Monday, June 1, 2015

9-Months w/No Posts But Then There Was New Zealand!

It has been about nine months since my last blog post.  A lot has happened in that time including knee surgery, our becoming grandparents for the first time, an epic hiking trip to New Zealand, our new granddaughter having a 4.5 hour surgery at the tender age of four months and the start of our 2015 hiking season being delayed while we helped our son refurbish his family's new home.  The good news is that life is now stable and our hiking adventures begin anew for 2015 (posts of recent hikes coming soon).

During the hike about which I last posted many months ago (Wildcat A - Flags on the 48), though I did not mention it in that blog, I took a bit of a spill after slipping on a wet rock on the steep descent from the summit of Wildcat A to the Carter Notch Hut.  After that fall I suffered in three ways; in this order:

1) My pride was hurt
2) My butt hurt from the initial fall on the rock (before rolling down the trail a little ways)
3) And, though I did not know it at the time, one of my knees was going to hurt (a lot) the next morning!

By the end of that day's hike I had a bit more knee pain than normal but I was not yet aware that I had damaged my right knee during the fall.  By the next morning all doubt was gone as I could not bend that knee.  It was twice its normal size and there was a proportional amount of pain.  That was on Sunday morning and by the next afternoon I was visiting an orthopedic surgeon (I was lucky to get in so fast).

To make a long story short, about 3-weeks later I had arthroscopic surgery to repair two tears in my right meniscus.  I was forced to be very aggressive in seeking treatment as we had a trip scheduled a mere four months later the primary goal of which was to hike in New Zealand.  That trip had long been on my wife's bucket list.  The surgeon assured me that I would be able to begin hiking about a month after surgery.  I had my doubts but thankfully he was right.  

On November 11, a mere 8-weeks after my fall, Sue and I hiked Mt. Roberts and I did so pain free.  Though a minor hike at only five miles in length and with only 1,400' of elevation gain, it is a hike I love and we typically begin and end our seasons with this trek.  That mid-November trip ended our season though as the cold was setting in.  As we age we simply cannot bring ourselves to hike in the winter months.

Let's focus on hiking instead of my knees.  As I noted earlier we had planned a trip to New Zealand.  It was scheduled to last about five weeks with 15-days of that dedicated to hiking and touring the South Island.  I don't intend on writing a full summary of that spectacular adventure in this blog but, if you love to hike and have ever considered going to New Zealand remember this; life is short - do it!

I'll wrap by teasing you with some photos from our New Zealand hike.

The limestone rocks of Castle Hill.
A view across the valley from the summit of Castle Hill.

This photo was taken from inside our helicopter as we approached the Franz Josef glacier.  The helicopter would drop us on the upper levels of the glacier and we would take a short hike up the face of the glacier.  This may well have been the four most glorious hours of our New Zealand and Australia trip!
Near the top of the glacier looking back down to the valley at the outskirts of the town of Franz Josef.
We've donned our crampons and are beginning our short climb up the face of the glacier.  Words cannot describe how beautiful this entire day was!

Looking back at the next group of hikers behind us gives some sense of scale.  This glacier was huge yet it seemed small in contrast to the mountains around us.
We have reached the trail head of the world famous Milford Track.  This is considered the greatest walk in New Zealand.  Let me return to the story of my new granddaughter.  Miss Breslyn Rose was born with a cleft lip and palette.  When I first met her minutes after her birth I simply looked through it.  She was perfectly beautiful in my eyes.  During this Milford Track adventure lasting five days we would be completely out of touch with the outside world -- no cell phone, no wi-fi, nothing.  That would be wonderful under normal circumstances but in this case our granddaughter was scheduled for the first of what will be several surgeries to repair her cleft lip and palette.  So here we were, halfway around the world and unable to learn how the surgery went until four days later when we reached a small town that had a pay phone.  Yes, I said pay phone, in a real phone booth no less.  Luckily, all went well with the surgery.
Did I mention that the Milford Track can be wet?  Yes, that is trail below our feet.  The banks of the Clinton River had swelled their banks due to recent rains and there is only one way out.  The water in places reached about 2 feet deeper than what is pictured here.  We hiked (or tramped as the locals call it) about a mile in water like this and when the trail finally moved to higher ground we still had 8-miles to go to reach the next lodge.

In this photo and the next you can see how the rains also brought beautiful waterfalls.  They were all around us.  Literally 100's of waterfalls in every direction!  We spent the entire day seeing waterfalls on all sides!


This is one of the most photographed views on the Milford Track.  Here we have reached the high point of the MacKinnon Pass and this shot looks back down into the valley from whence we came.  Though it had rained for the last several days in this area, today was a beauty!  Perfect timing.  The very next day hikers experienced a blizzard with whiteout conditions on this same pass and the groups behind us had difficulty following the trail (or track in New Zealand speak).
We've begun our descent and this shot is looking back at the col across which we had come.  The top ridge of that col is the MacKinnon Pass.
The Milford Track ends at the head of the Milford Sound.  When we reached the sound the weather was terrible.  This photo was actually taken nearly two weeks later when we returned to the sound on a cruise ship.  That cruise made up the second part of our New Zealand/Australia adventure.  Though the cruise was great, nothing beat the hiking.
Fifteen days after it started, our New Zealand hiking adventure ended at the base of the 12,200' tall Mt Cook.  No we did not climb it!!  It was a stunning place though as you can see from this photo.  The lake in the foreground is a glacial lake.
This photo is one taken zoomed in on Mt Cook.  Can you make out the face??

THE END!

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