Dusky Track: Towering mountains, mossy forests, water underfoot and falling from the sky.  Nothing compares to the Dusky.  Quite simply one of the finest tracks in the world.

Halfway Hut
The ride across Lake Hauroko is a spectacular start, providing that you can see.  The rain was falling hard and we didn't see much of anything.  There were four other people on the boat, including Jim from Oz and three Scottish guys.  When we arrived at the Hauroko hut it was still raining.

I was taking a picture upon leaving and before the camera was set up, a friendly bush robin came to visit.  These birds will often follow you through the forest, pecking at your boots.  They're always fun and a good way to start the trail.  The track was a little wet, remembering what is meant by a "little wet" in an area that rains up to 8 meters (320 inches) a year.  The track was instantly wonderful, weaving its way through the bush following the Hauroko Burn (stream) passing through what can only be called a garden.  The land is unbelievably green but there are special areas that are lush, even by Fiordlands standards.  I really like the entire area but these gardens are overwhelmingly beautiful and take my breath away every time.

Dusky Walkwires The track would follow Hauroko Burn for a while and then leave the banks before returning again. It would pass through the forest, then onto an open field full of ferns, into a garden, back to the forest, alternating quite a bit.  Throughout the day bush robins would visit; I never tire of those little guys.  There were four walk wires to be crossed.  One crossed Gardner Burn, which was flowing fast and deep, evidence that there was quite a bit of rain in the headwaters.  The track ascended some very rough hills, traversing slippery tree roots and rocks but always returning to the burn.

Along the river, some parts of the track were relatively easy and others were quite rugged scrambling over slippery and irregular patches.  What made the tramp a little tricky was the weight of my pack.  It's at its heaviest on the first day and by the end is (well, should be) practically featherweight.  The trail continued through the forest along the fast-flowing and pretty Hauroko Burn, eventually arriving at the hut.  It had rained the entire day but was it ever so nice to walk in that water falling from the sky.

A few hours later the Ozzie guy arrived; it was getting late and I was a little concerned about him as he was inexperienced.  The Scottish guys continued on to the next hut and weren't seen after getting off the boat.  This was just fine as every other thing they said was f**'ing this or f**'ing that.  It's hard to imagine eight days of listening to that foulness.  Instead I would be hearing flowing water, leaves rustling in the wind, falling rain, singing birds and most importantly... nothing at all.

Lake Roe Hut
I was having good dreams and wanted to tramp alone so I stayed in bed and let Jim leave first.  For some reason, he was up at 6:00 a.m. packing.  I don't know how he literally took an entire hour to fill his pack.  Later in the morning, I departed in a light rain, which would continue, off and on, for the whole day.

Shortly after leaving the hut the forest turned so, so green but fewer birds than yesterday.  It wasn't long out of the hut before encountering sodden areas of knee-deep mud.  You walk along, step, step, step then splaaaghh...deep into the mud.  Sometimes it's only one or two knee-deep steps, other times it's dozens.  That's Fiordlands, that's the Dusky.  The track slowly ascended, following the rivers through the wonderful bush, some ups and down, but nothing major.  The forest was as beautiful as ever.  Had to cross a number of small streams and some larger ones on three-wire bridges, no problem.  The track would follow a stream, then cross it and later follow a waterway again, was it the same stream?  Not sure; it's hard to tell, the whole landscape is criss-crossed with them.

Finally, I started the climb of about 500 meters to the hut.  The higher it went, the more it rained.  The off-and-on light rain turned into 'on.'  The track continually ascended up slippery rocks to a three-wire crossing high above the cascading streambed.  It became wetter and wetter and the land became less woody and more grassy; deep mud was common.  At higher altitudes, patches of snow started to appear.  Once the forest was left behind, the open meadows were completely covered in a pretty snow under haunting skies.  The path followed the rolling tussock past an alpine lake to the hut.

