The Opposite of Deja Vu

A long time ago I read a science fiction novel that had something in it that really stuck with me. It takes place several hundred years in the future when medical technology has extended the human life span so that people live for a thousand years. Unfortunately human memories don't last anywhere near that long. By the time someone is several hundred years old, they have forgotten most of their past life. Beyond about eighty to a hundred years in the past, they can only recall a few faint, disjoint, isolated fragments. They have no coherent memories. They have no recollection of what they did, how they felt, or who they were. From their perspective, it's almost as if their past life had been lived by someone else, or had never even occured.

The picture that proves I was at Lake Marian in 1983

One of the main characters was an archaeologist, someone whose life's work was to try to discover the lost history of past cultures and civilizations. Part of the story was about his efforts to uncover his own past, playing archaeologist with his earlier life. He learned that he had once visited Earth (he lived on Mars) and that he had climbed Olympus Mons, the highest mountain on Mars, even though he had no recollection of doing those things.

Clearly the story is an exageration to highlight something that we all experience as we get older. The memories of our earlier years become fainter. More and more gaps appear. Our lives change slowly but dramatically and we have a hard time relating to who we were when we were younger.

I know that as I have gotten older I sometimes feel like one of the characters in the story. Recently when I decided that I wanted to read it again, even that was an example of life imitating art. I couldn't recall much about the story other than the part about people outliving their memory. I couldn't even remember the name of the novel. At least I remembered that the author was Kim Stanley Robinson, so I did some research on Amazon and found it easily enough. The book is Icehenge. I bought the kindle version and reread it over the past few days.

Good weather at Lake Howden as we started the Routeburn

The loss of memories over time was just part of the overall theme on the impermanence of human existance. Although it was thought provoking the outlook of the book was quite dark. I almost OD'ed on the existential angst near the middle of the book, something which happens to some of the characters in the story (Robinson calls it "going into a funk") and they essentially become comatose. Fortunately that didn't happen to me and I made it through the whole novel.

Many of the characters in the book took to carefully documenting the events in their lives in an effort to combat the inevitable onset of amnesia. Years later, when their memory of those times had faded and then disappeared, they could read what they had done and thought and felt, maintaining contact with their past selves. I found that humorous because that's actually one of the main reasons that I put so much effort into writing this blog. I started it when we were living overseas as a way of communicating our experiences to friends and family in the US. But after we moved back home and our life wasn't quite so exotic, I still kept putting a lot of work into creating new posts. As time went on I realized that often the primary audience for the Dog Blog Later me. Sometimes late at night I will go back into the archives and read a post from several years ago and the story and pictures renew my recollection of a particular trip or event. I really wish it went back more than ten years, to times that are a lot fainter in my memory.

Erland Falls - sometimes I took good shots even back then

At this point, using my psychic powers, I can read your mind. You are wondering why I am telling you all this. Well, I told you this story so I could tell you another one. You see, when I came back from New Zealand, I went through a process of rediscovering my own past that was very similar to what the character in Icehenge did. That was what reminded me of the novel that I read so long ago and prompted me to find it and reread it.

I've been to New Zealand four times. Sandy and I went twice while we lived in Singapore, in 2008 and 2009. (Hey, it was close by. The flight was less than ten hours, which is a lot shorter than flying from the US.) The trip we just did in March was our third. But I went one other time, way back in 1983 with my wife-at-the-time Chris and my old climbing partner Brian. Although I don't recall all the details I remember a lot from that trip. Driving to Milford Sound and admiring Mitre Peak, wishing that I could climb it some day. Climbing Mt. Sealy with Brian, leaving before dawn and not getting back until after dark, totally exhausted. Camping in Westland when a torrential rain overnight flooded out all the other campers except us. Hiking in Abel Tasman National Park, enjoying the views inspite of the sandflies. Starting the Routeburn Track but being chased off by bad weather. I'll say more on that last one in a bit.

