping mish, plus I wasn’t exactly match fit after being housebound for a few weeks. I was still keen for a wander so with a daypack I left my house in Te Anau at 5.30am en route to the Divide and the start of the Key Summit Track.

As I rolled along the Milford Road in the dark I didn’t see another soul, a strange scenario on a road usually covered in rental cars and campers.

The weather was doing its best to dull my motivation as my car was pelted with rain and even bursts of sleet as it climbed up to the car park at the start of the Routeburn Track.

The day’s forecast was for snow to low levels overnight, then clearing to sunshine early morning. As it was just that, early morning, I was hoping that the chilly downpour was the last of the showers. My hope was the weather would clear and I would experience the added bonus of the track and surrounding area having a fresh layer of snow.

With the mountain ridges beginning to reveal themselves I pulled into a deserted Divide car park. I never thought in my wildest dreams I would arrive at this car park and it would be empty. To my amazement totally alone I saddled my pack and hit the track.

Now that it was dawn I could see the forests that cover the lower parts of the track and as I took my first steps I had the realisation that I (in theory), would be the only person on the Fiordland side of the track, and the only one to have walked the ‘Great Walk’ since the beginning of lockdown.

As the low light began to creep through the trees I quietly wandered alone, matching to the sound of the birds waking up.

I zigzagged my way up towards the treeline and as I got higher I began to see first signs of the recent snowfall. The higher I hiked the deeper the snow got…

First View Above the Treeline

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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