The weather continued to deteriorate as the day went on.  It would snow and hail and the winds would be gusting.  Then the clouds would blow in low and cover the hills.  Later there would be a slight clearing in the distance and it would look like the clouds were about to give way but in a few minutes, it would be snowing again.  I wanted to see Lake Roe in the rocky peaks above the hut but every time I put on my jacket, it would be, "Nah, wait for the weather to clear."  I passed the day by reading and napping.  Jim tried to start a fire but there is so little wood up there that it really didn't do more than warm your hands for a few minutes.  It was pretty chilly and when darkness fell I went to bed to read until sleep came my way.

Lake Roe Hut
Dusky Map Jim was up early in the morning and again took an hour to fill his pack.  What was in there that took so long to organize was unknown but he didn't leave until late-morning.  Why he was packing before the sun rose was also an unknown.  I recommended against going across the tops as they are quite exposed and the weather was still iffy, but he chose to move on.  It would rain and hail, then the clouds would blow in low, later it would look to be clearing, but instead snowed.  Sort of like, no, exactly like yesterday.  It didn't seem like a good idea to move on, so I stayed at the Lake Roe Hut.  I kept meaning to get up to Lake Roe but every time I put on my jacket to go out it was, "Nah, wait for the weather to clear."  It really wasn't very nice outside.  Looking at the topographic maps, it appeared there were some nice places for a day walk, but that would depend on the weather the following day.  The day passed with reading, napping, daydreaming and completely enjoying my solitude and own company.  Some people might get lonely, not this tramper.  I'm not sure if there is another person in the world who I would choose to be with in the wilds of Fiordlands over being by myself.  There might be one, but I can't think of whom right now. 

There were tantalizing hints that it was about to clear and the sun briefly shone into the hut but stubbornly the clouds wouldn't disperse.  The evening came and it was most comfortable to be in the sleeping bag to stay warm, sort of like, no, exactly like yesterday.  You know, it could be nice having a few days of being by myself up there.  Yes, the weather was pretty rough but the mountains had a desolate, timeless appeal.  I wasn't sure what the next day would bring but it rained, snowed and the winds blew all night long.

Loch Maree
It started to clear in the morning, but not enough for the local walks so it would be off to Loch Maree.  However, the winds picked up and it alternated between rain, snow and hail, sort of like, no exactly like yesterday.  I debated whether to stay or go and decided to stay, then to go, then to stay.  Then the clouds cleared and the sun shone brightly through the windows.  I was about to leave but it hailed and then snowed.  Hmmmm.  It was getting chilly in the hut with no wood for warmth.  I decided to go even if there was a doubt or two about the weather as my feet weren't staying warm even with two thick pair of woolen socks.  After putting on my still soaking wet boots, my feet became so cold that they lost all feeling.  I jumped around seeing if that would warm them up but it didn't help.  I left the hut prepared to turn back if my feet didn't get better.

I started to climb the first ridge and had to remove layers; it was getting too hot.  The wind started to blow, then it hailed, then it snowed, then it stopped.  Then it started to snow again but after a while I started to regain some feeling in my feet.  The track meandered across the Pleasant Range in between the tarns (lakes or ponds) that numbered in the hundreds and possibly the thousands.  Some were many hectares (acres) and others were 20 meters across and often filled with floating balls of hail.  There are many ups and downs; some gentle and others steep slopes.  I looked back to the hut and saw, ever so briefly, a view of Lake Roe and the hut.  It's unfortunate that I didn't get to Lake Roe but there will be a next time.  Still, the weather alternated between hail, snow, and wind, with a few short snippets of sunshine.