Definitely a studly young hiker

Way back then I didn't have anything like the Dog Blog for recording my travels. I did take a lot of pictures, which meant 35mm slides back then. Since I had to pay for both the film and for developing it, "a lot" of pictures meant something different in those days. I still have all my old slides, sorted, labelled and stored away, although I rarely look at them. Digging out and setting up my old slide projector and screen is a lot of work so I don't do it very often.

I did keep a written log, a diary of sorts, when I made my first trip to Nepal in 1990. I took along a tiny 3x5 spiral notebook. It was small, light and easy to carry on the trail. Most nights I would write short notes to record the trip. But I only did it that one time. At least that's what I thought.

About a week after getting home from our trip to New Zealand I was cleaning out a drawer when I came across an old 3x5 notebook. I assumed it was from my Nepal trip but when I looked inside I found that it was from my trip to New Zealand in 1983. The fact that I didn't remember keeping a notebook on that trip should have been a tipoff. I started to look through it and got some real surprises.

Threatening weather moves in and obscures Mt. Crosscut

On our recent trip to New Zealand, our main objective was to do the Routeburn Track, a three day hike. But since we would be there for ten days I researched other possible hikes in Fiordland National Park. One day hike that I found that I was hoping we would get a chance to do was to Lake Marian. It's near the Routeburn. The trailhead is just a short distance down the Hollyford Valley, off the main highway from Te Anau to Milford Sound. From the photos I saw on the web it was a beautiful spot and I was hoping that if we were able to do any hike beside the Routeburn, it would be Lake Marian. Unfortunately the weather wasn't very good for the few days that Sandy and I stayed in Te Anau so we never did the hike. The weather in Fiordland is always a crapshoot so while I was disappointed, that's the way hiking in New Zealand is.

But when I read my notes from the 1983 trip, I saw that the first hike that we did was...Lake Marian! I have absolutely no recollection of doing that hike. To check, I went into my closet and dug out boxes of my old slides. I found the ones from the New Zealand trip and started going through them, holding them up to the light. Sure enough, I found several pictures that I had taken at Lake Marian. I recognized it from pictures that I had seen on the web, even though I still didn't remember ever having gone there. This is when the weirdness set in and reminded me of the story in Icehenge. Before I read my notes I was disappointed that I had never done the Lake Marian hike. Now I know that I did it, but have absolutely no recollection of doing it. It raises the obvious question, am I any better off? Is it any different knowing that I did the hike, even if I have no memory of doing it?

There were no sunny views at Lake Mackenzie in 1983

Next I read about the Routeburn Track. I did remember that we had tried to hike it. In fact, we got to Lake Mackenzie and even stayed overnight at the hut there. But my recollection was that the weather was bad and that we had to head out the next day. We never really got any good mountain views, only hints of big mountains hiding in the clouds. And the hike out was a miserable one in the rain. That was part of the reason I was so anxious to try to do the Routeburn on our trip this March. Having tried and failed on the Routeburn, I wanted to go back and try it again, to make good after my failure in 1983.

When I read my notes and looked through my pictures, my memory was off quite a bit. We did hike to Lake Mackenzie. The weather was unstable and the mountain views were tantalizing but limited. But we spent another day hiking to Harris Saddle. I even climbed Conical Hill, which I did again on our trip in 2017, although I don't remember it from 1983. It's hard for me to believe that I forgot doing a summit. While I went up Conical Hill, my friend Brian hiked all the way to the Routeburn Falls Hut. Hiking there and back from Lake Mackenzie in a day is impressive, but I had forgotten about that too. Then the next day the rains came and we did have a miserable hike out, just as I remembered. So my memory was at least partially correct.

We had much better weather at Lake Mackenzie in 2017

My notes and photos from the trip were a bit of a shock to me. I have always thought that spending money on trips is much better than spending it on things. Stuff, whether cars or stereos or tvs or clothes or whatever, only lasts so long. Years later, you have nothing to show for it. But when I go on trips I get memories that last. I would have said that I still remembered the trips that I took decades ago. But here I learned that a lot of what I did on those trips was lost. Even after reading my diary and seeing my old pictures, I didn't have the slightest recollection of doing those things. Like the characters in the novel Icehenge, I felt like those trips were taken by someone else, who lived long ago.

