Since I arrived in Wanaka, I heard about Earnslaw burn. People were saying that you need serious skills to get there. That it’s lost in the wild, far away from everything, kind of a secret spot where people go more by helicopter rather than by walk. They were right! This 12 hours return walk is difficult especially when you add some pouring rain to the equation.
A real adventure starts when you get lost, or so the saying goes … I make sure that I’m lost from the first one hundred meters of almost any hikes… don’t laugh at me, it’s just like that. For most people who come with me, it can be annoying and they start to have serious doubts about the fact to trust me for the rest of the adventure. This time, was not an exception and when after 30 minutes of walking on a really slippery and a bit too dangerous track a meter by a hundred meters cliff following the river, I had to admit we were lost. Iva just laughed and accepted it saying that it was a good exercise to start again. We came back to the car and I double checked on my computer, to find the NZ Topo Map webpage still open and realized that the hike was starting on the other side of the river!
We have a river to cross! And what a river, we both almost slipped on rocks due to the strong current but everything went well and my photographic gear was still dry (for now). Then, we finally started to hike on the good track marked with orange triangles. You finally don’t need specific skills to find your way as soon as you start on the good track.
While we were walking, battered by the rain and the wind, I’ve had a lot of thoughts going through my mind during this 6 hours walk. After two hours, I’ve asked myself if I could find a dry part of my body. Negative answer. Impossible to notify a dry part on all of my body even with my “waterproof” jacket on. We were both totally soaked!
In this kind of situation, your mind can be really impressive and find the best way to disconnect from the bad feeling of the body. When the outside feelings are too uncomfortable, I learned to turn the focus inward and feel the warmth inside of my body rather than the cold and wet environment outside of it.
One of those thoughts was about Mike Horn’s adventure around the world on the equator, latitude 0. While he was crossing the Amazonian forest, for few weeks and was wet all the time. I felt instantly good as I knew that in our case it was going to be like that just for a couple of days.
Then, my mind jumped on his choice to allow the water to come in his shoes by creating holes in it, instead of trying to keep his feet dry. At least the water didn’t stay in his shoes when he was out of the water. It’s really nice to have dry feet when you hike but if your shoes are going to be wet you should prefer something that can release the water. The choice can be tricky.
A bit after that, I thought about my body and the feelings. I realized that our body is just a tool gave to us to emit and receive information. Nothing less, nothing more. What if you can disconnect the unpleasant information to just keep the pleasant ones? It’s maybe in what Tibetan monks excel at!
So, I tried to disconnect my mind from the feeling of my body. Not so easy. I guess the best way to do that is to focus on your breath. Thinking about the infinity of possibilities to accept the moment even if it’s not a pleasant one.
After a few hours, we finally reached the alcove under a mountain where we set the camp for the night.
When you are in this kind of situation, totally wet, cold and in a remote area, you must set up the quickest possible the following points:
- A shelter to be protected
- A fire to stay warm
Iva started to build a stone wall to protect the fireplace from the wind while I set up the tent under the alcove. Luckily, there was some not too wet wood underneath the big alcove. Definitely not enough to stay warm all the night but enough to start a fire and dry some of our clothes especially Iva’s sleeping bag. To keep the fire going all night long we’ve been for a mission to find some wood, obviously wet, that we cut in small pieces to make it dry faster. We finally ended up with much more wood than we needed but it will be for the next ones who adventure here.
There is maybe a specific technique to make a fire under an alcove or in a cave to avoid the smoke. But we definitely didn’t know it and we had some bad time coughing with burning red eyes due to the smoke. The wind was turning quite often and it was difficult to define where to put the tent and where to put the fire.
The night was cold. Very cold. And Iva’s sleeping bag still wet after few hours of drying… We organized a bed to keep us warm with my dry sleeping bag and covered us with the wet one.
In the morning, I saw some orange glow coloring the roof of the tent and cannot believe it was the sun reflecting on the mountain. I opened the tent and it was the total opposite than the day before. Blue sky, not a single cloud. Hard to believe in Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud.
I jumped out of the tent, grabbed my wet camera bag, and start to walk barefoot to the end of the valley. It’s a long walk. The temperature was certainly below zero… I could tell because of some parts of the waterfalls and rivers were still frozen. It was really nice at the beginning to walk barefoot and feel the land. Ok, at some stages I didn’t feel some of my toes anymore but as soon as the sun touched them, they came back to life. What was impossible to see last night was finally here in front of me or it was maybe me in front of him. This majestic giant Earnslaw Glacier with all its waterfalls. Majestic is the perfect word to describe it. I was feeling so small. It’s in this kind of moments that you can feel the beauty and the strength of nature. So much stronger than each of us.
We must stay aware that we are a part of this nature, we are not over or under it. We are it and every of our action should be aligned in a way to respect it. It’s really difficult today to live in harmony with nature by consuming responsibly and locally but every effort as small as it is count. I’m trying to be more responsible every day and I realize how difficult it is.
Going to the end of valley barefoot was maybe not the best idea as the bush started to be really dense and full of thorns that were scratching my feet and legs. What a great challenge in the way to disconnect the brain from the body. But as soon as I wasn’t focused anymore on taking photographs and running in the bush it started to be very painful.
Unfortunately, a lot of my photographs were blurry due to the fog into my lenses created by the heavy rain and the humidity of my camera bag. Luckily the 70-200mm was not that foggy so I created few panoramic to recreate the wide effect of the 24-70mm to keep a souvenir of this majestic mountain.
Iva was supposed to meet me on the way to the end of the valley but I didn’t see her. I know she wasn’t going to stay at the camp and will join me but I guessed we might miss each other on the way. We finally realised back at the camp that we crossed each other by a 25 meters apart on the way without noticing it. The valley is really wide at some parts and from the alcove, there are no proper tracks anymore.
The way back to the carpark seemed infinitely longer than the first way. This is when I realized that the brain can sometimes shut up some unpleasant parts unconsciously.
If you want to do this hike you should:
- download BackCountry Navigator App. It allows you to save some maps to access it offline with your gps. Of course, it’s always better to use a paper map as on this kind of temperatures, the battery of your smartphone will drop significantly.
- Allow two days, three must be the best to enjoy fully the end of the valley.
- Be ready to be wet and face some strong winds.
- Don’t be afraid of crossing rivers, as you will need to.
If you go there, enjoy the hike it’s wonderful and worth it even if it is tough on the body.