The track passes just north of a large valley.  The Pleasant Range drops off sharply to this valley, which is also covered in tarns and looked lonely in the low clouds.  Actually the entire area had a haunted look in the clouds, which often came in low obscuring the track.  As I passed the valley, I thought it best keep moving; the weather wasn't getting any better.  Suddenly the clouds cleared, bathing the hills in the most glorious sunshine.  I raised my hands to the sky and yelled out loud in celebration.  For a few pleasant minutes the sun shone down upon me and all creation, but it wouldn't last.  The sun went away, it started to snow and hail and I looked ahead to a steep climb.  Hey, it was ok; my feet were now toasty warm.  The weather may sound miserable but it really was comfortable the whole way.

 The track wandered across the ranges with no real rhyme or reason and the ground was often covered in deep snow and a few times I had to stop and figure out where the path went.  I crested a ridge and noticed that the landscape and the amount of snow fell away in the distance.  The trail still had plenty of ups and downs and the clouds came and went.  While descending, the heavy mist cleared just enough for a view down the valley to Dusky Sound, which was something to behold.  It had an otherworldly appearance in the distance and I thought, "That's where I'm going tomorrow."  There were a few more sloppy areas and then the track reached the end of the range.  It may have snowed, rained, and hailed but the Pleasant Range had lived up to its name.

I continued on and it descended very steeply.  The only safe way down was by hanging onto tree roots and rocks.  Within two minutes, the rains came and kept coming through the night.   It's about 1000 meters down, a greater distance vertically than horizontally, so suffice to say, it's pretty steep.  You really need to be careful as one single misstep can result in a broken leg, especially as everything was slippery in the rain.  The track has less resistance to water flowing than the bush and as such, turned into a combination of stream and waterfall and was like this all the way to the valley floor.  In two places there are chains to hold onto while descending bare rock surfaces and the tree roots often doubled as a ladder.  Yeah, it's a lot of fun.  The forest was scenic and the lower I went, the heavier the rain and the nicer it became.  Wonderful.

At the bottom of the descent was the fast-flowing Jane Burn.  The track parallels the burn for about 500m before reaching a three-wire bridge where it joins with the Seaforth River. At the bottom, the forest was too much to be believed.  It was bah-uuu-tee-full, so green, so very, very green.  The forest was one giant Fiordlands garden.  Oh, was it perfection!  The Seaforth River was in deep flood with a stomach-deep crossing of a placid backwater to get to the bridge.  Not wanting to soak my clothes, I took off my shirt and jacket since I would be wading and have to say, it was more than a little cold.  From there it's a short walk to the Loch Maree Hut.  The loch (lake) has hundreds of stumps in it and if you can't see the stumps, the track to Dusky Sound is probably too flooded to walk.  Looking over the waters, there were no stumps to be seen.

Dusky Sound
The Ozzie guy was up at 6:00 and once again, he took one hour to pack.  This is not one hour to pack, eat, dress, clean up, etc.  This is one hour to transfer items into the backpack.  What's in there, his antique spoon collection?  The weather was changeable, raining off and on, with a half dozen stumps visible, if only the very tippy-tops.  It was hard to say if it would be flooded but off to Dusky Sound it was.  I couldn't wait see what the day held.

Soon after leaving the hut I was wet from the overgrown ferns.  The track passed close to the loch and was even flooded in a few places and then switchbacked up the valley wall over a rocky promontory and back down again.  It then follows the river to a rugged and very, very green section.  The rain stopped for a few minutes, then started again and would rain non-stop for the entire day and night.  The track had some ups and downs and then settled in for the day along the Seaforth River, which was flooded, wide and flowing fast.  A tremendous amount of water was flowing to the sea and I would not have wanted to fall into that river.  Today the track was relatively sedate and flat as it followed the river but that would be offset by other adverse conditions to come.

The track alternates between being relatively open and overgrown with ferns with some rougher places.  At one point, the track goes between a vertical rock wall and the river on a one-meter wide shelf that was partially flooded.  Knowing how fast river levels can rise, this is something to consider for the way back. 

