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

“On a Mish” #298 My Own Great Walk (Part Three). Peak 1086m (Key Summit Ridge). Routeburn Track. Fiordland National Park. 8.9.2021. On many occasions I have had a remote valley somewhere in paradise all to myself. The fact that this is still possible in New Zealand these days is a testament to how isolated the small group of islands in the South Pacific really is. Over time our wild wilderness treasures have been discovered and then gazed upon, photographed and talked about so much that until 2020 our popular hikes and locations were always busy with the buzz of many tourists…

In a post-covid world tourism had hit an all time low and the lack of people was something strange to get used to. An odd upside to all the doom and gloom was the opportunity to hike some of the best parts of the world famous Routeburn Track completely alone. Lockdown had left me craving a good wander but little did I know that I was going to have my own great walk!

After pushing aside the snow on the track up to Key Summit I continued along the ridge on the Whiskey Trail towards my intended target of Peak 1086m. Having hiked the trail beyond Key Summit many times, I knew where to go even with the snow covering the track.

The beech tree branches in the forest hung low to the ground under the weight of the frozen snow. Unfortunately this meant each time I got to a blockage I would have to barge my way through.

I got to a point where the track crosses over some tarns (small alpine lakes), and I knew there was a boardwalk across the swampy area. My hip injury has meant I always walk with a hiking pole, so I could use it to poke and prod around to find what was boardwalk and what was a boggy swamp, getting the two mixed up would be very bad! I crossed over without falling in and then had to battle the more low hanging branches in another section of forest.

Once again my hiking pole came in handy as I used it to bash the branches, which would then ping back up to their normal height high above the track. The extra work was very time consuming, but I had nowhere else to be and with each rest I could peer through the trees at the stunning scenery that surrounded me.

I eventually bashed my way through the last of the low branches and I was now out in the open again. From here the way was obvious and yet still tricky in places, as I would encounter deep pockets of snow hidden amongst the solid ground. Real ankle twisting terrain. I carefully continued to climb the ridge and finally made it to Peak 1086m just as another round of dark clouds rolled in and it started to snow again.

Looking south I could see an evil sky covered in dark menacing snow clouds and I knew I only had limited time views.

I paused briefly on the rock solid summit and turned 180 degrees to the north and all I could see was the incredible beauty of the snow-covered Darran Mountains. I could come to this point daily and look at the same range and it would never cease to amaze me.

I took in the mountain splendour for a couple of minutes before retracing my steps back towards Key Summit, following the trail I had broken. Not having to kick steps into deep snow made the going much easier and I was able to cover ground quickly and also take in the views.

At one point I heard a rumble which I at first dismissed as simply being an aeroplane full of tourists flying high above me. Then I clicked that our borders were closed and there weren’t any aircraft in our skies, or tourists at our scenic wonders. It took me a few seconds to work out what was going on, but I finally realised what it was when I looked to the Darrans and saw a huge avalanche pouring down the side of Mt Lyttle(1899m) into the Lake Marian Basin. I had seen avalanches in this area before however this one was much, much bigger.

On my journey back I heard the mountains rumble many times and it let me know that Fiordland can be very dangerous at this time of the year, and certain places need to be treated with respect.

After getting back on the Key Summit Track I could see that there was still only one set of footprints in the snow and just like earlier in the morning I enjoyed having one of New Zealand’s premier Great Walks to myself.

Downhill travel is definitely harder on my battered and broken body, so I took it slow as I backtracked down to the Divide car park. This was one of my biggest hikes since hurting my hip and the pain let me know it!

I arrived to see my car was still the only vehicle in the entire car park, and it wasn’t until I was just about to leave that I saw other human beings. I had a quick chat and informed them that they were in for a treat, before beginning the trip back home to Te Anau.

I drove home and the road was eerily empty. Normally it would be buzzing with cars, vans and buses going to and from Piopiotahi / Milford Sound but today my four tires were the only ones rolling over the road.

After sitting through another lockdown the mish was exactly what I needed and the fresh air did wonders for my well-being. I do miss tourism and the lack of work has been disappointing, however one of the upsides to an empty country was the fact that I had an entire Great Walk to myself!

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

Subscribe To my newsletter