Jan 13

Milford Sound Track #4

by in Drawing & Writing

The first person to fall asleep that final night was an older man who’d been invisible somehow the entire trek. He was sleeping on his back, and slowly, but perceptibly, his breathing went from the standard human variety to that of a gasping guppy. As I was trying to remember exactly how sleep apnea worked, he switched over from guppy to Stihl Chainsaw mode, ripping the bunkroom apart. It was exactly the situation we’d been warned about by others – “There’s ALWAYS a snorer, always” – but luckily his wife popped up from below and shook his elbow. “Sleep on your side,” she said. “Oh!” he sat up, blinking. “I thought was awake.”

His side-sleeping helped, leaving the room quiet and pleasant, save for some lingering smelliness. We’d been warned about stinky boots and sweaty clothes, as well, but given the proximity of the rivers on the trip, it really wasn’t a problem.

Just about everyone (save for the Israelis) was awake for breakfast, a breakfast which saw Antje andI more or less run out of food. We had an apple left, two fingers’ worth of peanut butter, and a couple mini Snickers for the next 12 miles (20km).

Regarding those 12 miles, the reason we’d been encouraged to “take our time” and “take it slow” was, counterintuitively, because of a time constraint. Most of the group had to catch a 2PM ferry, the rest a ferry at 3. Doing 12 miles before 2 (or even 3) is pretty tight, and most trekkers, according to the ranger, put their heads down and stomp their way through, seeing nothing. A shame, really, but that certainly wouldn’t be our problem.

With the combination of another weird night’s sleep and the tape job of a helpful trekker, Antje’s left leg had gone from marginally flexible to something like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. [note: the tape was intended to make things less flexible, so really, it helped.] Still, going down anything resembling stairs took three times as long as normal, and 800mg of ibuprofen did nothing.

So, having loaded Antje’s pack into mine, we indeed took it slowly. Before the first mile marker, the Germans overtook us. Between the first and the second, the Koreans overtook us, followed by Biologist and friends. I asked Antje when we’d left that morning. “6:45,” she said. Green Day overtook us, the Bushwalkers overtook us, and when mile-marker two came up, we checked the time. 9:00. I did a quick round of calculations, and it had us arriving at the dock… at… oh… about 8PM. “Um, Antje?”

I really meant it when I said I didn’t care if we didn’t make it. The rangers had made it pretty clear that, no matter the circumstances, no one was going to get left behind on the Milford Track. This wasn’t a “42 go in and 38 come out” sort of scenario. That’d be bad PR. So everyone comes out of the Milford Track, and that was final. If we were late, I argued, we’d figure the rest out when we got there, and if it came down to it, we’d call in a helicopter.

Antje was having none of it. To miss the 2:00 boat meant missing a bus that we’d paid for, and a room in Queenstow, also paid for. I tried to explain the irrelevance of all that, but she wouldn’t have that, either.

Instead she leaned on her stick like a pole vault and narrowed her eyes. The next mile went by in 35 minutes, and the next in 40. Antje was dripping sweat, and luckily we’d reached an obligatory stopping point, Mackay Falls.

An aside: As the story goes, two men, whose surnames were Mackay and Sutherland, had taken this same route from the other direction. Coming upon this waterfall, the most beautiful waterfall either had seen, they, being males, naturally wanted their surname attached to it. A coin was flipped. Mackay won. A short while later they reached the 5th-highest waterfall in the world – the one we’d seen the day before – now called “Sutherland Falls.”

While I climbed inside a feature called “Bell Rock,” Antje stayed outside and took 600mg of ibuprofen. When I came out, the Biologist and friends asked how she was doing. We said “Alright,” which wasn’t true.

It was 2 more miles to Poseidon creek, and it took an hour fifteen. The trail had gone from flat to moguls, and wasn’t as well maintained. Anything resembling a stair was either torturously slow or painful for Antje, and her knee, if it was possible, was locking up even more.

At some point the only other family in the group overtook us. They were a focused family, one who often sent their teenaged son ahead in the last section of each stage to secure good bunks. They’d been quiet the whole trip, so we’d never spoken, but now they stopped to ask about Antje.

“It’s my knee,” Antje explained. The father nodded, knowing the injury. He offered one of their hiking poles, and his daughter immediately offered up a second.

It was incredibly nice of them, and the poles were a HUUUUUUGE help. Antje had a much easier time with bigger rocks, and, on the flat stretches, we made better time.

Still, we were annoyed how long it was taking to get from Poseidon Creek to an area called “Rock Cutting.” It was supposed to take an hour, and we’d been going an hour twenty when we finally saw it. It’s at an area where the lake bottlenecks, and the trail, by default, has to go through granite. With dynamite and chisels, a few guys hacked a path out and tagged it with their names in 1899.

Just before that point we’d caught up with a middle-aged guy who called our attention to the water. “Right there,” he whispered, “see it?” We saw nothing. “Just went behind the bushes there. Trout. Let’s see if he comes out again.”

We stood there, waiting for the trout to come out again, and this was a complicated situation. Because there was almost nothing on earth at that moment as irrelevant as a trout beneath a bush. Whether it came out of the bush or stayed in the bush for the rest of its life was of no concern to us at that moment, and yet somehow I could not find the words which would exempt us from watching trout. And so we waited, and waited, and waited – for a trout that never came.