Reading my notes there were some obvious differences from how I think now. Back then, I recorded my hiking times carefully, always comparing them to the standard time for a hike. Now, I just hike. It takes as long as it takes. It's not a race. But back then, I was obviously more competetive.

I also worried a lot about how my exwife did. She wasn't a very strong hiker but she didn't like me to go off hiking by myself. So when she was along, I was always concerned about how she felt. If she was miserable, I would end up being miserable. That's not the way I like to hike. I consider hiking and climbing to be a personal challenge, between me and the mountain. When I hike I don't want to have to worry about anyone but myself. Either I can do it or I can't. It's a challenge for me and that's all. But it was very different back then.

View from somewhere on the trail before Ocean Peak Corner

For all that changed, some things remained the same. Looking over the pictures I found that my sense of aesthetics didn't change. When I am hiking I like to take pictures that show the trail and other hikers with views in the distance, to give a sense of what it was to do the hike. I will often take a shot of Sandy hiking on the trail ahead of me with a backdrop of mountain scenery. When we hiked the Routeburn, I took a picture of her on the second day as we approached Ocean Peak Corner. It could have been anywhere but at that one spot the trail dropped slightly and I could get Sandy and the trail and the Darren Mountains in the distance. When I looked at my pictures from 1983 I found that I had taken a picture of Brian and Chris in the same spot as the one I took of Sandy thirty four years later. Looking at the rocks beside the trail, it's not about the same spot. It's the exact same spot. Like to within a foot or two. Out of ten miles of trail I picked the exact same spot to take a picture. It's not a specific viewpoint or anything. Just a spot where the trail looks good in a picture. Check out the two pictures yourself. Pay special attention to the rocks beside the trail. It really is exactly the same spot.

Sandy at the same spot as the photo above, 34 years later

As part of my research of my 1983 trip, I spent a lot of time looking at my old slides. To do that efficiently I took some time to shop for and then buy a special scanner so I could convert my slides to digital form. I got a Pacific Image PrimeFilm 7200, a high resolution (7200 dpi) semi-professional slide scanner. It allowed me to make high quality scans of my old color slides to include in this post. They aren't as good as modern digital photos but they do have quite a bit of detail, although the color is a bit faded after thirty five years. The scanner will come in handy, allowing me to convert my entire slide collection to digital. I have a lot of old memories of my many trips over the years to recover from my boxes of old slides. My personal archaeology research has just begun.

But I'm not the best person to tell you about the hikes that I did on that trip. As I have already said, there's a lot that happened on that trip that I don't remember. It's better if I let the young guy who was there tell you about it. So here are my notes from that part of the trip, unedited.

Entry dated Monday February 21, 1983

  • Lake Marian start 10:15
  • Lake 12:15 (1.5 norm)
  • start back 2:30
  • out 3:40

...Camped in Eglington Valley. Really heavy dew in morning. Some sandlfiles, but not too bad.

Monday morning was mainly clear with cloud on peaks. Drove to Lake Marain trailhead and started about 10:15. Swing bridge over Hollyford River was neat - really shaky! Hiked through heavy rain forest for two hours (trail is rated 1.5 hours). No views until lake. Rain forest was just like Hoh Valley. Lake was spectacular! Weather was perfect and view of Mt. Crosscut was fabulous. Chris did very well even though trail was quite steep.

Brian and I walked to other end of lake. It took 25 minutes. Scale was very deceptive. Peaks were 5-6000 ft above lake.

After two hours we headed down. Drove to Te Anau, ate, and got a motel. We bought groceries, are doing laundry, and are getting packed. Tomorrow we will probably start the Routeburn.

