Saturday, 15 April 2017
We’d been told it would take 2.5 hours of hiking to reach the top of the pass - but we found that the track was - whilst not exactly easy - not all that difficult. However as we climbed the weather got wetter and colder - by the time we reached the last kilometre we were all dressed in rain gear and the icy wind was blasting against our faces.
Needless to say, we didn’t spend much time at the McKinnon memorial (the guy who opened up the trail to guided walks back in the 1800s) before proceeding to the shelter at the top. Apparently the shelter is the 5th iteration, the previous 4 having blown away. There were absolutely no views for us, we could have been on the moon for all we knew, but a google search reveals that it would have looked like this on a sunny day.
We didn’t stop too long in the shelter - it had cooking facilities for hot drinks but we were keener to get out of the blast zone and descend into the valley. We did meet Paul, Dani and Clare who had let earlier than us.
The descent was longer and steeper than the ascent, but sheltered, and there were occasional patches of sunshine so we could see glimpses of what we missed as we went over the pass. There were even a few rainbows. As the ranger had advised us, the vegetation was lusher on the other side as Milford sound received an extra few metres of rainfall every year.
By the time we passed the beautiful cascade falls the sun was out for good and we stopped to eat lunch at a nice little shelter.
Another hour down the trail and we caught up with clare, who was sitting on the veranda of a fantastic shelter (with free tea and coffee) enjoying the sun and giving her aching toes a break.
This was also the starting point of the only significant side-trip of the Milford Track - 5k out to Sutherland Falls and back. After a nice break and a bask in the sun it didn’t take much persuasion to get everyone heading out to see the falls - walking without a pack was a treat in itself!
Sutherland Falls were very impressive - the water absolutely pounded down from a great height onto the rocks below - creating its own squalls of wind and water. Jon and Andy braved the water for a quick dip but the pressure of water blasting out at them kept them pretty close to the water’s edge.
After another pleasant stroll back to the shelter (which is also where one of the guided huts was), we eventually donned packs and completed the last hour’s worth of hiking for the day - arriving at the lovely Dumpling Hut at about 4.30. This was my favourite hut of the trip - we got a 10 berth room all to ourselves, and the cooking hut was warm and filled with light. There were also fantastic swimming holes nearby - great for a very quick dip.