I’m actually pretty new to this hill walking and mountain climbing business – although I think I’ve always loved the idea of it but have just always found excuses why it wasn’t for me.
Well that all changed at the end of 2014: that’s when I found my outdoor adventure mojo and new-found passion of walking in the wilderness.
However, it wasn’t the best introduction – rather more like baptism by fire, to be honest.
The boyfriend and I were in New Zealand where I was showing him the wondrousness that is Aotearoa in summer. We had planned to take on two of the Great Walks in the South Island – the legendary 32km Routeburn Track and the 60km circular Kepler Track.
Stretched for time, the boyfriend thought it would be a swell idea to essentially combine the two walks. We’d take two and a bit days to walk the Kepler, spend the night in Te Anau, then the next day set off on the Routeburn, taking three and a bit days to complete the challenge. Although the boyfriend didn’t agree, by my maths that worked out as walking seven days straight.
Now at this point in my life, I had only camped a handful of times and had never attempted a proper mountainous multi-day trek (a two-day walk of England’s South Downs doesn’t really compare) but I was reluctantly up for the challenge.
We “trained” by walking in the rolling green countryside of Kent (well-known for its mountains – not!) with cans of baked beans in my backpack. Due to the winter day light hours (and our disorganised laxness), we succeeded only with squeezing in about four hours of walking tops at a time. And this for only a handful of training days.
To say we were well prepared for what the New Zealand mountains might throw at us was a gross understatement.
Then to further add to our trekking initiation we failed to realise that we would have to carry an additional week’s worth of clothes because we were continuing on a road trip tour of the South Island and had nowhere to store our extra stuff while walking. This resulted in backpacks that were unnecessarily heavy that hovered above the 15kg mark.
Let me tell you, my introduction to trekking was brutal. The first day was a mere two-hour forest wander to our first campsite on the Kepler Track but I felt every second of those two hours on my shoulders.
Day two things got exponentially worse – we trekked for 11 hours, with the vast majority of that walking uphill, reaching a height of just over 1,250m. By day three (another nine hours of walking), I was in agony and could barely place one leg in front of the other. I can’t remember much of the views on day three as I spent a lot of time crying and coming up with various ways to get revenge on the boyfriend.
By the time we reached Ta Anau, I was a wreck – and there were still four days of walking to go. Needless to say, the pain endured but it also got slightly easier as we ate our way through the food and my body responded to the exercise.
Now for all intents and purposes, being thrown in the deep end like this should have had me running scared, vowing to never set foot on a mountain ever again. But on day two on the Kepler Track a magical thing happened.
We were approaching Hanging Valley shelter – one of the high points on the track. It was 7pm. The sun sat as a golden orb in the sky beginning its dance with the horizon and all around us were golden streams of light. It was just us, high on a ridge in the middle of nowhere. We had the whole mountain, the whole mountain range, to ourselves. And that meant something to me. I forgot the pain in my shoulders and my legs and instead felt the silence that enveloped the world; the bizarre silence where there is still room for sound, where the wind whooshed and the Kea birds squawked.
That was the moment that got me, the moment that had me hooked. And this, along with the stunning scenery, propelled me to continue to move one foot in front of the other for another five days.
I sometimes wonder if that trekking experience changed me. But certainly, something clicked.
And now looking back I can see how much I have grown. I may still be unfit but my pack is lighter.
And there are challenges that I could achieve now where once I thought them impossible.
Sometimes you just have to try, and have the faith that you will learn along the way. You may be surprised at what you are capable of.