The Last Big Mish (Part Three) – Sunny Creek Basin

“On a Mish” #88 The Last Big Mish (Part Three). Sunny Creek Basin. Fiordland National Park. 6.1.2020. Strangely, I would suffer my greatest injury on a boat at sea level instead of a fall while climbing high in the mountains. The excitement of exposure while out in the mountains lets you know you are alive and the sense of danger mixed with the enjoyment of doing what you love becomes rather addictive. I treated most missions like they could be my last, however I didn’t realise at the time my mission into the mountains above the Routeburn Track actually would be my last big mish before a fridge would change the direction of my life…

The visibility was near nothing but the sense of height remained. Peering over the edge of a big cliff I knew the drop was there but couldn’t see it due to the cloud obscuring my view. As the mist wiped over the ridge I got glimpses of the steep rocky terrain above and thought of my chances of climbing higher and then losing my way back down to easier / safer ground.

I like living so I reluctantly decided to retrace my steps and climb to the safety of visibility down out of the fog. My main issue would have been finding my access gully in the thick fog, so I chose the safer option of plan A: turn back.

Once out of the mist I felt a lot safer and was then presented with a very cool ‘alternative route’ back to my campsite. My plan now was to traverse some of the other peaks that towered over Sunny Creek Basin on the other side of the col I had enjoyed morning tea on to the west of Peak 1889m. This included the distinctive cone-shaped Peak 1620m which I looked at many times from the Routeburn Track when I was guiding.

Most of the time while I scrambled my way over the grippy rock terrain my view to the south was obscured by the other mountains. This gave me a false sense of security, as I had temporarily forgotten about the weather change forecast for the afternoon, but at one stage I got a glimpse and saw very dark clouds approaching. This got me moving slightly quicker and in the direction of the shelter of my tent.

Just before I got back to camp I felt spits of rain and as I unzipped the tent’s outer door some nasty looking dark storm clouds rolled in and the ‘afternoon showers’ in the forecast turned into a storm with thunder, lightning and hail! I had purchased my Marmot Tungsten tent about a month before this mish and now I was going to test the fabric’s durability with a Fiordland storm.

The aggressive southerly change was a real experience to ride out in my tent. As the storm raged on I would poke my head out of the tent’s fly and see the wind and rain swirling around the basin. The site I had chosen the day before was just perfectly sheltered from the storm and I was safe and happy in my tent hunkered down between the two massive rocks.

Looking Down the Hollyford Valley

My new tent is a lot bigger than my old one and thanks to the size I could cook a feed, enjoy it and then kick back and read a book while the storm raged on outside. I knew it was a true southerly storm when the rain turned to hail which pelted the tent like millions of little stones being thrown from the sky above.

At some stage during the night the wild weather button was finished with Fiordland, and the clouds quickly cleared to a star-covered sky. My midnight bathroom break was a stark comparison to the last time I was out of the tent. The signs of a frost had begun to twinkle around me as all moisture not moving in the basin began to freeze.

The massive temperature drop caused the rain drops on my tent to form frozen bubbles of ice which stuck to the exposed fabric. Above me the upper reaches of the mountains had been given a good dusting of snow. Winter had stopped by to say hi during January!

Early-ish the next day I reluctantly had to pack up my tent and leave but before I could stuff it into it’s bag I had to knock off the large chunks of ice.

Unknowingly I looked around at the last high alpine setting I would be seeing for at least a few years and then I started the trek back to the Divide car park.

The first part of the journey back home was easy walking back down through tussock covered meadow I had enjoyed on the hike in. To avoid the boulder field I struggled to get through on day one, I stuck to the north side of the basin which looked to be rock free.

I realised on the trip back that this was a much easier way to get into the upper basin of Sunny Creek, with small gaps in the forest making it much easier to get back to the track when compared with the bush bash I had down a few days before. I know for future missions into the basin to attack it from this area.

Once back on the Routeburn Track I was instantly back in the presence of other humans as I immediately came across a large group of guided walkers.

I continued down the track and came across more and more people as I got closer to the Divide car park.

Once back at my car I threw my pack inside and prepared myself for the drive back to my home in Te Anau. Little did I know that the world and the way I lived in it was about to change and this was my last big mish for at least three / four (who knows how many) years….

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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