February 6th 2017
Te Matawai hut – Waitewaewae hut
Total distance: 995.5 miles
There was a ridiculous plan going around that involved getting up at 5am and hiking out early. Some alarms went off early and it was still pitch black. I had absolutely no interest in walking in the dark through the mud. It sounded like a recipe for disaster! We did have to leave fairy early though, we had a long day planned to get to Waitewaewae hut, only 12.5 miles away but through some challenging terrain.
I dragged myself out of bed at 5:45am, Marcus had already left, Colin & Sandy left at 6, Julia left at 10 past and I left at 6:30am. I didn’t think I would see anyone for the rest of the day as they would all be so far ahead considering they all hike much faster than me. Putting on my muddy socks and shoes was so gross but I knew my first couple of steps would be straight into the mud anyway.
I didn’t feel great to start the day. The water at the hut tasted like smoke which was pretty gross. I was already dehydrated from yesterday and I wasn’t inclined to drink the water I was carrying. It was only 4.5 miles to the next hut, Dracophyllum, I could last until then. I was also doing way too much thinking, I was thinking about what I should be doing with my life which was too much to handle so I stuck in an earphone and listened to some podcasts.
The first couple of hours were a struggle, but the weather started out nice and we got some views across the ridges and up to Mt Crawford which was where we were heading to today. After about an hour the clouds had gathered and dropped down onto the mountains. Visibility was very limited. I thought it may clear away later on as that’s what it had done yesterday. The track was tough and slow going, it was muddy of course, and the grassy tussocks made it really hard to see where you were putting your feet. I fell so many times, I cut my knee on a rock but mostly got away lightly with just a muddy bum or leg. The worst fall involved falling and getting my pole stuck on a rock, I was still holding it and realised if I pushed it any further I would probably snap it so I let go and and it twanged back and hit me in the face which hurt. I continued on stumbling and slipping my way down the track, it became really windy in the exposed areas on the tops of the ridges, I put off putting on my coat for as long as possible but eventually I had to stop and layer up, and tuck away all the straps on my pack as they were slapping me in the face in the wind.
The trail became a bit nicer when it went into the forest and I was able to make up a bit of time from my dawdling this morning. After 3 hours and 50 minutes I made it to Dracophyllum hut. Julia was there waiting for me, having only been there for 20 minutes which surprised me. The others had already hiked on. This is a tiny hut with only 2 bunks, we stayed for half an hour and had a quick snack, unfortunately the water tasted of smoke again so I didn’t bother getting any.
The next stretch was mostly through the muddy forest, with lots of things to trip and slip on which I did. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen over so much in one day. Towards the end of the section, as I was approaching Nichols Hut, the trail became exposed again and I got slammed by the wind. The weather had definitely taken a turn, the wind was dragging the rain out of the clouds and depositing it on me. The wind seemed to dry me out as quickly as the rain made me wet. Nichols hut is a 5 minute walk off the trail and when I got there everyone was there. It had taken me 2 hours 40 minutes to get there, it was now 1:30pm. Our next section was labelled as taking around 5 hours and we had to climb higher to the more exposed Mt Crawford. We had a brief discussion about whether we thought it was safe to continue on or we should stay at Nichols hut. Nichols hut had space for 6 people and we knew the others from the group last night were aiming to spend the night here, that would make around 11 people which is too many, and we know the weather is supposed to be worse tomorrow and the next day so we would have to hunker down in the hut to wait it out which we didn’t have enough food for. So we decided to push on and we spoke about sticking together for safety.
Nichols hut was on the sheltered side of the mountains and when we got back up on to the ridge we felt the full force of the weather. The wind was blowing around 50km/hr and the rain it was bringing with it was horizontal and stinging any exposed skin. I wondered to myself whether this was a good idea, the higher we go the worse it’s probably going to be. My shorts were instantly soaked, meaning I would spent the next few hours feeling like I had soiled myself which is one of my least favourite sensations.
