I saw mountains like I haven’t seen in a long time.
I finished my jobs in Wanaka and had a friend drive me to the start of a trek. Two hours out of town. As he drove away in his truck that echoed his Kiwi heritage, I felt isolation blanket me like I haven’t felt before. I felt my arms wanting to reach out into his rear view mirror, I felt words wanting to come out of my mouth to call him back, but I was far in his rear view and I knew I couldn’t go back this soon. I usually can’t wait to be alone but this time I felt how far away I was from help, and how far I would get.
I was out in the wilderness alone again and I felt it. My phone out of service, my friends far from a shout away, but the wilderness and mountains closer then ever. I settled into my tent. I felt like I was sleeping in my own bed again. I slept deeply that night, for the first time in awhile. I woke up and stepped out into the damp grass and saw the clouds drift from the west coast, each getting caught on the schist peaks around me. I heard the river’s faint roar from the valley, sounding like a friend calling from the distance. The crystal clear water that slid silently but roared with it’s density reminded me I was in the right place.
I packed up my bag trying to remember how I always got it all to fit, what goes on the top and what set up distributes the weight evenly. Then I walked deeper into the mountains; in river valleys, over mountains, through jungle, beside cows and through sandflies. Deeper and deeper. Further from the road and closer to the snowed peaks.
The mornings started late in the mountains, the sun didn’t rise into the valley until ten or so. Each morning gently woke me up and guided me deeper into wilderness. I’d walk as the birds woke up, before the sandflies, under the trees that were so far untouched by wind or sun and beside the rivers that stood so still at some parts. I felt like I was spying on nature. I’d calm my breath thinking that with any sudden movement nature would startle and fly away just like the native birds.
At the end of the first valley I was stopped by steep climbs all around me. I walked to where the river found it’s source at a steep waterfall and where the peaks didn’t bother with tree-line and just soared their grey schist peaks as high into the sky as they could. I saw the trail carve steep up the mountain pass then guide along the ridge line. There was no where but up.
The whole trek I felt like I wasn’t walking to finish but walking to stay. Each step on the steep climb I felt closer to the top but I also felt that step guiding me towards the end. I wanted to stop going up but I didn’t want to start going down. The mountains kept begging me to turn around, to turn my gaze away from my feet and the summit and look up at their snow covered, jagged peaks. I kept seeing the mountains grow as I got higher and higher, matching the height of other ridge lines that looked impossibly high from the valley floor. I wanted to camp right on the side of the mountain and feel the weather sling the walls of my tent on the exposed mountain side, but my steps kept following the route to a safe valley to sleep.
At night I camped under a bright sky. A black blacket filled with light, swirls, the moon. The mountains looked even more beautiful under the faint light of the moon and shadowing far above me as I slept in the golden meadows of the valleys below. After my first night I couldn’t sleep that well even though I had long days that should’ve made my eye lids fall with exhaustion like it did my legs, but I got to spend my night looking into the stars. Insomnia was okay with a view like that.
I never felt alone on my trip after my first night. The feeling of isolation and being stuck in the wilderness soon fell away behind me just like the noise of the highways disappeared. I felt companionship as I looked down into the deep blues that skirted through the grey river beds, when I looked behind me to see the mountains, or when birds hopped along the trail beside me. I wasn’t in Vermont this week but I felt like I was back in my own bed, house and safe with companionship. I felt I was home this week.