5-6 February 2020
Distance: Approximately 18km out-and-back
At short notice we, together with friends, decided to make the trip up to Powell hut, spending the night and walking back down the next day. Since Waitangi Day was on the Thursday, we decided to make a midweek outing of it, hoping to have the hut to ourselves. This turned out to not quite be the case.
Our friends arrived from New Plymouth on the Tuesday night. By then I had started sorting out our food and making piles of things to take along. Luckily the hut has gas cookers, so we need not carry our little stove and fuel. It is also a new hut (6 months old) which is well insulated and has a fire place so we went for our thin little sleeping bags. I call them sleeping bags, but they might actually rather be a thin down inner of sorts?
The forecast looked okay-ish. A light drizzle in the morning was predicted, to make way for clear conditions the next day.
We left from Palmy a bit after 8am to arrive around 9:30 at the Holdsworth campgrounds. A last cup of coffee (this seems to have become habit) and a trip to the toilet where we also filled up water bottles. It was on the cool side and we all donned rain jackets. Luckily this could be packed away soon after we started, but the cold breeze stayed with us all the way up the mountain.
We were all carrying smaller packs (around the 32 to 40 litre size; mine was actually a 24 litre and way too small) and wearing trail shoes, which makes the going far easier than having to do it with a heavy pack and boots. There’s obviously a place for these, especially if you go into more rugged terrain, mud, ice, wet and cold conditions. I cannot imagine how cold a pair of trail shoes will be in snowy conditions, or after a stream crossing and an ice cold wind. Trail and running shoes are often purposefully made to be more aerated to allow air to cool down your feet, and water to disperse through the fabric. Exactly what you don’t want on top of a mountain in adverse conditions.
Following the gradual incline over the Gentle Annie Track we passed the Rocky Lookout. It was still cloudy so we couldn’t see the hut high up above.
At the Mountain House shelter we stopped for lunch. While sitting there and reading some of the comments written on the walls, another group of three sauntered in, also to have lunch. They planned to go up and back down on the same day.
We passed the turn off to Totara Flat hut, across Pig’s Flat where we eventually reached the point where the final and steepest couple of kilometres of the day began. Some really big steps are a test of one’s quad strength and capabilities, and I’m disheartened to say that I’ve lost quite a bit of strength in that department. It is a good reminder that I need to do something about my muscle strength before I lose it all.
Arriving at the hut around mid-afternoon we made some coffee and soup. It was a few degrees centigrade colder than at the carpark. A couple that was there already, but who was out on a walk when we arrived, had returned and not long after another pair arrived. We were playing rummy and later still poker while sipping on bourbon, waiting for the clouds to subside so that we could see a bit further than the porch. It was also getting colder. Shortly after 5pm I lit the fire. In stark contrast to our previous Powell hut experience (which included a bunch of kids) everybody was quiet and mostly kept to themselves.
It was still light outside when every now and again the clouds would tease us with a slither of blue sky, just to close up again. All along the valleys below were covered in clag (I thought clag was mud and the right word is murk, but it turns out everybody in NZ talks about clag when they talk about mist or low cloud). We cooked dinner (vegetable curry and sipping on bourbon for us, and pasta with a glass of pinot noir for our friends) and ate far too much! I over-catered by about three people and the two of us ate it all. Another tipple to wash it down followed by salty caramel chocolate. When I went to the room to fetch the chocolate, I discovered with horror that the big window in our room had blown wide open and an ice cold wind was undoing all the warmth produced by the fire.
At about 11pm we were ready for bed. Lying in our sleeping bags (with polyprop top and bottom, socks, beanie and a thin down jacket in my case) contemplating life and listening to the wind tucking on every nook and granny of the hut we were hoping for clear skies and less wind come morning for a trip to the trig.
As was the case the previous time in this hut, by about midnight a couple of people entered the hut and started looking for a place to sleep. In the 32 bunk hut, we were only eight, but we occupied all four the rooms in pairs of two. One of the late comers decided to sleep in the six bunk room with our friends, while the other spent the night with our neighbours in the other ten bunk room.
In the morning we were treated to a clear day. Unfortunately, the wind was still blowing a gale. We made coffee to have with our breakfast, and started adding pieces to a puzzle that someone left there for everyone’s enjoyment.
After breakfast we went for a walk uphill, but only made it to the first signpost, a short walk above the hut. Some slips and narrow ridges to negotiate in a gale proved too much for my frail nerves so we opted to turn around. I’m not good with wind or heights at the best of times. Combine the two, and you have me whimpering back to shelter faster than Joshua Cheptegei can run a 5k.
Back at the hut we made another cup of coffee while day walkers were starting to reach the hut. Two of them were none other than the pair of marshals (from Search and Rescue) who were also at the hut for the Jumbo-Holdsworth race two weeks before.
We packed the last of out stuff to start the trip back down. Since it was Waitangi Day the track was very busy with lots of people on day outings to the hut or trig, or across to Jumbo hut. A huge group with a lot of kids was on their way to spend the night at the hut and I thanked my lucky stars that we didn’t have to endure a million noisy kids cooped up in a hut with nowhere to go.
At the Rocky Point lookout we stopped for lunch. The platform and rocks were all packed with walkers and we even met a lady who, upon seeing Gerry’s Tarawera shirt, struck up a conversation. Turns out it was Kerry (SQUADRUN head honcho)’s mom.
By then the sun had come out, and nearing the lower parts of the mountain it was very hot. The last few kilometres back to the car were luckily mainly in the shade. Lots of picnic-goers were making use of the lovely day, swimming in the stream, taking dogs for a walk, or spending the day at the camp ground.
Back in Masterton we bought some water and cold drinks for the road before heading back to Palmy. A quick in and out and lovely to be able to share it with friends. Here’s hoping we can do many more such trips in the months and years to come.