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OAK COVER Magazine

  /  Places   /  A Hike to the Valley of the Trolls & Lake Wilson

A Hike to the Valley of the Trolls & Lake Wilson

We started along the path with dozens of other hikers heading along one of New Zealand’s famous great walks- the Routeburn track. New clothes and gear, not a tear or wear mark in sight, marked many as first time hikers, eager to see New Zealand’s backcountry. Overtaking them, we were all heading the same way. But our destinations differed. Entering the Valley of the Trolls further along the track, we would go to were few venture.

It was mid December, and the typical New Zealand summer weather was in full effect, but there was snow on my mind. Having just climbed Mt Brewster a few days prior, I knew that snow could linger in the sheltered slopes and gullies for a long while after Spring. It might make it difficult as we had opted to ‘go light’, leaving heavy boots, crampons and ice tools behind, and bet on most of it having melted away.

But I’ll get back to that later.

With my friend Joel, we were blitzing along the Routeburn track, and my fitness was faring well with trips such as Mt Brewster behind me. I laughed at each sign indicating the average time to the next significant landmark. Two hours? Make it one!

We soon passed the luxury huts of the Routeburn. The smell of bacon, eggs and sausages seeping out of the building seemed so incongruous with our place in the wilderness. Peering through the windows as we walked by the Routeburn lodge, a privately owned hut for hikers (read: hotel), bedding was changed in the upper floors from hikers about to embark on their next leg of the great walk, while on the level below sat tables neatly arranged in a dining hall as they waited for the next hungry hikers to arrive.

It was stark contrast to our mission, as we had worked up a sweat carrying our heavy packs (with no bacon or eggs), and were about to ‘tough it out’ camping by an alpine lake.

We settle into a good rhythm up towards the saddle, and then as we round the bend, Lake Harris comes into view.


Spanning out to fill the huge depression below Conical Hill and Harris Saddle, its light blue edges sank into a deep black core. A body of water in a mountain setting is always impressive, and I often find myself wanting to swim in it, held back sometimes by freezing temperatures (like on this trip), but not always.

It was from here we could catch our first glimpse of the Valley of the Trolls. Off in the distance at the end of the valley, a huge waterfall became our focus. So large, and so far away, the water looked to travel slowly, almost crawling, perhaps even being mistaken for snow at first glance.

But there was no mistaking the snow patches on its right side, in the deep gully we would have to scramble up to access Lake Wilson on top. Snow was once again on my mind, but we would have to get closer to decide our plan of action.


By Patrick