Rintoul Hut zero

Woke up this morning to cloudy weather so we slept in.

I’d been wanting to zero in a hut. Let me tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

This is a long section, so I had a lot of food. But I still have a decent amount of time left, so I can’t just do the thing I wanted to do all day, which was to eat. And despite having cell reception, I have only about half of my battery left, so I can’t just do stuff on my phone all day.

So, yea. I drank like 8 cups of tea, we played some cards, but the deck we had had some missing cards. We had a fire going but kept having to go cut up more firewood to keep it going. Then, finally, I laid down for a bit of reading and a nap and 3 more northbounders show up, so suddenly there’s a ton of activity and people talking and I just can’t get any reading done.

The worst part is that around noon we’d decided that 2pm was our cutoff to leave. We’d started packing up since there was some clearing, but by 2pm it was raining again. Then, about the time the nobos showed up, it started clearing more, and ended up being a lovely afternoon.

Suddenly I got a craving for a burger and then all we could do was talk about food for the next several hours.

John at one point had been pretty hangry and Christine started sorting through their food to make up rations so she could give him some food to try to take the hanger away. Eventually we all had dinner and then John apologized for his behavior earlier, and one of the other guys said he’d been so hungry he blacked out. And suddenly the term “black out hungry” was coined.

I’ve also spent the last several hours figuring out how to make this next section which originally was meant to be 4 days into 3 days, which is possible with either long days or beating estimates, both of which I’m starting to feel more like I want to do.

This section has been beautiful, but I wouldn’t mind being done with it a day earlier than originally planned. At any rate, I’m going to be happy to be back on the trail again tomorrow. Zero day in a hut isn’t the most exciting or wonderful thing ever, though I will admit that it would have been less bad if it hadn’t cleared up, and if we’d had a better deck of cards.

Day 46: Mid Wairoa Hut to Rintoul Hut

The day started with a climb. Big climb. Through forest, so pretty boring, no pictures. Halfway in we stopped at Tarn Hut, which is conveniently by a tarn.

Then up we went some more. Much more. Lots and lots of wasps. They were so thick they’d just run into you. No stings, but it was pretty sketchy for a while.

Then the views started coming.

Up some more we went. More views.

Finally we reached our high point for the day, saw our hut and what lay before us for tomorrow.

You might be able to see it there. It about 5 pixels of white. That’s the hut. That big mountain next to it? That’s what we’re climbing tomorrow. It’s about 450m above us, but the horizontal distance is only about 1, 1.5km. So basically a wall. Should be fun.

It’s supposed to rain tomorrow morning so we’re probably going to stick around here most of the day. Not only is it not a good idea to attempt this in bad weather, we really want to be able to see from the top. It’s the last big peak going northbound, so kind of a final rite of passage. I imagine I’ll cry a little. Or maybe a lot. Hopefully a lot.

Bonus, we saw an owl in the forest.

Tomorrow, or whenever we manage to be able to get up the mountain, should be quite the day. I can’t wait.

Day 45: Hunter’s Hut to Mid Wairoa Hut

Today started off with a surprise. When we went to bed last night there were 3 of us. When we woke up there was a 4th. A kiwi guy had snuck in just after we all passed out (he said he got in at 9:45pm). After some food and pleasant conversation, the 3 of us left from the hut.

A steep descent down to the river and then up up up up. About 800m of climb to get to the top of Mt. Ellis. The climb started off steep but flattened out the closer we got to the top. The wind also increased significantly. Like a lot. Fun times. But the views from the top were amazing. And there was cell reception so we checked the weather forecast.

We arrived at the midway hut for the day, after a really awful boulder field we had to descend through. Had some lunch. Contemplated the section ahead. The notes talk about it being extremely challenging. The TA website has a warning up about it saying there are places where handholds and footholds are hard to come by. Needless to say, we’ve been worried about this section for days.

It was, by far, the easiest hard section on the trail. And absolutely beautiful. It’s possible someone had been through doing some work on the trail since the notes were published and the alert went up, but really, it wasn’t that bad at all. It was challenging. But it wasn’t terrible. It had some nice trail side drops. But I never felt afraid of my footing. And I’m afraid of heights, so a 50 foot drop about 18 inches to my left would normally terrify me but I didn’t really feel any amount of fear on these spots. There were a couple of times I slowed down because awkward footing combined with steep drop meant I should be careful, but I wasn’t afraid at all, just cautious.

