It was time for our third annual Wellness Walkers weekend away. We had an exciting array of walks lined up for participants of all abilities.
Our timing turned out to be a little iffy. A bit of rain normally wouldn’t worry us, but this was rain of the precautionary sandbags variety. Later on the Telecom mobile network would go dark, and the weekend ended with the lower half of the South Island being cut off from the top.
But neither rain nor snow (it would turn out) could dampen the enthusiasm of our walking crew. One of our planned adventures was a climb to Lake Alta above the Remarkables Ski Field, luring us with online photographs showing a brilliant blue pool nestled among mountain peaks.
This required a long drive up the steep switchback road, though the journey was easily broken by stopping here and there to admire the ever-improving view.
We parked in the car park at the 1586 metre level to discover that even now in December there was a good scattering of snow. Together we began the trek up the road toward the main ski centre. It was of course closed for the summer so we had to walk around the empty building to the ski field beyond.
We plodded up the ski slope beyond and followed the access road below the deserted ski lifts, leaving the last vestige of blue sky behind us as we ascended into the cloud. Around us the world was growing whiter and whiter.
Eventually the marked track left the small civilising comfort of the road and cut directly across rocky ground broken by half-frozen streamlets. Beyond the expanse we clambered over a rugged outcrop to a sign informing us we were now traversing a landscape known by the Lord-of-the-Rings-sounding name of “fellfields”.
Though the term simply means a landscape characterised by frequent freeze-thaw cycles, it rings home in another way, as Alta Lake provided a stand in for Dimril Dale in the movies.
Reaching the summit of the bluff we finally spied our destination in the distance, not the azure pool beneath grand peaks but a steel grey sheet hemmed in by thick cloud.
We stepped in to the mist-shrouded amphitheatre of the cirque (glacier-scoured bowl-shaped valley) that cradles the lake. Here at 1800 metres above sea level the lake supports no fish or plants – only a few hardy insects and species of plankton.
Finally we reached (as a poet in 1931 proclaimed):
Alta, the argent-clear, flashing as a gem
Set in the Double-Cone of dazzling snow
Alas no view of dazzling Double Cone for us today, visibility being far too poor, so we had to take the poet’s word for it.
As we gathered for wintry photos the mist began to clear in and a few scattered snowflakes quickly turned into heavy swirling snow. I nabbed my portrait with Alta the argent-clear just in the nick of time.
We decided that was our cue to start our trek back down, lest we become stranded in the snow. So – stopping only to sing a rousing Christmas carol – we carefully picked our way back over the icy boulders, back down to our cars 200 metres below.
We’d not expected a white Christmas in the middle of summer in New Zealand, but we were all glad we did. Now the only thing for it was to reconvene for hot drinks and a hearty meal in Arrowtown to celebrate our team victory over the mountain…and our friendship.