The trail reaches a stagnant, flooded backwater.  I walk two hundred meters through the bush to get around it but the waters went on and on and there was no alternative but to cross it.  I eased myself down the steep bank up to my chest, with pack on, and took a step.  Yep, I'm a swimmin' neck deep.  Upon reaching the other side, I'm still waist deep in mud and water, trying very hard to pull myself out using the trees, but it's not going well.  Right then a bush robin settles next to my hand.  I will usually play with them but this time, "Go away!" was appropriate.  Being waist-deep in the slop is neither the time nor the place for a little feathered friend.

The track continues to a three-wire bridge.  At the ends of the bridge, the cable wraps around a tree and has two layers of cable bolted together.  If stacked vertically, they can twist when stepped on. These twisted and I fell on the cable between my legs.  No, I didn't fall like "that" but it did hurt and it disturbed me how close it was to a serious fall into a flooding river.  I've crossed hundreds of these bridges so why I fell on this one was unknown.  I was a little rattled after that, both from the fall and the fact that I was still soaked head to toe from swimming and somewhat cold, though as I warmed up, I regained my confidence.  The track wasn't that bad but is a long walk.  It was wet, but not overly so.  The track crosses a river on another three-wire bridge, which had bent metal brackets.  The only thing that could bend them are logs coming down the flooded river, and it's a humbling thought how violently these rivers can flow.  The track follows the river upstream to a large waterfall and then reenters a changed forest.

The day has had plenty of mud, but from that point, the forest turns into a slop-hole.  Everywhere it's flooded and muddy, often well above the knees as the path meanders across the land.  It's as if it was a different forest than had been walked earlier in the day.  It was an absolute mess.  The track eventually arrives at Dusky Sound where there is a low-tide shortcut across the tidal flat to the hut.  It was underwater and the tide was coming in and getting too deep for comfort, so I turned back and took the long way around to the hut.  While still in the water, I looked up to the skies.  The fiord's walls looked like tall cliffs, covered in wispy clouds and the magnificence of Dusky Sound that not only surrounds me but also envelops my legs.  I would say I could "feel its chilly embrace" but that's getting a little too high-falutin' literary for me, so I won't go there.

It was back to the bush and about one hour to the hut.  That section was as tough as anything on the track.  Very rugged, across slippery rocks and roots but oh, was it green. The entire hour was a riot of the most brilliant greens imaginable with moss and vegetation as thick as could be.  When I walked through these green areas I have to say that there was no place else, in the entire world, no place else that I would rather be than on the Dusky Track in the rain, no place else...period.  The track pulled alongside the sound with a few remaining mud pits to cross before arriving at the hut.  I collected firewood and made a nice fire to stay pleasantly warm.   Once again, I was by myself, overlooking over Dusky Sound and surrounded by misty mountains reaching for the sky.  A gentle rain was coming down, and I could not have been happier.

Loch Maree Hut
It rained all night and it was raining off and on all morning, which delayed my departure.  It really didn't make sense to delay for rain...it's not going to stop, but still I waited.  By the time I left the tide had come up and I couldn't cross the tidal flat, so it was back into the thick, rugged bush.  Yet considering how drop-dead gorgeous it was, this wasn't a bad thing.  That section of the track is quite simply not only one of the nicest parts of the Dusky, but the nicest of anywhere I've been.  It's so beautiful and peaceful in the rugged, mossy glades.  When back at home, it would be nice to feel what I do in these forests but there is nothing that compares with them.  These gardens are so pretty but it's more than that.  You can walk along and recognize that you are in one of them.  You can look back 100 meters and see that area is different but there is no clear line delineating its border.  It's not something you can define, it's something you experience which slowly overwhelms the senses.

Sometimes it's the small things that make the moment.  I would often sit and watch a bug crawl across a log.  While the forest appears only green, look a little closer and the rocks along the river have lichens of mottled grays.  Look closely and you'll notice flowers all around.  Fiordlands doesn't have big showy flowers; rather they are generally small and easy to miss.  Get close to the flowers and then you'll see they are colorful.  Even the mosses often sprout tiny flowers of yellow and white.  When the forests are misty, the multitude of spider webs seen is quite surprising.  It seems as if every meter, there is another one and once you start looking for them can't help but see them.  The world reveals its secrets for those who open their eyes.