A section that was rated as 4 hours and very nasty, took us about 3.5 and was thoroughly enjoyable.

And at the end, a beautiful swimming hole. Ice cold, but it felt so good at the end of today.

Tomorrow starts off with a huge climb, and some descending and more climb. Should be fun.

Day 44: Red Hills Hut to Hunter’s Hut

Today was pretty challenging. Lots of up and down, various terrain types, including a large terrible boulder field and some squishy boggy goodness. Oh and some steep rock sidles hanging over cliffs for good measure.

Last night Christine and John (just2hikers) showed up and we’re probably going to be pacing each other all through this section. Today we walked together all day which was fun! It was nice to have someone to talk to on the trail for a change.

There was a bit of rain, and a lot of great views.

The hut we’re in for the night is situated in a really great place and has an amazing view from the porch.

Anywho, not much to say really. Tomorrow is going to be very long and very difficult. I’m glad I’ll have someone to commiserate with at the end of the day. People say tomorrow’s section is the hardest part of this section, and definitely the most dangerous. DOC has a warning up about it due to erosion damage making footholds hard to come by in places. I’m a bit nervous to say the least.

Day 43: St Arnaud to Red Hills Hut

My pack is so heavy.

So.

Heavy.

But I did manage to cram everything inside it! I was expecting to have to have stuff hanging off the outside to get all of the food in. But nope, it’s all inside.

Today started off fairly boring. Road walk. I half heartedly tried to hitch but really wasn’t making an effort at all to do it so I didn’t get picked up. Once I reached the track I stopped, sat my pack down, ate a bar, and had a rest.

Just before this is found the laziest farm animals around, they were all just laying down in the shade. Sadly, I think the sheep are the cancer ward, many had large lumps on them and one had some really odd fur. Poor things. Glad they’re resting then.

Then for the next 45 minutes or so I had a crisis. Do I go? Do I turn back? I’m scared. My pack is heavy. Is it ok if I turn back? What about just one more night, I’ll try again tomorrow?

Eventually I talked myself into going. And about 5 minutes later, I regretted that. But I kept going.

Up first was a 500m climb or so, which nowadays isn’t even really a thing. But with 10 days of food my back I felt every step.

Slow and steady.

Finally I make it to the top and I set my pack down again and have a rest. This time there was no convincing to get me going again, I was just worried about time.

While it was on the ground I noticed some of my packs straps weren’t tight at all. When I picked it up and adjusted things, a world of difference. I finally understand what all of the adjustments do and now the thing is so comfortable on my back. My hips still complain though.

On down the trail. Lots of descent today. Climbing is getting to be not a big deal generally but descending still sucks.

And every impact with that extra weight is torture. I keep telling myself that my food is actually less weight than the amount of weight I’ve lost. My legs aren’t listening.

Back up and down a few more times and some really nice views along the way.

Finally I arrive at the hut. It’s newish. Nice. Has screens in windows. Only 6 bunks but nobody was there and still nobody has shown up.

I looked over my notes again and I think if all goes well this section will be 8 trail days. Which is handy because I can divide my 2 blocks of cheese easily for that, I know I have extra food so if I get hungry I can just eat some more. The candy is going to be the hard part though. I’ll want to eat all of that. Gotta ration it a bit! But at the same time, it’s heavy, so I should eat it now to make my pack lighter!

Looking at the notes, Mt. Rintoul is on day 5. Top Wairoa to Mid Wairoa is on day 3. DOC has a warning out for that section but says there’s an alternative. Hopefully I can figure out what that is. The hut book has a little greetings, NoBos in it and talks about that section being harder than Rintoul, so who knows. I’ll see in a couple days anyways!

St Arnaud zero

Today I had one simple goal: make my pack smell less horrifying. Oh, and eat lots of bbq. Well, I got one of those things done.

Not that I didn’t try to get my pack to smell less horrifying, but at this point I think I need something a bit stronger than what Mirazyme claims to be able to do. Like a whole bottle of vinegar or something. I dunno. We’ll see how I feel after walking tomorrow.

I forgot I also needed to get my food sorted. I sent a box from Hanmer Springs with the majority of the food I’d be carrying for the next section, and picked up a few things from the local store to fill it out. Then I needed to repack the things that needed repacking and get it ready to go into my pack.

