TA Day 85, Blue Lake Hut to Waiau Hut, 17 km

Posing under threatening skies above Lake Constance on the tough walk to Waiau Pass.
Posing under threatening skies above Lake Constance on the tough walk to Waiau Pass.

Rain spatters the windows as the sky lightens, though wind seems to have stilled. Snoring and adjusting keeps me awake, though, to be fair it’s the unknown that has me tossing. I look outside and the mountains are hidden in mist.

I walk over to Russell still nestled in his upper bunk. “Why are you shaking your head? We’re going!” I’m skeptical, telling him I’ll head to the long drop and check the weather on the gps.

It’s wet, but not as bad as it looks. The forecast gives no report on wind – odd with 110 km expected – and shows rain chances decreasing throughout the day. I wonder if the forecast is for the mountain or the valley.

Blissful, Kuba, Tom, Russell, Will, Alex and Kačka preparing for the pass, we put on all our clothes and planned to stick together.
Blissful, Kuba, Tom, Russell, Will, Alex and Kačka preparing for the pass, we put on all our clothes and planned to stick together.
The landscape was wild and looked even more so with the intense weather.
The landscape was wild and looked even more so with the intense weather.
The group moving ahead on the easiest part of the trail. The pass is an up, then steep down and even steeper back up.
The group moving ahead on the easiest part of the trail. The pass is an up, then steep down and even steeper back up.

We’re all up by now making breakfast and packing, one strange couple of American and South African place themselves right by my bunk in such a way I can’t pack. They talk about the pass and camping near it, but seem pretty flaky.

Our group is not. Rain, wind, no matter. Russell is already dressed, including his wool cap and tramping boots. I suggest we consider not just going for the sake of going, but to actually see the views. To which Russell points out it’s clearing. A little. Ish.

We all sit around the long table with benches talking at once and finally decide to leave at 8:30. And once the decision is made, and I cram in more calories and water and chuck on even more layers, it’s starts to bucket down rain.

Not the most helpful sign but the momentum is moving forward. Russell agrees to have us all stick together and watch out for one another. He makes Will ‘trip leader’ even though he waffles on whether to come with us, though finally decides to join us.

So, seven trampers in full rain gear head up the dam below Lake Constance. The rain stops for us and the views open right up. Stunning, huge, like a painting, and actually even more beautiful with the swirling mist.

The lake's end, tinged a deep aqua from glacial silt. We never encountered snow, but the air was chilly if you stopped.
The lake’s end, tinged a deep aqua from glacial silt. We never encountered snow, but the air was chilly if you stopped.
One more portrait on a hump above Lake Constance. There is no way around the lake but up unless you have a boat or want to swim in in its frigid water.
One more portrait on a hump above Lake Constance. There is no way around the lake but up unless you have a boat or want to swim in in its frigid water.
The pass comes into view in the distance, but first we have to work our way down to the lakehead.
The pass comes into view in the distance, but first we have to work our way down to the lakehead.

There’s maybe 100 meters of cruising before we hit a wall of scree, an orange pole marker at the top. And up we go, ignoring the fact that this climb gains us no altitude as we’ll have to come right back down slippery, ball-bearing trip-hazard pebbles to a rocky beach. T only other choice would be to swim.

Up the headwaters fed by dozens of waterfalls and through thick grass, we jump rocks over the rapids and jump back a few steps up the valley for seemingly no reason, then hang a left and crack straight up, not always on rocks, thankfully, but on dirt ‘steps’ carved out by thousands of boots. Alex and Tom fly up, but I’m right behind them – definitely my forte, going uphill. The wind picks up and it begins to drizzle as we hunker behind a rock for a few sips of water.

That doesn’t last long as I begin to shiver, so Tom comes up with me for the last push, and that lovely tall Czech athlete lets me go first. Does that ever feel good getting to the tiny pass and looking down the other side to more glorious mountains.

