Running the Kepler Track

The main reason we came back down to this part of NZ 5 weeks after having been here for the Milford Track was to tackle the Kepler Track with, hopefully, more stable conditions. The Dept of Conservation shuts down the treks when there is high avalanche risk. When we were here in early November the Kepler was closed and we had heard that up until last week they were still helicoptering trekkers over certain sections of the nearby Routeburn Track, so our fingers were crossed. We needed safe conditions to be able to attempt the Kepler in one go.
We woke up at dawn on Friday morning to a cloud covered sky. Perfect. We made our PB&J sandwiches, put our shoes on and started running along the shore of Lake Te Anau towards the trailhead. The day’s forecast called for clear sunshiny conditions but low hanging clouds early in the morning which was just what we were hoping for.
After zipping by a few trekkers who were just emerging from their tents at Brod Bay we began the climb up the mountain past the dramatic limestone bluffs until we emerged out of the trees and into the clouds. The foggy haze created a dream-like state and the dew covered tussock grasses glistened. It was eire and slightly hallucinatory! Every second the surroundings changed as the clouds swirled all around us.
After a quick water refill at the Luxmore Hut, we saw our shadow!! The sun must be coming!!!!  
One second the views were nothing but white and blue:
And then, in an instant, the clouds dropped and revealed gorgeous peaks as far as our eyes could see! It was that perfect mountain moment: a cloud inversion! 
It lasts literally only moments, a handful of minutes at best. If you blinked you would have missed it. We stopped to enjoy every second of being at the right place at the right time. With no one else on the mountain but us, it was undeniably one of the most awesome mountain running moments of my life!
If ever there was a “runner’s high” this was it.
We added a bit of extra distance and a few hundred vertical feet when we ventured off the main trail and headed up to the summit of Luxmore Mountain for the highest possible view:

With the clouds now all evaporated we hopped back on the trail and for the next hour or so ran along the ridge line with completely unobstructed views.
The beautiful Fiordlands:

We stopped for a brief chat with a pandemonium of Keas at the Hanging Valley Shelter :
After surviving the quad-destroying sharp switchback descent to Iris Burn Hut we were pleased to hit the valley floor and some flat ground at last!
The next 10 miles to Moturau hut weaved along side the bubbling Iris Burn to the shore of Lake Manapouri. It was hard to resist the cool refreshing waters of the lake but alas we still had a solid 10 more miles to go.
Miles and miles of beautiful and shady rainforest and wetlands:
A little break to enjoy the view of the Waiau River below:
We checked our GPS when we made it back to the trailhead: 39.8 miles (plus another 3 miles to get back to our tent) in 10:04 hours. A solid 2-2.5 hours were probably spent on photo breaks, bathroom breaks, food breaks, and just plain ol’ sit on the ground and hang out breaks. Not too shabby considering our recent lack of running! 
In the end, yes, our bodies ached and my feet were screaming to get out of my shoes. When we were back at our tent, I laid down on the ground in a half-dead state of fatigue. But that’s just as much part of the experience as are those awesome views and the fresh crisp air. I cannot complain about any of the aches and pains (not even that pesky little pinky toe blister). The entire 43 mile journey was nothing but an absolute pleasure and one of the greatest privileges. It is the reason why I run. 

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