Today on the Kepler has just been fantastic, quite the day.

First thing, you are looking down on the main body of Lake Te Anau, more immediately the South Fiord, and the chunky mountains on the other side. Quite some amount of snow still, you look at the south side of the Murchison mountains, that’ll be just looking totally picturesque with the white stuff for quite some time.

Just as an aside, these huge huts leave me cold, the two I’ll encounter today are both 50 bunkers, huge soulless living areas, big cold bunk rooms, and at the start of the day, a busybody hut warden, limited social skills if you ask me, she says she’s just doing her job but I don’t think her job description goes as far as verging on harassment. Credibility would be higher had she indeed walked the track herself. I reminisce, to myself, this is not verbally expressed, exactly one week ago I was up at the Minchin Bivvy in Arthurs Pass National Pass, just about the complete opposite in situation. Then, tiny leaky bivvy, no track, no toilet and no close companionship. Here there is a fully benched, manicured track, huge huts, inside toilets, flush toilets currently not functional due to the winter freezing issue still, err, an issue.

Plenty of climbing today, not long until snow was encountered, early on it wasn’t so bad, plenty crunchy, but with a mainly sunny day and a warmish wind whistling in, as the day progressed the snow got deeper and slushier. The funniest moment was heading up over a high point and seeing a clear stretch of snow on the downhill, progressing almost to the bottom before falling over, and almost unable to right myself from horizontal, hands and knees just pushing 600 mm into the snow. Eventually I managed to roll down the slope to a more solid patch.

Climbed Mount Luxmore, 1472 m, the highest point of the day, actually the whole Kepler, and sat up there for a good while contemplating life, the future, and, over there, Te Anau 1200 m below and I guess that’s the Murchison Mountains.

The day was somewhat of a plod, the snow knee deep often enough, thigh deep when I lost the trail, maybe half just at ankle depth. Tiring stuff when it’s so sludgy, always easier when you can stay on a hard surface on the top.

There’s a couple of narrow ridges, can’t call them knife edges, but the huge winds caused some consternation, with a particularly strong gust you get low to the ground and act like a limpet, apparently light physiques have been blown over the edge. Then you look back and can see that benched trail clearly, actually both directions and it just doesn’t seem so far for all the time and energy expended.

Lively in the shelter with the wind, feeling like any moment I’ll end up in Kansas. Then another narrow ridge and the snow is more or less gone at around 1100 m, from there you’re on the switchback that drops 650m to the hut.

One young guy, Chris, had left early to jump the Iris Burn Hut, a big day for him with the snow, but in the morning his footsteps were a couple of inches into the snow, not the smash-right-through of those going along later.

Then I was caught up with by yesterday’s ill equipped party, three guys, 25, cotton clothing, runners, not exactly the appropriate gear for tramping through deep, wet snow, but they were a French Canadian and a Scot, fairly accustomed to inclement weather although not perhaps to the enormously changeable New Zealand style, this island climate, where you can go from blue skies to rain pelting in 20 minutes later. They had not been dissuaded by the stroppy hut warden, and therefore had one of the best day’s of their New Zealand experience, out here in all this spring glory, with that ridiculously expansive view of snowy mountains disappearing into the horizon.

I’d initially envisaged that I’d have the night to myself at Iris Burn, who would have guessed there are 15 DOC workers stationed here for a few days, three large red beech trees had fallen, one onto the hut itself, some replacement roofing had been installed, two years of firewood chopped up. I guess the team don’t know each other so well, it’s strangely silent as they chomped dinner, conversation stilted as people prefer to look at their iPads, or just not talk to the loopies.

So, not on my lonesome, I’m catching up on the socialisation missed out on in Arthurs Pass where I had 13 of the 14 nights by myself.

Somehow I don’t think I could easily cope with these 50 bunk huts at capacity.

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