"Those mountains are our next adventure." She had said, pointing to the snowcapped mountains that sat outside of our tables window, pizza sitting infront of us at a fancy Alpine Lodge restaurant - a luxury we seldom get in our travels. "And when we come back, these pizzas will be our reward."
I'd never hiked through snowy mountains before, though there are plenty of places in Canada to do so. I wasn't even fully sure what to expect. I mean - what is to be expected when you leave for the mountains for eight days?
I had expected cold nights, windy terrains, loose rocks that try to knock you right off the ledge of a cliff. Possible snowstorms that blow in and freeze you to your core. I had expected everything I'd ever seen in a movie.
I'd never expected what actually unfolded in those eight days.
The task was simple. Walk for four days into the mountains to a Lake called "Blue Lake", admire it's beauty, than walk four days back out and buy copious amounts of overpriced pizza. Boom, set, done.
The itinerary, however, forgot to mention the life changing experiences that would lead us to becoming completely different people by the time we reached the end. It forgot to tell us that the things we were about to see and do would completely alter our life purposes and create a spiral of emotions that would reflect upon us for the rest of our lives.
But, as my Uncle Gary would say, "Forget Itineraries."
These mountains were unlike anything I could have ever prepared for. They were full of lush, green, mossy forests that were home to thick, slippery roots, holes in the ground, and mud. So much mud. Forget my 'snowstorm and cliff falling' assumptions. These mountains were an obstacle course.
In the first three days I had fallen several times, the first fall involving a sharp rock and my knee making out passionately. I'd slipped on too many roots to count, gotten my trekking pole stuck in multiple crevices along the track, and even sunk my shoe into a mud pit so deep I could feel Earths core. It was safe to say that the forest was prepared to maul me any chance it could get.
I was persistent in continuing on, even on the second day when the chance of catching a water taxi out threw my mind into a loop of rage and confusion. The forest had already taken so much out of me by then. I knew that if I had given up so early in the game, though... I wouldn't have forgiven myself.
So I trekked on, hut bouncing. Speargrass to Sabine, Sabine to West, West to Blue Lake. Everyday was a new adventure and a new challenge. We climbed hills made of roots, just to be greeted by hills made of rocks. There was a point where we were just walking straight up a running waterfall. Our shoes never stayed dry for more than an hour after a night of sitting by the fire. We began getting used to walking with soggy socks, welcoming river and creek crossings as an opportunity to cool our feet off as the walking continued. There was no point in stopping, changing into sandals, crossing, then changing back, because there was always another stream ten meters away.
We scaled the sides of mountains, knowing that one wrong footing could lead to a lot of hurt. There were points when the track seemed to disappear, leaving a mess of rubble in it's place. "Where the hell do I step!?" I would shout. The forests had already knocked me down, there was no way I was going to let the mountains do the same.
Every time we thought we were getting close to a hut, it wouldn't show itself. I learned very quickly that saying "We gotta be close" doesn't get you any closer to the end. In fact, I'm pretty sure it takes you further away. As those words leave your mouth, the hut suddenly vanishes and appears again only when you've given up on finding it. Like the Wardrobe to Narnia, only the Hut Edition.
After our longest day of walking I was relieved to see the swing bridge that led to the West Sabine hut, and I was more relieved to have made it there alive. We had been scaling beside a rushing river for a good portion of the day and I could see the water wanted me to join it on it's fast paced adventure down stream.
We arrived only to be greeted by a young woman from the Netherlands who had been traveling alone. She was fairly quiet for the most part, but was full of plenty of knowledge about certain subjects.
Gillian, or Gilly as she likes to be called, was the next to arrive at the hut. She was an older woman from Australia who had spent a lot of her life traveling. She was a naturalist who had a lot of respect for the human body and what was put in it. She soon became my favourite person on this trek as she was able to teach me so much about life in the short time that I got to know her. She may never know how much her words truly meant to me, but I assure you that she made me stronger.
Alex and Rhys were the last to arrive at the hut that evening. Alex was a wonderful girl from France, and Rhys was a very punny fellow from here in New Zealand. Their love was very prominent, and it was refreshing to see such a pure pair of travel partners.
The last day of moving into the mountains was one of the most exciting for us as it meant we were reaching our final destination: Blue Lake. The clearest water in the world. And a bit higher up the mountain: Lake Constance. It was here, about 1700m up, that I became a completely new person - but we'll get to that.
We made it to the Blue Lake Hut fairly early, and after a bit of lunch and a small celebration dance, we got our day packs on and headed out for a stroll. We stopped at Blue Lake first and my heart beamed just at the look of it. I had never, in my entire life, seen water as clear and as blue as Blue Lake. Nestled in between trees and wide open ranges, it shimmered in the sun, snowcapped mountains reflecting off of it's body. It was in that moment that I had fallen in love with the purity of it's soul.
I walked up to the water and took a deep breath before submerging my hands into it. The water was cold but I didn't care. I could live in it's grasps forever. I took my Greenstone off from around my neck, knowing that this was a true place it needed to be blessed. I could feel the spirits around me and knew I was in a sacred place. Every second I was near that water was a second I wanted to carry for the rest of my life.
After a small blessing, I took the opportunity to drink some of the water straight from the lake using my hands. It was so fresh and was, without a doubt, the most delicious water I'd ever tasted.
Yep. It was looking like the day couldn't get any better. Until Lyra pointed upwards and said "Alright. Now we climb that."
At this point I'd like to share, though many of you already know, my absolutely crippling fear of heights. Looking at the path made of trees and rocks, 600m straight up, made my head dizzy and my knees lock. I could feel my fear setting in and I was tempted to tell her to go on without me. The funny thing about fear, however, is that if you let it control your life you miss out on the opportunities that have been laid out for you to experience.
