What Lies Beneath

Karl, Bill and I spent our day off getting Bill a much-needed oil change and stocking up on vegetables and fruit for the week (the nearest grocery store is a 60 mile roundtrip from where I live). In between, we worked in a short hike up to Lake Alta.

You know there is a LotR reference coming, so let’s just get it over with. Lake Alta served as Dimrill Dale in Fellowship… after Gandalf “falls” in Moria (a rather understated way of describing him getting yanked down into oblivion by a freakin’ fiery demon), the surviving members of the fellaship run out of the mines (initially onto Mt. Owen, located up in the north of the South Island, where bad weather thwarted my attempts to visit it). Well, the next scene is of them coming off the mountain and heading into Lorien, Aragorn leading the way, manfully splashing through a stream. That’s the scene that was filmed at Lake Alta.

Sadly, there was no chance for me to recreate the scene by splashing, uhm, womanfully through a stream because (almost) everything around Lake Alta is still frozen and buried under snow.

To get there, you have to drive to the top of the Remarkables Ski Field. Then you walk uphill. The ski field was closed for the season, but there was still plenty of snow around, especially once I got above the chairlifts. It was packed down well in most places, however, and not too difficult to deal with.

Above the ski field, I had a hard time finding the trail markers, many of which were buried (I assume) under snow. So I had to bushwhack a bit, including climbing up a couple rocky slopes, trying my best not to step on any of the lichen.

Along the way, I thought I was imagining things flitting around me. Am I going snowblind? It was an overcast day, but still bright, that weird kind of gray but intense light that makes the snow almost glow.

Then something landed on my hand… It was a grasshopper. A big one.

I couldn’t believe that here, in the middle of a snowfield, with wind strong enough to get me off-balance, was an insect I associate with lazy summer days.

(At the time, I didn’t know what the hell it was, but fortunately, the Lake Alta viewpoint had some interpretational signage that noted the area is home to the alpine grasshopper. I love interpretational signage.)

The hike itself was short and steadily uphill, the last bit along a rocky ridge. Lake Alta sits at about 1800 meters (5900 feet) above sea level, and I could feel the air getting thinner, though interestingly I didn’t feel adversely affected by it – perhaps a lingering effect of living at 9000 feet in Colorado.

In any case, by the time I reached the lake to find the LotR location unrecognizable due to the snow, I’d already had the big excitement of the day…

Trying to find the path across the snow and up a shorter ridge of rock and ice, I stood still for a moment, looking for the best way onward. I heard a funny sound and thought wow, the wind is really making a crazy noise through the rocks. Then I realized it wasn’t the wind making the sound. The sound of rushing, angry water was coming from below my feet. I was standing on top of a thawing, apparently raging river, with who knew how many feet (inches? centimeters?) of possibly highly unstable late season snow between me and a very cold splash. The thought of falling through the snow and getting sucked down some kind of thaw tunnel made me decide to move on… and to find an alternate route back down.

That raging rush of wild water, by the way, was Rastus Burn (great name!), which takes water from Lake Alta all the way down to the Kawarau River… which starred as the River Anduin in Fellowship. You knew there’d be an LotR connection, didn’t you?


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