The wild wind blew open the door of the hut, even after we placed a rock to hold it shut. I love the rattling sound, the gusts sending shivers through the tiny structure.
Tom manages to sleep through anything, though I think he closed the windows sometime in the middle of the night. I went outside, but the sky was cloudy so no stars. Our little perch feels like something out of Lord of the Rings. The landscape is enchanted, the sky pink above the mountains. Even the loo has a view.
I am up early making tea, which is a bit unusual for me. But my planning was way off and I don’t have quite enough food. Tom brought far too much, so has offered to share, but for now I’ll drink more and try to keep myself full.
I leave him a note to meet at Manuka hut and then I’m off, walking along an old jeep track of some sort. It winds along tussock, bright yellow flowers and shattered land of rock and erosion.
It’s easy walking except for wild wind trying to blow me off my feet. I read an article about a woman tramper in the 1950s who blazed the way for many New Zealand girls mostly discouraged from hiking and she describes how she managed the wind of the ridges of the Tararuas by sort of floating on it. I give it a shot and find I use less muscle to stay upright.
Soon, I reach the ramshackle Comyns hut and sign the intentions book. I’m surprised Tom hasn’t caught up with me yet as I cross a stream realizing this is the stream I will walk up to get over the saddle at nearly 1500 meters.
The sky is gray and the wind whips at my pack and I suddenly feel anxious heading up into this water trail. There’s no obvious path and the orange poles are often placed in such a way they confirm your path choice rather than suggest it. I have crossed many streams already today, my sneakers squishy, but this will be many kilometers. I look behind me, but no one is there, so I take a deep breath and begin heading up.
The water is cold but not too deep, the current rushes and pulls as the wind contributes, blowing hard in the same direction. I cross over to a rocky shore and step up to a grassy bank with a few thorn bushes scratching my ankles. A brown lizard with a black stripe down his back sneaks past.
Across the stream is a bent orange pole, so I look for a good place to set my feet and enter again, trying to stay solid on rocks and not lose a pole. This time, I cross to a bank of bigger rocks and simply push upstream in more placid water. I’m faked out by a path going up and over that turns out to take me thick into thorn, so I backtrack and decide to take advantage of any reasonably shallow water I can find.
It doesn’t always work, as large boulders with water gushing over stop my progress, but eventually I find the next orange pole and switch sides – perhaps fifty times – in a kind of river slalom.
The sun comes out in full now and lightens my mood. It’s slow going, but I have the hang of it, sensing when to cross before I look for the pole.
As I get closer to the saddle, I begin to meet NOBO’s or northbound hikers who offer good advice when I ask about the big river coming up in two days. If there’s no rain, I should be fine – to which the sky replies by going dark and spitting out rain, not heavy, but a steady drizzle all the way up the saddle in deep grass up to my elbows.
The grass hides the trail and trail markers, but it also hides a stream running underneath hummocky dirt. I use my poles to lift it back before stepping forward, but still manage to fall directly into a hole, thankfully not hurting myself.
The drizzle continues, mildly unpleasant, obscuring a view and making me move faster. At the top are two chairs ostensibly for hanging out in this beautiful place. I simply press on to a confusing bit that is well marked. Just when I want to go down off the saddle, I need to stay high and cross several massive scree slopes. It’s not difficult, but in the rain, it feels exposed and aerie.
The trail continues high as a huge valley opens beside me with a stream far below – clearly, the wrong way. Rocks give way to tussock, this time grass as high as me, and covering most of the poles. The going is slow as I hunt around for my direction and try to smash down the grass and not fall in anymore holes. I take one wrong turn and see the pole after the fact just as Tom catches up.
He is moving slower due to a painful ankle. I hope he manages the coming days. Just as I think that thought, the sky begins to clear and the sun comes out. We both take off our raincoats at the top of the final high point, looking down on a lake and mountains with mysteriously low cloud dancing through.
It’s more tussock negotiation down, plus the “land of massive jabby things” taller than Tom. At the junction he makes me a peanut butter wrap and we sit in sunshine admiring our splendid view and drying our clothes.
That’s until the wind picks up – a lot. It comes howling down the valley we’ll need to walk to get to our hut.
I begin to shiver, so head off, passing a couple of lakes, and marveling at this odd cloud, pressed down. The wind is not gusts, but straight line taking my breath away and pushing on me as I walk my final 5 km of the day.
I’m struggling, but still snap pictures, feeling so wonderful because of all I experienced today – hot sun, cold rain, feverish wind, magical views, a stream-as-trail and sometimes only a suggestion of trail.
I feel proud of my courage moving forward even when I felt very alone and vulnerable. I should also mention that so many hikers skip this part because it’s awkward to get to and away from, but many people suggested not to and they were absolutely right. Today turned out to be one of the most special, simply because of its variety, challenge and sparkling beauty.
It’s days like today that make me remember why I decided to walk this long trail – to feel alive.