Over the past month and a half I’ve narrowed down what I eat on the trail:

Bumper bar or muesli for breakfast.

Bars of various types while walking. I don’t really stop for lunch, I just eat on the go and stop to rest when I feel like it but they don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

First dinner is pasta, half a sauce packet, pile of powdered milk, a cup a soup packet and a packet of tuna

Second dinner is the same without the tuna and with any cheese I might have.

So I made up meals. I have 9 baggies, in each one is pasta, 2 soup packets, and a sauce. Easy. No fumbling around for all of the ingredients, just grab a baggie and go. I’ll still need to dig out the milk powder but that’s ok.

For breakfast I had a 600g muesli package I split into 3 breakfasts and the others will be bumper bars.

I have cous cous for 3 of my pastas in case I start running low on fuel but I just got a new can so it should last me the whole time. Also just as a way to change things up a bit I guess. I dunno.

I also got a lot more candy this time. I was really enjoying having candy in the last stretch, so I doubled down on that. And brought a big bar of chocolate too. Why not. Junk food city.

I have roughly 10-11 days worth of food, depending how you split it as I have some extra dinners and one “day” worth of food that is just potatoes and a flavor packet. I am guessing this section will take me 7-8 days. But since it’s very weather dependent, having extra food isn’t a bad thing. Plus it lets me take shorter days here and there if I need to.

Speaking of which, in this next section there are huts basically every 4 hours. So I can half day full day long day whatever as I please. It’s pretty cool. Though I fully intend to give myself a full day to get over the Rintouls. Not so much that I’ll need it, the notes say it’s a 4 hour section, but it’s also one of the best views on the trail, and the last major obstacle between here and the finish line. If the weather is nice I will probably stop up there, eat lunch, read a bit, I dunno. It’s also the most weather dependent part of this section, so there’s a chance I’ll be hanging out for an extra day or so just before it waiting for a clear day. I really want a clear day for it so I have good views.

Pretty nervous about this section. 10 days of food is heavy. There is a 2 day stretch where there’s no water between huts. There’s one section that DOC has put out a notice about severe trail degradation, and I need to figure out the bypass route for it. Weather plays a big role in this section, and I have some wet weather ahead. The Rintouls themselves are physically difficult crossings. Lots to worry about.

One thing that’s nice about this section is 2 days from the end I can bail out to a town pretty easily. I can resupply there and head back out, or whatever needs to happen. But that basically gives me 2 extra buffer days in the schedule just in case.

Anywho, back to bbq. As expected, it’s not bbq in the Texas sense. It was grilled food. But a lot of it. And most pretty good. Definitely hit the spot!

Oh! And I learned a thing about sandflies at the DOC visitor center. They had a signboard outside with info. Sandflies are terrible things. They are up there with tussock on the list of things I won’t miss when I’m back home.

The lake is very nice.

Ok it’s like 1am I can’t sleep but I need to. Fortunately I can make tomorrow a short day if I want, and probably will, especially with the heavy pack and such!

Day 42: Sabine hut to St Arnaud

I’m sure Upper Travers Hut was neat and everything, but last night’s hut was pretty well situated. I mean come on.

Fun fact: there’s a water taxi from the other end of the lake that would have picked me up and taken me to town if I wanted. This hut is basically a zero walking hut if you really want. There were a handful of people taking the water taxi out this morning, myself almost one of them, but I think most of the folks at the hut were walking at least part of the time.

The trail today was mostly easy. I was able to blast down it and even up it when it had its ups. There were a few places with storm damage, some of which was old and had had the trail cut through it, and some which was newer which had to be worked around, under, or over.

At one point on the way up to the high point for the day there was a good half kilometer or more boardwalk, which is the first boardwalk of any length I’ve seen along the trail. Of course, I’m actually off trail right now, but whatever, I do what I want. It was neat though, and there was a little rest area at one point with a really great view.

About half way in there was a really nice hut, with quite the view. I stopped for lunch and had my first bowl of ramen for a while. I wasn’t sure if I had enough fuel left to make pasta with so I just boiled some water quick and dumped in a package of ramen. It was actually pretty good, I must say. There may be a few more of those going into my pack for the next section if I can find some.

After that I screamed down the track. It was a mix of rooted horribleness and lovely smooth track. Makes me wonder who put “well graded track” in the DOC brochure for this trail. Every time I came across a particularly gnarly section I would say “well graded track”. It’s all good though. Got to the carpark in record time and got to see a lovely view of a different lake and the town of St Arnaud.

