Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Solstice!

So it's no longer technically the solstice but that's OK. The last couple of days have been spectacular here in Queenstown. I spent today sleeping in (you'll know why soon), spending some time at the beach which included getting battered in 2-3' chop during an open water swim, an amazing pizza lunch, and a dusk run along the shore.

Yesterday, however, was an even better day. I started the day with an idyllic 100k ride to Kingston and back. 70˚F for most of the ride, but most notably, not a breath of wind. Perhaps the first day I've had here without even a breeze, and it made the ride soooo much better. I rode pretty hard and it felt great.

After recovering at home for a bit, I met up with a friend for a beer and a snack at Tatler down on Mall St. Headed back home, gathered some things, and then left the pad to go for a little night hike.

The first time I hiked up Ben Lomond, I flashed it, and as such, I only had my little Sony camera with me. I knew I needed to get back up there with the D80, and the opportunity to shoot a sunset from atop the peak was too much to pass up. I stepped off the gondola at 7pm, so I had 2 good hours of daylight left. I was fully prepared for some nighttime hiking and was really looking forward to it.

A few minutes after I passed through the saddle on the way up, I heard a distinctive whump-whump-whump that drowned out my iPod. I got the camera out quickly and got the treat of watching a heli go screaming through the saddle a few hundred feet below me!

Just a few minutes further up the steep final pitch to the summit, I came upon a good herd of mountain dwellers.

(What you lookin' at?)

When I started hiking, the sky was pretty much clear, but there had been clouds moving in the whole time. The light was changing fast and I knew I was in for a treat. I summited after having seen a total of 3 people on the trail. There was no one else headed up, so I had it all to myself. It was still dead calm on the summit, and the silence was fantastic. It was a shade cold, so I put the ol' down sweater on and just enjoyed some time to myself.

(A neat shot that shows the airport, the Kawarau River, and the road up to the Remarkables Ski Field)

(The Remarkables, top obscured, with a cool band of light across the middle)

The clouds near the sun in the west came into play and the vistas were soon around an 8 on the scale from 1 to Cool.

(Big fat sunbeams filtering through the clouds)

(Sunset over Wakatipu. I really liked the different-colored reflections on the lake.)

It started raining in the Remarkables. I could even smell some ozone in the air. The clouds were moving my way but the rain didn't seem to be, so I saw no real reason to hurry. It was, however, near freezing, which did provide good motivation to get to lower elevations. The last bit of sunlight provided a spectacular display in the rainclouds.

(Rain in the Remarkables)

Even though the sun had long set, I had plenty of light for the trip down and didn't even break out my headlamp until I got to a stand of trees about 15 minutes from the end of the hike. Shortly thereafter, my headlamp illuminated a pair of beady eyes in the trail right in front of me. The eyes made a quick break for a tree and then stopped, at my eye level, no more than 3m in front of me. They stayed still while I took my pack off, retrieved my camera, and started shooting.

(Hi, Mr. Stoat!)

The stoat stayed there right in front of me until I finished screwing around with the camera. As soon as I put the camera away, he bailed up the tree at a high rate of speed, never to be seen again.

I made it to the gondola at about 10:35, and it was still running! I was prepared to walk down the hill into town, but the restaurant had some late guests and I caught the last gondola down. I got a few funny looks from those last guests, but that's just fine. I made my way to the late-night kebab shop in town, got some dinner, and made a hasty retreat back to the pad. I was sound asleep by midnight and slept until 10:30 this morning. So nice to be able to sleep in...

What a perfect day!

Past Detritus