Routeburn-Caples Track • New Zealand • February 2003

Not long after our climb of Talbot a monster storm overran the South Island, leaving over a meter of new snow up high and mountain routes clearly out of condition for anything except distant viewing. With all climbing plans on hold we decided to do one of New Zealands famous "Great Walks". The Milford is perhaps the best known, but requires reservations for the huts–reservations that must be made months in advance. So the next logical choice was the Routeburn, one of the highest tracks, and also one that can be done quickly.

Guided groups often take 3 to 4 days for the track, which starts near Glenorchy (not far from Queenstown) and ends rather near the Homer Tunnel on the way to Milford Sound. We did not want to spend that long on the hike, so we simply decided to do it quicker. We thought a day was adequate. Since we lacked any hut reservations. A one-day walk sloved this issue, also. One of the problems of the Routeburn is that you end up far from your car. One can either spend a long day (or two) on buses getting back to the start point, or hike back on either the Caples or Greenstone Tracks. We thought "well, if we can do the Routeburn in a day, we can do the Caples also in a day." One day out and another day back and we have it covered.

The upshot was two very tired hikers. Each of these hikes is about 35 km. One in one day is not too bad, but two in two days is rather hard on the feet. But they certainly were beautiful, as I hope the photos below show.

Other Recent Trips

The Track starts in the lowlands on the Route Burn river.


As we climb a bit higher we come to the Routeburn Flats, a large meadow, just catching the early morning light.


Frosted grass in the meadow.


Higher, we climb up towards the Falls hut.


The hut—the normal stopping place for the first night. We arrived at about 9 am, just ahead of when folks were packing up to leave.


Not far above the hut, at about 1000 meters, we ran into the snow of the previous days' storms. For better or for worse we pulled ahead of everyone else in the hut, and had to break trail in a few places where small avalanches had covered the tracks of descending trampers from the previous evening. Here we are looking east.


Grass in the new snow.


Black Lake, not far below Harris Saddle.


Small tarns at the Saddle. Here we are looking west, towards the Darrans. Sabre, which we climbed a week or two later, is the second of the dark rock towers left of the highest looking summit.


The view accross the Hollyford Valley. Mount Tutoko, the highest peak in the Darrans, behind.


Later in the day we descend to the Lake Mackenzie hut.


Looking up toward Emily's Pass from Lake Mackenzie.


Earland Falls.


Lake Howden, some 35 km from the start of the Routeburn.


At this point we are at the upper junction of the Caples and Greenstone tracks. For some crazy reason, with minds is a haze and not thinking clearly, we decided to climb up over the McKeller Saddle to descend the Caples Valley, instead of hiking down the gentler and easier Greenstone track.


Finally, we arrive at McKeller Saddle where we spent our first night. I don't know how far we walked this day, but our feet sure hurt! Kathy is either checking the map or doing a NY Times crossword puzzle.


On day two, we again descend down into the woods. The hike out the Caples valley got easier and more pleasant, as we grew more and more tired.


Caples river and adjacent woods.


Grass in the fields near the Upper Caples hut.


The Caples River. This high clouds of the next storm begin to appear.


So, to make a long story short, we managed to get to the Greenstone-Caples carpark by 1:00, just in time to catch the boat across the lake and back to Glenorchy. Not to be stopped, we hitched a ride back to our car at the start of the Routeburn Track, hopped in and drove back to Wanaka, all of this on our second day, after already hiking some 25 km down the Caples Valley. Here, we look back up the lake towards Glenorchy, watching the clouds of the storm move in over Mount Earnslaw.


Driving back over the Crown Range on the way to Wanaka. Here we are looking west back towards Queenstown, which is at the back of the photo on the edge of the lake. The Remarkables rise to the left.

All images, layout and text ©2003 Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides, All Rights Reserved