A Good Walk, Spoiled (Sort Of)

Milford 068 We set off on our Milford Track hike with great expectations. I had done the hike eighteen years ago, and remembered it as being pretty easy. Well, when we attended our briefing, the distances seem to grown over the years, and we faced three days of hiking, with distances of 10 miles, 9 miles over a 4,000 foot pass and back down, and 13 miles over rocky terrain. The good news was that the weather forecast was promising. The bad news was that, because of avalanche risk, the descent of the pass would have to be on the super-steep emergency trail, and there’d be no chance to see the Sutherland Falls (the fifth highest waterfall in the world).

Milford 033 We drove to Te Anau, and got on the one-hour boat to the trailhead, with all of our hiking stuff in our four backpacks. Then we hiked a very short mile into Glade Lodge, where we were able to explore the surroundings. Sterling even jumped in the Clinton (not Hillary, thankfully) River for a swim. And we hung out with another dad and his eleven-year-old son who, along with his wife and other child, were spending a full year in New Zealand but were from Arlington, Virginia. I also looked at the log book from 1989, and found my entry (as well as Mike and Tom Hill’s, two people I met from Boston on that trip and went on to become good friends with).

Milford 064 We set off at 8:30 a.m. the next morning, geared up for the first phase of our hike. I had carefully made sure to bring my pack, my camera, my binoculars, and . . . my painful heel injury from last summer! While in Jamestown, Rhode Island, last summer, I hurt my left heel and had to drop all athletic activities for almost a month, and made several visits to my foot doctor, including a cortisoneMilford 085 shot. Well, my left heel had been fine all fall, but about half-way through the hike, I was hurting. Every step on my left leg felt like I was walking on a knife — not a machete, mind you, but at least the biggest blade of a Swiss Army Knife. I made it into the lodge that night, but couldn’t walk particularly well. I iced it all evening, and decided to see how it felt in the morning.

Milford 294 I’m sure a painful left heel colored my view of the hike, but I’m not sure any of us would have been having a great time even if my foot had been perfect. The Milford Track hike is a great hike through some of the most gorgeous territory imaginable, but the experience doesn’t feel like you’re in nature. We had so much distance to cover, and a tight schedule, that there wasn’t time for exploring a river bank, following a bird, looking for a gecko, or even pausing for a great photo. And if day one was in somewhat unsatisfying, the other days would have been that much more difficult, in many respects.

Milford 120 When I woke up the next morning, I had a hard time walking to the bathroom — not a great sign prior to the hardest day on the track. We spoke with the guides (who were terrific!) who described a second option. Take the supply helicopter to Milford (a ten minute helicopter ride, but eliminating 16 hours of hiking!). Well, that helicopter option worked for us, we got some great views, waved to the hikers, and completed the track in record time :-) . Given that my heel still hurts two days later, I’m glad I took the “easy way out,” even though I hated to pack it in.

Milford 186 We explored the Milford Sound area for a couple of hours, with a nice leisurely hike along the Sound. Then, we took a helicopter back to Queenstown, stopping for lunch on the top of Mount Humboldt. The views were spectacular, and the kids took advantage of the snow to get in some fabulous summer “sledding” (see sledding videos of Gibson and Sterling), which was great preparation for our return to North America for Christmas. After returning Milford 245 to Queenstown, we strolled around the downtown area, concluding a great day. So our Milford Sound experience wasn’t what we expected, but ended up working out terrifically for us. We got to experience what the hike is like, got some great views of the area, and didn’t come out of it unable to walk for the next six months — a pretty good outcome all around.

Feel free to look at my photos from Milford. It’s a big collection, but then the area is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever limped through in my life.

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