I seem to be making a habit of leaving 6 months in between posts! The longer it is in between posting, the longer and more detailed I feel I need to write. This serves as a prefectly good reason to procrastinate.
I’ve been off the ice now for close to three months. Spending six months down there this season felt like forever, and I was very ready to leave in February. It was a good season, though… I was on the Search and Rescue team and got a lot of invaluable training, I had a new job where I often worked with science groups, I got to the field twice for work and I led some recreational trips. One thing I realized this season is I’m still not ready to work a desk job, and spending six months behind a desk this season really affected my happiness. I signed a contract for next season before leaving the ice, but for a different job which should put me outside a lot more.
On February 18 I flew north to New Zealand and stayed in Christchurch for two days to do my physical qualification (PQ) for next year- this involved going to a doctor, a dentist and getting some blood work done. After that was done, I headed off on a small roadtrip with my boyfriend Fedders, who I met on the ice this season. We rented a car and drove first to Diamond Harbour, a really beautiful spot but noisy due large tankers being loaded and unloaded in nearby Lyttleton. We continued further south and stayed for two days on the Otago Peninsula which I really enjoyed. We found a sweet Airbnb on top of a hill that our little car had trouble getting up. The first day we arrived the owner happened to be on the drive behind us and told us compact cars usually have trouble getting up. He told Fedders to get out and the two of them sat on the hood of the car to gain traction as I drove. I wish I had a picture.
We then headed north and stayed in a small, unremarkable town whose name I can’t remember and don’t currently feel like Googling. I think we mostly picked it because we found an Airbnb that came with a cat. Yes, Pud the cat was our host. Well technically the owners lived next door with another cat, but Pud stayed with us. Then it was time for the islands! We had booked plane tickets to Rarotonga, the largest island of the Cook Islands, and we found an awesome little place to stay right on the beach.
We spent the next week exploring around the island, renting a motorbike for ease of transport. I didn’t want to pay to get my license and go through the test with the police, so I just rode as a passenger. We mostly just snorkeled on the reef right off of our place, but I also went diving one of the days outside the protective reef that surrounds the island. We did the cross island hike another day; we got up early to avoid the hottest part of the day but it was still sweltering and humid. My favorite part was the rooster that clearly knew he would find tourists with food near the peak and he followed us up the rock scramble to the panoramic view. He even photobombed us. I think we snorkeled pretty much every day except the day we left. It was beautiful, but Rarotonga is quite a big island with a fair amount of development- lots of resorts and rental homes lining almost every mile of coastline.
We flew back to New Zealand and rented a car again, this time driving down to Queenstown area. We stayed with a friend from the ice who is American but currently living and working in New Zealand with his partner. Their house was a bit old and drafty but they lived there for free through work. I thought it was great. We had steak from his neighbor’s farm and it was some of the best I’ve had. The next day we went on to Wanaka where we spent one night before parting ways – Fedders was headed back to the States and I went backpacking in Mount Aspiring National Park.
This was my first solo backpacking trip, and while I’m glad I did it, at the time I was miserable. To start the hike I had to do a major river crossing alone and nearly got swept away; the sandflies were relentless and would land on you even if you stopped for two seconds; I was using the same boots I hiked the Colorado Trail in last summer, which were no longer waterproof and gave me awful blisters; and somehow on the last day I managed to shock myself on an electric fence. It was a doozy. I had planned on doing another backpack trip after that but decided to scrap it altogether and car camped with my friend Julie.
Julie and I went to Mount Cook National Park where we hiked and camped for a night. The next morning we scored some last minute online hut passes to Mueller Hut. When we went to the ranger station we realized why these passes had suddenly become available that morning: there were strong winds up the mountain that day and intense rain expected. When we went to collect our passes, the ranger did tell us the wind had died down and that it was safe to go as long as we didn’t mind the rain. We decided to go for it- it was only drizzling at that point, and we wanted to stay in a hut on the top of a mountain! As soon as we started our hike the rain, as expected, intensified. We were absolutely drenched, hiking up a trail that had turned into one six mile long waterfall. We just kept at it and made it to the hut faster than we expected. Of course, as soon as we got to the hut the rain stopped. Then the clouds parted for a bit and we got some nice sunset views of Mount Cook. The nice thing was that because so many people were deterred by the weather, there were only 7 of us in the hut instead of almost 30. In the summer months that hut is usually booked out each night. It was pretty amazing to be among the clouds and have them part every so often and see how high up we were and surrounded by glaciers (pronounced glassss-iers if you’re a kiwi).
After that Julie and I headed to Akaroa, a town on the peninsula near Christchurch. We stayed at a farm hostel that is pretty popular with ice folks, but surprisingly we didn’t run into anyone we knew. We shared a room, happy to be out of our tents and in a real bed. We explored around the town and the harbor, and did a hike to a viewpoint from our hostel. The following day we split up- Julie headed back to Christchurch and I had rented an Airbnb in nearby Sumner for the last few days before flying home. It was nice to bliss out on my own, talking walks or just lounging around. I was tired of moving around so much and ready to be back in the States.
I flew back on March 20, with a layover in Houston, where I got to hangout with my friend Meredith from college for a few days. I continued on to Virginia, where I stayed for just two days before heading to Colorado. My friend Lizzy (from tour guiding/ the ice/hiking the CT) was working at Copper for a few months, so I decided to go there for a week and then Crested Butte for a week. I stayed with Lizzy, her sister Catherine and Catherine’s fiancé Ray in Leadville. Lizzy and I had stayed with Catherine and Ray two or three different times over the summer while hiking the trail, so it was nice to be back and see them again. And their dog Frank. Frank is the best. Crested Butte as always was a blast, and my friend Alex has graciously hosted me now three different times. It was early April and the snow was getting a bit mushy, but it was still great to be back. It was closing week, and the mountain was pretty dead until the weekend, where people came out in force dressed in quirky costumes. We even managed a mini Antarctic reunion, including McKinlee who was working a season at CB and who I snowboarded with a couple days, and my friends Emily, Hannah and Hank. There are iceholes everywhere.
I flew back to Virginia to spend some more time at home. My mom and I took a fun trip down to Warm Springs and spent a few days hiking, biking and eating good food. We stayed not at the Homestead Resort, which to me looks like a creepy old mental hospital, but at a great little B&B. Unfortunately the public hot pools have been condemned and are shut down, so we didn’t get to enjoy the springs, but it was still a great trip. I then headed to Kentucky to visit Fedders. We went down to the Red River Gorge for some climbing and explored Mammoth Caves National Park. Since I was so close to Indiana I drove over and spent two nights with my friend Christina (also from the ice) who’s been working at a farm in French Lick. It was another ice reunion since our friend Ryan was there visiting as well.
I’m back in Virginia now, with just a few days to get ready for the next adventure… summer in Alaska! I’ll be working in McCarthy, in the middle of Wrangell St Elias National Park (the biggest national park in the US!) and I can’t wait. I’ll be working for a guiding company that offers glacier hiking, ice climbing, backpacking and packrafting tours. More to come on that later 🙂