Our weekdays and weekends are just a tangle of days. With Gerry often teaching on weekends and sometimes weeknights, on top of weekday classes, while also running a photography company where traveling is part of the process (when not in lockdown when all jobs gets cancelled), we have no routine. It’s messy. Most days and weekends just come and go. The joy and excitement of ‘normal’ life Fridays (ay, ay, it’s Friday!) is a big miss, especially when Saturdays are workdays. Unfortunately, the dread of Mondays are still there. Must be ingrained after many years of school, Uni, and work-life, or perhaps just everyday life where there are still lots of memes, and people agonising over the dread of their Monday-back-to-the-grindstone fate.
We often don’t make plans for the weekend. And with the recent Level 4, followed by Level 3 and current Level 2 lockdown, we have been spending all our hours at home. Not that I mind too much. But by mid-morning on Sunday, it felt like a good idea to get out of the cabin and go for a drive somewhere. Heck, even if just to give the car battery a charge.
The weather was miserable: super windy, cloudy, with the occasional drizzle. We decided to drive to the Putara trail head on the Wairarapa side of the Tararua Range, and if the weather was okay, to saunter up the mountain for a couple of kilometres before turning back. It was never the intention to go far, but thought an outing in nature might be a pleasant change from four walls. The nearer we got to the parking area, the more the drizzle persisted and the stronger the wind.
Finally getting there, we parked, looked at each other, poured a cuppa while the car was rocking in the wind, and decided to drive back to Eketahuna before risking a slip or windfall blocking the narrow gravel road, trapping us out in the sticks. We had no business sauntering into the mountains on a day like this anyway, even if being prepared, or just for a kilometre or two.
Unbeknownst to us, at about the exact time we wimped out, a female solo tramper was trapped on the ridge between Powell and Jumbo Huts (not too many miles from where we were), and couldn’t move due to the wind threatening to blow her off the mountain. She called Search and Rescue at 9am, hunkered down in the tussock, and was only reached by 5:30pm. She was fine apart from mild hypothermia, and they all spent the night at Powell Hut.
Another man also got in trouble in the same 130k winds, tonnes of rain, sleet and freezing temperatures, just a bit further along the ridge and deeper into the mountain from where she was (Mt McGregor), and set off his PLB at around 9:30pm. SAR couldn’t reach him, and would continue their search on the Monday morning. He spent the night in horrific conditions without a tent or sleeping bag. With the horrendous weather still hammering the country, SAR couldn’t reach him the next day either. Fortunately he still had some battery life left on his phone, had reception and they could guide him to the McGregor bivvy. Luckily he also had his dog with him, and I can only imagine that the extra body heat generated by the dog might have saved his life. Sandwiched between two mattresses with the dog, SAR reached him at 2am on the Tuesday morning in the bivvy. I guess one could argue that he was foolish for walking into the backcountry in imminent extreme weather without more gear (tent, sleeping bag, etc). Perhaps he knew that with the added body heat of the dog he didn’t need a sleeping bag. It is quite easy to judge from the couch and think his foolhardiness could have cost him his life, but we don’t know anything about him or his backcountry skill level.
On the way back to Eketahuna, I searched for some short walks in or near the town and stumbled upon the Cliff Walk. At only one kilometre long, it is hardly worth the effort. But a stretch of the legs has never been a bad idea.
We parked at the campsite side of the track, donned some warm clothes and rain jackets, and set off in the wind. I had to question whether it was a good idea walking in strong wind given that the walk is sandwiched between trees, the tall ones leaning against the wind. Although the trees provided some shelter, it was at the expense of a calm walk and not stressing about being crushed by a redwood.
The walk is on the edge of the bluff/cliff, but between two fences and trees. Not many views of and down the cliff is possible, but the wee walk is pretty in itself. The trees make a nice canopy in places, and the track underfoot is quite smooth (apart from minor windfall), presumably wheelchair friendly.
