Day 71-74 The Testing Tararua Ranges

Day 71, 1 Jan 2020. To Nichols Hut- 12 km – 12 hrs

I was up and away early, leaving as the sun rose over the hills for the first time in 2020. I headed straight up hill for 2 hours high into the ranges. I had not expected to be getting out of the mud at this height but was disappointed. Mud, mud and more mud, when will it end?

Sunrise 2020

Dean had chosen to sleep in his tent as the hut was full to the brim. I woke him to say goodbye to find that he had been up during the night with a tummy bug, probably what Daniel had. I felt a bit guilty knowing he had to walk back down that hill feeling sick but what could I do? He later told me that it was a long hard decent. Going down can be just as hard as going up when it is steep and slippery. Going down hill means the lungs are not feeling it but the knees and nerves do.

I enjoyed being on my own and pushed myself to keep going to reach the first summit in 2 hours. Up there I felt on top of the world in all ways. The day was clear and I could see the hut in the back ground as I followed the ridge climbing for another 2.5 hours. I felt fit and fast and strong and pleased with the changes in my body since I started in October.

I walked up and along that ridge from left to right and around to where I took the photo
Walked up this ridge too

It was only a 12 km day to reach Nichols Hut but Royce had told me to expect it to be a 12 hour day. I knew Dracophyllum Hut, which is a little 2 man bivvy, was half way and a good place to stop if I couldn’t make it all the way or the weather turns bad. It has been known to save the lives of a number of people over the years as the Tararuas is subject to quick and violent weather changes. Only about 80 days a year are clear up here so I knew I was going into a harsh and dangerous environment.

Te Araroa walkers have been warned that the Tararua Ranges are the first real testing ground, as we climb over twice as high as any other place we have been. For the people who live in flat countries who were already challenged in previous weeks, this is very daunting and creates quite a lot of anxiety for them. And it should! Alpine areas in New Zealand are subject to weather from all sides, there is nothing stopping it . So I went in with the respect required.

The sign said Dracophyllum Hut was 3- 4 hours away and it took me a full 4 more hours so I reached it at 12.30. I had been going for 6 hours and I had only gone 6 km. The last 2 km was through dense, muddy goblin forest. The track wasn’t clear and I lost my way a few times and had to back track. I was getting tired and grumpy and was questioning my sanity at doing the trail. The trail app shows my location and I usually only need to look at it at it a couple of times a day, just to make sure I go the correct way at junctions.

However this day I seemed to be looking at it all the time in the last 3 km for the morning. I would walk for what seemed ages and then look and see that I had only gone 300 metres. Only 300 f***n metres for all that effort, what a shit track, I can’t do this, I hate it, can I do the South Island if I am having so much trouble with this? These were the thoughts that were going through my mind.

So when I reached the hut I took off my muddy shoes, and sat in the sun eating my lunch and giving myself a good talking to. I was soon joined by USA Carolyn, who arrived as grumpy and exhausted as I was. She was also questioning her ability to do the South Island even though she has completed some very long trails in the USA on her own. This had really tested her.

Knowing that it was not just me I began to feel better. My natural instinct to help the younger ones kicked in and I talked her into continuing as a team. We could help each other through the next section. The signage indicated that it would only be another 2-3 hours but I suspected more. She was running short on food and had a rendevou to make on Saturday in Waikanae. Therefore staying the night at Dracophyllum was not an option. We also knew that the weather was expected to turn on Friday so we needed to get off the tops as soon as we could.

So off we went, talking all the way, which is a good distraction when things get tough. We climbed up and up, sometimes scrambling on all fours with fantastic views. But after about 4 hours we began our decent again through scraggly bush again. We were both tired and over it and again had trouble finding our way. The app had a work out again as we seemed to be making little progress.

We arrived at Nichols Hut at 6.45 pm, exactly 12 hours after I left. Another damn long walk!

We had the hut to ourselves and soon felt cheered up. Wet muddy clothes off, a wee wash and some food is all that was needed to perk us up. We had made it!

Day 73 to Waitewaeawae Hut (YTYY) 8 km – 6 hours

With a new pair of socks on we left the hut surrounded by dense fog cold enough to make ice form on my glasses.

Clean socks today

As we climbed higher we got above the clouds and looking South we could see that the day was going to clear. The views got better as we climbed and then again we went down through the bush to the hut with a swing bridge to cross just before then end of the day. We took only 6 hours today so we felt good about our effort. Carolyn decided to have an early dinner and carry on a bit further and wild camp in the bush. This would help her make her rendezvous on Saturday.

There was a good group of people at the hut with more arriving as the evening went on. They all were exhausted and complaining about the condition of the track and the longer time they had taken. The track had been rerouted because of a major slip and there was a lot of treefalls to climb over, under and around. So this wasn’t giving me much hope for an easy day to come. I enjoyed their company and lined up along the bench bed to sleep, strangers either side of me.

Day 74 to Otaki Forks

I left a 7.45 expecting a really hard day ahead, but it was only a little challenging in places so overall I was happy. It is about managing expectations. Their really hard wasn’t my really hard. Some of the previous days had changed my benchmark.

There was some tricky stuff to and it was muddy and slippery but I managed well.

Arriving at Otaki Forks I pitched my tent at Black Rock campsite. I was the only one there so had a good wash in the river, and rinsed out my socks before settling down for my dinner .

Home for the night with washing drying

During the day 4 trampers from the hut had overtaken me and I had met a few coming the other day, but this was one of my first truly days alone all day on the track and for the night. And I had survived the Tararua Ranges so I was feeling confident in my ability to carry on.

A lovely young woman from Wellington arrived in her van and parked a up and around the corner a bit so I was still alone even though we spent a pleasant hour chatting. She was interested in my light weight set up as she decided not to head up to a hut for the night when she put her pack on her back.

I am meeting many young woman who are struggling with where they fit in the world, having been brought up knowing they could do what they wanted and don’t need to conform to any preset rules for their lives. This is in contrast to my generation who were mostly wives and mothers of a few kids by our mid twenties as was expected of us. I don’t know that they are any happier than we were as we had our roles and got on with it and were too busy raising families to have time to dwell on stuff. They seem to have so many options and opportunities that they then can’t make a decision. Somewhere in between would be good I think.