Stuck in the middle of nowhere 1871-1979km

Randomtrailtales 1871-1979 km: You know those immense downpours you sometimes get when you are in the car on the motorway and can’t see anything in front of you? Usually they stop within an hour or so. Well I was in just such a downpour and it didn’t stop all night and all day. It rained so hard that it even started raining inside my tent that night and the noise was enough to wake me every few hours. The following morning everything in my tent was as wet as outside so I decided to pack up and hike. The only constellation was that it wasn’t very cold and there was hardly any wind. My Trail had turned into a little flowing stream but was nothing in comparison with the mighty Pelorus River a few inches to my left which I had to follow for the next 20 km. This river is normally famous for its clear blue purity but now had turned into an angry brown snake, hissing and roaring past me as it rose and broke its boundaries. There were a few smaller side rivers to cross which took an extra hour as I had to go far upstream to find a safer spot to cross………….. ……………. …………..The following day it cleared and we pushed on deeper into the Richmond Ranges going higher and higher as we hoped to get the most out of the three days of good weather before the expected heavy rain came, and WoW were we in for a great treat: the Mountains! As we passed the tree line the bare exposed rocky Mountain peaks reached high above us, finally we could do days ridge walking, finally we were far away from roads-cafes &society, finally we had arrived. It felt like the entire North Island had been one big warming up, this is what I had come for, I felt exhilarated, exhausted, anxious and totally alive. They wake me up. Mountains, just as the wide open sea, are intimidating and awe inspiringly beautiful through their scale and raw simplicity. They make me feel young, insignificant, respectful and humble me down to earth. Walking up over these summits makes me feel very fortunate to know I am experiencing something only very few people will ever experience, as there are not many people that venture so deep into the Ranges judging by the Trail registers in the huts. I sometimes feel a little guilty that I am seeing more of the country than the locals………. ………… ……….‘You don’t have a tent with you up here?’, I inquired ‘No Dude, I sent it 200kms forward, there are enough huts along the Richmond Ranges’. And he was right, ‘Hawk’ a tall lanky 20 year old from Norway with just a few soft whiskers on his chin, was saving a lot of weight up and down these mountains and sleeping in a dry hut every night. There are small huts every five hours along the trail, each with six bunks. The huts are created by the Department of Conservation and you can sleep in all 2000 of them with a hut pass for only $90.- for 6 months. They are very simple 7 by 4 meter wooden shelters without electricity and offer a big water tank outside with water collected by the rain from the roof (which sometimes tastes a little smoky). Each hut has a small iron wood burner which helps dry out the hanging racks of wet clothes and give the space a sense of home away from home. The moist plastic matrasses are full off weather stains, but feel like a luxurious Hotel bed after 12 hours of steep uphills. The WC outhouse is about 20 meters from the hut and has a deep stinking hole under the seat and provide no toilet paper. Hold your breath and wave the flies away while you sit and stare out over the epic view from the open door. The only downside about huts is that I notice that I can suddenly smell myself and it ain’t good. Wet Dog! and I’m not the only wet Dog in this hut either. Perhaps it’s because I’m not used to having four walls around me anymore. But above all the huts create social glue as you meet many new hikers both South bound and North bound of which 90% are Te Araroa thru hikers like ourselves. It’s great to catch up on new weather intel, share exciting trail experiences and catch up on the latest Trail gossip about who has baled due to the rain, skipped, flip-flopped or will catch up shortly. Never a dull day………… ………….. …………….Climbing Small Mount Rintoul and Mount Rintoul (1731m) were supposed to be the scariest of the entire Trail and although it required quite some effort, I found it totally exhilarating and something I’ll never forget. Although it was still cloudy in the morning, I was very much aware of the steep drop to my right. High above the tree line, this was as close to Alpine walking as it gets, with hours of sharp rocky ridge walking and steep rocky cliffs we had to climb down using our hands and feet to get down the crevices. The steep descents were a little dodgy due to the sliding screet that slid from under my feet but the views of the mountain ranges around me made it totally worth the few fearful steps. I thought my day couldn’t get any better when, during a short lunch break of tortilla and cheese, the girls told me they had a present for me, but refused to say what it was. Intrigued, I packed up and hiked on ahead. Two hours later I heard a loud ‘Yeeee Haaaaa’ and was shortly after greeted by a familiar voice ‘Wazzup homebooiy? Everything okay Dickhead?’ It was of course Goldie who had caught up with us with his ultra light pack, still wearing his Bedrock sandals. We hugged and never stopped talking for hours. A true Bromance reunion in the mountains. Now I know I talk a lot (probably too much), but in Goldie I have definitely found my match and although he always tells me I’m ‘full of sh*t’ and exaggerate too much, Goldie is definitely also ‘full of sh*t’ too. The terrain wasn’t particularly easy, but we flew over it and down the mountain to the next hut as we exchanged all our adventures since we had last seen each other (which as only three weeks ago in Wellington). And then, as we had expected, it started raining again, so much so that the river outside the hut that we had to follow and cross 8 times the next few hours was rising swiftly. We were stuck and couldn’t move forward or backward. When in life do you find yourself literally stuck in the middle of nowhere? There is always an exit, a call or some way out right? Well I now found myself in such a situation, stuck between an impassable river in front of me and another impassable river two days walk behind me. The nearest road was three days walk away but couldn’t be reached now due to the dangerous rivers, there was no electricity, no running water, no cell coverage, no internet, no WiFi code, but we were blessed with the safety of a hut to wait out the upcoming rain storm for three days before the water in the river would subside again. People pay good money these days to rent a cabin in the woods to get away from it all. I must admit I was a little anxious about this uncertain situation, especially as my food wouldn’t last for more than 6 days and I still had 3 days to hike and we expect to be trapped here for 3 or more days. On the other hand I was also very excited to experience a few ‘zeros’ on the mountain in the middle of nowhere. I looked forward to resting my tired body and spending hours reading. I was also extremely fortunate with the company I found myself in; Sunny, Unicorn and Goldie were my ‘Alive’ companies, we were a happy team. Of course the first jokes about ‘who shall we eat first’ and ‘what would be the best way to kill one of those wild goats?’ soon came as we made the hut into our temporary home. We had a fireplace and chopped enough wood before the rain came, making a Palace out of our home. Each of us got our own little plank in the kitchen for our belongings, ever so civilized. As we sank into slumber it became apparent that we were guests in someone else’s home as the knawing noises near our food sacks started. The holiday in our hut was nothing short of glorious. I lay two plastic mattresses on the floor in front of the large fireplace and attended to the flames every 20 minutes. Lying in my sleeping bag with my food bag under my head as a pillow I delved into the youth of Sir Edmund Hillary who wrote about climbing these very same mountains I was now in and sleeping in the same huts I was now in. This brought the book alive even more. My resolve was tested when 5 wet hikers suddenly came into our tranquil home. Soaking wet, full of adrenaline they huffed and puffed, ate a quick meal and were heading straight back into the river gorge that was already rising and that I so feared. Should I join them and take the risk? Or should I stick to my original plan and sit out the rain for two days in the comfort of the warm. Goldie jumped to the chance of adventure and got dressed in a jiffy to head out into the rain with them. I felt my stomach twist and turn with doubt, but finally decided to stay put. The reward was to small compared to the risk, the chance of me being stuck in the next hut with 9 wet hikers just wasn’t appealing enough. I gave Goldie a big hug, wished him well and retreated to my warm sleeping bag to continue reading Sir Edmund Hillary’s biography. Let it rain, let it rain. The heavens opened and dumped buckets of water on our little hut that night and we saw the river rise over a meter by morning. The following day we were joined by two wet hikers with very very small packs. Christ from Denmark and Jordan from the US of A. Jordan was attempting to break the Te Araroa self-supported speed record in under 70 days, compared to my expected 145 days. He was understandably not happy with this holdup, but was just happy to join us with chopping down a trees and getting high. He had to average a marathon through the mountains for the rest of the 1000km. I was having to ration my food as it was still unclear how long we would be stuck, and soon I began to crave for more and cherished every bite. I observed Jordan’s ‘stoveless’ cooking ritual and was quite impressed. He used a small ziplock bag to soak some noodles and cous-cous with some oil and spices. After 10 minutes he emptied this into a large rap and added thick chunks of cheese and cashew nuts and some more dryed spices, rolled it into a wrap and smiled contently as he enjoyed his feast. All this ultra light philosophy was beginning to grow on me and I began to fantasize how I might one day reduce my pack weight drastically from 7 kilo base weight to 5 kilos. After 65 hours in the hut we woke to see that the river had gone down sufficiently for us to venture further. The trail followed the river through and narrow steep gorge and we had to criss-cross the river eight times within four hours. The river was no more than 6 meters wide but was still very strong due to the rain that had fallen. River crossings are quite an art and it was something we still had to learn. I went ahead and slowly ventured into the current leaning heavily on my trekking poles with astute concentration, moving very slowly. Soon the current was up to my waist and I was happy to have put my phone in a plastic bag in my backpack. When I finally reached the other side of the river I scrambled up the rock wall to the thin goat trail. Here I took my backpack off, took a deep breath and return to the water as I assisted Sunny and Unicorn across. You should’ve seen their faces, fear and complete concentration combined with healthy dose of adrenaline got them to the other side. One down, seven to go. What followed was definitely the most technical day of the trail as the path became very narrow sidle track and you often felt as if you could fall into the raging river with the slightest slip. We were rewarded with a fabulous high ridge walk through the passing clouds as we reached 1600m, and got breathtaking views of the surrounding barren mountains. This continued for the following three days as we climbed up and over a number of mountains and dove back down into the valley. Ten days after departing Havelock I finally walked into the Alpine village of Saint Arnaud which was no more than a handful of buildings and when I walked into the camp site I saw two figures with very white hair. To my delight it was Bons and Tijno, my dear parents who had set up their tent.

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