After that, it was back through the muddy and rugged sections, past the waterfall, and into the slop.  Some people might be bothered being thigh deep in that mess...I am most emphatically not one of them.  It's part of the charm of the track.  You want that lush forest growth?  It only comes with water, plain and simple.  Through the morass, through the bush, and through the overgrown ferns it continued.  The river levels looked about the same as yesterday.  It was still flowing fast, wide and deep.

After a few hours I arrived at the flooded backwater which had to be swum yesterday.  The water was slightly lower and the skies a bit brighter and barely visible was an underwater log, hmmm, "Bet I can walk across that."  Getting into water I kicked up some silt and couldn't see a thing, so I slowly crossed the log, feeling with my feet, going rib-deep this time.  It's easier (and more comfortable) than swimming.  Too bad there wasn't a bush robin to greet me this time, but they were present along the rest of the trail.

The rains lessened and I noticed that upstream, the Seaforth River was a little lower than yesterday.  It was back into the rough stuff.  The rains stopped and the sun even came out and shone upon me.  Up to this point, halfway through the track there was less than fifteen minutes of sunshine total.  So it was fun to be back in the sun, if only for a minute or two.  I was tramping along and realized I was off-track.  This wasn't that worrying as one could still navigate by the river, but it's a slightly uncomfortable feeling nevertheless.  A few minutes later, I found my way and was off to the hut.

It was through the switchbacks and a walk by the loch, which was definitely lower as there were more stumps visible, and a few minutes later arriving at the hut.  On occasion, the sun would shine in the valley to the north but not once upon the hut.  I was alone again; it was going to be a good night.

Kintail Hut
It was, you guessed it, raining in the morning.  I said goodbye to the loch and started to tramp in the modest rain in my polyprops (long underwear).  It was rocky just out of the hut followed by a gentle section along the Seaforth River, though periodically interspersed with steep and rugged sections.  One concern was the crossing of Deadwood Stream.  This is a waist-deep crossing with a soft, muddy bottom and with the rains of late, could be impassable.  However, it had a new bridge crossing it.  The bridge railings were 2 meters above the flooded creek yet still had vegetation stuck in them.  When you see vegetation like this or stuck in branches, it's a sign of how high the water had reached and that this area had been seriously flooded. This landscape never ceases to amaze me.  The track became wetter, sometimes descending to the mud flat next to the river, and alternating between forest and fern with a few rocky avalanche chutes.  Then the track entered "The Cathedral."

This is a three km. long section that is possibly the most impressive section of track I have ever been on and that means of all the tracks in a couple dozen countries.  It takes those gardens that have been described earlier but goes on and on. The fact that it was raining only made it more beautiful and I slowed down to savor it.  I wish I could convey the sense of wonder and happiness that nature brings to me, but can't.  I can't find the words which bring back that feeling I get in the pit of my stomach writing this paragraph.  That's how inadequate words are for this place.  It was so green, so dense, and was like this as far as the eye could see...in all directions.  The moss was so thick that the trees were covered top to bottom.  There wasn't a single square inch of bark visible on the trees, not one square inch on the ground that could be seen, not one bit.  If asked to point to one section of the track that captures what makes the Dusky so special, this would be it.  Places like this make me say that one day, I will be back to wander Fiordlands.  The rain was coming down and that made it even nicer than if it was sunny.  It's simply overwhelming.