At only about 920 metres long, it took no time to reach Eketahuna. Another block and we were in the metropolis that is the city centre. It was such a non-event that we didn’t even think to take money for coffee.
On the way back, we made the steep, slippery trip down the cliff on a narrow track to the historical ‘Old swimming pool’. It’s a lovely spot in the Makakahi River that I can imagine would be a popular picnic and swimming hole in summer.
Back at the car without any fallen trees or branches incidents, we poured another cup of coffee from the thermos and drove home. I guess this walkway really is just a commute from the campsite to town, and for the locals, but if one happens to be in Eketahuna on a road trip and have the time for a leg-stretch, this is a nice walk to consider.
For some time now we’ve been keen to walk this stretch in the Egmont National Park with friends who live in New Plymouth. Gerry and I have walked this twice before, but each time coming from the mountain side, walking out to the carpark. As we know, doing the same route in the opposite direction often proves to be a different experience. But, as it turns out, the mountain looks exactly the same as the previous times – rainy, windy, cloudy and cold! Again, we did not see the mountain’s reflexion in the tarn on the way in, or out two days later.
Since the walk up from the carpark (522m) on Mangorei track to the Pouakai hut (1129m) is only 6.7km (some sources has it as 6.9km), we opted to have a late start. We still had stuff to tend to at home while our friends also had prior commitments for the afternoon.
We left Palmy in the morning for the three plus hour drive to New Plymouth. It was rainy on the way with some heavy, dark clouds looming in the distance. It rained quite a lot in the area during the past week, and while we were having lunch at home still, another cloud burst threatened to derail our plans. After a cider and lunch while catching up, Deon dropped the three of us off at the start of the track, and we only started walking after 4pm.
The whole track from the bottom to Pouakai hut, apart from a few spots around trees, is now a boardwalk. Only a few metres into the walk, another shower of rain made us stop to put on rain jackets. The air was cool, but humid and warm enough that a T-shirt was fine. When walking uphill one usually warms up nicely, so we did not really notice how the temperature has dropped with the elevation gain.
After a while the rain stopped and we had to take our rain jackets off again as it was too hot and sweaty. But a few minutes later, it rained again. And so it went until not too far from the hut, when the rain became more persistent and the temperature also dropped considerably. When we reached the hut just after 6pm it was cold and very windy. Even though it is uphill all the way it is an easy walk to Pouakai hut which took us only two hours.
We quickly swapped our wet clothes for some dry, warm layers, and hung the wet items above the fireplace. Luckily another group (two mums and three children) as well as a DOC worker were already settled in and had the fire going making the hut cosy and warm.
A kettle and a pot of water were boiling on the fireplace all evening, and was for everyone’s use. We immediately made some Cup-a-Soup to warm up our numb fingers and cold bodies. This was followed with jaffles (mince and cheese) which we also heated on the fireplace. After coffee, rusks, whiskey, tea and some chocolate through the course of the evening we were ready for bed. We stayed in the room outside the hut, with an outside door, and even though it is all part of the same building it was a fair bit colder than the hut itself.
I had a water bottle filled with hot water with me in my sleeping bag and was warm enough through the night. The rain persisted, as did the gale force winds. All night long the door rattled in its frame and the hut rocked in the wind. At times I was quite worried that the roof, or the entire hut, might blow off of the mountain. In the dark everything seems more dramatic. I spent hours listening to the rain, wind and gusts hoping it would ease, while all along it felt like continuous earthquakes were shaking the hut.
According to the forecast, the weather was meant to improve. Instead, it looked worse than when we started the day before. The low hanging clouds were closed in all around, the rain continued and the gale force winds cooled everything down quite quickly.
We decided to brave the weather and push on to Holly hut (975m). It was a 2.5 hours walk (according to DOC) and we managed to do it in 1:55 at a fairly leisurely pace. Granted, we did not stop anywhere as the wind and rain made it somewhat miserable.
