Zen On Dirt

Ride to hikes: Lunch in high places

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We had a master plan: Ride from the car park were we were camped to the Mt Aspiring Hut, which is privately run, ditch bikes in the bush, hike up to Liverpool hut, a gorgeous red hut high in the mountains, spend the night, and reverse the steps the day after.

What is it they say about plans? The weather has the last laugh?

After packing up camp, we set off down the trail after two other mountain bikers. It was apparent pretty soon after leaving camp that we were in for a special ride. Mountains rose up dramatically on either side of the valley, and we kept waiting for a glimpse of Mt Aspiring, which we knew was up near the head of it.

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Progress was slow, but we have a lot of pictures to show for it.

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There was even some hike-a-bike, something that we haven’t had to do a whole lot of. We caught the other mountain bikers just shy of the hut. The woman had been a hut ranger there in the past and they were going up for a ride to hike. They also told us that the weather was supposed to go to shit the day after.

Really? At our last weather check, we had seen a day of rain somewhere in the future, but we hadn’t really internalized what day it was going to be.

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Sitting at the hut, we made a quick and immediate change of plans. We’ve gotten really lucky with weather in the past month, and we didn’t want to make pour decisions that would change our view of New Zealand weather from ‘It’s not that bad.’ Instead of an overnight, hike to the hut with light packs, have lunch, and reverse the whole damn thing in a day. That way, we’d only have to do the 30 mile ride back to Wanaka in cruddy weather, not a whole hike out, trail ride out, and then 30 mile gravel and paved road ride.

Plus hiking with light packs is way better than heavy ones.

The trail itself, once it veered from the valley floor, became an exercise in root climbing, I’m pretty sure that more steps had at least one hand on the ground or grasping a well placed root than not. It was ridiculously steep, and awesome and entertaining. We definitely didn’t want to be coming down this in the rain.

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After nearly 1,300 feet up, we broke thru bush line and gasped. The mountains here are beautiful.

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We had to descend down to the hut for lunch where we shared conversation with a French and Belgian couple who’d quit their jobs a year and a half ago and were hiking and hitchhiking around the world.

Even with spending time in the Alps in Europe and time down in South America, they were impressed with the magnitude of these mountains. They had food for three days in case the weather really went to shit.

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We ate, filled up on water, and started back. We would have loved to sleep up there, but lunch was a happy substitute.

The descent was far less sketchy than I thought it would be. Still, three points of contact were used for much of it.

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Root climbing. It’s all the rage right now.

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From the bottom, it was a quick jump across yet another sketchy swing bridge and hop down the valley to the Aspiring Hut where our bikes waited.

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The incoming storm was creating increasing winds and we were looking forward to surfing the tailwinds all the way back to the car park.

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They didn’t disappoint. In fact, they were strong enough that we halfway contemplated riding even farther down the road towards Wanaka, but in the end, we were worked, hungry, and ready to go horizontal.

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It had been an absolutely spectacular day in the mountains, and we had no intention of finishing it off with a slog.

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Instead, we set the tent up under the shelter, somewhat out of the wind, and passed out, wondering what the morning would bring.

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