The night was cold like a winter morning at the higher latitudes. I woke expecting a carpet of white snow outside. Instead, the sky was clear and the temperature were well below freezing.
Headlamps streaked their light in all directions across the hut like jedi lightsabers. All us hikers were keen to get on the trail early. My coffee and warm oats with cranberries were my sole source of warm. I was wearing every layer of clothing I had. Thermal top and bottoms with down jacket, rain jacket, gloves and beanie. I lost all dexterity in my fingers and couldn’t make a fist. They were so cold I had the illusion that they were on fire. Holding the warm coffee cup was my only solace. It was going to be a tough morning.
The clear morning air was cold when I started hiking. The mountains had a misty layer of cold cloud clinging to them like a Kardashian to a camera lens. Luck was not with me as the first river crossings was right after the hut. The knee deep ice cold water left my already cold feet numb. I struggled with the cold till around 9am.
A couple of hours of easy cold hiking led to Royal hut, a temporary place of warmth and the beginning of the 600m climb to Stag saddle, the highest point on the Te Araroa trail. The climb was easy and my body enjoyed the physical experience of generating my own body heat. Cresting the summit of Stag saddle at 1925m (ft) revealed a long deep valley leading to famed blue Lake Tekapo. I lingered at the summit to answer questions and comments on my phone. The previous week had little in the way of cell phone signal. There were a lot of messages but keep them coming I love to interact with everyone.
There are 2 choices to descend from Stag saddle, the official trail that follows the river valley, and the ridge top trail that follows the 10km long spinney ridge that had views across the braided river leading to Lake Tekapo and beyond to the high Southern Alps. I chose the ridge top trail. Mt Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand came into view, so did several other glacier cover peaks. Let the photos below paint the picture, then imagine how you might feel to witness them yourself. This was hiking nirvana.
I spent hours stopping to photograph and make videos of the ridge top walk. When I made or to the bottom I followed a series of small trails to the bank of Lake Tekapo to set up camp as the sun said goodbye for the night. It would be fair to say that the hike today rates as one if the best single days of hiking not only on the Te Araroa trail but on any trail. I’m a happy and grateful boy.