After The Cathedral, the track crosses a side river on a wire bridge then across a large, overgrown slip (rockslide).   It was somewhat open affording a great view up and down the misty valley.  Still, the pleasant rains continued to fall and the track came to a steep climb that switchbacks up around a rushing river gorge.  Part way up, the rains stopped.  After descending toward Gair Loch the sun actually came out for a while, thought not shining on me (naturally).  The area around Gair Loch is flat and low-lying and can only be described as sodden.  Now let's to say that again:  Sodden.  Is it clear just how messy it was?  There were extensive sections with soupy mud well above the knees.  Even after all that had been experienced on the track, the phrase, "It's a mess" truly applies.  After the loch, the track becomes fairly gentle, but still wet, following the Seaforth.  Across the valley was Tripod Hill, which looked like a steep wall to the valley.  About 45 minutes later I arrive at the hut and fate is smiling on me as I have the hut to myself, yes! 

Later in the evening, the skies started to clear but still, the amount of sunlight for the entire track has been under fifteen minutes and how many days has it been...seven?  But you know what, it doesn't matter about the sun.  Today was so unbelievable; I would not trade seeing The Cathedral in the rain for a sunny day.  There is something about the Fiordlands bush that comes out in the rain which just isn't the same on a sunny, warm day.  It was also nice to walk in my polyprops, which allows one to experience the rain more intimately than being cocooned in a rain jacket.  That may sound silly, but it's how it was.

Tomorrow the track crosses Centre Pass and it would be nice to have the sun out.  The evening passed reading by candlelight and daydreaming pleasant thoughts.  There I was, in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, enjoying the basic pleasures of life.  I felt good about the day and was feeling good about the next day as late at night, the skies glowed with the Southern Cross and stars by the thousands. 

Upper Spey Hut
The morning skies were cloudless and the day looked great.  The track crossed a side stream on a three-wire and started to climb.  The track was green and steep, the weather pleasant, and myself...feeling strong.  The track continued to climb and then onto a three-wire high above the Seaforth River.  Then the real climb started.  It was similar to the Loch Maree descent, except this time it was going up and was relatively dry.  Holding onto rocks and tree roots it was up and more up and birds sang and fluttered from tree to tree.  Behind was a magnificent view of Tripod Hill and Gair Loch.  From this vantage point, the glory of Tripod hill becomes apparent.  It's not just a valley wall; rather it's an enormous pyramid.  Eventually the climb moderated, but kept going up, and some really nice gardens were traversed.  These gardens had a different feeling on a sunny day compared to a rainy day, but still, both are impressive.  The forest started to change and the open tops were approaching.  The ascent was relatively dry as all the water runs quickly off to the valley below; the tops don't drain so quickly.  The trail meandered through the brush and slop and eventually came to open fields with grand views of the valley behind and Centre Pass ahead. 

The track crossed the tussock and several spring-fed streams from which I drank.  I can't tell you how nice that water tastes.  There is something about Fiordlands water that is so good.  Maybe it's some idealized perception but I will drink the water just for the taste.  There was a steep climb up to Centre Pass and from there I could look back at Tripod Hill and the Seaforth Valley and look down towards the Spey Valley, where I would be going, but first was a trip up Mt. Memphis to see the spectacular roof of Fiordlands.

It was another 350 meters to Mt. Memphis, switchbacking up the grasses.  The grasses gave way to rocks, which contained numerous tarns and snowfields and became more beautiful the higher I went.  I had been heading for the northeast corner of the mountain, where the peak is located but got diverted to the southern part of the large, wide-open mountaintop.  There were some smaller tarns and I went around some rocks and saw a large, emerald-green tarn with Mt. Ward behind jutting up into the blue sky.  I walked up to edge of the water, which had a shallow shelf that dropped off vertically into the depths.  That water was so inviting.  I could see every single rock at the bottom and wanted to take a swim.  But before the spirit of the moment could take hold, I remembered that these mountain lakes are just above freezing and that no matter how inviting, swimming is going to be unpleasant.  In lieu of swimming, I knelt next to the edge and slurped up a drink of water.  Above were the blue skies with the tawny colored meadows in the distance, surrounded by grayish rocks, white snowcaps, and in the midst of it all was a contented tramper drinking from emerald waters on a warm, pleasant day.

