It’s a few minutes past 5:00 am, and the nervous Germans are already up and packing. I like getting up early and hearing a few wind gusts – and their chatter – spurs me on. There’s more climbing today with long exposed ridges, over knobs and another slightly higher mountain. That’s why I need to be extra cognizant of the weather. It’s cold now, but seems to be clear.
The boys faff about for a bit while I pack away a sopping wet tent and put on my muddy socks and shoes. The walk takes us deep into mossy goblin forest, gently lit at an angle by the rising sun. Mist shape shifts before disappearing entirely. One of the men named Darcy tells me the weather will be good today, though showers are expected later, so I get cracking.
The mud is especially difficult going down on steep slopes and right back up and over several knobs. I could have sworn a sign said two hours to Nichols hut, but the trail loses a lot of elevation before going back up and is taking much longer.
This saddle is especially long through moss forest and it’s here, in this mystical spot, that I develop symptoms of nausea, heavy arms and legs, then a fast heart rate. Tachycardia. It’s only happened twice in my life – one time actually in the Tongariro. I was going strong and suddenly I was totally out of gas. I think it’s a lack of potassium and magnesium so I make a note to get a supplement in Wellington.
But that doesn’t help here as I try to ascend but can’t catch my breath. I feel like a rag doll hoisting myself up never ending knobs. When I finally break out of the trees and see a sign towards the hut, I laugh out loud. This sign promises four hours back to Dracophyllum. Even in my compromised and very limited state, I get to this sign in 3 1/2. God knows why I thought it should be done in two.
I sit down right at the tree line on a downed bit of beech tree and eat all the tuna packets in my backpack. Then dip into the cashews followed by a handful of gummy bears. Oh heck, I eat them all. I’m pretty sure I don’t have any more electrolytes, but scrounging about I’m surprised by one thin envelope remaining and add it to the remaining liter.
Within ten minutes, I’m feeling better. I continue towards Mt. Crawford at 1462 meters, with various undulating knobs on the way. I go slow and steady and take lots of breaks, which is not so much my style, but it gives me a chance to take in this spectacular all-encompassing ridge right smack in the heart of the Tararuas, mountains in every direction.
Crawford is way up above me, but I remind myself, it’s closer than it was earlier today. It appears to be one very long ridge with perhaps a slight dip about 1/4 the way up. I walk at a snail’s pace towards the ridge, noticing tiny alpine flowers everywhere, clinging tightly to the rocks.
As I ascend and begin breathing more deeply, I feel the nutrition coursing through my veins and my symptoms abate. Still, I stop to take a picture of this mass of flowers soaking in the sun and there at my feet, is edelweiss! This is alpine terrain, afterall, and this variety belongs right here.
The summit comes fast as a TA section hiker approaches from the south offering a bit of beta. He tells me having a day like today in the Tararuas is about a 3% probability. Honestly, it’s hot above treeline but absolutely breathtaking, the clouds giving a bit of Koyaanisqatsi feel to the rugged landscape.
The other German from last nut’s hut named Christian arrives and makes me laugh with his jovial and sarcastic attitude towards walking. The section hiker named Chris tells us he’s a runner and that people challenge themselves to run this trail in under 24 hours, much like England’s Bob Graham Rounds. Christian laughs, saying, “Not for me, thank you,” but in far more colorful language.
Next, a transplant from England named Julian arrives pointing out the South Island way in the distance, the sea right there beyond the mountains. He takes my picture and I have a dramatic fall off a rock, the tussocky plants I’ve complained about, saving me. Soon I’ll be back in bush, so take one last look at this glorious range.
The walk down is – in Julian’s term – savage. To come off Shoulder Knob at 1,310 meters to the Otaki river at 300 meters in only 4 kilometers means steep drops, and most of them muddy, rooty disasters. My walking sticks get a workout, but sometimes do nothing at all like when I go butt first down a mud slide.
I arrive at the Watewaiwai hut and see Floris, Marjelain, and Chloe. It’s old home week and so good to reunite, though I must say no one seems particularly keen to see old doddering me. Ah well. I bathe and rinse the mud from my clothes as best I can, swatting away sand flies and return to hang them by the fire, only to have Chloe push mine aside. I guess she hates American clothes as much as Americans.
My bunk is on the upper story and I’m absolutely knackered but thrilled with my extraordinary days in this fabulous range of mountains. A Kiwi named Carol that is hiking with Julian tells me she’s done all the TA in sections that what we just accomplished is the hardest part. It was for me for sure.
I have no idea what will shape up for New Year’s coming in just a few days, but I’m sure something will come up. The friends I make on the trail are not the inviting type – for me anyway. I have no idea why, but things have worked out beautifully with the Kiwis I’ve met and I’ve really loved being on my own. I’m keeping the faith.
For now, it’s still light but my eyes are closing. Good night.