Gray and ominous this morning; foggy, but no rain. Obviously I’d like ideal weather for the crossing – and my birthday this Friday – but there is something cool walking overland to the national park and having it reveal itself.
Walking is such a metaphor for life. Unless it’s a race, you can’t really rush it. You set your pace and then walk every step to where you’re going. It goes as it goes. David is gone when I’m up and then I’m next. I am not particularly fast, but steady. And this is uphill for the first several hours.
I arrive at the first of four streams and a large waterfall cascading down moss covered rock. The forest is huge and, per usual, filled with birds. It’s a sanctuary for kiwi with well placed traps for pests all along the trail – also a sanctuary for plants, including a rare carnivore parasitically attached to an unsuspecting more common plant.
I take brunch after walking three hours. Tracking is off to save power, though I sent a message when I started. It’s true that a thru-hiker is always hungry and always thinking about food. There’s a limit to how creative I can be with the food in my pack. Really popular are the Sealord tuna packets. Expensive, a bit heavy packaging and small servings, but those small servings are lip-smacking tasty. Just now, the clouds clear and the sun begins to peak out.
The forest is empty. I can see far over deep chasms to pointy humps of hills in the distance. My trail twists and turns with the terrain. Spooky cliffs look down on me.
I cross a river, water up above my shins. I just plow through as Bojan catches me taking off his shoes. I come to Waione/Cokers track, an overgrown series of puddles and suddenly realize it’s tomorrow we’ll make the alpine cross. I revise my request to reasonably decent weather on my birthday eve. Will the goddess smile on this backpacker? The mountains ahead are in cloud, the Whanganui far below.
This is supposed to be a mountain bike path but I see no sign of any. It’s deeply rutted and steep. Some vehicles have been here to clear traps. I find a gurgling stream to sit near and have some meat and cheese and remind myself again why I chose this scheme. I could have paddled this part then returned for the crossing, but I didn’t care for the company for seven straight days, the weather is no guarantee and I like my solitude.
But now I’m back on tramping track which essentially means completely unmaintained jungle. Not too much more, but will it lead me to a total washout day of rain and mist? Nothing good can come from being angry about the weather.
Then I totally lose the trail at a junction of streams. I’m standing at a sign, so it’s close, but where?
Found it. The trail is a stream leading to a river. Cold, fast, up over my knees. I put the loops of my sticks firmly over my wrists, face upstream and slowly shuffle across.
I go up and up on slippy mud and at the top see the mountains, blue on gray. Here is where I meet Matthew, a trapper, who gives me two oranges and the ride of my life on his 4×4 down the rutted trail for a few kilometers. He eats an apple most of the way as we bounce, drop, tip, bang, create steam after driving through deep pools, and shred plant-life flying down that narrow path.
We nearly tip over several times, and get stuck once. I hop out with the winch and he manages to get us unstuck. I have never known a better driver and I have not had such a ride – ever. Glad I’m still here to tell the tale.
I meet David at the bottom and we walk to a grassy spot near water to camp, oo-ing and ah-ing at the mountains venting steam from their calderas.
In no time, I am in my tent with 2 1/2 liters filtered water just as the downpour starts. What a racket. More rain tomorrow, so we’ll leave at 4 am and see if we can beat it up and over. Maybe the rain will chase off people booked in the hut and they’ll let us stay. That would be a nice birthday present indeed.
David blows my mind – a slender 60-year-old Korean who has climbed El Capitan four times, soloed Denali and is retired but guiding for fun. I think I picked a good group to walk with – and yes, they got up their tents in the nick of time too. Looks like the sun is trying to blow away the clouds and allow me to make dinner.