One phone call with native New Zealander Graham Zimmerman led to many more, and, in March 2015, we set off for New Zealand’s South Island with two other friends, Kyle Dempster and Jewell Lund. Our objectives were simple: climb some mountains, eat some meat pies, explore. Months of planning boiled down to a few days of packing and preparation, a string of red-eye flights, and our groggy arrival in Christchurch. From there, we made fast tracks for the Southern Alps, fingers crossed for good weather that never came, with our sights set on the southwest ridge of Mount Aspiring (9,951 feet). Helicopter pilots declined to fly us to the base of our objective, so we opted for the long slog by foot, some 30 miles up the Matukituki Valley. We eventually summited via the southwest ridge. While the climb itself required some heavy trudging, what stood out in hindsight was the array of environments and ecosystems we passed through during our 72-hour descent from Mount Aspiring. We navigated across glaciers and snowfields, jungles and flooded rivers; exchanged greetings with local sheep and shepherds; and eventually arrived in the cascading heart of Fiordland, Milford Sound.
Photo: We reached the summit of Mount Aspiring, at 9,951 feet, around 4:30 p.m. on March 8. Heavy gusts swept across the corniced summit. Over the next 72 hours, we traveled through myriad landscapes and microclimates as we descended Aspiring and back into the Matukituki Valley, eventually wending our way into Fiordland.