Alastair McDowell was one of Summit Challenge 2021’s most active participants; over the course of March he tirelessly climbed, hiked and ran hills for the challenge to accumulate 40,258 vertical metres. This is over 4.5 times the height of Everest which was the original challenge. To achieve this Alastair travelled around New Zealand’s South Island in search of hills that enable him to reach his spectacular goal. This is his story of a day on Mitre Peak in Fiordland’s Milford Sound:
My Summit Challenge journey had drawn me south in search of summits. I quickly moved through Canterbury, collecting Mt Somers and Mt Olliver along the way before arriving in Wanaka. Roys Peak, Corner Peak and Breast Hill. Onto Queenstown; the Remarkables Grand Traverse, and up to Glenorchy; Mt Earnslaw. Wonderful country.
Fiordland enticed me with her iconic granite peaks towering above draped in vegetation. Mitre Peak was surely next. Disheartened to hear water taxis were no longer, I drove into Homer Hut anyway, after an evening dash up to Conical Hill on the Routeburn. To my good fortune, a friend at Homer Hut lent me his white water kayak for the trip across the sounds. The Mitre Peak dream was alive again.
I had some emails to attend to in the morning from Milford Lodge, so I didn’t get away until 11am. Fortunately the sounds were beautiful calm. After half an hour I drag the kayak ashore and begin bush bashing up the steep slopes of the Footstool, the first peak on the ridge. The track is initially non-existent, but later I merge into a faint foot track through thick bush on the ridge. Occasionally I catch a glimpse of Mitre’s peak, closer and closer.
I gulp some water from a saucepan at the mid-way bivvy spot and start ascending the notoriously exposed ridge. The drop off into the sounds is incredible, and the rock scrambling is a lot of fun. I reach the summit at about 2pm, take in the mesmerizing view, and begin the careful descent.
Back at the water level a few hours later, I’m looking forward to a quick kayak back in the onshore swell. Just one problem… my kayak is gone.
Oh dear. My kayak has been swept away by the tide. I’m trapped on Mitre Peak.
I look out to Milford and see the last of the cruise ships heading in, its almost 5pm. The sandflies find me and start to bite. My spare supplies are also in the kayak, floating in the sound somewhere. What a disaster.
I feel I only have one choice – set off the PLB and hope a cruise ship is sent instead of a helicopter to rescue me. I reluctantly pull out the PLB aerial and walk out to the water’s edge to set off the beacon with best sky coverage; I see a good rock to set it up on.
Something blue out to my left catches my eye. The kayak! It’s the kayak! Goodness me. I rush over to rescue the kayak, bobbing around by a log. But its not just bobbing on its own accord, its tied onto a log. Someone has rescued my kayak and tied it there for me. Thank you, whoever you are.
I jump in and paddle back to Milford. Good thing I didn’t miss dinner.
Alastair McDowell, May 2021.
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