Queenstown and the elusive summit

Queenstown was a place that once upon a time I called home. I lived here for nearly 12 months in 2013 when I took a contract for the District Health Board. It was a crazy time and even crazier place. While our plane touched down in perfect weather on Good Friday I reminisced about this outdoor wonderland. There is nothing better than stepping off the plane in Queenstown and being met with a view of the Remarkable mountains.  While Queenstowns landscape is dramatic and outdoor scenery rivals some of the best in the world, its subservience to tourism is customary. This was best displayed as we left the airport driving 20 kilometres behind a camper van on a 70 kilometre stretch of Frankton Road.

As we had two days in Queenstown before heading to the Milford Track we were planning to tackle a summit I never had time for while I lived in Queenstown. In the 12 months I lived in Queenstown I managed to do about a quarter of my intended adventures.  Ben Lomond summit was on my list many, many times. The thing with Queenstown is that it is incredibly easy to get distracted particularly by the lure of the nightlife. General rule of thumb –  nobody is up for a 8 hour hike after spending a night having 2 for 1 shots at Zephyr.

As we were pushed for time we got the gondola to the skyline base center. Cheaters I know. I must say though it was nice to be back in Queenstown with some money to throw round on such luxuries, I never had any money when I lived there, I don’t think anyone that lives there ever does? If you do start from the gondola base on Brecon street  it adds a 2 hour steep hike mostly through invasive douglas fir forest to the Skyline base center. Following the signs around the tourist throngs past the luge tracks, the entry point of the Ben Lomond track starts at a shaded  Douglas fir and beech tree “tunnel”exiting onto a dry tussock ridge.  From there we had a slow and steady  climb up. We couldn’t have struck a better weather day and looking back at the skyline base centre we had the odd perspective of watching the paragliders below us! The terrain on the track is pretty baron and typically alpine but this meant we had uninterrupted views of  the Ben Lomond bowl down to Fernhill on the West and Queenstown hill and the Frankton Arm to the East. Unfortunately it also meant that we could see the hard work ahead of us in making our way up to the summit which sits at 1,748 meters.

Reaching the base of the spur we took a break for lunch on the sole park bench which gave us magnificent views of the Richardson mountain range. We stupidly under estimated the heat and should have brought a lot more water than what we had so we started rationing. Not easy when the hike is nothing but uphill, with no shade on a sunny day. Pushing on this was where the hike got incredibly steep and rocky. It was also when a lone female trail runner blitzed right past us putting us to shame. We made careful foot placement on slippery gravel sections as the hike got steeper. I was also avoiding looking down to curb that interesting vertigo feeling in my gut. The path curbed around the summit overlooking Moke Lake and a few minutes later we reached the summit. It was incredible. 360 views of Lake Wakatipu, Cecil peak, Queenstown, the Remarkable’s and even out to Walter station and Meklejohns bay. We shared the joy with a few other hikers sharing the top rocks and crowding around brass dial on a cairn which pointed out some of the highest mountains. We realised then that we could just make out Mt Aspiring on the horizon. It was easy to linger at the top as the views were truly breath taking but what goes up must come down.

The sun was still pretty high and on our way down I thirsted endlessly for a ginger beer and orange juice. It’s always these odd concoctions and promises of sugar that spur me on and get me down mountains faster. Even though it was late in the day people were still making their way up to the summit. We passed a group of 4 Irish lads making their way up, in good spirits singing “I feel good” but their red faces told otherwise. They asked what the view was like at the top to which I replied “pretty good”. “Only pretty good” they chimed and they comically turned and started making their way back down for a moment before continuing back up the spur. Back at the skyline base we fought through the masses to purchase and $9 ginger beer. They clearly don’t have any competion up there and eager tourists to hand over hard earned pennys. Making our way back down the hill in our plastic cheaters bubble I was stoked that I had made it to the summit that had been so elusive. Better 3 years late than never.

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