Snow Slides and Sandflies (Part One) – Tutoko Valley

“On a Mish” #76 Snowslides & Sandflies (Part One). Tutoko Valley. Fiordland National Park. 26.10.2019. The Tutoko Valley is an excellent representation of the expression “Effort is met with reward” as the further up the valley you travel the more stunning the scenery becomes. Like most tracks in the massive and wild Fiordland area, to get to the views you will have some work to do. And like most valleys in one of the most remote environments on the planet, the tough trek will eventually bring you to one of the most stunning mountain visas available to the human eye…

This was my second venture into the long and challenging valley, and after giving my friend a heads up that we might not be alone we began our mission towards the views and Te Namu

Late winter / early spring is a very active time in Fiordland National Park, especially in the Darran Mountains. The built up winter snow begins to thaw and slide off the mountains giving off sounds like thunder. The middle of the valley is where you want to be and where there are well established trees (no signs of avalanches) is where you want to camp.

With all of this vital information in mind and my friend visiting from France, it was time to tackle the Milford Road and head to the epicness found in the Cleddau Valley.

We pulled up at the roadside car park beside the ‘Tutoko Valley Track’ sign and our excitement was nearly as turned up as the stunning surroundings. A clearing forecast meant we weren’t too upset about the potential drizzle in the valley and snow up high. After sorting gear we threw our packs on and began our hike, knowing we had many tricky steps to take before we could get any views.

The track is in the trees for a few hours before it reaches a point where you get the first view of the biggest mountain in Fiordland. And like Aoraki / Mt Cook, the mighty Mt Tutoko has the biggest presence in the area and definitely looks the most intimidating. To think that back in the 1890s a self taught school teacher and friends were the first to look at the mighty peak and think ‘I am going to climb that’. The first ascent would be over thirty years later, not due to a lack of people trying, but thanks to a mix of the notorious Fiordland weather and the mountain’s unrelenting steepness. We were not in the valley to climb, we were there to stare at the beauty carved by glaciers many, many years ago.

After a couple of hours walking we got our first view of the monarch of Fiordland, and the huge mass of rock and glacial ice was enough motivation to keep us going for days. Luckily we only had around another hour before we got to a famous spot looking up at the Age Glacier. The track makes its way through a swampy section which slowed forward progress greatly, but as we were now out in the open, every rest break we were treated with incredible views.

The sandy riverbank looks like the perfect spot to pitch a tent -however, I had set up camp here once before, only to be chased away by swarms of Sandflies. Knowing that Te Namu had taken over the riverbed near Leader Creek meant we located our camp away from the hungry locals.

As we began to set up our home for the next couple of days it began to rain. The forecast promised clear skies for the following days, so we hunkered down at our camp and let the smoky fire we were struggling to get going keep the sandflies at bay. And as we began to relax we heard the chaotic crash of an almighty avalanche

Upper Tutoko Valley (in the Sandfly Zone!)

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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