My path took me around the tarn toward the eastern edge of the tops.  I had wanted to climb Mt. Ward but looking at it from this viewpoint, it was too steep for me to do alone, oh well...it was nice enough just to see it.  I continued on around the tops and came upon my first view of the Spey Valley.  A gorgeous, glacial cut valley, that lies 1300 meters (4500 feet) below that was green, green, green.  It's really something to stand on top of Mt. Memphis and look down upon Fiordlands so far below and so far off into the distance.

I spent several hours up there and one needs to set safety limits as in, "at 4:00 it's time to head down."  I set the alarm on my watch and when it sounded, it was ignored since beholding all of creation was more important.  I continued to savor the landscape.  I would go to the west side and look upon the rugged peaks and ridges, to the south with Tripod Hill and the Seaforth Valley.  To the east was Mt. Ward and to the north was the Spey Valley.  As far as one could see in all directions, the jagged, snow-capped mountains went on and on.  However, eventually I knew I had to head down and reluctantly started the steep descent to Centre Pass.   Once at the pass, the track passed through the open tussock and eventually into the trees.  The descent was a little harder than the ascent, as it usually is.  I found myself hanging onto tree branches in a number of spots to get down, but hey, it's ok, it's the Dusky!  The sun was setting and the mountains had the rays of sun streaming around them with alpenglow near and far.

The track reached the valley floor and I was actually pretty clean as the track wasn't overly muddy since I washed off near Centre Pass.  But alas, I would not remain clean. The last 200 meters of the track were nothing if not a slop hole.  I'm going to say that again, a slop hole.  I got stuck in two of the mud pits and had to pull myself out.  I arrived at the hut and James, the Ozzie guy, was there.  I was hoping to be alone but it's ok.  The only bad part of the evening was realizing that tomorrow was the last day.  Today the track crossed pristine streams, through green forests, over mountain meadows and I stood on top of the world under the bluest of skies and experienced a peace that just can't be felt often enough and that's a pretty dog-gone good day.

I slept outside the hut and heard kiwis call in the darkness.  Just before the sun rose, there was the sound of a softly rippling stream.  Yet it was an odd stream as the rippling came and went.  After a few minutes, I realized it was Jim inside the hut.  He was repacking his pack and the "stream" was plastic bags rustling.  I don't know what is so difficult about packing a pack but there he was.  He didn't leave for over 1 1/2 hours.  Before he left he asked me, "Did the water buffalo wake you up this morning?"  I may kind of rib him a little bit, but he was a good guy.

I waited until he was well ahead of me before leaving.  The track started through the slop-laden meadow, which had sun-drenched mists rising all around in the gentle morning air, then into the forest.  It was an easy day with no major climbs.  There were parts of the track that were irregular and rugged but out of all the days, this would be the easiest as the track would follow the Spey River to the end.  It was a nice forest, with lots of green gardens and opportunities to sit next to, or in, the water.  The sun was out and the river wasn't that high.  There was plenty of time to relax.  The trail meandered here, meandered there, crossed a stream, through a mossy garden, through a wooded (though still mossy) section, then through the ferns. 

The track crossed the Spey, which in flood would be a formidable river, but today was a beauty of a waterway, gently coursing through forest and over rocks.  The three-wire bridges went unused; it's a nice feeling to cross in the rivers.  I drank plenty of water today, partially because I was thirsty but also because the water was so sweet.  I like the idea being down on hands and knees next to a river and slurping water, it's what we should be able to do everywhere but happens all too infrequently.

