Men in high heels: Tramping The Remarkables
My husband has never worn high heels before. He's always been extremely scathing about such silly footwear but on this occasion he thought they were practical and even enhanced his performance. Besides, the other two burly men in our party had donned high heels too so he would have felt left out without them.
We were hiking uphill with snowshoes strapped to our tramping boots. Our feet were at a 90-degree angle to the slope thanks to a clever device which lifted the heels of our boots off the frame to the height of a reasonable stiletto.
However, there was no mincing or prancing along in these high heels – the technique required a firm, deliberate stride engaging the rows of metal spikes on the soles into the hard-packed snow on the Remarkables.
Lunch was simple but delicious. Image credit: Nigel Kerr
The snowshoes were lightweight, high-tech models, much more streamlined than the cumbersome ones we had experimented with in Europe earlier in the year.
The spikes ensured there was no slippage and with the addition of two height-adjustable walking poles, I felt entirely secure even negotiating quite steep slopes. A quick flick of the cleat engaged the high heel and saved our leg muscles.
"Your calves will thank you for it later," said our guide, Shaun, who was practically sprinting up the slope despite carrying a full pack with lunch and snacks for our party of five, along with a spade and other emergency equipment.Once into the rhythm of the snowshoes, which took all of 20 seconds to master, I forgot about them. It was just like ordinary hiking but with a footprint the size of Sasquatch.
The secret snow cave where groups take shelter when the weather turns nasty. Image credit: Nigel Kerr
With every step the sound of the chairlifts, skiers and snowboarders faded and the grandeur of the mountainscape and the Wakatipu Basin unfolded. In a region where even superlatives fall woefully short, it's one of the most awe-inspiring of panoramas.
Once we reached the remote, high-altitude Lake Alta cirque, the silence was sublime. The dead flat, smooth surface of the snow was the only indication there was a lake there at all. Shaun got out his spade and dug down through half a metre of snow to prove it . . . and to reassure us the ice was safe to walk on. With visions of cracking ice and plunging into frozen water, I had a strong urge to skirt around the lake edge but Shaun was one of those veteran outdoor Kiwi blokes who inspired total confidence. Still, I felt like a brave intrepid explorer setting off after him into the white wilderness. I expected to see wolves appear at any minute from behind the rocks.
Our lunch spot was a rocky promontory just below the jagged jet black sawteeth of the Remarkables range, the reverse side of the iconic view you can see from Queenstown.
'High heels' engaged, heading straight uphill on the Remarkables. Image credit: Nigel Kerr
Bathed in winter sunshine, we looked down on our tracks across the frozen teardrop lake as we munched on huge wedges of pumpkin bread sandwiches stuffed with chicken, brie, salad and relish. Simple fare but delicious.The only sounds were the whoops of exhilaration from an occasional extreme skier or snowboarder plummeting down the narrow chutes above us. And the squawks of the kea, the cheeky mountain parrot with its lethal hooked beak and vivid red plumage on the underside of the wings.
One of our Aussie companions was a bright spark marketing man. As we chatted over lunch, he decided snowshoeing was a clumsy term so he came up with sniking - snow hiking – with a nod to Nike as a company that might like to rebrand the sport. My contribution was shnoeing. Not quite as marketable.
The view from a lookout on the Remarkables. Image credit: Nigel Kerr
On the way down the mountain, we visited a secret snow cave where groups take shelter when the weather turns nasty or have lunch if it's too cold outside. Dug out under a huge jutting rock, it would hold eight to 10 people in cosy comfort.
Shaun tailors the degree of difficulty of the expedition to suit the fitness of the group with some overseas visitors opting for a short play around in the snow and a photo opportunity and others climbing as far as the South Wye Saddle at 1950 metres.
Ours was a serious workout. We covered about 6-8km with a climb of 300-400m reaching an elevation of 1900m at the Grand Couloir, a gully between Double and Single Cone, the latter being the highest point on the Remarkables Range at 2319m.
The snowshoe concept appealed to the greenie in me. In a tourist town famous for its expensive, high-octane adventures, it's the ultimate accessible low-risk activity. Apart from the 35-minute van trip from Queenstown, there is no artificial means of propulsion. And you don't have to be a finely-tuned athlete or even particularly well co-ordinated to master the technique. The prerequisites are two functioning legs with feet attached, mild to moderate fitness depending on the steepness of the gradient you opt for, and the taste for a gentle, scenic adventure in the Great Outdoors.
Written by Justine Tyerman. Republished with permission of Stuff.co.nz.