Routeburn Track Day Walk – Routeburn Shelter to Conical Hill return

The Routeburn Track was my first proper tramp (New Zealand hike), an 37km overnight adventure over Christmas 2013 which converted me into a keen tramper. I’ve done 18 more overnighters since then but the Routeburn remains my favourite.

Which made me wonder if I was tempting fate doing it again, or at least half of it, from the Routeburn Shelter to and up Conical Hill and back. This was a decent full day ascending and descending 1,000m over 31km, walking from sunrise to sunset on a short June day.

A frosty 2C start got me going at pace to keep warm, and the track gradually climbs up to Routeburn Flats before the ascent really start to kick in. The native bush remains atmospheric, and waterfalls scenic, but the track is pretty tedious to walk along. Up to Routeburn Falls is basically a small road, wonderful for access (you could push a buggy along it) but not very interesting to walk, though fast at least.

Things improved hugely after Routeburn Falls, with far more varied and challenging track. The falls themselves are always a pleasure.

The track crosses an increasingly epic landscape, with huge rocks scattered along by the path.

Lake Harris came into shimmering view, though it is a surprisingly difficult shape to photograph well.

The Harris Saddle at 1,255m is the highest point of the track. It’s home to a tarn, framed by the Darran Mountains in the distance.

Nearby is the Harris Saddle Shelter is in a rather scenic spot.

Behind the shelter is Conical Hill, at 1,515m offering even better views of Fjordland, out to the coast in the distance, and a striking frozen tarn.

It wasn’t the easiest to get up and particularly down though, as most of the track doesn’t see any sunlight at this time of year, with frozen and icy ground. On the way down I came across a young girl and her grandmother making their way up quite happily which put things in perspective…

The return walk was quicker, almost all downhill and with fewer photo stops though the views near the Routeburn Falls Hut are always worth stopping for.

The Routeburn is still definitely a Great Walk, and it’s hard to beat the sheer amount of scenery and variety it packs into it’s relatively short distance. It did make me think though how I have changed since walking it the first time, the track is pretty much the same track (other than the ascent to Routeburn Falls which has been made easier) but I really struggled to recapture the sense of wonder and awe I felt the first time. Like an addict constantly trying to recreate the first hit, I feel like I’ve overdone it on New Zealand mountain scenery (what a ridiculous first world problem to have). Luckily Australia isn’t too far away and has some deserts to explore…

Author: jontycrane

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