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The West Matukituki Valley had led straight west when we had started hiking. About halfway along on the trek to the Aspiring Hut, the valley makes a fairly sharp turn to the north. We were at this point now, and I knew that upon reaching this curve, we would begin to see the head of the valley, and - more importantly - our quarry: Mt Barff.
Brushstrokes in the sky
Leon's Bridge
Around the corner
Inch by inch, Mt Barff slid into view. It was definitely more impressive and attractive than the view of Plunket Dome and Mt Liverpool, the two peaks constantly in view along the western-trending part of the valley. The glacier on its south face looked fairly crevassed and active, the twin summit crags bare and rocky.

I thought I sensed a bit of anxiety from the group as we drank in our first view of Barff. It was billed as a moderate peak and an easy mountaineering objective (one of the main reasons I chose it), but it did look like more than a simple walk-up, and there were a lot of crevasses that needed to be negotiated. However, this was not the time to be thinking of the summit. Our current objective was simply to complete the easy walk to the Aspiring Hut.
Mt Barff now in sight
Mt Barff
Wilderness Boundary
Shortly after noon we came to the edge of the Mt Aspiring Conservation Area. Beyond this point we were in a wilderness zone, and after crossing a livestock fence, the character of the valley floor instantly changed. Instead of short grasses and the occasional cowpie, the fields were thick with thigh-high plants: flowers, small shrubs and grasses flourished.
courtesy PChen
Natural Valley Vegetation
Old Riverbank
Grand Old Beech
The West Matukituki Track and the old farm / hut access road sometimes diverged. Where they did, the park service had placed poles topped with an obvious orange sheath to mark the way. These sections, especially the ones within the wilderness area, provided the best sense of a solitary hike in an untouched mountain valley.
Nearing Aspiring Hut
Another solitary beech
Valley Head in sight
The final few kilometres to the Aspiring Hut were even prettier, more supernaturally scenic than what had come before. Pu put it well as he hiked along, mesmerized by the sights: every turn revealed something a bit more beautiful than before. And when you thought, that's it, it couldn't get any better... well, it did. This was one supremely beautiful place. Everything in just the right proportion, everything harmonious. It was like natural Feng Shui.
Pu is mesmerized
Shortly before 1pm, we caught sight of the gray roof of the Aspiring Hut, and shortly thereafter, its sturdy stone walls. Seeing as the weather was fantastic, we pulled up just short of the hut and decided to take a nice long break - our lunch break, in the shade of a stately beech tree.

It had taken us about two and half hours to walk the 9 kilometres from the carpark to the Aspiring Hut - and that included our nearly nonstop picture-taking stops. We were over halfway to the Liverpool Hut now (distance-wise), and it seemed like we'd have no problem completing the remaining 7 kilometres and 1900 feet of elevation up to it.
Approaching Aspiring Hut
Lunch at Aspiring Hut
Barff from Aspiring Hut
I had a closer look at the summit of Mount Barff as we munched our lunch in the shade. There were indeed many crevasses on Barff's south glacier, but as I looked at it, I could trace a clear path up through most of the obstacles. The only spot that looked potentially blocking was the bergschrund. It seemed to cut across nearly the entire upper summit, and I couldn't quite make out if some little corner or ramp around its right edge might be passable.

We hit the trail again shortly after 1:30pm, crossing the mowed lawns around the Aspiring Hut and continuing up-valley along the West Matukituki Track. Just beyond the Hut's designated tent area, the trail plunged into forest.
Secondary Boundary
On most of my mountain hikes in eastern North America, trails start off in the forest and remain there until one nears the summit. Here in the Matukituki Valley, it had taken us nine kilometres of open hiking before reaching a single meter of forest trail. So, I didn't mind a bit of forest walking at all in this case. Variety is the spice of life, no?
Native Southern Forest
The trail undulated through the forest - a forest also unlike anything back home. It was almost entirely composed of southern hemisphere beech species. As near as I could tell, it was a mix of Silver and Mountain beech, with an understory of smaller plants and ferns. The large lush tree ferns from lands further north were not present here. This forest did not have a "jungle-y" feel to it.

After crossing a suspension footbridge over a rushing mountain creek, the trail emerged onto another stretch of open valley meadow. Visibily gaining altitude now, we climbed up this meadow and into another stretch of beech forest, and across another mountain stream (on another high suspension bridge).
courtesy PChen
Cascade Creek
Glengyle Peak
Another Downvalley View
Mixed forest and meadows
Is there a route?
Rough Creek Bridge
Beyond the second suspension bridge, the trail switchbacked steeply up through forest and then undulated over flatter ground. The dense forest began to gradually thin out, and soon we emerged at the edge of another beautiful stretch of open valley meadow. This open meadow, known as Shovel Flat, was entirely enclosed by forest and had a more intimate feel.
courtesy BConnell
Rough Creek Bridge
Forest switchback
Mature Beech Forest
Shovel Flat provided some new views: we could now see the pyramidal shape of Mt Aspiring itself, the highest peak (at nearly 10,000 feet high) of the entire park. We could also see that we were nearing the upper end of the Matukituki Valley, where the valley bottom started to rise upwards towards a pass.
Nearing Shovel Flat
First view of Mt Aspiring
Shovel Flat
courtesy PChen
Fantastic Falls
Untouched by livestock
Glacial Melt
The walk across Shovel Flat was, once again, exceedingly beautiful. There were several impressive waterfalls visible on the valleys walls here, and while we didn't have the time to stop and examine them today, we hoped to do so on our return hike.
Grassy Track
From Peak to Valley
Sturdy Bridge
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