Tramping diaries - thoughts from the city kid whose highest hill in his country is 163m tall and walking to the bus stop can be considered as an outdoor activity. Cause armpit will sweat you know.
A book I chanced upon in a souvenir shop mentioned that the Kepler Track was opened to ease the demands of Milford and Routeburn, both ancient trails walked by the early settlers in this country. Romantic. But did Kepler fall short of not being the ‘original’ trail?
Kepler is a loop track. So that itself is a beauty. A logistical one that is. As we do not have to worry about transferring our car from the starting point to a different ending point. As with all loop tracks, there will be two kinds of people. The clockwise and the anti-clockwise. But for this track, I prefer to categorise it as ‘enjoy first suffer later’ vs ‘suffer first enjoy later’. Our group decided to do the latter. Which is to suffer the ascend and descend first, and do the flat walk later (We still feel right about the decision in hindsight. So do the rest of the trampers we spoke to.)
We were monitoring the track situation before the tramp as it was partially closed for a few days due to heavy snow at the summit. A common situation as the fiordland sees a huge amount of rainfall annually and precipitation becomes snow at higher altitudes. Fortunately enough, the weather forecast indicated sunny for the period we were going for our tramp, more importantly on summit day where it’d matter the most. Both for the views and the total worthiness of this tramp.
Perhaps it was the third time attempting a tramp in the fiordland. I felt better prepared in the mental and equipment departments. Physically, regretfully not and I would not further elaborate on how my friends say it is the roundest they have seen me.
On equipments. We finally invested in a pair of hiking boots that would navigate us through most terrains with decent feet protection, stability, comfort and are heavy enough not to be dragged around and bitten by Keas, which was what happened to our Nike flyknits previously. We learnt about the qualities of a wool sock from a knowledgeable sales assistant while window shopping at Macpac and purchased our Black Friday discounted pair at Kathmandu.
Another investment went to zero-degree sleeping bags because the $29.90 ones we got from army market on Beach Road were almost a grave mistake in the freezing nights of the backcountry. We also added cheap decathlon hiking poles to save my football knees and ponchos for the fiordland rain to our usual list.
After observing many trampers eating out of these turquoise coloured backcountry food bags from our previous tramps, we decided to try it for ourselves. With some skepticism still - cause who does food packaging in primarily blue-green colour? Definitely not visually appetising for me or maybe for you subconsciously. But we were wowed by how tasty it was, too tasty actually. So pairing it with our Nongshim spicy noodle soup gave us a warm and hearty dinner to reward ourselves after the long day walk.
I’d save you the details of the walk. Cause I don’t quite remember how far or long I walked each day. Nor the numerous times we did the switchbacks up and down the mountains. Nor the number of times I clicked on the shutter for the same mountain after every few steps. And how is it that everyone seems to walk faster than us.
I remember some good parts - walking on flat surfaces while enjoying the views and I’d be soldiering on with good pace and energy. At times, my past vocal practices at Teo Heng would fill the forest and echo around the vast mountain valleys. Or when we hit an ascend and I would curse. No, I’ll be trying to catch my breath and wonder if its my poor stamina or just my short legs. Always.
Overnight camping experiences. I remember dreading them so much before it even begins. Sleeping uncomfortably in a foreign place, toilets usually more than a few steps away. Kong Bao Chicken not on the dinner menu. But it’s often these experiences that we share memorable times and bonded as family and friends.
In such a pristine country where the landscapes are a work of art. Environment is still highly conserved and protected. The four of us Singaporeans looked forward to this experience which we would share among ourselves. Out in this unfamiliar and unpredictable nature where we had to carry our heavy bags full with necessities and slow walk through this world of sculpted art.
Also sharing moments on the trail and hut with a group of 40 people from different parts of the world made me realise how similar we are when it comes to our hatred for sandflies and how our snores orchestrated in symphony throughout the night. (Oh remember to bring ear plugs for a hopeful night of uninterrupted rest.)
After crossing the bridge at Rainbow Reach at the end of our 3D2N track, I managed a smile with the remaining energy I had and thought - Kepler definitely lived up to its name of a Great Walk.
Ps: We met two other Singaporeans on the track. They were super fit and fast and I represent the above writing for not so fit Singaporeans only.