Halfway up the “Rock Cutting,” I looked down, saw another trout, and before I could think, said, “Look, there’s another one.” Why did I do that? I have no idea why I did that. It was like the burp that came out at Mt. Cook, and the result was of course that we all had to stand there, looking at the trout. “Where is it?” Antje asked. Why did she ask that? The guy pointed one of his fingers at it. “There, by the shore. See it? Over by the log, almost at the log.” She saw it, and we stood there, just standing and looking at another trout. I willed the trout under the log, but defiantly he stayed in the sunlight, flapping about without a care, laziness incarnate. Stupid bastard. Enough was enough, and we said goodbye to troutman. When he overtook us just after the top, I asked if he’d seen the engravings on the wall. He hadn’t, and went back to find them, guaranteeing us at least fifteen minutes with no trouts.

I speed-walked ahead, dropped the pack, sliced up our final apple, scooped our the last of our peanut butter, and readied myself to pass them to Antje, relay-style. Instead she stopped to eat, in accordance with German tradition.

15 minutes later came Giant’s Gate, the last waterfall of the trek. The hole beneath the falls is so sparkling blue and deep that it really is a compulsory swim. Having cleaned up lunch, I’d just caught Antje, and asked if she wanted to swim. She shook her head, eyes forward. “You can catch up to me,” she said. We had three miles left (5km), which, if we kept the same pace, would take an hour fourty-five. The ferry left in two. I dove in as fast as possible, and, as we’d run out of water by that point, filled our bottles with waterfall.

When I caught her, she was miserable. 9 miles isn’t too terribly much, but when you do it without stopping, without really drinking, without really eating, and with a stiffened leg, it’s very, very hard.

With 2 1/2 miles left, we caught, to our amazement, the Bushwalkers. But then again, they were observers, and Stone Cold had also had problems with his knee. He had his own advice. “If it hurts, just bloody walk through it.” Antje was doing just that. I said I was happy we hadn’t had a drop of rain the whole time [the region gets 7m (22 feet) per year], even though ranger Katie had said we’d be missing some beautiful waterfalls without it. He agreed with me. “Last time we did it, it rained one day and you just put your head down and go. Don’t see a bloody thing.”

The Koreans caught up, having stopped somewhere for lunch, and asked if we were OK. “Yeah, we’re almost there,” Antje tried. The family that’d lent the walking sticks walked by, and asked how she was doing. “Good, thank you so much for the walking sticks. I wouldn’t have made it without them!”

By that point something of a 500m-long “group” had formed, with about a dozen people between us. For the first time that day, it looked like we’d make the 2:00 boat. That said, we had two miles left, and, with no waterfalls or rivers or anything else to distract us, they went on and on and on and on and on.

A portable day-hut passed by, and suddenly we were worried. Our notes read “1 hr” from that point, which would have put us there at 2:05, or even 2:10.

But something was wrong with those notes, and way before we expected, Sandlfly Point came into view. “Is that it?” Antje asked. I thought it was. “Is that it?” People were milling about. “Yes, that’s it.” “But is that really the end? I don’t want to think that’s it, and then…”

It was the end.

Antje broke down, then, having kicked a week’s worth of ass in half a day. We shuffled our way into the day-hut and got congratulations from Green Day and his girlfriend. Antje took her boots off, having taken her final steps in them. She had five new blisters (on top of all the others), one of which was gigantic and pus-filled and looked like the picture you might see next to the definition of “blister”. Her 16-year-old boots were officially retired.

“For sale: Hiking boots, never worn (without blisters)”

The families were there, the Koreans were there, the Germans were there, too. The Swedes showed up at the very last second, and the Israelis never made it.

Before going to bed the night before, a woman asked them when they’d be getting up. Generally they woke up waaaaaay later than everyone else, and the whittling Israeli looked back at her, genuinely confused. “How will I know this now?” Well, hopefully they caught the 3 o’clock.

The 2 o’clock had pulled in, and I loaded our bags onto it.

Antje hobbled toward the Milford Sound, and, with all of her clothes on, went in.

The End


Tags: ,

7 Responses to “Milford Sound Track #4”

  1. From Mom:

    Poor Antje! This was painful just to read–

    Posted on January 13, 2012 at 15:17 #
  2. From Esther:

    omg, you poor, poor thing, antje!!! how are you now? I am sure I would’ve cried. like a baby.

    Posted on January 13, 2012 at 15:25 #
  3. From Antje:

    Everything is allright. Was not sure if I should let Conor write this article :)
    Ps I need new hiking boots

    Posted on January 13, 2012 at 20:20 #
  4. From Roxy:

    Oh god, Antje, you’re a champ.

    Posted on January 13, 2012 at 20:58 #
  5. From Fenke:

    sounds like you’re marriage has been really put to the test… will conor be supportive? will he be annoyed? will antje make it? will she shout at conor (and everyone else) just out of exhaustion? i know i would have.

    extreme situations call for fish watching.

    ps: did you actually stop to watch a fish appear?

    Posted on January 14, 2012 at 19:33 #
  6. From Eva:

    Oh Antje, I’m so sorry.

    Posted on January 14, 2012 at 23:29 #
  7. From Shan:

    I actually almost started crying (really, I had to stop myself) when I realized you had made it. Having had IT band problems myself, I could FEEL the pain in my knee. Are you sure it’s that and not meniscus if it keeps locking? I haven’t looked forward to see how it’s been.

    Posted on January 18, 2012 at 23:25 #