Will works his way up the 1500 foot pass. It was two steps up, one step back on the loose rubble.
Will works his way up the 1500 foot pass. It was two steps up, one step back on the loose rubble.
Russell thrilled to reach the top of Waiau Pass. We had views all day except from this one spot.
Russell thrilled to reach the top of Waiau Pass. We had views all day except from this one spot.
Kuba told me his cheap plastic parka really kept him dry even if it looked like a tutu.
Kuba told me his cheap plastic parka really kept him dry even if it looked like a tutu.
I was made fun of for all the photos I took, but then people wanted copies for the memories.
I was made fun of for all the photos I took, but then people wanted copies for the memories.

We stay just a moment in the wind then head down an easy-ish trail at first, that turns to slanty rock and scrambling. I take far too many selfies, so lag a bit behind and everyone is under the mini rock climb. Kačka goes front first, not bothered by her sticks or backpack pushing her forward. I get a bit whiny, so throw my sticks down – Russell telling me later how ‘girlie’ it was, but holding back now as I am pretty nervous.

I climb down like a ladder, unwieldy with my pack, but eventually making it down to face more tricky footwork over rock, scree, mud, bush-hidden holes and streams. The Waiau Uwha river takes a sharp turn into the valley, cutting a jagged canyon with huge, rushing waterfalls into crystal clear water.

The group breaks up now as we get closer to the hut, but there are still a few avalanche fields and river crossings. Alex and Will jump them but I don’t trust my footing, so plunge in the water. It’s cold and fast moving and I feel nervous for what’s next.

The descent was far more difficult and required some careful downclimbing.
The descent was far more difficult and required some careful downclimbing.
Clowning around on the hike. For someone who normally walks alone, I think we did really well together and Russell told me later it was his favorite day of the entire trail.
Clowning around on the hike. For someone who normally walks alone, I think we did really well together and Russell told me later it was his favorite day of the entire trail.
Coming off the pass, the bush thickened and made passing difficult.
Coming off the pass, the bush thickened and made passing difficult.
"Pure New Zealand."
“Pure New Zealand.”

The boys go ahead but I ask them to wait for me. At the next crossing, Will takes a risky jump – makes it – and Alex plunges in. I start crying. Scared, overwhelmed, needing help and not wanting to be a burden. But Will waits and I plunge in. It’s not too bad, but he lets me blubber a bit so we walk on together as the trail eases onto grassy floodplain meadows and talk about all sorts of things.

I tell him why I cried and how I am so happy Russell had everyone stay together today. He tells me no one walked it for me and I feel such pride taking on the challenge today. It’s nice Will joined us as he’s on kind of a personal quest and chucked some alone time on the Travers Saddle to be a part of our motley crew not just on this dramatic pass in dramatic weather, but for two more days hiking out to Boyle Village to meet the trio with his car.

It reminds me of meeting my friend Kent who did something similar years ago, just trusting a stranger and making a real cool thing happen. We talk and talk but then he wants to be alone in that glorious meadow and I head on to the tiny six-person hut that we’ve taken over, later joined by a Canadian with wild dreadlocks who sleeps on the floor, Alex on the benches and the rest swatting thousands of sand flies until we discover a gap in the door that we tape shut with duct tape.

The evening is so much laughter and teasing. Russell is good at letting it fly, but then compliments me with such tenderness I almost weep. He says it best, this was the most special day of the entire hike because we feel so alive and we shared it. Absolutely awesome.

An unbelievable V in the mountains and a carpet of grass made the end so relaxing.
An unbelievable V in the mountains and a carpet of grass made the end so relaxing.
The only protection available from the sandflies.
The only protection available from the sandflies.
The hut was hot and humid with the seven of us plus a NOBO crowding in to stay away from the sandflies.
The hut was hot and humid with the seven of us plus a NOBO crowding in to stay away from the sandflies.

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

Reader Comments

  1. Your description of this day is so vivid and meaningful to me. What a challenge of spirit you have taken on. The terrain is so rough, but you’re making it through. I’m following each day – still in rehab after the surgery, so this journey with you is inspiring me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.