Backpacker

MUD, SWEAT, AND VIEWS

Source: The Pleasant Range affords one of the Dusky Track’s best views.

Can there be too much of a good thing? For backpackers who like a challenge as big as the reward, New Zealand’s Dusky Track tests the limits.

The Fiordlands’ annual rainfall—more than 20 feet—grows a brushy obstacle course.

SWIRLING WIND HURLS RAIN at us, like someone throwing cups of water into our faces. By the time my friend Jeff Wilhelm and I have gone 50 yards on New Zealand’s Dusky Track, we have both sunk to our knees a dozen or more times into the heaviest, gloppiest, boot-suckingest mud that I have ever mired a leg in. Our first steps in what may be the most dishonestly named mountains in the world—the Pleasant Range in chronically soggy Fiordland National Park—do not bode well.

I glance back at the Lake Roe Hut, but we didn’t come here to hide out in a shelter. Nothing to do but cinch the gaiters and tighten the hood. We continue across an almost treeless, alpine landscape of kneehigh grass. Boggy tussock masquerades as earth, but the ground seems more liquid than solid. Our mode of travel falls somewhere between walking on water and wading through land.

We claw up a crazy-steep hillside of rainslicked grass and stop in our ankle-deep tracks. The view makes me forget the brackish mix of rain and sweat dripping from my nose. A vast, mystical plateau dappled with scores of tiny tarns and a few bigger lakes sprawls ahead of us. The plateau falls away abruptly into glacier-carved valleys and fjords that stretch for miles to the South Pacific. In all directions, rainforestshrouded mountains loom in the fog. It’s absolutely quiet, except for the threatening moans of the wind and the

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