The day became even more pleasant, little birds sang, and the skies stayed oh so pretty.  The track continued on the side of the river until its end.  Sometimes it would pull away from the river, other times it would be right next to it.  The peaks of Fiordlands towered over everything, floating in skies of blue.  I would often walk into the river, partially to cool off but also to simply to feel the water.  Sometime I would walk out into the middle, mid-thigh deep, lean over and drink right from the river.  Did I have to drink that way?  No, but it felt right.  I thought back over the last nine days and I had seen all of three sandflies (a biting gnat), which is astounding in Fiordlands.  Normally you're absolutely swarmed by them but not this week and that's a win.

The track crossed some side streams on a pair of three-wire bridges, but I just walked thigh-deep into them, so clear and gentle were they that I worried about nothing.  There would come a time to be sad when the track would be over but that time had not yet arrived.  It wasn't just walking; it was dancing.  Shortly after the bridges, the track rejoined the Spey and the forest started to change.  It was still pretty but slightly less lush and mossy; I felt like the end might be approaching, but wasn't sure.  The track rambled through the bush, roughly following the river.  I would often sit on a rock seeing the tall mountains across the river and the tall mountains on this side of the river and could look down the valley at the mountains through which I had passed yesterday.  I could feel the forests which had been my company for the last week and will always remain in my memories.

The track came right upon the edge of the Spey River, which was lined with irregular rocks.  It had been a good track.  I didn't get hurt and outside of the three-wire along the Seaforth, no real falls; I was feeling good.  Then a branch caught on my pack and sprung back pushing me off balance. I ended up falling facedown on the rocks.  My knee was banged a little but no real injury.  Kind of ironic that as the end of the track approaches, I fall.  Fifty meters later, the track turned away from the river and started to climb toward the end.  I gritted my teeth and slowed down.  One hundred meters later, I arrived at the trailhead.  The Dusky, sadly, was over.

Epilogue, Post-Mortem, and Final Thoughts
There was an easy walk down the shores of Lake Manapouri where a tourist boat would provide a ride back to civilization.  It was a nice boat ride but also an ambivalent one.  I don't usually feel great after finishing such a track.  Since as soon as it's over, I already miss it.  It was nice to be alone so much.  I did see Jim at the huts four nights, but once away from the hut, I didn't see a soul for nine days and that's good.

The tramp was so amazing in its diversity.  From mountain top to the shores of the sea, from sunny blue to pouring rain, snow, and hail, from barren rock to life...everywhere!  It was all there and it's good to have that diversity.  Some may think it rained too much but au contraire.  If given the choice between nine sunny, "perfect" days or nine days of rain, snow, hail, and mist, I would have to choose the latter.  To miss out on those is to miss out on Fiordlands itself.  But you know what, it's good that it was all there.

This was my third time on the Dusky and it's still as fresh and amazing as it was the first time.  On my first tramp, I was impressed within the first ten meters.  This time I still felt that way for the last ten meters.  There is something about Fiordlands that is unlike any place that I've seen and it keeps drawing me back.  Some people wonder why I would want to tramp it three times but no matter, I want to go back so badly.  To walk through The Cathedral, it's not something you see, it's something you experience, something you feel, that goes way beyond just the visuals.  The same goes for the shores of Dusky Sound, the Pleasant Range in hail, or standing on Mt. Memphis, there are so many places.  It gives me a....I don't know what it is, but whatever it is, calls me back and I miss it terribly.  I don't know if I can convey how powerful the emotions are, but this story is the best that I can do describe some of the greatest times of my life.  I'm not a very spiritual person but if pressed about what a spiritual experience is, I'd have to look at my times in the place of mist, sky and water to explain.

I was talking with some people recently about what we would do if we only had one week left to live.  I said that I would spend some of the time riding my bike and also tramping in Fiordlands.  The other guys wrinkled their noses in confusion and one said; "I think I would have to have a woman in there somewhere."  I replied, "Nah, I'll take Fiordlands." And I mean that.  Those lands are a part of me.
If you've like reading about the Dusky, there are other Epic Tracks, including two more Dusky tramps, that have been covered.  It's some good stuff