The alarm went off at 6 am. Hubby muttered “No, no, no…” I mentally screamed “Yes, yes, yes!” I was out of bed in no time, full of excitement and joy. I had prepared for this day to come and I was ecstatic it had finally arrived. When you spend time in New Zealand you make sure to make the most of it – that includes a trip up Mt Roy. The country’s South Island is scattered with towering peaks, but few are as impressive as this one.
I’d seen awe-inspiring pictures of Mt Roy and God forbid my picture-hungry soul would drive by the town without stopping for a fine mountain hike.
We tend to be rather active on our adventures, however prior to arriving in New Zealand a tooth infection turned around everything. I had to take it slow, as ordered by the doctor. So we took a few days off to give my swollen face time to heal. The antibiotics helped but also turned my guts upside down. My body did not want to be bothered with food that morning but I knew I needed the energy. Hubby wolfed down his cereals while simultaneously packing his bag and searching for his boots. I had neatly packed everything the night before. I felt so well prepared.
We started the hike at 6:50am with my hopes up high and a truck-load of enthusiasm. Hubs growled at the three cars in the parking lot, one of which belonged to a couple girls from Gettysburg. As we marched up the first few hills the vehicles got smaller and smaller.
Now let me tell you, we have done a couple hikes in Australia before, most of them in half the time required. With our history of finishing tracks early I somehow convinced myself that we would be on the track less than we were told. I had read countless blogs on how difficult this track was, yet in my mind I made up a distorted reality in which we would fly up Mt Cook and no time and come back down with tons of great pictures. I was wrong.
I lost my breath 5 times within the first 15 minutes, but the photographic urge inside of me was stronger so I kept going. 20 minutes into the hike we reached the first gate, one of three, and that was where I noticed just how bad in a shape I was. My stomach rebelled. I sat down, had some water and an oatie bar. After a while I got back up, collected all my power and was back on the track. The views were terrific, but most of all they gave me a reason to stop every 5-10 minutes for photos, when all I wanted was to take a break. The difficulty of this hike was nothing but its vertical change. We would have to overcome a total of 1,300 meters on a zig-zag path up the peak. Level stretches of grass or scree were virtually nonexistent. Breathing got difficult, my lungs started hurting. Hubby walked a few meters in front of me. He turned around every once in a while to check on me, just to make sure I was ok. Every often or so he would find me lying in the grass gasping for air or kneeling in the grass cursing myself. And that’s what I’d do for most of the hike. I’d question my own sanity up the damn mountain. What the hell is wrong with me? I am doing this for a freaking picture! My lungs kept screaming and and my calves signaled their discomfort with a casual cramp, as if they were trying to tell me “that’s what you get! Eat it!”
I felt I deserved the pain. Soon I felt nothing. I got into a habit of staring at my feet and dragging myself up. I died a hundred deaths, but I made it – eventually.
“You earned yourself this…”, my husband said and placed a kiss on my forehead on top of Mt Roy. Up here one had an astonishing view over Mt Aspiring National Park and its snowcapped peaks. Though, the wind was unforgivingly stingy and cold. We snapped a couple pictures before heading back down.
While we had only encountered a handful of hikers on our way up, we bumped into a line of people at the famous Mt Roy Ridge further down. I had to have my photo taken here too, after all that’s what people come here for. 20 minutes in line and countless encounters with strangers I found a Spaniard who who was willing to take my picture. Unfortunately he spoke hardly any English so I ended up with a range of dissatisfying shots. Hubs, who had waited further down, shrugged off my foul mood over the last shots. Truth be told, the iconic shot didn’t work out, but we still got the best photos during the early morning hours when there was nobody but us on the trail.
As noon approached the trail was swarming with hundreds of poor hikers, all out of breath but intrigued by the photo opportunity. Some wore sneakers, some wore loose shirts and would turn out to be quite surprised by the low snow line. I felt their pain. Many turned around half-way up and there was absolutely no shame in giving up on this track.
The two hours back down were a killer on my knees, my legs were shaking so badly when I got to the car. Only later that day we found out that Mt Roy was actually marked difficult in all the hiking books. I had cracked my teenage record for the first time: 16 km on a 1,300 meter uphill elevation change.
Yes, the pain would stay for a few days, but the memory sure was going to last for a lifetime.