TA Day 90, Kiwi Hut to Goat Pass Hut, 28 km

Thrilled with clear skies when attempting the Mingha-Deception Track, essentially following rushing rivers and falls to an alpine pass.
Thrilled with clear skies when attempting the Mingha-Deception Track, essentially following rushing rivers and falls to an alpine pass.

My alarm goes off at 5:30 playing Billy McGlaughlin’s Finger Dance on full volume, but it’s still dark. I can hear the river churning, like my stomach with stress. It’s a long day ahead and once I enter the Deception River, I have to see it through.

Though I have an out because in 13 km of rocky terrace, we’ll reach a bridge to the highway. The Austrians headed there last night for an advantage on the river bed – which is coming up and is 14 km more of hard walking – but I slept very well in the hut, so maybe it was worth stopping here.

I hope.

The cuckoo is singing all morning. A slightly off-key song than I’m used to, like a wind up toy wound too tightly.

A fiery sunrise from Kiwi Hut portends what? Clear skies or danger ahead.
A fiery sunrise from Kiwi Hut portends what? Clear skies or danger ahead.
Tom catches me on the river terrace as the mist rises.
Tom catches me on the river terrace as the mist rises.
It's a long, sloppy slog down the Taramakau River mostly just making up the track as we go.
It’s a long, sloppy slog down the Taramakau River mostly just making up the track as we go.

The sunrise is spectacular from our tiny six-bunk hut, the mist hanging low on the mountaintops. I eat extra bars for energy and take an ibuprofen. It’s been a lot of days in a row walking hard and I’m ready for a break, but I’m glad I have the energy to push hard because I’ve caught the weather perfectly. If it stays clear today, the rivers should be reasonable to cross.

It’s hard on the feet walking on the river terrace of boulders and stones, uneven with streams rushing through. We cross the wide Taramakau as the Otehake reaches it. It’s strong at mid-hip height as I crab walk across – then cross two more times. My feet feel like ice blocks on the confusing trail-less march. It’s a massive riverbed like a geology lab, the mountains taken apart boulder by boulder in front of our eyes, though many of the stones have laid here for ages covered in bright red lichen and moss. I can’t imagine what this place looks like in flood; does water reach from edge to edge?

I set my mind to walking in this alternating terrain of rock-mud-flood-sand, keeping pace with Alex and Tom. We pass Žaneta and Sergio and I skip along, maybe more lurching using my poles to take long strides.

The river was fast, but it never got far above our knees, so we managed it one at a time.
The river was fast, but it never got far above our knees, so we managed it one at a time.
I felt safe walking with tall Tom and never could figure out why these guys stayed with me.
I felt safe walking with tall Tom and never could figure out why these guys stayed with me.
Alessio disappears around the edge of a massive cliff carved from the numerous floods. We avoided crossing as much as possible.
Alessio disappears around the edge of a massive cliff carved from the numerous floods. We avoided crossing as much as possible.

My feet never dry entirely before we step back into water and suddenly there’s a grassy section, like a foot massage. Alex tells us it’s just 10 km to the bridge, but I don’t trust this bliss to last.

And it most certainly doesn’t.

A sign appears offering a choice of trails – one is direct to a road followed by the bridge. The other is the official TA trail, but also a ‘flood route.’ The guys want to take it and I’m unsure because these types of routes usually cut way high above the river.

I’m right and we soon enter a forest of fallen logs and poorly maintained trail shooting up, then down, and up and down on repeat. These trails are not zig zags or gradual, but dangerously straight up and straight down. The concept, I assume, is to take the walker past land slips or fallen logs, but it goes on seemingly endlessly and completely unpleasantly.

This random bush grave dd not make me feel confident.
This random bush grave dd not make me feel confident.
I could not believe my luck with the weather. Not only did it mean it was safe to walk up the river, but it lifted my spirits too.
I could not believe my luck with the weather. Not only did it mean it was safe to walk up the river, but it lifted my spirits too.
Alex and Tom make horns before we head up to Goat Pass. The list of potential hazards and dangers was lengthy.
Alex and Tom make horns before we head up to Goat Pass. The list of potential hazards and dangers was lengthy.

I am strong when it comes to going up, but more fearful of slipping on the wet mud and roots going down. This god-awful trail is either the worst or one of the top ten worst of the TA to date. It’s precisely what makes this long walk so terrible – poorly planned, badly executed, unmaintained trails through rubbishy forest with no view or interest. Is it better than road walking? Nope, just as dreadful. It sapped my energy and just made me angry.

By the time we were spit out on a grassy plain packed thick with scratchy gorse, I thought we’d give up and hitch to Arthur’s Pass. But it was still early and I’m very strong and very determined.

So after an early lunch we set off to climb up the Deception-Mingha track. This is essentially a climb to a high pass in a river. Now I see why it was so important that we had no rain for three days. It can be catastrophic in flood conditions, which is obvious in the first kilometer as I walk in muddy sand, bushes and trees ripped out by the roots splayed in death throes along the trail.

