Monday, February 1, 2016

Day 18 (Jan 6) - Ben Lomond

I left our apartment at about 4:30AM – about 1½ hours before sunrise.  First I had to descend to get into and across the center of town before I reached a trail called One Mile Track that would take me to the Ben Lomond trailhead.

At the shore of Lake Wakatipu before beginning the climb. (30 second exposure)

Navigating unknown terrain only by the light of my hand torch, I soon found myself on a fading trail on the side of a very steep slope, in the middle of a dense forest, going back and forth in search of the track.  After a little while, I lost the trail altogether.  However, knowing from GPS that the main path would have to be somewhere above me, and encouraged by the fact that there were no poisonous or otherwise dangerous creatures out in the wild in New Zealand, I climbed straight up the hillside.

First views of the valley after reaching the tree line - about 20-30 minutes before sunrise

After some scrambling in the dark I found myself on a mountain bike track that I continued to follow up the hill until I ultimately reached the trailhead of the Ben Lomond track. (I suspected that most people climbing Ben Lomond start at the top of the Skyline gondola, which at this time of day/night was obviously not an option.)

The first rays of the sun hit the top of Ben Lomond

I had been climbing for about 45 minutes when the first natural light became visible.  Once I reached the tree line at an altitude of about 800m (500m above town), I was able to turn off my torch.  I followed the trail upwards across a wide slope towards the ridge line when the first rays of the sun illuminated the top of Ben Lomond.

View of the Remarkables, Queenstown's most prominent mountains, from the ridge just before sunrise

I continued upwards in the soft morning light and with a very light breeze blowing across the ridge. 

Ridgeline looking back towards Lake Wakatipu.  Queenstown is at the lakeshore to the left of the ridge. The sun is just rising over the top of the Remarkables in the background.

I marveled at the spectacular morning scene when a wild mountain goat, grazing in the middle of the trail just a few meters ahead of me, startled me.

Second mountain goat of the day - the first one had dashed off after we nearly collided.

The goat, clearly even more startled than I, darted off at high speed straight down the steep slope and disappeared in a cloud of dust.

Continued climb along the ridge and towards the saddle.  From there the trail followed the ridge to the top of Ben Lomond on the left.

When I reached Ben Lomond Saddle at an altitude of 1,300m I turned left to tackle the final ascent towards the summit.

View from the saddle towards Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown

The top seemed so very close. I found it hard to believe that I had another 450m of altitude to gain.

Views of the Southern Alps on the back side of the Ben Lomond Saddle. The snow covered mountain on the left is 2,365m Mount Larkins near Glenorchy. In the back on the far right is 3,033m Mount Aspiring.

Nice view of the Ben Lomond Track along the ridge. Queenstown, still in the shade of the Remarkables, is in the valley below.

View across Ben Lomond Saddle below to the top of 1,631m Bowen Peak 

Another mountain goat on the slope of Ben Lomond

I had not seen a soul during the entire 2½-hour climb when I reached the top at 1,750m, only to be startled again; this time by an Italian hiker who had camped at the saddle the night before, hiked to the top before sunrise, and sat there, quietly, admiring the views.

View to the north from the top of Ben Lomond

It was indeed an amazing 360-degree panorama across Lake Wakatipu, The Remarkables Mountains, Cecil Peak, Walter Peak, and much of the Southern Alps including Mount Aspiring in the background.

Summit selfie

The sun was now warm enough to take a break and soak up the scenery.

View of Lake Wakatipu from Ben Lomond Summit

After a quick descent I was back at our apartment before 10AM to enjoy a late breakfast and to plan the rest of the day.

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