Maggie brings me outside when I wake up to show me my good luck charm – a rainbow. Cary joins us for the walk to whispering falls. A serpentine seam glistens in the sun. Maggie loaded me up with one more bagel and lox, extra cream cheese naturally. I have the last piece of rhubarb cake saved for when I finally reach the mountain view.
We all walk on slippery rock to beautiful whispering falls. Sheets of water like a beaded curtain drip over moss with a light hiss, lit by shy sun.
I say goodbye to my new friends and head up the track to Hacket Hut. I feel a familiar tightening in my chest of fear of the unknown. It doesn’t help that my feet don’t feel solid in the damp. I decide the only way to feel better in this situation is to go more slowly. I have all day and I’m loaded down with food, just take it easy.
Two men are taking care of business at the hut including plastering their faces with sunscreen. I use the long drop and head straight up into forest. A sign warns of multiple river crossings which all happen one after another, like a roller coaster up and over and then down to the boiling water. Nothing too hard, just trying not to slip.
I begin to see peaks ahead and also how I will work my way into a bowl, then over them. The sky is clearing but some black clouds and mist swirl. Suddenly I hear a huge bang, a crash that sounds almost metallic. I call out but get no reply. So I keep walking and see red. It’s Eline! We’re both surprised and happy to see each other. She tells me it’s only 700 meters to the next hut, but it’s straight up and over into a spectacular view of mountains. Another woman is there and the three of us take a rest to enjoy the beauty before I head straight up into mist, wind and mountains upon mountains.
I cross a high plateau then head down into an enchanted moss covered forest, the light coming in and out. I too, come in and out of views, bowled over by finally being high up in mountains.
The trail climbs and drops and climbs again and again. Finally I come to a sweet hut tucked into a saddle. I’m in just long enough to get a bit organized when John arrives.
Oh, my friends, he is absolutely insufferable. Every other sentence is about how fast he’s going and the huge distances he’s covering and all that he’ll have to do tomorrow on the trail, like somehow we won’t also be doing the same. “I passed two guys, but I was just flying up the hill!” “Oh gee, I’ll have to carry water for 13k tomorrow!” “I can’t believe how fast I got here!” He is about the most annoying know-it-all I have met on the trail and I am stuck in a tiny hut with him – and some others who seem to be less bothered.
So I put my ear plugs in and set up my bunk station. But I can’t help but think this feeling is becoming a theme. I’m at least 20 years older than everyone and I’m doing really well, but I just don’t fit into the world of gear discussion and kilometer comparison. I guess I just want a kind word my way, real conversation or to commiserate on what we’ve done together, not to have to listen to this condescending comparison conversation. Good grief. After tomorrow, he’ll thankfully be way ahead and others besides me will be gifted with how great he is.
I go out to get some pictures and see rain in the mountains as a helicopter heads up to the old man ridge. I hope it’s not to pick up an injured hiker.
Dinner is made and consumed and I lay back on my bunk with an old magazine. I’m tired from last night’s festivities. John is still droning on, “I’ve waited all day to finally have this rest,” as though no one else has hiked or exerted and looked forward to a rest – or deserved one – but him. The Czech couple he walked with is not here yet and might be hanging back. I don’t blame them. It’s basically impossible to talk to anyone else or talk about anything else because he interrupts to add more facts and opinion.
I tell myself this too shall pass then pick up that magazine and read a piece about a Kiwi mountaineer who made many daring first ascents in the ‘20s, but was humble about them and ever curious. Why is it this young man is such a braggart, but on top of that, why is it ok for a 30-year-old man to act this way but not, say, a middle aged woman?
It’s not that I need to toot my horn, but I feel silenced and dismissed and on the fringe a lot on this hike. At last night’s dinner, Evie said she experienced it too while traveling – young people making a plan in front of her and simply excluding her.
I struggled in the morning with my courage and I feel so proud to have come this far. I feel sad not to share success to celebrate all of our accomplishments. And it’s sad too because John and I walked together on the Charlotte track and I told him about the strong beat in rock on 2 and 4 as we sang songs to our footsteps’ beat. But he is not one to connect on those lovely touchstones and I feel isolated, lonely. He also forgets it took him all day to catch me on that track. I am not all that slow, so it confuses me he raises himself higher. I remember what Andrew told me when we paddled the Whanganui, that he doesn’t let people like John ruin his experience. I need to take that advice to heart.
I walk back up the trail and floss in front of an impossibly beautiful mountain scene as the sun sets. I’m privileged to be here and blessed with perfect weather. I am hiking well and feel good. I nabbed a bunk in the hut and will knock out soon. Another day of ridges and mountain tops – with difficult scree – await me tomorrow and John will walk fast ahead and be only a dim memory soon enough as I face new challenges – physical, mental and spiritual – as well as be on the lookout for all that is curious, inspirational and unusual.
I believe I’m up to the challenge. With that, I say good night!