The Forbidden Kingdom (Part Four) – Winter at Lake MacKenzie

“On a Mish “ #232 The Forbidden Kingdom (Part Four). Winter at Lake MacKenzie. Fiordland National Park. 14.10.2012. Chhogori / K2 was recently climbed in winter for the first time by a team of exceptional superhuman Sherpa. The prize of summitting the second highest peak on the planet took many lives before success, highlighting the dangers faced when climbing in winter. Nowhere near as many have perished tackling the Routeburn Track when the cold has made itself known, but the fact that some have died shows the trail is no joke in winter…

Normally, it would take about an hour to an hour and a half max to get up the zigzags out of the Lake Mackenzie Basin and around Ocean Peak Corner to the Hollyford Face. Three hours had passed, and the three dots hadn’t reached the top zigzag. After four hours they were only a short way along the top and one of the builders yelled out “they’re throwing in the towel”. I was very happy they made this decision as the hike was only going to get harder and more dangerous, and they would be even further from the safety of Lake Mackenzie Hut.

I’m hoping my face didn’t say ‘I told you so’ too much. They had tried, but I wouldn’t say they had failed. For failure means they wouldn’t have come back at all. It looked like another night in the DoC Hut, and then the next day they would head back the way they had come. It wouldn’t be an easy stroll, but it was at lower altitudes and better aspects for snow. Early-ish the next morning I said goodbye to the boys with some thoughts I might see them again.

Time tickled on towards the start of the 2012-2013 hiking season and the weather warmed. On the odd occasion the builders would head out for days off and, to keep the water from freezing, I would be the only one at the lodge. It is strange being in such a remote location and living in absolute luxury. The gig was one of the best jobs I have ever had!

We didn’t see any more people in the basin right up until they day we flew out after finishing the renovations. On the flight out we had the Ultimate Hikes GM with us as he wanted to check the avalanche areas. It had been a few weeks since the boys visited and, on the flight, we could see a lot of snow on the Hollyford Face and still a high risk of snow slides. For the first part of the season the guided groups (and independents) would be flying over this section of the track.

The flight, and having people with knowledge pointing out the hazards, showed us the dangers on heavy snow and reinforced the fact that, at times during winter, Lake Mackenzie becomes a forbidden kingdom only seen by a lucky few. During the winter of 2012 we were that lucky few, along with three very tired young Australians!

Ocean Peak, F-Knob & Emily Peak

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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