A lot of work had been done on the path since our first stint through this section when it was super muddy and terrible to walk through, and is still in progress as is evident from the amount of wood and equipment strewn in the wetland area, and en route to the tarns. A whole new boardwalk is in progress through the swampy area which will help with both wet feet and erosion.
Although the path ended up being a little stream with puddles everywhere from all the rain, including the hollowed out stairs, we could manage to keep our feet semi-dry for the first hour or so, apart from the rain that ran down our clothes onto our trail running shoes. But eventually we had to give up the ghost and just go for it. While we were reasonably sheltered most of the way down the mountain on the back of the Pouakai Range, we were blown sideways through the exposed area of the wetland.
Just a short walk beyond the wetland, and two stream crossings, we reached Holly hut. We were soaking wet by then. No one else was there, so we quickly made a fire, changed into dry clothes and fired up the billy for some warm coffee. It was pouring outside, when I noticed that the water was just streaming from the damaged gutter at the back of the hut. Perhaps this might explain why there is at times a water shortage at this hut, as alerted to in the warning notice on the DOC website? It was only lunchtime, so we still had the whole afternoon to relax, which is such a rare thing in this crazy old world.
Late afternoon I started to soak the lentils and peas for our lentil curry, with eggplant, onion, garlic, spices, and rice for dinner. We poured a tipple and had a lovely evening sheltered from the elements, chatting and contemplating life. The drizzle persisted on and off, but the gale subsided for a light wind. The tip of the mountain even peeked briefly through the mist which I did not think could possibly happen.
The night was cold again, and I again had a warm bottle of water with me in my sleeping bag. We had fingers crossed for a better, sunny, open day in the morning, as was forecasted.
As we knew it was only a short walk back to Pouakai hut (about 4.5km) we decided to get going by 9am. Although it was mainly uphill, we were confident that we would be there by 12pm. Deon was going to walk in from the bottom to meet us for lunch.
When we woke in the morning it was still rainy and clouded over. The wetland valley briefly opened up to give us a glimpse of its vastness. I love this open area, as one forest looks like the next to me, and most tramps in NZ are in forest areas, unless you brave the open, exposed tops of the mountains which can often be treacherous.
Shortly after 11am we were at the hut. Gerry and I and decided to leave our packs and quickly run to the tarns. We knew that there was no way that we would have good views of anything, but decided to go see where the infamous Taranaki-reflected-in-the-tarn photo was taken anyway. You cannot go past there three times and not make a trip to the tarns. The finished parts of the new boardwalk to the tarns make the going fairly easy. The famous tarn turned out to be slightly disappointingly small. I imagined something far bigger. The boardwalk went right around the tarn and our hope that the clouds might quickly open up, was just a dream.
What struck me on this trip was the vast amount of traps all along the trail. And most of them had dead rats in them, apart from two stoats, identifiable by their black tip tails. I had to wonder if the rodent population is completely out of control, or whether the traps are not serviced that often.
Back at the hut Deon had arrived with a lovely spread of fresh salami and cheese sarmies with tomatoes and celery on the side, bananas, good coffee and Easter eggs for dessert.
We started walking back to the carpark a bit before one in the afternoon. We were chatting away, contemplating the Royals and the Oprah interview at a leisurely stroll down the mountain when things suddenly took a turn for the worse.
A twist in the tail
With two kilometres to go I heard something crack behind me, thinking my friend stepped on a twig, but this was followed by the sound someone falling and hurting. When I looked around I immediately noticed that Henriette’s foot was stuck behind a tree root on a step higher up and was twisted at a very weird angle to the side. It was obvious it was severely broken. She was on the ground, but managed to pull it out, and I imagined her being in shock and a lot of pain. As a medical doctor, she knew exactly what to do, so casually mentioned, as if instructing herself, that she was going to turn her foot back into place, pointing forward as it should.