So I climbed it. Every rock, every tree root, every open ledge. I put one foot after the other and whispered to myself, "it's not that bad.", every chance I could. I grabbed on to trees with shaky hands and used them to balance as I took another step up, digging my trekking pole into the ground vigorously, as if it were my lifeline between staying up and falling down.
Upon reaching the top of what I'm sure was the scariest climb of my life, I was surprised to see a wide open field of rocks and long grass. My legs instantly stopped shaking and a fresh breeze blew across my face. A smile appeared, replacing the fearful grimace that I had had for the last half hour.
Lake Constance, hidden 1500m up within the hill tops, flowed slowly through the mountains, making it's way into Blue Lake 600m below. 200m above Lake Constance resided a large rock that caught my eye as I made my way to where Lyra was standing and cheering.
"I have to keep going!" She had proclaimed. "I want to climb a bit of Waiau Pass!"
Waiau Pass is a mountain pass that is part of the Te Araroa hiking trail, the trail we were both using as a guideline for our New Zealand adventure. It was also a mountain pass that was deemed too dangerous for most hikers, and a pass I had no interest on even going near after the climb I'd just endured.
"Leave me here, mountain girl!" I cheered to her as I continued admiring the large rock. "My body knows when it's time to stop, and I've pushed my mental capabilities far enough today."
Lyra smiled as she turned around and began climbing higher up a hill made completely of loose rocks. I shook my head and laughed as I watched her get smaller and smaller, higher and higher.
Before long she was up on a new path and cheering down at me. I screamed back at her, hooting her accomplishments before she continued on the path and vanished.
After all signs of human life had left me, I was alone with nothing but the breeze, the lake, the grass, the bugs, the snowcapped mountains, and this giant rock that I found myself climbing onto.
I sat comfortably on the rock and for a long time I just stared off into the distance. I silently contemplated my purpose in this world and gazed out at the open fields. At some point I closed my eyes and began meditating, Greenstone in hand, for a long while. I meditated on everything in my life and who I was as a being. I took every worry that was in my life and pushed it to the side, replacing it with all of my accomplishments; all of my successes. I looked deep into myself and pulled out who I had been, replacing it with who I was now.
When I opened my eyes again, I cried.
It was such a sensation to feel so much more alive in such a small amount of time. My emotions took over and before I knew it, I was laughing. I was completely exhilarated with the happiness I felt looking out at the view unfolding in front of me. This was it. This was my life. This was my purpose.
The wind blew rapidly around me and clouds began to float in, covering the sun and putting patches on the mountains. I took one last deep breath, said "remember this image. The next time you see it, it won't be the same.", then I got off my rock and began my walk back down to the hut.
I cried once more as I sang to myself. I sang Grease, reminding me of my Mum and her younger days. Canada is so far away, along with my family and friends, but this moment brought them all to me. I was reminded of who is the most important in my life, and who I love the most.
The thought of Canada made me smile, and I knew I had to leave a little piece of it behind. The trails are marked with orange triangles, but sometimes they are also marked with piles of rocks. Everytime I had seen a pile, it reminded me of Inukshuks. Inukshuks are used by the Native Inuits in Northern Canada, along with Alaska and Greenland, as cairns. So, of course I stopped and looked for the best rocks to build my own landmark before continuing back down the steep mountain side.
I've been told that the mountains change people but I'd never assumed I would be one of them. I never saw myself here, but maybe that's what makes it so special. Maybe that's what truly brings out the change. The spontaneity of it all.
That night I fell asleep with a new perspective on life, beside some amazing people - including a Te Araroa walker named Matt who caught up to us because of the fact that he's a crazy person who walked the Richmond Ranges in five days. (Five Days, Matt. Seriously?) - and knew that tomorrow was the start of a whole new life. A life I wouldn't soon forget.
We spent the next four days walking back the way we came, laughing as we hopped over roots and stepped into deep streams. The first day was spent with Gilly, and took much longer than the last as we stopped by the side of the track, dropped our bags, and made our way up the side of the mountain to a waterfall flowing over. We sat there for a while, playing with the water and taking photos. I decided to build one last Inukshuk right at the very edge of the falls, where the wind was so powerful I felt like I could be blown off.
Afterwards, we all sat and talked about life. We decided to name the waterfall as we were sure it wasn't done yet. Gilly said "Lyracaitgill" in such a cheerful tone, we just knew that was exactly what it was meant to be named.
By the time Lyra and I made it back to Speargrass Hut on day seven, all we could cheer was "Shower and Pizza tomorrow!" Neither of us had bathed in what felt like decades, and just the word 'shower' had me ready to leave.
With nothing left to do but wait, we both sat around for a few hours editing photos and enjoying our laziness. That's when the whole hut began to shake.
New Zealand has been experiencing some intense aftershocks after it's 7.8 earthquake in November, and this was the first earthquake I had ever felt. I hopped up off of the bed and went straight for the doorframe. Lyra grabbed her PLB and joined me. After fifteen seconds, the shaking stopped and we both looked at eachother.
"Is that your PLB?" I'd smiled and asked.
"You never know." She'd answered.
The French are smart, I tell ya.
We sat and played cards for an hour before dinner - Lyra is still trying to beat me in crazy eights - then went back to writing and editing before bed.
Early the next morning we set off for St. Arnaud, away from the mountains and towards civilization. It broke me a bit to leave it behind, but the good news is that New Zealand is full of mountains that are still yet to be adventured.
Though I smelt disgusting and my knees hated every moment, those eight days had been the happiest, most fulfilling adventures of my life. I will never forget the people I have befriended and the things I have learned. These are the moments I live for; the spontaneous ones.