Te Araroa: Day 65-69
Day 65: Hanmer Springs to 2079.7 (10km + 7km) Leaving Hamner Springs was hard. The town was lovely and had a lot of good eateries.
I checked out at my motel at 10am and was still 2 sections behind on my blog and hadn't resupplied yet, so I decided to stay a little while longer at a nearby cafe and the local foursquare supermarket.
At 3pm I had finished all my chores and started walking towards the highway 7km out of town, hoping to get a lift from there back to the trail. Unfortunately no one picked me up before I reached the highway, but once there a car stopped just minutes later. The driver, Chris was probably in his mid 30's and from Colorado - one of the states I'll soon be hiking through. We talked about my future plans and the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado and the 50'ish kilometers back to the trail flew by. Chris dropped me off at Windy Point, 10km south of where I had left the trail.
As it was already getting late, I only hiked another 10km through quite some muddy wetland and pitched my tent just after the Hope Halfway Hut. The sandflies were horrendous once again, but there was no chance to avoid them, so I quickly changed into my longsleeve clothes and killed as many sandflies in my tent as I could. The floor of my tent became a sandfly graveyard. Day 66: 2079.7 to Locke Stream Hut (47km) A day of doubts... I woke up and felt really unmotivated to hike on. The last 1.5 days in town had dragged me down and my legs felt heavy. Throughout the day many concerns about my upcoming hike came to my mind and kilometers just didn't drop as easily as before. These doubts were accompanied by some concerns about the weather, as local forecasts predicted rain for the next few days. Luckily the day itself started rather nice and the trail in general was quite easy and flat.
At the Hurunui Hut I stopped for lunch and realized that I had lost my beloved spork, so I pulled out my knife and cut myself some chop-sticks.
I briefly talked to Zac who also felt slow and unmotivated and than hiked on towards Harper Pass. The climb was easy and the most exciting part was probably this "bridge".
- how to build a bridge without using too much material?! -
Instead of giving in to my doubts I focused on hiking and tried to speed up, my legs were getting better in the afternoon and so I managed to reach Harpers Pass at 7:20pm. As dark clouds loomed in the distance I decided it would be best to stay in a hut and so I continued on to Locke Stream Hut.
This was another 5km from the Pass and had some steep and slippery sections down the mountain slope. Just before 9pm I arrived at the Hut, met Jake, Olivia and Lena again and was overwhelmed by the stench of rat feces. The stench was so bad, that had to use my jumper to cover my nose while sleeping.
As I had learned from Jake, you'll never sleep with your head against the outer wall of a hut, as this is were rats usually run along. His advice proofed to be useful. In the middle of the night a rat ran over my feet and while waking up I kicked the rat out of my bed and against the next wall. Day 67: Locke Stream Hut to Upper Deception Hut (34km) I had slept horribly. When I woke up Jake and Olivia were already leaving, but I needed some time to get going. I had breakfast and some hot chocolate in the Hut. The predicted rain had finally arrived that night and it still rained in the morning.
I left at 7:15 am, covered in my rain gear and caught up to Lena 30mins later. She should have been two days ahead, but slipped in one of the rivers just after Boyle Village and had therefore stopped for a day on trail. With only 1200m uphill and 1100m downhill over the next 52km, I expected an easy day and was soooooo wrong.
The trail followed the Taramakau river bed and lead right through it for many kilometers, which meant a slow going track with many rocks for us.
The rain didn't stop and when the trail went up into the forest it got slippery and steep. Between noon and 1pm we finally arrived at the Morrison Footbridge. At least 2 hours later than I had initially hoped for. Here we had to make a decision. For the next 14km the trail would lead straight up to Goats Pass, including many crossings of the Deception river, which is especially susceptible to flooding. A huge warning sign at the Morrison Footbridge clearly stated that even "minimal" rainfall could lead to quickly rising river levels and that turning around should be considered. Well, we could have taken it the easy way, especially as it still rained heavily. Crossing the footbridge would put us right on the highway from where we could have hitched into Arthur's Pass, to warm up in the local cafe, but hey...we are thru-hikers. We don't give up that easily. We couldn't stop for long at the bridge as we were getting cold and with Lena's limited experience in river crossings we decided to stay together and hike at least to the first crossing to check out the actual river conditions. After 1.5 km we arrived at the first crossing, I showed Lena how to safely ford it and we made it to the other bank easily and therefore hiked on. The trail was difficult and slow going. At the warning sign DoC (Department of Conservation) had estimated a hiking time of 8hrs for about 10km. With just a mere 60m/km the trail wasn't steep, but involved a lot of rock climbing in, or right next to the river bed. It was rather technical and I had to use my arms and legs quite a bit, which is why I didn't take any pictures here. We crossed the river several times and its level kept rising.