At this crossing point, we're told should we feel hesitant or in danger, do not proceed since things only get worse the higher you go.
At this crossing point, we’re told should we feel hesitant or in danger, do not proceed since things only get worse the higher you go.
Tom was completely no nonsense pushing up the rocky riverbed. It was hard but exhilarating.
Tom was completely no nonsense pushing up the rocky riverbed. It was hard but exhilarating.
An orange triangle points the way through the last of the manuka forest before heading straight into the river.
An orange triangle points the way through the last of the manuka forest before heading straight into the river.

The first crossing is a test. I feel reasonably confident with the depth, the current pushing hard against my knees and shins. Several trail runners pass doing time trials for the Coast-to-Coast race. I feel my confidence build even more with others on the trail.

At first, we push through forest and to the side of the roiling river. The gorge narrows, and we sidle close to the edge, then have to cross again, looking for the shallowest part and the least damaging fall zone. This is not a rock-hopping river. I plunge in – shoes and all – face up the river and slowly check my footing. Sure, the trail runners go much faster, but they aren’t carrying 20 pounds on their back.

Once I slip and sit right down. I’m not swept away, but Alex offers me a hand and I’m out quickly. A female runner offers advice on a crossing, admiring my using trekking poles. She’s very kind, but it must be obvious I am a novice in rapids.

The speed with which the river can rise is astounding in New Zealand. People were rescued from the rock below by helicopter because there was no way out.
The speed with which the river can rise is astounding in New Zealand. People were rescued from the rock below by helicopter because there was no way out.
Tom helps Alex cross at a short, but deep and swift crossing. The fall line is consequential, though this turned out to be the best crossing point.
Tom helps Alex cross at a short, but deep and swift crossing. The fall line is consequential, though this turned out to be the best crossing point.
Wet to my upper thigh, I found the Deception thrilling but terrifying.
Wet to my upper thigh, I found the Deception thrilling but terrifying.

We cross, rock hop, look for orange triangles and/or poles, negotiate a side stream and all the fallen boulders in its wake, rinse and repeat. The sun shines brightly and the clouds clear. This very challenging trail makes up for the awfulness preceding it.

There are big boulders to climb and I’m happy I have rock climbing moves in my arsenal. The guys tell me to put away my poles, which I do for about ten minutes before pulling them right back out. I am very adept at switching from poles to hands, passing them to one hand when necessary, and throwing them aside for a particular move, but I climb – and descend – much better with poles. I use them boulder hopping and in the water, even if one is bent.

A couple of places feel very dicey. There’s a narrowing in the river with several waterfalls. The only way across is a jump. Tom extends a hand so I don’t fly off the other side, but it’s 1-2-3 jump! with no room for error.

I don’t weigh much now, so the water is particularly heavy. In one spot I needed the guys to hold me steady on the cross.

The tiny and old Deception Hut marks he beginning of another side river, the Otira, which is even steeper and filled with falls.
The tiny and old Deception Hut marks he beginning of another side river, the Otira, which is even steeper and filled with falls.
Sometimes it's a guess where to cross – through cold and deep pools or across rocks with rapids below. Tom was great at picking the spots.
Sometimes it’s a guess where to cross – through cold and deep pools or across rocks with rapids below. Tom was great at picking the spots.

That being said, after we reach Upper Deception hut and have an hour of steep climbing, I just turn on and power up the mountain. Alex tells me this time I hike like a teenager. It is my strong suit, rejuvenated with the spectacular beauty and music of this mountain river.

The pass comes into view as we turn away from the Deception to a side stream coming down in stair steps of mini waterfalls. This is our trail and I realize I have never done anything quite like this in my life, walked up a river just splashing in when necessary and trusting the rocks which are not at all slippery with all that cold water pouring over them.

It’s one of the most spectacular moments of the entire trail – beautiful, challenging and filling my soul to the point I never want it to end.

A rock "staircase" to Goat Pass Hut.
A rock “staircase” to Goat Pass Hut.

The hut appears in a bench above the stream and it’s time to claim a bunk, make dinner and crawl under my quilt for dreams of really pushing my comfort zone and doing it with friends, because yes, I did walk all those steps myself, but I couldn’t have gotten up that wild river without their generous help.

I am truly blessed.

Published by alison young

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

Reader Comments

  1. We were so happy to get an update about your journey from Richard and then delighted to get your week of posts! You are amazing and the pictures you send are fantastic. I do feel like I am with you and I think you are the strongest woman that I know. I absolutely feel like I am hiking with you! You are in my thoughts and prayers all of the time as I wish you to continue this journey safely, knowing what an amazing thing you are doing. This path is certainly going to change you in many ways but your personal growth is incredible. I know that if this were me, I would be yelling some of the time!! May you have great weather as you travel on!

  2. Okay, I just binge-read about 8 posts. It was amazing and, as the others said, I felt like I was there with you. Amazing, too, because I can only wish I might do what you are doing…know I cannot. You are strong and courageous, yet aware of when you are vulnerable. Your walk cannot be duplicated by most of us, BUT it is a model of how to approach life. For me, at 70, a good model: Be Smart, Be Strong, Know My Vulnerabilities (aka weaknesses), Carpe Diem. After all, if not now…if not today…then when?
    Thank you!
    So eager to see you in April, dear one. (and sistah)

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