February 19th
Aspiring Hut-Shelter Rock Hut
Mileage: 16.4mi/26.5km

I slept horribly last night. My stomach is a mess. I’m not sick, and I know that, but I’ve been nauseated from all the transportation lately, and now it’s more of an anxious/nervous stomach feeling as I am mentally working my stomach into even worse contortions. My stress comes out in my stomach, and once stomach stuff gets triggered for me, it snowballs and is very tough for me to get it normal again. I get a stomach ache, then worry about having stomach issues, then that gives me more pain, and the cycle just keeps feeding itself. In the hiking life, the problem is that I have to force down food knowing I need it to hike, and that makes it much worse when the last thing I want to do is eat right now. I forced down dinner last night, and spent the whole night trying to keep it down. I just laid there all night with that anxious feeling that I might throw up at any moment. Knowing today was a really challenging day of hiking was working me up even more because I knew I needed to be on my game with lots of elevation right off the bat. 

This is not something new to me. I’ve thrown up at least once on almost all my major hikes. It sucks and just gets triggered by both motion sickness and general stress. I have to say this is the worst it’s ever been with a double whammy of the motion sickness compounded by the fact that I’m obviously sad to have said goodbye to Becky. What’s ridiculous is that I made this choice to not finish together, and I can easily change it, but I have to keep telling myself that I’m doing what’s really best for all of us. I know it’s the right choice, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a sad decision. It’s ok to be sad, and shows how much I really do care. I know I just need to give it time to pass. Basically, I need to get out of my anxiety ridden head to get a reset for my stomach. It is with this mindset that I warned Griggs that I may throw up today, but that it’s nothing I’m not used to. I also knew that some intense hiking like today could help to get my mind and stomach distracted. 

We were headed over Cascade Saddle today. This is THE trip that is recommended to do in Mt Aspiring National Park, but you have to wait for the right weather window to be able to do. Fortunately, the stars aligned and the dates worked great for doing it right after the birthday festivities in Queenstown. We set off for the 3hr climb up to Cascade Saddle from Aspiring Hut at 7:30am. It was three hours for us at top condition, so it tends to take up to 6hrs for some. It seriously was 3hrs of steep climbing. It was humid down low, and I was dripping sweat for the first hour or so until we got higher. The views looking down over the Matukituki River Valley were great. 

Matukituki River Valley

We were fortunate that, clouds were blocking the sun to keep any strong heat away. My stomach was not doing great, but I just kept trying different mental strategies to distract it and hoping it would pass. I dry heaved twice and had many large burps all day, but managed to not throw up, so that’s success! The views were quite awesome. So many photos today. 

The final part of the major climb gets quite steep. In foul weather, it can be dangerous with how steep it is with the tussock. 

A “multiple fatalities” warning.

See Griggs in the middle?

Once up past the major part of the climb, we got some great alpine walking as we wove over to the main event of Dart Glacier at the top of Cascade Saddle. Again, tons of photos. 

Dart Glacier wasn’t as grand as Rob Roy yesterday, but it was more remote and cool to experience. Glaciers are always awesome, and we could hear cracking and shifting at times. It’s much larger than it first appears because much of it is covered by rock and dirt on top of the snow and ice. 

Dart Glacier

From there, we were rewarded with pretty smooth hiking the rest of the day. We proceeded to turn down into multiple valleys the rest of the day. Each one was unique and immensely awe inspiring. From the Dart Glacier, we followed the Dart Valley down to Dart Hut. For most, this is a full day trip to make it to Dart Hut from Aspiring Hut, but we are lucky to be in good condition and made it 6hrs to have lunch at the Dart Hut before moving on. 

Dart Valley

Dart Valley

Dart Hut

While at lunch, a woman from Alaska also stopped in to eat her lunch. Out of nowhere, she randomly asked if either of us needed any cheese. She had accidentally bought a huge block that was too heavy and she wasn’t going to eat it all. We couldn’t believe the timing because I had just earlier expressed my worry that I was going to run out of cheese if they don’t have any in the small town we will be going through before the Routeburn. It was perfect timing! This is the second time in a row this has happened as last time I left my cheese in the fridge in town, and that night Felix arrived with extra cheese to share. I’m lucky with cheese apparently!

From Dart Hut, it was a less than 3hr hike for us to get to Shelter Rock Hut. To get there, we first went up Snowy Creek Valley to Rees Saddle. Griggs got another fun time lapse of me coming up to Rees Saddle. 

Then it was through the Rees Valley and along the Rees River to the hut. The views were just great all day! 

Rees Valley

Looking back as we head down Rees Valley.

I’m too tired to break it all down, but this was another big day of elevation change. We had 6,442ft/1,936m of ascent and 5,049ft/1,539m of descent. We totally rocked it and felt good about it all day with mostly overcast skies and cooler air. This was definitely a tough one, but really worth the effort. We saw so many different views in the last two days alone. I knew this would be a cool trip to take, but I didn’t expect so many great open valleys with large mountains towering high above. 

Rees Valley

Rees Valley

Rees Valley

We made it to Shelter Rock Hut just before 5pm, and we were pretty proud of all that elevation change. I was happy that we did it fast enough to finish earlier than usual and just lay down. The shelter has multiple bunk rooms, and few were there, so Griggs and I got a whole bunk room for 8 people to ourselves. Score!

Shelter Rock Hut

As for my stomach, I’d say it has slightly improved. As the day went on, my stomach got a bit better the more I could take my mind off of it. I’m still having large burps from time to time. Headphones were key. I was still not in the mood to eat at all. I made myself have lunch, dinner, and a few bars, but definitely ate too little for such a physical day. Again, it’s now morphed into an anxious/nervous tightness and discomfort instead of a nauseated one. I’m a bit more relaxed knowing that we hike a half day into town tomorrow, and then I’ll have a rainy day zero to relax while we wait for weather to pass. That better be a good reset! My mind is still working it up more than anything, so I’ve given myself random good things to think about overnight every time I catch myself going down the bad stomach rabbit hole. I have my white noise on with my headphones to also hopefully keep me knocked out and out of my head. Another great weather and scenery day for us!

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