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

“On a Mish” #298 My Own Great Walk – Part One. Peak 1086m (Beyond Key Summit). 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 have slapped you and sent you to the crazy-house! At no stage during my outdoors career (apart from 2020-21) would I ever think that the Routeburn Track would be void of any people. 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…

Times have definitely changed, and a big thing learned in 2020 was to always expect the unexpected. With level 3 lockdown coming to an end I needed a mission into the mountains of Fiordland. The very same mountains I have been unable to visit and I have looked at from my house for nearly a month. I had a bag packed for a mish the night Aotearoa was plunged into level 4 lockdown (the most severe of all levels), and that journey was going to take me up to a camping location above Key Summit. A few weeks later the levels dropped and after an easy hike then camp on the Post Office Point Track I needed more. A mission up to Key Summit and beyond had always stayed on my mental list of things to do, so as soon as we had freedom I was off (actually about 5 hours after, as we changed levels at midnight).

The weather had put a stop to any camping mish, 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 that I am slowly getting used to. My car was pelted with rain and even sleet as I climbed up to the car park at the Divide. The forecast was for snow to low levels, clearing early morning. As it was just that, early morning, I was hoping that these would be the last of the showers and this would mean the track and surrounding area would have a fresh layer of snow. With the mountain ridges beginning to show faintly against the last of the night sky I pulled into a deserted Routeburn Track car park. I never thought in my wildest dreams I would arrive at this car park and it would be empty. So, totally alone, I sorted my gear and hit the track. As I began 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 it since the lockdown. As the low light of dawn began to creep through the forest I quietly wandered alone, wondering how everything would look covered in snow. I zigzagged my way up towards the treeline and as I got higher I began to see first signs of snowfall, then the snow of the track began to get deeper…

First View Above the Treeline

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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