Lake Unknown

There are some trips you venture out on, where you’re rewarded with grandeur and magic from a place that is simply surreal. Much of the great exploring has been done but we all find our own ways of finding a way to reimburse adventure; I certainly think we all NEED it whatever shape or form it may be in. Personally, the biggest appeal is finding a place that really is ‘off the radar’ and you can count on being away from all civilisation. My recent trip to Lake Unknown was just as the title says, a place where no track lay, no human evidence found and a piece of the world that represents grandeur and magic in nature.

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Originally planning on a full 7 day circuit, our plans soon diminished when we saw the forecast for the next week, a bout of bad weather hitting right in the middle of our ‘would-be’ trip. We opted to break it down into 2 smaller trips instead, the second would be our climb to lake unknown. We began our trip at the Routeburn shelter, the Glenorchy end for one of NZ’s 9 great walks; The Routeburn Track. We would follow this track for 1km before turning off to head up-and-over the Sugarloaf pass, a wet and muddy 600metre climb through beech forest before breaking out onto the boggy tussock tops.


We didn’t hang around for long and before we knew it, we were descending 600 metres into the Rockburn valley. Our aim, to reach Theatre flat at the far end of the Rockburn valley. Torrential rain bombarded us right up until we reach the Rockburn river, a welcoming flat gradient along it’s banks. It was silent, with only the sounds of the roaring river sailing past us. After a short lunch stop and a break in the weather, we plodded on, gathering some dry wood wherever we could find in hope we could dry out some of our gear. Just as the name suggests, Theatre flat was natures own theatre. An expansive, vast tussock plain with huge walls of granite encompassing all around. With the rain, the place was alive, streams running, waterfalls crashing yet, the sun was shining; it was magic.


We would rest our heads here for the night, the route we would take the following morning we could see ahead of us ,or rather, above us. Just what the doctor didn’t order, a sleepless night bombarded by Kea, New Zealand’s alpine parrot who seemingly have an appetite for outdoor gear. Our trekking poles and tents were ‘kea damaged’ during the night but nevertheless, it was fun enjoying our morning coffee to them skipping around our campsite.


We packed up and began our climb. A challenging feat consisting of 1100metres of bush-bashing, climbing and scree-slope navigating. We were persistent and optimistic for what was ahead, we knew once at the top of the pass, we would be presented with a view like no other; we were right. Surrounded by 2000m+ peaks, Lake Unknown sits at 1250m and it truly is a surreal sight. We would venture down and set up camp here in amongst a rocky outcrop and spent a night on what I can only describe as the best place I’ve camped to this day. With the peaks standing so high, we lost sunlight on our campsite at 3:30pm and with it, the temperature plummeted. We were soon all wrapped up watching the evenings transition of light over the lake before only Mount Earnslaw remained tipped in a orange hue.


With no sign of Kea, we enjoyed a comfortable sleep on the cold tops, awaking early for a big day ahead where we would descend down the 1100m climb we came up, along the Rock burn valley and onto the Sugarloaf pass where we would spend our final night. The descent from Lake Unknown was tougher than the ascent, with the granite becoming iced over from the previous night. Reaching the bush line and eventually theatre flat, we were glad to be back on flat terrain, making quick work of the Rock burn valley, even stopping for lunch and an icy cold swim along the way! A 600metre climb back up to a much less boggy Sugarloaf pass where we would pitch up for the night. Each campsite seemed to trump the other in some way on this trip, with this one offering 360 degree views all around, even to the Humboldt Mountains and Lake Waikatipu. With the weather drawing in and the winds picking up, we were grateful for a night here and so for the last time this trip, I packed up my Jack Wolfskin Exolight 2p tent, and began our last descent, back through the misty beech forest onto the Routeburn track and returning to the Routeburn shelter to round off what I can only describe as the trip dreams are made of.


Equipment: Jack Wolfskin Exolight 2p Tent

Jack Wolfskin 65litre pack

Jack Wolfskin Humboldt Jacket


Supported by: Back country cuisine, Caveman Candy, Go rentals N

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