Now, it has to be said that I have a very keen interest in medicine and all things concerning the human body, but emergencies are definitely not my strong suit. I was frozen in place, unable to move or help. As if transfixed, I could do nothing but watch as the movie was playing out before my eyes. When I saw her twisting her foot back into place, all along breathing consciously perhaps not to pass out (I assumed), I suddenly felt warm, nauseas and like I was going to pass out. To distract myself, I managed to get out a bandage and buff while Gerry called 111. For me to pass out then would have been very bad timing, so after a while I sat down for a bit while this movie was repeating over and over in my head. And as with dreams, only a few seconds feels like ages. Henriette instructed her husband to quickly take off her shoe before the swelling got too much. She was certain that both the fibula and tibia were broken, while Deon was quickly searching for something to use as a splint. Without quickly finding something, they managed to put the bandage on, placed her foot on Deon’s small backpack to elevate it somewhat and get her into warm clothing. She took a strong pain tablet that Deon had brought along for in case (!) while Gerry was still on the phone trying to explain where exactly we were, as well as provide information about the patient and the accident. Little did I know that we were actually on the Mangorei Track. I always just thought about it as being the Pouakai track or crossing.
Even though everything happened quickly, it felt much longer, but within minutes help was on the way. Gerry and I decided to take all the backpacks down to the car, and also to wait for the medics at the bottom in case they needed more information.
Just as we arrived at the car, the yellow helicopter from the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust was flying overhead. They tried to locate her but the forest was too dense. Deon apparently also tried to draw attention by waving a bright yellow survival bag, but to no avail. They couldn’t spot them, called Gerry again to get more details, but after another failed attempt decided to land in a nearby paddock on a farm from where the farmer brought the two paramedics (Theresa and Ben) on a side-by-side to the trail head. We accompanied them back up to where Henriette was still sitting, while in the meantime LandSAR was also alerted to the situation, and given the coordinates. On the way up the helicopter rescue guys were still searching for a spot to winch her out, but being in the forest made it impossible. It was more than an hour before we reached her again, and I cannot imagine how my friend must have felt by then. Theresa replaced the bandage with a splint and also gave her pain meds in the form of something that looks like a vape, instead of a drip.
After a while of not being able to do much else but wait, Henriette suggested she could perhaps start to hop down on one leg with support from someone. With Deon on the one side and Ben on the other she started working her way down on one leg. She is one tough lady. After a while Ben suggested that he and Deon hook their hands/arms together to fathom a sling/seat of sorts on which she could sit while they carry her. Each time they could only go a short bit before having to take a break. At some stage Gerry suggested that she be piggy-backed, which Ben then did. As a rather strong young bloke, they made good progress alternating between piggy-backing and the arm-sling carrying.
By the time they had covered more than a kilometre the LandSAR guys arrived with a stretcher, which they assembled and attached onto a massive wheel. She managed to get onto it and the convoy of about 12-14 people (2 paramedics, 1 pilot, 7 or 8 LandSAR volunteers, Deon and us two) slowly started moving down the trail. With the seven or eight (?) volunteers from LandSAR to alternate and carry the load, they could take turns to get her safely to the bottom.
It was half past five by the time she was airlifted to the hospital. The police was also there taking a statement as I believe LandSAR falls under them. It was about four hours from the time of her accident until she was at the hospital, which I guess is not bad going, but when you feel anxious for someone to get the medical help they need, it feels like an eternity.
What struck me most was the super heavy, what seemed like an archaic and impractical stretcher and wheel contraption that was used, which is perhaps not meant for the mountains? It all seemed to weigh a tonne and I could not help but wonder if a more lightweight aluminium structure and perhaps sleeker wheel would have made the process far more manageable? The very basic third world stretcher used on Mt Kilimanjaro, the “Kili ambulance” almost seems a better, lighter and more manoeuvrable alternative, and works on the same principle. But, I will admit to my ignorance and that there is most likely good reasons for using the heavier LandSAR equipment.