One of the folks from the hut last night, one who took the water taxi in, was hanging out at the carpark, so we chatted for a bit. At one point I thought he mentioned giving me a ride into town, it was another 1.5 hour walk down a pretty ugly road to town, but then he disappeared. I waited a while to no avail. Fortunately, it looked like 3 cars were about to leave the carpark so I started walking down the road, figuring one of them would pick me up. Sure enough, a trio of Germans did! Their English wasn’t good so we didn’t have much conversation, but I got into town so that was good.

I had called a place from the carpark to see about rooms and they wanted $75/night for a dorm bed and $180/night for a private room. Whaaaaaaaaat. I called another place and I got a private room for $50/night. Much better. Tomorrow I’m going to try to clean my pack and my shoes. So much mildew. It’s disgusting and I just can’t take it anymore. Spending the time and whatever money might be required will be a worthwhile investment to improve quality of life for the next stretch, methinks. And the next stretch is gonna be a tough one, so I’ll take all the quality of life I can get!

Day 41: Blue Lake hut to Sabine Hut

Yea, no Travers Saddle for me. Forecast said 60km/h winds at the top and I just used that as an excuse not to go! It’s ok though!

Before I left this morning I wandered to the lake to get a picture of how clear the water is. There was some wind though so the surface was rough. Still beautiful though.

Wandered down the hill to West Sabine hut which is a 34 bunker! Apparently the other night they had 36 there. It’s tiny though, I can’t imagine it with even 20 people. 36 must have been insanity. I had it all to myself for lunch though. Saw a couple of day hikers from the hut going up to blue lake along the way.

Amazing views all along the way whenever there were open parts of the trail. It was mostly forest though, varying between rooted and crappy and rocky and crappy and smooth as ice and lovely. A couple of short climbs in for good measure. Near the end of the day there was a quite nice climb up above the river as it turns to go into a gorge, then you cross it on a bridge.

Water is super clear and super deep. The depth hides the current though, shortly after this what would otherwise be an amazing place to cliff jump you have some nasty rapids. Seriously the water was unbelievable. Really really nice.

A while later came across a waterfall next to the trail.

The hut is on Lake Rotoroa. The brochure says there’s a water taxi from here to Rotoroa village at the other end of the lake. I considered taking it just for fun but it’s kinda pricey and then I still have to get from there to St Arnaud. I’ll walk. But for now I’ll enjoy the view from the porch. Actually from inside because outside is sandfly city.

Mostly full house here tonight. It was pretty loud and chaotic in the kitchen earlier. Lots of folks out to walk the circuit. Some are taking the water taxi in the morning, but I think most will be walking my way. Maybe I can hitch a ride from one of them from the carpark into town.

This hut is pretty neat, 2 bedrooms each with a double decker long bunk bed about 8 mattresses across, and a huge kitchen with 2 sinks and plenty of seating.

Anywho, looking forward to St Arnaud tomorrow and all you can eat bbq the next day! And maybe a clean pack that doesn’t smell so bad! Seriously this thing is gross, and not just gross but extra terrible gross. The mildew didn’t go away and it’s just been getting worse. Hopefully I can find a basin to soak it in with some vinegar. That should do the trick, maybe!

Sleep now.

Day 40: Waiau hut to Blue Lake hut

What a day.

I’ve been anticipating this day for literally months. Worrying that it would be too hard for me to do, the weather too bad for me to even attempt. The trail notes make mention of crampons and ice axes and that made me super concerned.

The first part of the day for me was to walk from the hut up to the “informal campsite” up a ways. But on the way there the trail goes past the old Caroline Bivvy which is a tiny tiny tiny little shelter that’s very old and is to be removed because of the new Waiau hut where I stayed last night. I stopped in to say hi and sign the hut book. Last night I’d considered continuing on past Waiau hut since I’d gotten there so early and Caroline bivvy was one of the places I had been considering. I’m glad I didn’t. It’s tiny. It’s kinda gross. And there’s no toilet. But it is historic!

Afterward I continued on to the campsite. The trail was decent until it wasn’t and then I got to the campsite. It’s little more than a clearing along the trail where someone made a makeshift fire pit, but it would have been a pretty good place to camp in a pinch. I stopped here and had a rest, unloaded some extra weight I was carrying and started the climb.

