On the path of a meaningful life

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23 February 2017

The surprise of Mt Judah Track

Hiking in the Glenorchy mountains and discovering the beautiful Mount Judah Track.
Mount Judah Track in Otago, South Island, New Zealand © Claire Blumenfeld
DISPATCH

From one day to the next, I jumped from winter to summer. Nothing similar with the previous days. Rain and clouds have deserted the area. It is hot and the cicadas sing in the grass. Perfect weather for a hike. I leave my tent and my bike at the tiny Glenorchy campsite and head for Whakaari Conservation Park, two kilometers from Glenorchy where Mount Judah Track and Mount McIntosh Loop Track are located. I plan to do the second. Overnight in a hut at the top of a pass at 1464 meters and go back down the next day following the ridges.

The Whakaari conservation area, whose Maori name means “high ground” covers 9,400 hectares of rugged mountains covered with tussock (large yellow grasses) where a few sheep live freedomly. That changes me from Fiordland and its rainforest. From a geological point of view the corner was of great importance during the 19th century. Indeed, the ground is made of schist inside which can be found gold and scheelite. Scheelite is a very resilient material, which was in great demand during wartime. Numerous veins were discovered here and the first scheelite processing facility in the mountains was set up in early 1880. During the First and Second World Wars, the two mines in the area, Paradise and Mount Judah, employed a large number of miners in order to maintain production.

I attack the climb under a blazing sun. The trail follows the old path of the miners and many explanations are available along the way. After a few meters of ascent, the view of the valley is revealed, absolutely awe-inspiring. I pass the old scheelite treatment then one of the mines and sink into the mountains. Mount McIntosh is visible in front of me and I can see on the mountain the many zigzags testifying to the intense activity that once occupied the region. The mountain is named after William McIntosh, a shepherd who was the first to find scheelite in 1910 on the slopes of the mountain.

I leave the Mount Judah Track which continues to follow the miners’ track to enter the Mount McIntosh Loop Track. The path descends steeply to the Buckler Burn River which I am supposed to cross to go up the other side on the slopes of Mount McInstosh. Alas, impossible to cross! Following the heavy rain of the previous days, the river is very high and there is a lot of current. I still test without my bag but arrived in the middle, I turn around. It is more than a meter deep and it’s getting too dangerous. It is with great regret that I leave the rest of the trail to go back up to where I came from. No second day on the ridges, no spectacular view of the region! My disappointment is immense.

I decide nevertheless, now that I am here, to continue on Mount Judah Track. A refuge is at the top of the trail. The view will probably be not as good that on the pass, but it’s worth a try. I spend the afternoon climbing painfully under the sun, while passing several miners’ huts. As I attack the last part of the climb, at an altitude much higher than I thought, the valley is revealed before my eyes. The Dart River with its many small streams appears before my eyes and my spirits soar. What a view !

I finally arrive at the Heather Jock Hut, also a former miners’ hut, perched at the top of the mountain at 1300m and I almost cry with joy. The area is beautiful, the hut is great and the view to die for. All my disappointment is gone. The refuge is tiny. Barely space for three beds and a table. An old hearth covered with soot invites me to make a fire, but there is no wood. I spend a good amount of time exploring the surroundings while marveling at the beauty of the landscape. Quiet evening in my hut, perched on the summits, only disturbed by a little mouse! She’s rummaging around and the smell of my food is of great interest to her. My sleep will be rather light, waking up several times to chase the animal trying to enter my bag.

The next day, I watch the sunrise over the mountains opposite. A solitary Kea appears and we spend a moment exchanging looks. He nibbles on the rubber on the roof of the refuge while following my every move. Whenever I move away a bit, he follows me! Leaving my little corner of paradise behind me, I descend into the valley by the same path, since it is the only one existing on this side of the mountain. A little lower, caught in the sun, I come across a small group of sheep covered with an impressive layer of wool. The weather is splendid, there is not a single cloud in the sky. Back at the beginning of the path, I continue towards Glenorchy, a feeling of intense satisfaction in my heart.

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