The Five Passes route in Mount Aspiring National Park is one of New Zealand’s classic wilderness tramping routes – around 67 km of rugged and demanding terrain, with no huts or facilities, and much of the route unmarked. For a number of reasons we’d never quite regarded it as being within our reach, well, not until some friends invited us to join them in walking it. Somewhat daunted, we set dates in the beginning of February, invited another family member, and began to train in earnest.
All went well until January, when an email arrived telling us that our friends would be forced to pull out after one of them had seriously injured his shoulder in a mountain biking accident. Should we go ahead with just the three of us? We were too invested in the idea by this stage, so we decided to go, confident in our gear, fitness and the backup that comes from carrying a personal locator beacon.
The other wild card was the weather; by February, New Zealand summers generally settle into a steady procession of anticyclones that bring long periods of stable, dry weather. But this had been an atrocious summer, and the western South Island in particular had been battered by a seemingly endless procession of deep lows and gnarly fronts, producing torrential downpours and winds to gale-force or beyond. With the rainfall at Milford Sound, a few tens of kilometres to the west, totaling a massive 1377 mm in January, we began to scan the topo maps for other options in the drier country to the east. However, the long-term climate projections for our week at last predicted some more settled weather – we decided to chance it. Continue reading