Finally, I arrived.

Absolutely stunning. The weather could not have been more perfect. Cool. Clear. Dry. And surprisingly only a very light breeze at the top. I climbed up to a little peak right next to the top of the pass and just hung out there for a while, taking in the scenery, and what I’d just done.

Sadly the descent was awful. And so was the route from Lake Constance to blue lake hut. But I’ll leave out the details of that.

Blue lake is cool. The clearest water on the planet it is claimed. I haven’t gone over to the lake yet but from above I could definitely see pretty deep into it. Pretty awesome.

I’m at the hut now and it’s full of people. Many not TA hikers. Since the latter portion of the day put me in a bit of a crappy mood I’m hiding in my bed trying not to be grumpy.

And trying to think about the amazing accomplishment today was. Months I’ve been anxiously anticipating climbing this pass. And I climbed it like I was out for an afternoon stroll. And the reward at the top was so good. So good. Wow, what an amazing feeling.

I remember when Keaton said to me that he was proud of me way back when we were in Queenstown. And I’m proud of me too. I looked at my notes yesterday for the pass and one of the things it said was “if you’re reading this from the top of the pass give yourself a high five”. I almost backed out this morning, not gonna lie. Looking up at what I needed to climb from just past the campsite I felt pretty intimidated. But I pushed on and did it and I’m so glad I did!

The weather forecast I got yesterday morning said there could be snow above 1000m. I met the hut warden at the top of the pass and he said that wasn’t the case. The weather for the next several days is supposed to be great.

Tomorrow I am set to cross Travers Saddle, which is a nearly as difficult climb and descent as today. There’s a hut along the way about 3 hours from here where I might stay or might decide to get into St Arnaud using a different route. I’m fairly certain I’ll be leaving this hut, not that it’s bad but just because even on a rest day I can do some distance and the distance to the next hut is pretty trivial.

Proud of myself. Today was huge for me. I think I’ll sleep well tonight.

Day 39: Anne hut to Waiau hut

Such an easy easy easy easy day today. Came pretty close to just heading on past the hut, but I decided not to. Tomorrow is going to be a long, challenging day. I want to rest up and get an early start and that’ll be a lot easier in a hut than in my tent.

But back to today. Again I am bad with the photo taking but as I was walking along a guy on horseback and his 2 horses came up behind me and we chatted for a bit. He had two beautiful horses and was out exploring the area for a month on horseback! It was so cool! He had some really interesting stories about walking into towns on horseback and having people come up to him and show him where he could park his horses. Such a neat thing, and I’m intrigued by the idea of wandering around the backcountry of New Zealand on horseback.

No rain today but cloudy all day and pretty cool. Some river crossings and one of them I got pretty chilled by to the point I almost stopped to take my wet shoes off and such. I kept walking and was fine.

Tomorrow is the big day. Waiau pass. I’m still pretty anxious. Mostly that tomorrow is going to be an 11+ hour day. Ugh. I doubt it will be. And if it is, well, that’s fine, I’ll be at blue lake hut and be comfy afterward. Hopefully it won’t be packed full of people, but it’s a weekday so it should be good hopefully.

Weather forecast this morning from DOC said there could be snow down to the 1000m level on Friday. Waiau pass is 1700+, blue lake hut itself is at like 1100m, and on Friday I’m set to go over travers saddle which is also 1700+. And travers saddle is an avalanche risk area, so, that could be interesting. Fortunately the track down from blue lake is all down hill along a river, and before I head up to travers saddle I’ll arrive at West Sabine hut which is the biggest hut on TA with 34 bunks, and I can decide from there if I’m going to continue on to travers saddle or if I’m going to instead take the Sabine River track downhill into St Arnaud. Both routes lead me into town, both routes will take 2 days, so it’s just a matter of if I can or want to attempt travers saddle. I’m hoping by the time I’m ready to leave west Sabine, some southbounders will have come through and said whether or not I should try it.

Anyways, that’s all later. Today was just an easy day. Honestly I was expecting this entire section to be super hard, but really it’s all been super easy, just lots of distance. Tomorrow and the next day are the only 2 hard days, but I’ve heard they are very rewarding. Also the forecast seems to suggest I’ll have good, clear weather tomorrow afternoon, so I’m hoping it holds true!

Here are some pictures. Despite it being cloudy all day, I think the scenery here was quite lovely.