The Roar of Winter (Part One) – The Gertrude Valley

“On a Mish” #286 The Roar of Winter (Part One). Gertrude Valley (Gertrude Saddle Track). Fiordland National Park. 5.10.2019. It only took one visit and I was hooked. After my first trip on the Routeburn Track I knew I wanted to look at the mighty Darran Mountain Range as often as possible. Tall towers and deep valleys only allow the brave to venture into, and the brave are rewarded with world class views. During the sunny days of summer the place is incredible and it will take some effort to take a bad photo. While there are still some dangers about during the warmer days, it is during winter that the Darran Mountains become a beast whose roar will frighten even the most experienced explorers…

Easy slopes above massive cliffs make for perfect avalanche conditions, and the avalanches that batter the few roads that dare to exist in this part of the world can be monstrous.

The Milford Road takes a fair beating during the cold months and it is not uncommon for the road to be closed for a couple of days in a row while the experts assess the danger or remove the mountain debris that covers the road. Unfortunately avalanche accidents were the way the road workers learnt not to mess with the snow-covered Darran Mountains.

I recently read an account of a 1930’s trip into the Darrans via the Milford Road (which was under construction at that time). The weather they encountered involved a lot of snow, and both the author and the road workers they stayed with en route to the mountains seemed very relaxed about the danger. Talk as if the snow was just an inconvenience instead of a danger was common at that stage of the human and Darran Mountain relationship. The disasters that took lives hadn’t happened yet, and luckily the writer survived the adventure into the snow-covered danger zone.

Due to returning to Christchurch each winter I hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing the Darran Mountains wearing their winter coat. At this stage I had only seen pictures and lived out adventures via the words in books. With that said I did have a very unique and rare opportunity to live nearby during my stint as the winter caretaker at Lake MacKenzie Lodge while building extensions were being done.

A series of circumstances had placed me in Te Anau during the end of winter / start of spring 2019, and this gave me the opportunity to bathe in the beauty of a Fiordland winter wonderland.

On this mish I was lucky to be joined by Dylan (another Fiordland fanatic), and together we were hoping to see some serious snow. We left Te Anau early-ish and to enhance the epicness we played some classic 80’s rock. No morning chorus on this mish, just building ballads blasted out into the frosty Fiordland air for us!

As we made our way past the Earl Mountains we could see we were in for a treat. The snow was down to the treeline, and that was the altitude we were aiming for for photographs.

No snow as low as the Divide, but this is one of the lowest east to west passes in the South Island. It was just beyond the Divide that we got our first glimpse of a snow-draped Mt Christina(2474m). We were in for a real treat, saying we were excited would be an understatement…

Psychopath Wall from the Gertrude Valley

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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