X-rays later the night revealed that she had in fact fractured the fibula, as well as the medial malleolus (ankle bone) of the tibia. She had to stay in hospital for a few days for the swelling to subside before she could be operated on. The operation finally happened almost to the minute, exactly one week after the accident. Everything went well and she should be able to go home after nine days in hospital.
Luckily she knew what to do right after the accident: not to eat or drink in case she needed to be operated on immediately (I always thought one has to feed and hydrate and injured person), and also had the strength, acumen, and gumption to turn her foot back into position as with blood flow cut off due to the weird angle, things could have been far worse.
This was a timely reminder that a PLB is an absolute must when one ventures out in the sticks (or even on a well-trodden track as was the case here) as it could so easily have happened on the way to Holly hut where cell phone reception was very patchy. But that said, if the accident happened higher up above the tree line and in the open, it would have been easier and quicker to airlift her out (weather permitting, of course).
I am half relieved that it was “just” a couple of broken bones, and not something far worse. Fingers crossed she will make a full recovery and be back on her bike, or out walking or tramping soon enough again.
A few weeks back Wouna found a notice about an upcoming textile art exhibition and competition (the Changing Threads National Contemporary Textile Fibre Art Awards) that was open for entries, so she decided to give it a go and entered a couple of her large patchwork-style fabric portraits. Initial digital entries were submitted, from which one of her pieces made it through to the shortlist for the exhibition. This required couriering the artwork down to Nelson’s Refinery ArtSpace, where the exhibition was held. And then came the nail biting wait to hear if she made the finals.
When we got the news that her “Jacinda #1” made it through, we jumped into action (after some suitable celebrations) and before long we had an Airbnb and ferry-tickets booked, and our bags packed for a 4-day mini-holiday (plus two days travel) in the upper South Island to attend the opening of the exhibition. And of course, being in such a beautiful region, we were hoping to explore some local tracks and trails.
Our accommodation was on a farm just outside Richmond, and after our first breakfast I started scouring the internet for trail running opportunities in the area. As is often the case, the Wild Things Trail Directory proved a solid source of information. We found there were a range of interesting-looking routes (loops and out-and-back options) heading out from the DOC Hacket car park, which happened to be just a few kms down the road from where we were staying.
It was a rather dreary looking morning, with MetService promising rain from around midday, but luckily the Hacket trails offered many distance options, so we decided to head out and adjust our explorations to the weather as we went.
The track to Whispering Falls looked a no-brainer – a short-ish out and back with a beautiful waterfall at the furthest point, that should see us back at our car before the rains came. It proved a lovely run across varied but mostly runable terrain and the dainty waterfall was really pretty. About 1km before the falls, you have to cross the river where the path has been washed away. This will likely be a problem when the river is high, but luckily we got out and back before much rain had fallen so we could rock-hop without getting our feet wet.
Heading back, shortly after the stream hopping, a signposted turn-off to the left leads to Hacket Hut, some 3.5 km further out. We didn’t want to head quite that high up, but also on offer was another enticing option, the Chromite Mine loop, which starts on the Hacket Hut Track and then turns off to the right to wind its way back to the car park some 6.5km on.
While a 6.5km loop isn’t a big deal distance-wise, the day had gotten progressively darker with a light drizzle starting to fall. And as is always the case when it gets dark and overcast, unknown trails look just that little more remote and scary. So we hemmed and hawed for a bit about whether we should do the loop or just head straight back to the car. Eventually the realisation that we probably wouldn’t return to this area soon (we were hoping to rather continue exploring other areas during the rest of our stay) swayed our decision towards doing the loop, so up the hill we went.
