By DominicOberhumer, 27 February 2013
Eastern Tararuas: February 2013
Of Ridges and Rivers in the Rainy Ranges
Tuesday 12th of February: I turned up early to the Welsh Dragon, the meeting place of the Victoria tramping club during the holidays, in order to get in some pre-meeting drinks, pancakes and some light conversation with a friend who also liked the idea of a few extra beverages. Over the next half hour other members start arriving and the conversation turns, inevitably, to nothing in particular. Eventually someone makes mention of a possible trip for the coming weekend, a sign-up sheet is passed around and I put my name down. I haven’t listened to what the trip is but I have no other plans so why wouldn’t I go tramping?
Friday 15th of February: Achim has a plan. This is a statement that I’ve been told should worry me especially as it turns out no-one else is joining us on this trip. The plan is to catch the train to Masterton, collect supplies, grab a bite, hitch-hike to the Kiriwhakapapa road-end and then start walking. This all goes swimmingly, with only two people not much can really go wrong. We are picked up relatively quickly from Masterton, within half an hour; impressive considering that we are two long haired men and one of us is unshaven. We are picked up by a man who takes several puffs of his inhaler before puffing on a cigarette but is friendly and kind enough to drop us fairly well at the start of the track.
So now the true intent for the weekend must be discussed. We will walk from the Kiriwhakapapa road-end to Blue Range hut tonight. On Saturday we will follow the track to Cow Creek for a while then bash to Cow Saddle, then to head over Waignawa and Bannister to get to Arete Biv and see what we feel like from there, possibly heading to Carceek hut. On Sunday we would bush-bash to Nichols hut then head out to Otaki forks via Waitewaewae.
We start walking towards Blue Range hut at 9pm and after fifteen minutes have to make a brief stop. This is partly to get out head torches but mostly to change to lighter clothes, Achim simply going shirtless. I opt for my favourite shirt which has increased airflow due to my going manic with a pair of scissors a few weeks back. In any case the uphill slog has me sweating like a pig; it is a seriously warm night. Achim, true to his reputation, seems unable to realise that going uphill should affect his speed and I soon start to fall behind. This isn’t a problem as the track is clear and easy to follow.
Arriving at Blue Range hut is fantastic; I’m sweating and panting and laughing outwardly at the various signs plastered over the hut. The large “antenatal clinic” sign on the door and the “occupied” sign on a tree near the toilet being highlights. Before we go to sleep for the night I make sure we finish off the large bottle of cider in my bag. The reasons for this are many: cider is delicious, alcohol is a muscle relaxant, it helps you get to sleep and it also gives me wild vivid dreams. The most important thing though is that it’s a kg less to carry tomorrow.
Saturday 16th February: We wake up fairly early and leave the hut within an hour. Initially the walk is fantastic and I’m pleased to find I can keep up with Achim on the flat and mild downhill. When we come across the DoC sign to Waignawa (half the sign quite obviously missing) we head off the track and start following a bearing confirmed by the occasional piece of pink plastic tied to a branch. We come out of the bush right next to a sign reading Cow Saddle and another sign that is just a picture of a cow; so we’re pretty sure we’re in the right place then.
We start climbing up the side of Waignawa and yet again Achim astounds me with no perceptible change in his pace despite the noteworthy increase in steepness. We stop for a snack just before the bush-line and marvel at the great blue skies and light cool breeze we’ve been lucky enough to catch. Once at the top of Waignawa we spot a potential issue; clouds, lots of them, big heavy looking clouds that are heading straight for us though they are luckily still some distance off. We head towards Bannister and up it. Achim had bought a rope as there were apparently a couple of points were it might be wise to climb without our packs on and pull them up after us. We find such a point and decide that the rope isn’t necessary and have a fun little climb without a worry; it wouldn’t be much of a fall and it would just be straight into leatherwood. Sure lacerations would occur but broken bones seemed unlikely. At the top of Bannister we have just met the clouds and Achim is far enough in front of me to get a magnificent sense of just how tiny a human is compared to a cloud. We get to Arete Biv fairly quickly and fairly dry as the clouds seem to have no desire to shed their contents.
After some tea and some map browsing we decide to head onto Carceek hut, once a VUWTC hut and a quite nice little place. This involves a few hours of heading over the peaks of Lancaster, Thompson and Carceek. Mercifully each of these peaks is easier than the one before it. Getting close to Carceek hut we hear voices and realise the hut is probably full. This isn’t a worry as sleeping on the floor is an art of which I consider myself a master and we have a fly we can pitch if need be. As it turns out the hut is full of VUWTC members and friends. I consider it unimportant but worth noting that I was a bit younger than everyone else present. I am 21 and Jamie, a friend of a few club members who lives in the USA, was celebrating his 30th birthday, complete with a cake and candles. After some discussion and some beer it was alluded to that there were some spare seats and a ride back to Wellington for me and Achim if we went back to Kiriwhakapapa. Although this meant we wouldn’t be doing a crossing of the Tararuas it also meant we wouldn’t have to hitch-hike back to Wellington so we took the offer.
Sunday 17th of February: The alarm went off at six and it took me about 5 minutes to pack my bag and get it out the door before starting breakfast. The great thing about sleeping on the floor (once you learn how to avoid any potential soreness) is that you have almost no desire to remain where you are once you wake up.
Achim was also soon ready to go and we headed off before the rest of the group. It was a brilliant morning with the cloud layer far below us looking like an ocean with the occasional mountain peak popping out here and there. The sky above the clouds was absolutely clear and we were able to see both Mount Taranaki and the South Island. We headed back up to Lancaster peak before turning off down Pinnacle spur towards Arete Forks hut. This path is entertainingly steep at points and at this time of year there are Edelweiss growing everywhere. We stopped at Arete Forks hut, had some lunch and waited for everyone to catch up at which point it was unanimously decided that heading down Waignawa river was the better way to get to Cow Creek hut.
Boulder hopping and river tramping is about the most fun you can have on a nice day and this Sunday was certainly bright and sunny. We were drenched fairly quickly, having found several points where jumping off rocks into deep water was simply the most expedient option. I’d never pack-floated before and though it may be fun it is as far removed from elegance as seems humanly possible. After two and a half hours of clambering, jumping and swimming down this river with the most ludicrous grin on my face we reached Cow Creek hut. The weather chooses this point to pack it in so we didn’t dry off for the rest of the trip (a blessing almost disguised).
The walk from Cow Creek hut to the Blue Rang hut junction is a slog, no better word for it. By the time we reached the junction I was yet again sweating profusely, despite still being wet from the river and the drizzle that had started up. Heading back down to the Kiriwhakapapa road-end was good fun at a decent pace, just steep enough for a quick descent but not so steep as to require much concentration. Heading back to Wellington in a warm car with a kebab stop in Carterton was pleasant and appreciated.
The only other thing to mention is that five minutes before the Road-end I received two bee stings. I had never been stung before and had no idea how to react so simply relied on the tried and true method of shouting a few choice profanities then shrugging and getting on with it.
Monday 18th of February (Today): It is about 9pm and there is no longer any muscle soreness in my legs and my knees are fine however there is something else. My left ankle and foot are about twice the size of my right foot and ankle. Though there are no signs of anaphylaxis my body certainly freaked out and set the histamine pumps to 11. Now I just sit in my comfy chair comfortable in the knowledge that I’d do the whole trip again in a heartbeat if someone asked; sweat, soreness, cold clouds, leatherwood, Spaniard and bee stings included.