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The Routeburn Track
Day 2 - To Harris Pass and back to Trailhead
Friday, February 26
Our plan for a there-and-back dayhike to Harris Pass required a really early start, especially given the narrow weather window that we were hoping to hit. I had set my alarm for 4 a.m., but I was awakened before that by a bright light shining through the skylight window above me. An egg-shaped waning gibbous moon shone down from above. The moon - that meant a break in the clouds, and obviously some sort of clearing! I had a hard time getting back to sleep - I was anxious to get started and make the most of this break in the weather. Who knows how long it would last?
Morning Moonglow
Moving about as gingerly as we could, we ate our breakfast and packed our packs. Stepping outside, I was happy to see that it wasn't raining, and that the clouds above still showed the occasional break. I set up my camera on a tripod at the edge of Routeburn Flats to try and capture the ghostly scene.

We managed to set off at nice, early time - a few minutes before 6 a.m. It was still dark - especially so down here in the dense beech forest - and we needed our headlamps to light the way.

We walked back along the short spur trail to the Routeburn Track, turning right to head up towards Routeburn Falls. The track, still wide and smooth, led up through the forest on a moderate grade. We could hear a strong wind in the air above, and off to our right, the sudden snap and crash of a broken branch. However, in the dense trees alongside the trail, the air was fairly calm. The uphill grade and the damp air had us sweating in no time
Twilight At Falls Hut
We kept up a determined pace, and around the forty-minute mark, we saw shapes and lights of the Routeburn Falls complex in the [thinning] trees around us. The Routeburn Falls hut itself was a much larger, much more modern building than the Flats Hut. We stopped for a bathroom break and a quick picture off of the deck.

Unbeknownst to us, Caroline and Jenn had not stopped at the hut and had continued climbing up the trail. When we at the Falls Hut attempted to start off again, they were nowhere in sight. Some hurried scouting both up and down the trail wasted us some time before we re-established contact.
Left Branch
The dawn light very gradually lit up the landscape as we climbed above the Routeburn Flats Hut. Immediately the trail became slabby, rocky and more open. The many-fingered cascades of Routeburn Falls roared off to our right. Climbing above the falls, we emerged into the open moorland of the Left Branch of the Routeburn River. The occasional shower briefly swept by, and combined with the open terrain's wind, we decided to put on our wind and waterproof layers. Overall though, the weather was turning out about as best as could be expected: we could see the landscape, and it was for the most part not raining.
Left Branch
Good Trailwork
Damp but manageable
The Routeburn Track angled up at a gentle to moderate pace through the alpine valley, surrounded by rugged, turf-sided peaks. It all had a very scottish highlands sort of feel, quite unlike the more alps-like feel we had recently experienced in the Matukituki Valley.
Changing Light
Climb to Lake Harris
Lake Harris
Down the Left Branch
Left Branch, Routeburn River
We continued at a solid pace as the grade steepened towards the highpoint at Lake Harris. Overall, we were not finding the elevation gain on this hike all that difficult, even though we were just about to reach the Routeburn Track's highpoint.

The cold, steel-blue waters of Lake Harris came into view as we ascended. Nestled in a high bowl right on the divide of the Serpentine Range, it is one of the scenic highlights of the Routeburn Track.
courtesy PChen
Routeburn Panorama
Reaching the highpoint of the track above Lake Harris, we continued west as the track traversed high above the water.
Traverse above the lake
Lake Harris Traverse
Harris Saddle
Once past Lake Harris, the Routeburn Track began to descend towards Harris Saddle, and soon the outline of the Harris Saddle shelter buildings came into view. Beyond Harris saddle was the Hollyford River Valley and Fjordlands National Park. The next valley over was also one more increment to the west, toward the windward side of the ranges. Unsuprisingly, then, the clouds looked thicker and the views more obscured in that direction.

Looking back east, though, revealed something much different and more hopeful: breaks in the cloud and patches of bright light. Occasionally, a bright ray of sun found its way through, illuminating a sliver of landscape. Hopefully we'd get more of this during our hike.
courtesy BConnell
Dramatic Traverse
Harris Pass Shelters
Morning Glory
courtesy JInnes
courtesy JInnes
Rents in the sky
Battling the elements
We took our first real rest and food break inside the Harris Saddle Shelter, where we began to plan our next move. We had achieved the hike to Harris Saddle in good time, arriving at 8 a.m. We now had the time to pursue an optional extension to our hike, up to the top of a small peak just to the north of the saddle, called Conical Peak. It would mean an additional thousand feet (300m) of elevation and probably roughly an extra 90 minutes of time.

Brian, Andy, Pu and myself were up for Conical Peak. Jenn and Caroline chose to skip it, and decided to head back towards the Routeburn Flats hut ahead of us, where we would all later meet up.
Beginning Conical Ascent
Wanting to summit the peak while we still had our dry weather window, we promptly headed out to begin our ascent of the Conical Peak Track, which led directly from the steps of the Harris Saddle Shelter. Only a few metres of distance passed before the track turned uphill and began a back and forth ascent up the slopes of Conical Peak.
Tiny Silhouettes
Conical Peak Track
Winding Routeburn
The lower part of the Conical Peak Track was through grassy terrain, but as we neared the mid-point of the ascent, it became more rock and open slab, marked with the occasional steel pole. The climbing was never exposed nor was it ever a real scramble, although in one or two spots you had to use your hand for a moment.
Harris Saddle
The views down towards Harris Saddle and Lake Harris became more spectacular as we ascended. Fortunately for us, the cloud deck stayed high enough for us to have unobstructed views in this direction for most of the climb.

Forty-five minutes of steep hiking brought us to the 5000-foot high summit of Conical Peak. The summit view would have been much more spectacular without the thick cover of clouds to the west, south, and north - but again, to the east, it was still quite decent.
Mystical Mountain Fairy
Line of Harris Traverse
Sun reaches valley floor
Andy on Conical Peak
Routeburn Track
Brian, Conical Peak
The limited views and a chill wind soon encouraged us off of the summit, and we began our descent back to Harris Saddle. We arrived back at the saddle's shelters shortly before 9:30 a.m., where we took another short break. There were now a number of other Track hikers present (early in the morning we had seen no one).
courtesy PChen
Starting descent
Saddle and Shelters
Back past Lake Harris
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[ Return to New Zealand Home page | Intro | Hobbiton | Home Base North | Hawke's Bay Cycle Tour | The Taupo Area | Waitomo Glowworm Caves | The Rotorua Area | Tongariro Alpine Crossing | The Great Lake Ride | The Capital - Wellington | Crossing the Cook Strait | Tasman Great Taste Ride | Rain Day in Nelson | Abel Tasman Kayak and Hike | The Great South Drive | Aspiring National Park Backpack | Queenstown | The Routeburn Track | Epilogue | The "Short Report" | GPS Data ]


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