The Chromite Mine loop starts at an incline, and for a couple of kilometres the uphill didn’t let up. We walked most of this, except for one stretch where we could hear some tree-felling activity quite close by so we decided to get through that section as fast as possible to limit the risk of a massive pine tree coming down on our heads. I’m sure that would not have happened as the tree fellers will be well aware of the track just beneath them, but one never knows. Accidents do happen. Once past the old mining area (which has warning signs to not explore), the track contours its way around a couple of hills on a good quality, very runnable old road that must have been built to service the mines or the forestry activities. After another kilometre or so, the track leaves this road and starts a rapid descent back to the river. This downhill went straight down and felt never ending – hard to believe the gradual uphill we did earlier took us this high into the mountain. We were relieved we did the loop in the direction suggested on the Wild Things site – going the other way would have given us a climb to rival the Rain Gauge track between Atiwhakatu and Jumbo huts in the Tararua Range.
After lots of downwards scrambling we eventually rejoined the track we took earlier heading out to the falls. From here it was less than 3km on a gentle downhill back to the car park – a perfect finish to a most enjoyable outing. While it’s a pity we didn’t get so far as to bag any huts on our morning’s outing, we were glad we ended up doing both the waterfall and the Chromite Mine loop – this is a beautiful and varied trail which I have no doubt would have become a regular part of our training regime had we lived in the area.
Distance: 40.5km (or 36km according to the guide books)
Tramping or running or fast-packing parts of the Tararua Ranges means you often need someone else to help with transport. There are various loop options, but a lot of the better known routes, like the Southern Crossing, Northern Crossing or the S-K (Schormann to Kaitoke) are all point-to-point. With these point-to-point routes you can potentially arrange with mates where each of you park at the trail head on either side, and meet somewhere along the route for a key swop, or you can leave a car at each end and walk together. Or simply get someone to drop you off, and/or pick you up. Either way, it is a bit of a performance to get it all sorted and means you often have to allow extra time for travelling.
Nina mentioned that she wanted to tramp the new Tararua Mountain Race* course, which was a good opportunity for us to also see that part of the mountain trails. Previously, the TMR followed the Southern Crossing which we have always been keen to do, but with the massive slip on the Otaki Gorge Road closing off that access point, the organisers decided to use the trails on the Wairarapa side between Kaitoke and Holdsworth Lodge as the new course. I was uncertain whether I would want to do this as the event, but was still keen to experience this part of the Tararua Range.
We opted to do the perhaps more challenging direction starting from Kaitoke. Not only do you have an extra hours’ drive and an hour later start, but you also have the shorter, easier day on the first day, followed by a longer, more hilly day two. Even though it makes sense to have the shorter day coupled with longer traveling time, having a longer day two means the tramp gets a bit toucher as you go. Overall, the route also gains elevation going in this direction and has some steep climbs following the Tauherenikau River upstream.
Shortly after 8am we met the others at the Holdsworth carpark where we left our car and drove Suzanne’s to the Kaitoke trail head from where Gerry and I started walking just before 10am. From the start (250m) the route gains about 210m in elevation over the Puffer Saddle (460m) before dropping down to Smith Creek shelter at 195m. A bit before the shelter, we encountered one of the big slips which has to be avoided by taking a detour over or beneath the slip. We did not see any signs to indicate that there might be a detour, so we just followed the quite prominent trail and ended up right in the middle of the slip. It was one of those steep, slippery slopes where once you reach a certain point, it is equally impossible to go back up or continue on down. Gerry managed to slip-and-slide to a semi-safe spot where he could leave his pack. I unclipped mine and lowered it down to him to make the scramble down a bit more manageable. Once we were on the other side of the slip looking back, there was a DOC sign that indicated the route goes over the slip. However, someone stuck a tape arrow on the sign to show the best way to be below the slip, and presumably next to or in the river. Similar signage from the Kaitoke side would have been useful, but we certainly did not see anything indicating that we should divert from the route over the slip.
