March 10, 2014
Day 2 – Clinton to Mintaro Hut – 16.5K/ 6 hours
Overcast this morning with low clouds obstructing the mountain views that were visible yesterday afternoon.
We begin as we ended the day before, with a relatively flat walk along the Clinton River through mossy forest.
As we hit the open valley the clouds begin to lift and give way to views of sheer granite cliffs on the either side with the occasional waterfall. From here the track climbs gently through alternating patches of dense forest and open valley.
A short way past the bus stop – named for its appearance rather than function – we cross two large craggy boulder strewn areas, the results of a heavy avalanche season. In fact the bus stop used to have toilet facilities that were wiped out by the avalanche. They still haven’t found the commode.
In the last couple of kilometers the trail starts to climb more intently. From a distance the first views up the valley towards Mackinnon Pass, the highest point on the track, become visible. One lone cloud sits at the top of the pass. The entire rest of the sky a perfect clear blue.
Every time we emerge from a forested section of the trail, I first look for the cloud over the pass. Is it showing any signs of clearing? Sometime after lunch the wind starts to pick up, great for discouraging the sandflies, but does little to budge the cloud.
Despite the persistent cloud, it’s a particularly pretty section of the trail – taller trees, more open with rays of sunshine streaming through the mossy forest. We reach Mintaro Hut just before 2PM and decide to head up the Mckinnon Pass, hoping the clouds clear sometime this afternoon.
Barely five minutes on the trail, we run into the caretaker of the hut who informs us that indeed the pass has just started to clear. It’s a long slog up with about 550 meters of elevation gain from the hut to the first views of the other side of the pass with another mile across the ridge to the Mackinnon Pass Shelter.
Worth every step, even though we will have to redo this very same climb the following morning. One of the most amazing views I have ever seen; but, as so often is the case in these situations, too expansive to capture in mere photos. Views of the peaks on both sides of the pass. Golden grassland dotted with small clear ponds. Clouds dance about the mountain tops revealing views of the peaks every so often. The peaks become more visible as the afternoon sun burns off the remaining clouds. From the pass Mintaro Hut is visible far down the valley below.
It’s quite windy but we spend more than an hour at the pass. On a day this gorgeous I can barely tear myself away. Around 5PM we descend.