The currents got stronger and more difficult and at the 5th or 6th crossing, we got stuck. I tried different routes to ford the now raging river, but was forced to turn around. As the river banks were steep and the forest dense, there was no way to get out of the very narrow river bed and I feared to get cut off by the rising water levels.
(Safe spot along the river)
I felt responsible not just for my, but also Lena's safety. In my mind I had that particular crossing of Adam's creek in Washington in 2018, where "Golden" followed me into a difficult stream and got swept away, hitting his head on one of the boulders. I was about to call the hike off and return to the bridge, when I finally found a place to ford. I went halfway through the river and helped Lena to a calm and safe place in the middle of the stream, before I crossed the 2nd part. We hiked on, oftentimes through more than knee-deep water, climbed over more slippery rocks until the trail finally got easier. We found a couple of fall back campsites just in case we would get stuck, but managed to get to the small 6 bunk Upper Deception Hut at 6pm. Half an hour later, Jake and Olivia payed us a short visit, but moved on to Goat Pass Hut. Lena and I started a small fire by burning an old book and stayed in the lovely hut for the night. Lena had proofed to be quite a beast, hiking huge distances with a heavy pack, fording the rivers and bracing the cold weather without complaining. After all, it was a great day. Exactly that kind of day I needed. The trail had challenged me physically and mentally, I was concerned, not scared, but focused. Once again I felt alive, once again I had overcome an obstacle and got rewarded with a wonderful stay in a cosy - and not rat infested - hut with some nice company. Day 68: Upper Deception Hut to 2190.7 (31km) The rain had passed and we left the Upper Deception Hut by 7:30am with slowly clearing skies.
The next 2km to Goats Pass weren't difficult, we had to ford and climb through the river and one of its tributaries several times again. We made it to the top by 8:30am and were welcomed by sunshine and great views of the surrounding mountains.
We hiked on some wooden platforms and started the descent towards Arthur's Pass. We made good progress on an easy trail and were quite relaxed. That's when it happened. I fell and that time I got really lucky. The trail went up over some rocks and while pushing myself up I slipped and instead of pushing me straight up, I pushed myself away from the rock and fell backwards. I hit another rock before I landed in some bushes next to the trail. Those bushes had stopped me from falling all the way down into the Mingha River, some 50m below. Luckily my backpack had cushioned the impact from that 1.5 - 2m fall. With a little bit of a shock, but no injuries besides a cut on my arm, we continued towards Arthur's Pass, where I left Lena behind.
She hitched into town, while I hiked another 5km to the Bealey Hotel, which held one of my food packages sent from Wellington. Those last 5km to the Hotel were rather annoying and difficult. The trail wasn't marked and lead through yet another river bed with some streams, high grass and a lot of gravel. The burger at the hotel was therefore well deserved and tasty. After a 2 hour break I hiked on, fully resupplied for another 7 days in the wilderness. Just a few kilometers after the Hotel the trail climbed some 500-600m and provided fantastic views on the Mingha River where I had come from.
13km later I pitched my tent next to the Harper River and had a quite stormy night.
Day 69: 2190.7 to Methven (25km) I had plans for a long day to Lake Coleridge, some 53km ahead and left before 7am. The trail was flat and followed the Harper River, which I had to cross several times, for 25km. Unfortunately the storm from last night was still going strong. The sky was sunny, but the wind extreme.
Gusts of 50-60km/h mad it really hard at times to move on and the wind pushed me from left to right while hiking. The terrain was wide open and exposed, which allowed for great views.
Just after noon I stopped at the Harper River Valley campsite for a quick lunch and some company. The rest to the day should have been another 22km on a gravel road and a short trail around Lake Coleridge, but just 15mins after continuing on that gravel road, two Kiwi hunters offered me a ride in the back of their pickup-truck, which I happily accepted.
A few minutes later I got joined by Robert (Ger). The driver dropped us off at a Junction some kilometers away from Lake Coleridge Village, we quickly hiked to the end of the official trail and than tried to get a hitch into Methven.
At Lake Coleridge the trail officially stops as the Rakaia river is considered a hazard area, which shouldn't be crossed. In favourable conditions, crossing the 3km wide braided river is doable, but with the rain of the previous days, we opted for the safer way around that river.
The road towards Methven was deserted and we expected a long hike, but got lucky when Hugh stopped next to us. Hugh worked at the local Power Station and even though his car was full, he offered us a ride to a junction near Methven and moved gear from his car to his trailer, so that he could fit me and Robert in the car. That man really made our day and ensured that we could reach the town easily that day, with another short hitch from a local Kiwi family.
Once again we hikers had experienced tremendous help from complete strangers and this is surely one of the most remarkable things on such a thru-hike.
We stayed the night in Methven and met Alex in a local pub, he had just visited Christchurch and was about to continue his hike on the next day.