Winter Solace

Ah, June. A great month. Possibly even the best one. Ok, so, I’m a bit biased seeing as it’s also my birth month.. but, you have to agree, it is pretty good! It is usually a time when I’m loving the scent of lilacs blooming, longer days and late spring temperatures (warmer, but not too hot yet). My birthday is not long before the summer solstice, usually. But, here in the southern hemisphere, I will experience it for the first time nearing the winter one. Strangely, that seems more fitting for this snow-loving, mountain girl. Although, I would really love central heating for these below-zero nights and mornings!

Winter is a time when most people seek to stay indoors. Solitude seems to come naturally with this season.  But, I love winter. There is a calm and stillness to it. Maybe that’s why solitude is the perfect match for it; a chance for your own stillness and introspection. Plus, when you do meet people out on these wintry days, you generally get along since you are pretty much guaranteed they are your kind of people.

Wanaka has been a little winter wonderland for me. Walking around my neighbourhood and the lake has been spectacular, in any weather.

This is the view at the end of my street. Not too shabby.

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Exploring the surrounding mountains has been especially wonderful. There’s every type of hike you can want around here and I’ve only had a chance to scratch the surface!

Into the Clouds

Climbing up Roy’s Peak was a really good physical challenge. Steep, long and covered in snow. Oh, and the down was brutal on the joints. I had heard the views were incredible from up there. On a clear day. Once I reached the top, I was right in the clouds. They were moving enough to give me hope that, with patience, clear views were coming! So, I waited. And waited. It was getting quite cold up there sitting still but I was going to wait as long as I possibly could since there was absolutely no way I was doing this hike again another day.

Finally, I had to head down. It was just one of those days where the clouds were going to stay right at the same height as the peak I had chosen to climb. We were teased with the hint of jagged mountains below in the distance and through the fog. But, even though there were moments of clear sky right over me, the clouds around never lifted quite enough to enjoy full panoramic views.  I really can’t complain, though, what we could see was still pretty incredible.

 

Rocky Mountain High

The other route I chose wasn’t as much a physical challenge as a mental one, for me. As I climbed, the trail narrowed and soon, due to the sheer ice formed during the chill overnight, the only usable portion of the path was very narrow on the exposed side of the hill. I went to brace myself on the rock but its face was all ice as well and my hand kept slipping.

Feeling the rush coming up into my throat, I had become disoriented and slightly dizzy… (Yup, I get vertigo on exposed routes. Something that has made hiking alone a bit more interesting.) I crouched down, got my hands on solid ground and sat on the side of the trail. Near tears at this point, breathing erratically – almost hyperventilating, I was oh so very ready to turn around. But, I was able to steady myself and before long, I was intensely focused on just the patch of solid ground where I’d take my next step.

When I reached a larger section of trail, I released a heavy exhale. Without noticing, I had held my breath for that entire section. My heart was racing still. But, I had done it. Not the greatest hiking achievement, by any means. But, for me, to overcome the rising anxiety by myself was a personal triumph. At the top, I sat and enjoyed the 360 view as if it was the best ever (and it was pretty damn glorious). Rocky Mountain is only half the elevation, but it provided a high not attainable on Roy’s Peak (it’s the one on the far right in the first photo below).

Second Prize is Pretty Good Here

Since my legs were now well worn out, I decided to do a longer drive and a shorter hike to overlook the Rob Roy Glacier. From locals, I heard it was not to be missed. As I’ve become accustomed to, the road turned to gravel quickly as I drove into Mt Aspiring National Park. But, this time, when I reached the signs for the ‘backcountry’ portion, I had to take pause. They talked about 9 fords (water crossings on the road) over the next 10 kms. They recommend that vehicles with low clearance not even attempt it.

I figured this was just an overly cautious warning and I’d probably be ok, as I had been before. However, making my way through the first ford, I could hear rocks hitting the bottom of the car or the frame. Hmmm… maybe they aren’t exaggerating. I didn’t want to risk puncturing anything or getting stuck. So, I turned around. I was a bit sad to be missing out on the glacier, but travelling alone (without cell reception at this point) has meant being just a bit more cautious and turning around before you’re really ready to.

The views at the turn around location were a pretty good consolation prize, though. I wish all second choices were this good!

Plus, the wildlife I got to see on my way out was pretty good too. At one point, a large herd of sheep was headed straight for my car in full running stride. Have you ever seen sheep run at you? It’s actually quite comical, like they’re afraid both of what’s behind and in front of them!

Even with a few moments of high anxiety this week, I have found solace in Wanaka; a chance to breathe easy and really take it in. My short time here has felt very long. Not out of boredom, but from a sense of being home.

Wanaka, I won’t soon forget you.

 

 

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