Gertrude Saddle – tramping in clouds 

Gertrude Saddle route is 7km return. 7kms is a piece of cake, even for two slightly out of shape twentysomethings like us. According to the Department of Conservation the track is considered difficult and for expert trampers only. All we read was “blah blah beautiful views, blah blah glacial valley”, and accepted the challenge. The DOC also reckons it’s a 4-6 hour return trip, which suited us perfectly because it was a beautiful sunny day and we had all the time in the world. Casper rested quietly as we geared up. Camera, check. Phone, check. Water, check. Lunch, check. We were off.

An older Kiwi couple set out at the same time as us and we chatted them up about our adventure, quizzed them about the track, and followed them along the dry, rocky creek bed. They were clearly feeling pressured to walk faster with us behind them, and as the old man stumbled over a rock once again, all parties silently agreed we best go on ahead of them. No longer being guided and often having no path to follow, we were ever vigilant of the markers which let us know we were at the very least heading in the right direction.

Chatting and hiking along, we soon reached the end of the valley. When the valley ends, there is only one way to go: up. High above us was our destination, sitting at a modest, but daunting 1,410m. So we started. It quickly became apparent we should probably work out more. Going up is hard and unfortunately for us, the track didn’t ease us into it. It grabbed some petrol, poured it on our legs, and tossed the match, watching smugly as we carried on in short bursts up a near vertical path, breaking often for water.

The track eventually leveled off a bit and our efforts brought our first reward of the day. A crystal clear glacial waterfall, and ice blue stream greeted us. My first thought, “water, sweet sweet water”. Amy’s first thought, “Waterfall!”. There are few things that make Amy as giddy and childlike as seeing a waterfall: dolphins, burgers, dogs, and swing sets to name a few. Spirits lifted by the sight of the falls, we continued on to see what other wonders awaited us. The track, though not quite as steep at this point, was becoming more dangerous. We found some encouragement though as a sign noted “Multiple fatalities have occurred beyond this point”. “Don’t become a statistic”, Amy said. Feeling the love and lacking a regard for my own safety and any sense of slf-preservation, I lead on.

Causing a small rockslide with each step, the next stopping point was in sight. The track came level again as our eyes were greeted by Black Lake. So called because, you guessed it, it’s black. A fog rolled down from above the small waterfall that fed the lake which set the mood perfectly. Imagining a pirate ship sitting smack dab in the middle of the lake completed the image. I pondered aloud the logistics of getting one there, and we decided after a short discussion that a helicopter would be the way to go. If you’re from the NZ Department of Conservation, we want a pirate ship on Black Lake. Get on it.

It was becoming obvious the weather was changing. The once clear view of the mountain top was becoming obscured by thin veils of cloud. The ever changing terrain was now a smooth rock slab incline, which when wet could prove treacherous. Steel cables were provided in case you needed something to grab ahold of, but with balance like mountain goats we bounded upwards. Again, the track changed. Now there were no markers, except cairns left by previous trampers which were more of a relative guide as there were dozens upon dozens of them in every which direction all leading us up. We were bouldering now, taking a random route up through what seemed to be an old rockslide which was ever so slightly unsettling. Steeper once more, this time making use of the steel cables provided, we were on the final stretch. We were in thick cloud cover now. As we crested the peak, our reward was before us.

Nothing. Not a damn thing to be seen. Clouds, clouds, and more clouds. Nothing but white. And it was cold. And it was raining ever so slightly now, which was the icing on the cake. We took lunch alone hoping if we waited long enough the clouds might clear. For a few seconds we caught a glimpse of what we were missing, but for only a few seconds. We waited in the cold rain for over an hour, eventually joined by three french trampers, then decided to call it quits.

We headed back the way we came, disappointed but happy for the experience. Slowly, but surely we slipped and slid our way down, stopping to fill our water bottle at the glacial stream. Reaching the valley with tired legs, the easy bit was all that was left. Sunny and hot again we shed layers and made our way back to the car park. Nuni and Casper greeted us in their usual way, by not even budging, and we drove off to make camp.

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