The track follows the Tauherenikau River upstream on the true right over gentle undulations for the first few kilometres. Crossing a swing-bridge it continues on the other side of the river on a reasonably flat area, slowly gaining in altitude. We reached Tutuwai Hut (310m) shortly before lunch, and decided to walk a bit further before stopping for a quick lunch next to the river in the forest. For the most part, this part of the trail is in the forest and shaded. The stretch we walked after lunch is more open with smaller trees (Kanuka) and grassy patches.
The hook sedge (Carex uncinata, thanks for the ID, Ruth), however, was a real nuisance, as it grows everywhere and you cannot avoid walking through it. We did not bring gators (as we only have small running gators anyway) and this prickly bastard grass has a way of getting into everything. And it is not easy to pull out either. Lots of time was spent trying to get rid of hook sedge from leg hair (Gerry’s!), socks, shoes, pants, t-shirt, jacket and backpack.
One of the issues with the valleys route compared to the peaks route is that it is wetter, muddier and there’s heaps of stream crossings. One such stream had a cable to hold onto for balance should the water be too high, but none of the others had anything. If it was during the rainy season, or a rainy spell shortly before, some of these streams will be very dangerous and perhaps even impossible to cross. Luckily we went on a very dry and warm time of year so could manage to rock-hop without getting wet feet. A steep downhill section had a rope attached to a tree to hang onto which almost looked like someone who uses the trail often tied it in that spot to make life a bit easier for him/herself.
Apart from a few fallen trees to scramble over or under, the route is fairly easy going when dry, but a lot of boggy areas coupled with the heaps of stream crossings can quickly turn it into much more of a challenge I would imagine.
We reached Cone Hut (350m) at about 5:30pm, a distance of 17.5km as per Nina’s GPS watch. With the gorgeous warm, sunny and windless weather, I assumed the huts would be full, but when we passed Tutuwai Hut at 4pm there was no one there. When we arrived at Cone Hut (6-bunk), it was again not occupied, apart from Nina and Suzanne. We carried our tent in case the huts were full, so decided to pitch it at the beautiful campsite which was next to the river, about a five minute walk from the hut. We were keen to try out the MSR Mutha Hubba tent which we bought just before lockdown and have not had a chance to test yet.
Gerry fired up the camp stove to boil water for some cup-o-soup, and to soak our dried veges. Shortly before 8pm we had our meal of (rehydrated) instant dried potatoes, veges and tuna, finished off with tea and chocolate.
Neither of us slept well that night. Even though we tried to pitch the tent on the flattest area, there were still some bumps to negotiate during the night, but more so we were on a slight angle which made us slide to the one side of the tent. On top of that it was rather cold and was it not for the hot water in my water bottle which I had with me in the sleeping bag, it would have been too cold for me. Gerry sleeps warm, so he was okay, but also had to don his beanie and thin down jacket during the night, which says something.
To be honest I’m somewhat disappointed with the tent. Even though it is roomy and reasonably lightweight, the top third of the inside tent comprises of netting only (which seems to be the thing with most lightweight tents these days), and coupled with the flysheet that is about 15cm off of the ground, a fresh breeze keeps things cool all night long. Too fresh and too breezy for my liking. There were many times camping in Africa in sweltering heat where this tent would have been perfect. But for wet, cold and windy NZ weather, I do not think it is a good idea. At least not for me and my idea of a shelter in a mountain where changeable weather is imminent. Despite all the airflow, the fly was still wet from condensation in the morning. Perhaps because there was no wind. But I cannot imagine how cold it would have been if it was windy and/or rainy.
The next morning at 6am Gerry made coffee which we had with rusks, before packing up for the long day ahead. Back at the hut, we learned that Nina and Suzanne made for an early start, so we missed seeing them. Instead we got to meet Glen and Mary who are also part of the Wellington Big Sunday Run FB group. Finally we could put a couple of faces to names. A few others in the BSR FB group were busy doing the S-K valleys route and came past Cone Hut at about 11pm after their 3:30am start at Putara Road end. Two of them made the magical 24-hour club for the 70 km trail, and even though the third narrowly missed it, just completing it in one go is definitely no easy feat and one I would not mind to attempt one day. Perhaps not in 24 hours, but still in one push.
