It was rain and mist all night, but I was snuggled up warm in a bunk at the hut. Sadly, there’s no view from this spectacular place, though it’s possible once out of the cloud, I’ll see the mountaintops. I did get a glimpse yesterday.
The trail down and out of Pirongia is infamous. 5.5 km with an estimated walk time of five hours. The reason? Mud. Epic mud.
It’s a group of lovely hikers here, all of us disappointed with no view but isn’t that life? We reach for the top, for the goal and come up short through no fault of our own. We have to just make the best of things. It’s not possible to wait this weather system out as rain is expected for days on end. So I eat breakfast and push on to find the next surprise.
The Austrian man tells me he needs to hike every step to stay in his head, needing a break from life. Others say, too, that they need to walk alone. I am amazed I share this need with them and I’m not all that weird. I teach them some new English words – ‘fearless’ and ‘intrepid’ as we sing the Ode to Joy.
But I’m nervous with all this rain and cold and the mud ahead, so I dress quickly, pack and prepare to set off. We debate if the weather will improve and if we should wait it out, but finally decide to get off the mountain together.
First it’s boardwalk up Mt. Hihikiwi, totally shrouded in mist. Then it’s straight into the worst mud of my life, living up to its reputation. The first hour is interesting and challenging. It feels like an adventure. We laugh as ‘fresh mud’ seeps into our shoes and oozes out of our socks, as the mud gets deeper and the roots more an obstacle, as the trail goes up before ever going down.
But then it begins to rain and the trail goes on and on seemingly without end, up hand over hand on rock and root, and down with ever-so-carefully placed feet squishing into deep puddles. Mud above the ankles becomes mud above the knees. It’s not a simple slog, it’s steep and rooty, an accident waiting to happen. I fall twice.
The rain is coming sideways in waves. It fills every inch of the trail soon becoming a fast moving coffee-colored stream. Vines grab at my shoes, I lose my stick in the mud momentarily.
We move faster than estimated, but it’s still a long, frustrating and cold morning. When I finally reach stairs and move down fast, I’m over the moon, but it lets us out on a road in the middle of nowhere.
At first there was talk of staying at a local farm, but it’s early and the cost is steep. Hikers talk of a trail angel named Michael about 10 km away, so three solo women hikers and I go for it.
The sky clears momentarily, and even the sun makes a short appearance and we walk fast and happy. But mist creeps up the hills, the wind builds and in no time, it’s absolutely pouring on us.
But we persist, not entirely sure where this Michael is. Up and down country roads, walking silently, desperate at a certain point to be dry. And suddenly, there’s the house with a TA sign and a camping and shower symbol. It turns out not to be “Michael” at all, but a lovely couple named Jon and Casey just coming home with their Christmas tree.
They set us up on a covered porch where I remove my shoes and wait my turn for a much needed shower. Chloe is cooking already, Elena is looking like she’s come back to life and Vera is next while I try and stay warm, delighted to be sitting in a chair out of the rain.
You can hardly imagine how hot water feels on a cold, worked over my body on the edge of hypothermia. I’m revived and make a big pot of couscous. We are able to wash our clothes and they dry on racks in the garage. But, really am I – are we girls – intrepid enough to sleep on the floor in this garage in this non-stop cold and rain?
We debate about what to do. Chloe wants to set up her tent or just hitchhike to the next town. Vera is put off that they don’t invite us in and Eline says she’ll make do. So I go in and ask if we might pile into one of their B&B rooms. And this lovely couple says yes. In fact, they give us two rooms. We are so grateful, Chloe offers to pull out weeds and I am so tired, I just crash out before 7.
I learn today about the power of being with a group, the safety in numbers. I probably could have come off that mountain alone, but it was a comfort knowing they were all taking the same steps. We made better decisions together and offered good ideas, some I hadn’t thought of. And, in the end, when you’re in need, it’s best to just ask for help.
So now I am trying to decide what to do about tomorrow. It’s another very long day and may be in non-stop rain. Do I hitchhike to the next town or wait it out? Hard to know what to do just now, but I think the trail will provide and I’ll let the answer come overnight.
For now, I am warm and dry and feel tremendously blessed.