Charley’s alarm wakes me around 5. He has plans to cross both passes today – and I’m sure he’ll do it. I hope to make it over just one, the Travers Saddle. Will the mountains let me?
I take a look outside the window and I can’t believe it – clear skies turning pink from the sunrise. The long grass is golden, the peaks just getting hit by light. I roll out of my bunk immediately and get ready to go in no time.
Russell races past me as I filter the very cold water running in a very full stream, filled by the rain. Two and a half liters and all this food stuffed in the pack for a big pull right from the hut.
It’s rocky and moderately steep at first, taking me into a giant bowl where I can see down the narrow valley I walked yesterday to the hut. I have a huge smile on my face, so happy I am on the move. Charley is long gone and Russell’s bright orange pack cover bobs about ahead of me as he begins ascending the steeper parts towards the saddle.
I feel a bit unwieldy – more than yesterday. I’m heavy and the ground is damp. The trail is marked by orange poles and is sometimes a scramble, sometimes a rock hop across huge fanning avalanche paths. The wind gusts, flattening the grass and taking my breath away.
A waterfall splashes in a meadow filled with flowers, including one spiny plant that scratches me through my trousers. Mount Travers in a perfect triangle looms above. I finally reach the saddle, and for a moment the wind stops entirely, the sun burns down and I consider taking off my coat. But within moments, I pass whatever acted as a wind block and wild gusts slam into me, powerful and freezing cold.
I take pictures, selfies, video, video selfies and then move on. This is no place to stop for breakfast.
Hut warden Toby told us last night that people complain about the steepness of the next section, mostly how it hurts the knees. I go slow and measure each step, but it doesn’t prevent a very interesting wipe out. I slip on something wet – dirt, root – and go down backwards then kind of forwards. I skin my knee and bruise my ego but basically all is well – except one trekking pole. It’s not broken, but it’s bent – actually sort of curved. I’m glad I have aluminum because it seems to still have its strength, if a bit off balance.
I take good care going forward as spectacular mountains seem to rise as I move down very steep terrain and back into mossy forest.
I can hear the river for a long time before I get to it, rushing and boiling in transparent blue. Rivulets come onto the trail, muddy but several logs placed to keep the feet dry. Small streams race furiously to join the river and I leap rocks over them. A tiny bridge crosses a deep chasm, the water disappears below, its sound hollowed out.
The trail turns sharply away from the Sabine to its west fork and brings me to a hut, hot and abandoned except for drying clothes. Heaps of sandflies greet me so I head upriver towards Blue Lake and take lunch on a cool, moss-covered stump.
I walk over three astounding avalanche zones, giant boulders coming all the way across the river. Waterfalls now from the mountains as the trail gets steeper.
I meet Bruce, the hut warden, coming down and he tells me heavy rain and winds of 110 km tomorrow making it a no go for the pass. I make quick calculations and know I have plenty of food. The next day will improve, so it would be just a day waiting. He then tells me I’m lucky because there are only five people at the hut, whom he describes finally saying I should be happy because they’re older, “No offense!”
None taken, but not sure why he points out my age. I am walking the Te Araroa alone. I blow it off and head straight uphill to the hut meeting Russell. Several older TA hikers have decided against doing the pass altogether and one couple is surprised I’d consider not going.
We sit on the front stairs sharing tea and in comes Alessio, Charley’s friend. Jovial and friendly, he shares that Bruce tells him he will be just fine going over the pass. What now? In a few moments, Kuba and Kačka arrive and say the same thing. C’mon! Of course he tells Russell what he told me, “Tomorrow’s a no go.”
OK, so I guess for us old folks, we can’t handle the pass, even if we just crossed one in big wind. So I head over to see Blue Lake or Rotomairewhenua the lake of peaceful lands. Aqua and fluorescent green, it is the clearest known fresh water in the world and an astounding jewel nestled in the mountains.
The wind picks up and builds white caps in seconds, so I look for a sunny place to hunker down and enjoy the spectacular view.
When I return to the hut, the table is full, everyone sharing stories and commenting on the sameness of their meals. But the conversation veers to tomorrow and our eagerness to press on. We decide to stick together and take it slow, and, of course, assess the weather before getting in too deep.
Will, an Australian doing the Sabine Loop, comes up with an ingenious way to help out the three TA hikers going down. He gives them the keys to his car and decides to hike with us over the pass to Boyle Village. I tell him I have way too much food, so he can share and Russell makes him trip leader.
We’re all cozied in at 8 pm, hoping for reasonable weather and strong legs. Tonight has been one of the most fun of the entire hike, even if Russell says I’m only going over the pass to prove the hut warden wrong.
Nah! I want the challenge and to share it with friends – and maybe just a wee bit to show that this middle aged lady can manage a little mountain weather.
Good night and good luck!