Coming Down the Mountain

Today I climbed Mt. Alfred.

Tomorrow I hope to be able to get out of bed.

Mt. Alfred isn’t particularly tall. It’s a hobbit mountain, in fact, just about 4500 feet, surrounded by peaks near double its height. But the track up its side, with about a 3500 foot gain in elevation in a very short distance, is relentlessly steep (on the way down all I could think of was “The Mountain Song” by Jane’s Addiction… I screamed just like Perry more than once as the steep ground slid out from under my feet).

The mountain itself reminded me a lot of Byers Peak in Colorado… similar shape, though Byers is nearly 13,000 feet. Since you start the Byers trail from about 9000 feet, however, the elevation gain is the same. Both Alfred and Byers stand on their own, surrounded by walls of other mountains. Both have more than a few false summits as you make the final push to the top. And both reward the determined with 360 degree vistas.

Some trails are amazing, some are tough but worth it, some are a nice stroll. The trail up Mt. Alfred just felt, well… mean-spirited. The first third was entirely steep switchbacks through a forest. I missed those switchbacks when I got to the second third, which was essentially charging straight up the side of the mountain, still in forest cover. The final third was above bushline and even steeper. I had to scramble and do a bit of impromptu rock climbing to get to the top ridge, which was mercifully flat.

Getting down was hell, and truth be told I took a wee tumble to start, losing my footing on slippery scree and schist shards covered with long, slick tussock grasses. After landing more or less intact, I tried to get up again only to wind up sledding several meters more on a large, loose piece of schist. What can I say. Schist happens. No real injuries, just some bumps and bruises, but still not fun. Once I got back below bushline, the steep trail did a number on my bad ankles. By the time I got back to Bill, waiting patiently at the trailhead, I felt a good 15 years older than when I’d started out.

That said, the weather was perfect, bright sun with just enough of a cool breeze to be comfortable. And the views from the summit were breathtaking in every direction, including the Routeburn Valley, home to the start of the famous Routeburn Track, Mt. Earnslaw (which had a starring role in LotR as Methedras), the Dart Valley (which also had a starring role as Isengard), Lake Wakatipu (second largest and third deepest lake in New Zealand, shaped either like a lightning bolt or half of a swastika, depending on your perspective)…

Perhaps most importantly, on my to-do list, there’s now a nice big check beside Mt. Alfred.

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One thought on “Coming Down the Mountain

  1. Pingback: Mount Wellington: As Prominent As Its Namesake’s Nose « Stories That Are True

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