From the hut the trail heads uphill to a high point, dropping down in Cone Saddle followed by another climb over a second hill. A reasonably strong wind accompanied us all the way. The route markings were quite lacking on this section, resulting in us going off course a few times. Luckily it only takes a few minutes of exploring different routes that usually fizzles out in various directions before backtracking to find the route again. Cone Saddle is at 440m and the highest points are at about 570m. Not a major climb, but still enough to lose some sweat. At the junction on the downhill from Cone Saddle we chatted to two guys who had been camping in the Totara Flats valley, and were on their way out to the Waiohini carpark. Talking about the big slip up ahead for us, they suggested we take the route that follows the river underneath the slip, saying that the route over the slip is dangerous and we should not do it. I briefly remember that Nina and Suzanne also mentioned that there is a route below the slip which is safer. It would appear the route going over the slip is really only in case of life and death, when the river is in flood and you have to get out of the valley. Glad to not have to face another scary traverse where I can see myself falling off of the mountain, we instead followed the river in Totara Flats valley (180-200m).
The vast valley is a beautiful, grassy area next to the river and the perfect spot where one can spent days in a tent away from it all.
At Totara Flats Hut (200m), which like Tutuwai Hut was completely deserted, we topped up our water bottles (2.25 litre between the two of us) for the big climb ahead. On hindsight we should have taken more water. We were fine and did not really feel like we were running dry, but we did drink too little and were quite dehydrated by the time we reached the car.
The hill from Totara Flats back to Holdsworth is relentless. From 200m the trail goes up to 570m, down to 480m before the last big push up to 770m, which is the highest point on the trail. On the first hill there were some up and downs which made us think we had done both the climbs already. We stopped in the middle for lunch thinking we’re halfway up the mountain. Big was our surprise when we kept going up and up, later thinking we must have missed a sign and were on the wrong track. I turned on my phone to check our position on the Topo maps app, only to see that in fact we were still on the right track but still had some way to go to reach the top. At that point the camera battery (like my battery) also went flat.
When we finally reached the junction with Gentle Annie, it was already late afternoon. From there we still had 5.7km to go, according to the DOC sign, but if there’s one thing I know it is not to trust the DOC signs. It ended up being about 5km back to the carpark which we reached at 5:30pm, with a total day 2 distance (again as measured by Nina) of 23.5km.
I am arguably at a rather low fitness point in my life, but this is a tough little walk. This stretch of the S-K valleys route is normally tramped over three days, and by doing it in two days resulted in very long days. The event organisers anticipate the finishing times to vary between 4 and 10 hours. Having now walked the trail I’m definitely curious to see how participants will fare at this event, and if there will be many people struggling making the cut off. One thing I am sure of is that the conditions on race weekend will certainly play a significant part.
PS. WordPress changed their product settings and I didn’t realise you now have to add captions BEFORE inserting the album. I can therefore not explain some of the photos in more detail, like the giant rimus, its patterned bark, the huge trout we saw on day one, all the unusual signage along the way, old signage so high up in a tree that you can easily miss it, the big and the giant slips, all the stream crossings, the wire across one stream, the rope, the natural ladder formed by tree roots, what the pesky hook sedge plant looks like, and so on.
*And as things go in times of a pandemic, the race has since been cancelled for 2021.
The weeks before and after, including the event itself flew by in a blur. As a result I do not have notes of any kind about the outing and only a single photo from Powell Hut to remind me of the adventure.
What I do remember is that we collected the emergency equipment from the Holdsworth campsite warden at around 2pm, and saw Chris S in the carpark who was on the mountain the previous night when the southerly came though dusting Mt Holdsworth with snow. He mentioned it was freezing up at the tops. We starting walking at about 2:30pm.