It happens to every traveler. It can strike anywhere, anytime, for any reason. Burnout. That draining effect which leaves you weary, frustrated, and bitter. I’ve experienced it multiple times over the years; most recently, I experienced burnout at Aoraki.
Highway 80 winds its way up the shore of Lake Pukaki, across the flanks of the hillsides and up a glacial valley. The cloudy blue of the lake disappeared as I drove; traffic on the highway was almost non-existent. A heavy fog covered the valley, nearly obscuring the peaks hedging it. Then, around a bend, I saw it: Aoraki. Mount Cook — sprawling and massive. Anticipation infused me, and I was already dreaming of an inspiring hike ahead.
By the time I’d parked Te Namu, the mountain had begun to recede behind its veil. The atmosphere was thick and dreamlike, and the air frigidly cold as I breathed in deep. But despite the cold, the mist, and the relative emptiness of the roads, the trail was packed. Large groups of chattering tourists clogged the narrow walkway, and I felt my frustration building as I tried to weave between them. People unfamiliar with trail etiquette walked side-by-side and only stepped aside if asked. I had a few hours remaining if I was to make it to my campsite that evening, and dusk was quickly drawing nigh.
The trail skirted the base of Aoraki before veering off towards the Hooker Valley. I caught one final glimpse of the mountain through the clouds before it disappeared altogether.
I set a brisk pace to make up for the congested trail. The fog grew thicker, and by the time I reached the next shelter, the views were almost non-existent. I took a break to snack and sat there in a brooding silence.
Have you ever had a moment of self-awareness when you realized you’d been lying to yourself? I’d been so determined to do the hike and fit it into my schedule. I’d forced things, and I wasn’t enjoying the experience at all. Feeling rushed is unpleasant, and I found myself wishing away the presence of every other person on the trail. I savored the taste of that urge, considered it.
I wanted nothing less than complete solitude. This hike was mine.
It was a bitter thought.
I picked up my bag and started walking back to the car park. The mood I found myself in was not one I wanted to nourish; I was not the person I wanted to be. Hiking is a cherished experience for me: to be in Nature, to breathe deep and savor every sensation. It’s not compatible with impatience or selfishness. I needed to get my head right before I could go on.
The sense of failure niggled in the back of my mind, but I kept walking. There would be another day, another hike. Hopefully, by then, I would be in a better place.
How about you? Have you ever experienced burnout? How did you feel? What did you do to change it? Let me know in the comments below!