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“On a dark day, not long after the eve of the year had been toasted, heavy rain pounded on dark shake eaves as a tea kettle boiled over unnoticed. Cozy and warm, for what they would soon come to realize was to be the last time for many days to come, a company had gathered, deep voices rising and falling with a cadence of excitement and seriousness that reflected the anticipated trials and triumphs of the journey to come. Outside long white clouds stretched their fingers over rolling green hills, and far off, out of sight and into imagination, rose Misty Mountains beyond.”

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In the spring of 2015, while exploring the ecologically enchanting, and at times miserable, landscape that makes up the South Island of New Zealand, I entertained myself by drawing parallels between our journey and the stories of Tolkien’s* middle earth—a literary staple of my childhood.

*Disclaimer—this trip log is in no way intended to be a factual representation of the events or chronology of either the Lord of the Rings or our trip, but rather is a loose approximation of the path my imagination followed; a path as meandering as our journey, weaving different elements of the Hobbit and the LOTR Trilogy with the various events of our two weeks exploring the Darrans, Mt Aspiring and The Matukituki Valley. 

“I dislike allegory—the conscious and intentional allegory—yet any attempt to explain the purport of myth or fairytale must use allegorical language.” J. R. R. Tolkien

The Fellowship:

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(clockwise from top left – GZ as Samwise/Legolas, Kyle as Aragorn/Bombadil, Forest as Orc/Ent/Hobbit, Jewell as Eowen/Galadriel)

GZ // Samwise Gamgee meets Legolas, his knowledge of the land combined with constant optimism and support kept our fellowship together and moving ever upwards and onwards through marvelous and malevolent country.

Kyle // Calm and collected with sparks of mischief, Kyle is our Aragorn, solidly trudging through rock and ice, often picking the route through the higher country and where the path disappears.

Jewell // First to draw blood on the trail, and often found out leading the charge on the sharp end or steep ridge, Jewell’s contagious laughter mixed with equally serious focus on the challenges at hand make her Eowyn meets Galadriel.

Me // Orc (based on the way I smelled) meets Ent (based on the very slow way I move) meets Frodo (based on my general cowardice and the way everyone else in the fellowship ends up helping to share the burden I cause by bringing my camera on the journey).

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The Shire (Wanaka)—Leaving the Shire to venture into the unknown, the fellowship was watched carefully by the curious locals (pictured here), many of whom had never ventured outside the Shire before and seemed quiet content to keep it that way.

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Weathertop—Kyle takes advantage of the high ground to see if we are being tracked.

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The Misty Mountains—Leaving the rolling hills of the shire we pushed deeper into the steep enchanted valleys, moving ever upwards towards the Misty Mountains beyond.

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Tom Bombadil—Pushing on, we are greeted with hot tea and warm hugs by Tom Bombadil (the local hut warden).

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Barrow Downs—Nightfall finds us wandering the maze of the Barrow Downs.

Ford of Bruinen // Dark Riders—The dark riders come in the form of thunderheads, roaring over the mountains above and setting the river to raging as we near Rivendell.

Rivendell—arriving soaked and weary, we are greeted in Rivendell by the beauty of cascading falls, the warmth of a wood fire, cheery travelers, and hot tea.

Redhorn Pass—Leaving Rivendell we head up into the hills, the terrain becoming less friendly, as steep slabs turn to treacherous flowing waterfalls, and boulders pelt down from the mountain giants above.

Fangorn—A welcome respite from the steep scree fields, we find ourselves shrouded by the branches of the old Ents.

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The Pelennor Fields—Jewell does battle with the fierce invading shrubbery and comes out relatively unscathed—though her weapon of choice is a bit the worse for wear.

 

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Elevenses—”What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn’t he?”—Pippin

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Gorgoroth—“One does not Simply walk into Mordor”—Elrond. Deep crevasses part the terrain through which we must cross to gain the base of the mountain.

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The Mines of Moria—Breaking of the Fellowship—Our party is divided for a time as heavy fog rolls in and we find ourselves unexpectedly benighted.

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Mount Doom—At dawn the weather parts and we can see the mountain ahead.

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The Final Push—Climbing the Northwest Ridge we arrive at the summit at dusk and culminate our adventure by casting the One Ring (my camera) into the abyss.

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The One Ring (camera)—May it rest in peace.

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The Shire—With the fire (errr…ice) of Mount Doom behind us, we warm ourselves back in Hobbiton, swapping stories and celebrating over heaping plates of Lembas (peanut butter smothered One Square Meals) and full mugs of Ent-draught (a bag of wine), the fellowship soon to scatter again to the far corners of Middle Earth.