The Kepler Track, New Zealand

Fog, rain, sleet, snow and mud -- The photograph above speaks volumes: notice the first snowy footprints (mine) of the day on a sturdy wire-meshed boardwalk over the boggy pools. The Department of Conservation, or "doc" in the local lingo, has done all it can to bring you to the tops; now it's up to you to brave the elements of New Zealand's notoriously wet terrain.

It's not always a roller-coaster of muck up and down the oft-salted path, but at this point, your feet can no longer tell the difference. Cold winds howl over the exposed saddles between the peaks, and when you feel a burning sensation on your brow, relax: it's not a fever you're getting, just a ray of intense sunlight piercing through the clouds.

It takes little mental effort now to imagine Tolkien's -- and Peter Jackson's -- Fellowship of the Ring, as nine walkers trudged along the Misty Mountains on their way south of Rivendell.

These photos were taken with a Nikon CoolPix 5200, set at 7.5mm.

New Zealand 2004

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