Entry dated Tuesday February 22, 1983

  • Routeburn start 12:30
  • Lake Howden 2:30 (1.5 norm)
  • left Lake Howden 2:30
  • Lake Mackenzie 6:15 (3 hrs norm)

Another nice day. Low clouds in Te Anau burned off by mid-morning. Chris called work today. Things are going well.

Track to Lake Howden was steady up hill most of the way but well graded. Chris did pretty well.

Hut at Howden was very nice. closed in. Gas burners. Howden was nice but not spectacular. Bugs were bad. We ate lunch and moved on. Chris got pretty tired, but made it ok. Trail to Mackenzie was much rougher - rocks, roots, very steep in spots. Very pretty. Trail went right by Erland Falls and many other small falls. In some spots the trail broke out of the bush for a while. Neat views of Christina, Crosscut, Lyttle and Tutoko. At first we could see up Marion valley. Later we had a nice view down the Hollyford to Tutoko.

Got into Mackenzie fairly late. Clouds had already covered ridges around lake. I haven't seen them yet.

Hut is very nice, about like in the Bugaboos. We'll probably be here two nights.

Entry dated Wednesday February 23, 1983

  • start 9:30
  • Harris Saddle 12:45
  • start Conical Hill - 1:15
  • Harris 2:30
  • hut 5:05

Hiked up to Harris Saddle today. Big peaks across Hollyford were covered with clouds. This side was clear. Climb up from Lake Mackenzie was steep. Corner was very windy. Could be nasty in a storm. Saw a plaque for two kids who died on the slope 15 years ago. Made it to Harris Saddle in a little less than normal time. Chris did very well but did get tired near the saddle.

From saddle, Brian hiked down to Falls Hut. I went up to Conical Hill. Chris waited.

Peaks to north and east looked neat. Unnamed peak above Lake Harris was neat. Lake Harris was very pretty. Mountain looked a lot like Regan. The mountains were steep and impressive, but looked climbable. I met another American on top. He works in Glacier N.P. during the summer and travels all winter. He had biked down from Auckland.

Made it back to the hut with Chris in 2.5 hrs (3.5 normal). She was moving so fast I could hardly keep up. Weather deteriorated to solid overcast and it looked like a storm was coming. She was nervous about getting caught on exposed slope. All of hike except first mile above hut was above timberline. A spectacular trail - too bd the visibility wasn't better.

Hut is pretty crowded tonight. Last night it was half empty. Tonight there will be people on the floor.

Very few of the people in the hut are from New Zealand. Last night I met an American, two Dutch, a Briton, four Germans and two New Zealanders.

Tomorrow we hike out.

Entry dated Friday February 25, 1983

Started raining Wed night about 11:00. Rained all night and was still going strong next morning. It didn't keep us up though - someone was snoring so loudly we couldn't hear the rain. He didn't bother me but he did wake Chris and Brian up several times. Next morning we started out in the rain at 9:50. We statyed dry for a while, although I got pretty sweaty going uphill. After about an hour and a half I was pretty soaked and getting cold. I think the old Gore-Tex has about had it. Chris and Brian stayed drier. Finally, about 2hrs from start the rain let up to a very light drizzle. I put on an extra wool shirt and was much more comfy. It was sort of neat walking through the rain forest with everything misty and dripping wet (including me). The streams were really running. Fiordland has the clearest streams I have ever seen. Made it to Howden about 12:30. Brian and Chris beat me by about 10 minutes. The sandflies were very bad outside and it was very wet and steamy inside. We ate lunch and started the home stretch. We made it out in a little over and hour.

I spent most of the drive to Te Anau killing sandflies in the back seat. I bet I got 30 of them. I have confirmed that the bites/hives are from sandflies. While washing up Wed night I got one that had drawn blood. Next day I had swelling and itching there. I hate sandlies! Unlike mosquitoes, they are not obnoxious. You don't even notice them sometimes until they bite.

After a snack in Te Anau we drove to Queenstown and found an (expensive) motel. We even had pizza at a place called "The Cow". Good, but not very spicey. I actually went for two weeks without a pizza. That night we did laundry a (sic) cleaned off the mud from the trail....