Day 47: Rintoul Hut to Starveall Hut

Cloudy. It was cloudy this morning. But we had to move, there was no choice. I could have stayed for another day, but I wasn’t very interested in that.

So we left. Immediately past the hut the climb began. And climb we did. And climb. And finally popped out above the tree line onto the scree slope we’d be climbing for a bit more. Eventually we got past the cloud the hut was in and got our first taste of the view.

Sadly, the top of the mountain was also shrouded in cloud. But in a way that was almost better. It felt like we were on another planet. The rocky ground, sparse plant life, bright, diffuse sunlight, and zero visibility. Was quite nice.

At last we reached the very top. It was pretty awesome. The cloud made it feel like we were above the entire planet. They started down the hill, I stuck around a bit to have a moment.

I don’t remember all I thought about but I was both incredibly happy and incredibly sad I was up there, on top of the last major peak before the finish. Especially after now 6 days on this section I’m rather looking forward to getting back to civilization, but at the same time I wanted to hold onto that happy feeling of achievement for so much longer.

I was also thinking how awesome it was that I was here with the first 2 northbounders I met, after all this time. The last several days with them has been amazing and fun and sharing that summit with them was a highlight of the trip.

I also thought more about what’s next. I still don’t entirely know that. I feel like I want to find a job and go back to work, but I also want to make certain there’s ample room for adventures like this one. No way am I going to be content with sitting behind a keyboard for 40 hours a week for the rest of my life.

I did cry, for the record. Not like I cried when I reached the summit of Bear Camp on Cycle Oregon last year, but I still cried. It was a beautiful moment, and despite not having a view, I feel like it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Afterward, we started what must have been the most technically difficult section of the trail yet. Mount Rintoul has a sister summit, Little Rintoul, and the path between them is incredibly challenging. A while back I’d told my friend Faith, someone who has done her fair share of long hikes and travel, that I didn’t know if I wanted to keep going. She said “it’s just walking”. That was the running joke for the day.

Today was a beast. And then we finally got past the Rintouls and back into merely moderately difficult terrain.

Originally my plan had been to just go from Rintoul hut to Old Man Hut, only one hut down the trail. This was before when I thought I’d spend more time at the summit, when I assumed it would take far longer to cross than it did, and before I’d spent the entire previous day lying in my bed in a hut doing bugger all. So today we pushed on to Slaty Hut. But we got there around 3:15, and the next hut was supposed to only be 3 hours away. So we ate, and moved on. The idea being that if we did this bit faster and had a long day on the tail, we could do the rest of this in 3 days instead of 4. Not only meaning their food supplies would be less stretched, but that we’d get to burgers that much faster. Seriously, all we can think about is burgers. That’s it. Burgers. Give me a burger and a pile of chips.

We finally got out of the clouds to some nice views again.

And then we arrived at Starveall Hut. To find it overflowing with people. And not really any good options around for camping. John and Christine found a spot in the woods, and I pitched up on the helipad, figuring I’d hear a helicopter coming in for a landing in enough time to get out of the way. But one of the people inside ended up sleeping outside, and I thought there would already be people on the floor, but nope, nobody, so I packed up my tent and moved inside. I’m glad I did. It’s windy and cold outside. Inside we have a fire going. Much better.

Tomorrow we head for Rocks Hut, which I’ve heard good things about. If nothing else, there are flush toilets. After several huts with wasp nests in the loo it’ll be a nice change of pace. According to notes it’ll be 8.5 hours tomorrow, but the next 2 huts are only 2 and 2 past that, so we may push on to shorten our last day on this section a bit. The last day is about 70% walking down a gravel road, with little chance of a hitch, but it’s zombie walkable so it’s fine if it’s a long day. Plus: burgers.

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!