Colin and Sandy were in front and I knew there was no way I would be able to keep up with them. They had suggested sticking together as a group but it made more sense for them to keep pushing on at their own pace as if they had to wait for me they would end up getting really cold. Marcus was ahead of me and Julia was behind me which meant I hopefully wouldn’t get left behind. The weather continued to get worse and I fought to stay upright as it blew in gusts across the ridge. Sometimes it would knock me off my feet and I would fall into the bushes, other times I would be resisting the wind by leaning into it only to fall over when it dropped and I was still leaning but no longer being supported. Often we would just have to stop and brace ourselves.
The wind was mostly sideways but when the track didn’t a little turn the wind would catch my pack at a different angle and blow me over. I spent quite a lot of time in the bushes. At some points I was fearing for my life, it was scary. There were sheer drops on either side and how we managed to get through without someone having a more serious incident is amazing. Honestly what we were doing was a bit stupid, but we had to push on and get through the wind and the rain to get off the exposed areas and into a safer altitude. I have never been in such strong wind before. Thoughts went through my head like; if someone gets hurt there is no way a helicopter will be able to fly in this to get us, if someone hurts themselves I hope it’s an arm not a leg, if someone hurts their leg we are screwed. I imagined being in the hut and stripping off all my clothes and getting in my sleeping bag. We were lucky that the wind wasn’t too cold, I wasn’t cold but I still thought of warm thoughts, like imagining drinking hot chocolate in dry clothes by an open fire. Towards the end of walking through the wind it was starting to go right through me, and I was starting to imagine getting hypothermic.
So many people get into trouble in these mountains, lots of people have died. We think it’s because the mountains are so accessible because they are so close to Wellington and surrounding areas, but we can see how you can get caught out. We did check the weather forecast and it wasn’t as bad as what we were experiencing. In between the times I was stood still bracing myself against the wind I don’t think I have ever moved so fast, I was running to keep up with Marcus and the adrenaline was giving me a boost. The visibility was so poor that I could barely see Marcus when he was just 10 metres in front of me. A lot of the time I would intend to put my foot down somewhere but it would get blown in a different direction and it would land somewhere which would make me fall over.
The wind came in gusts initially but it became more constant the higher up we got. We were all aware of each other but it really was a case of being in survival mode. We made it up and over Mt Crawford without noticing, and when we came to the sign for Waitewaewae hut, 2 hours, we knew it was pretty much all down hill from there. I lead Julia and Marcus down, running down the bits I could to try and get out of the wind as quick as possible. We slipped on the rocks and mud but eventually we found ourselves back in the forest and in the shelter of the trees, it was such a relief to be back in the wet, mossy, muddy forest. The downhill became a bit more treacherous with the addition of the tree roots so we took the pace down considerably. The downhill seemed relentless, some bits were super steep and the only way down was to jump, I was really starting to feel it in my knees, at times it felt like my kneecaps were going to burst through the skin. We lost sight of Marcus so we waited for him, we had celebrated making it back into the forest but we weren’t home and dry just yet so we thought it best to stick together.
About half way down I saw a bright yellow bag, I picked it up and it felt heavy, like it may be full of cans, but when I looked inside it only contained orange ‘H’s. Most unusual! After that we began to see them pinned to the trees. I wonder what they mean.
It was impossible to take photos, it was too wet to operate my phone and I was too busy trying to stay alive to take out my GoPro. We finally,after what seemed like forever,got down to the river and to the swing bridge which was super sketchy. Only one person at a time allowed.
We made it to the hut at 6:15pm, a little under 12 hours for the day and I was completely done in. Totally exhausted. The hut looked awesome, a nice new one, and Sandy and Colin were already there getting a fire going. We all high fived and celebrated being still alive. I couldn’t bear having my wet shorts on anymore, but I also couldn’t bring myself to touch my shoes to take them off so I sat with my shorts around my knees for a while. It’s a good job it wasn’t cold. Excitingly the water here tasted wonderful, not a hint of smoke, so I guzzled about half a litre to make up for the 2 sips I had had for the whole day.
We didn’t think we would see anyone else at the hut, but shortly after we got there a group of three people who we had seen last night at the Te Matawai hut arrived. I apologised for wondering around in my underwear, not that I was really that sorry. They had followed the river so had done a different route to get here, taking 2 hours less time and avoiding the howling winds. It still didn’t sound that pleasant though and the woman didn’t seem to share in the others enthusiasm about walking through the river all day.
We washed out our shoes and socks in a bucket. My shoes are destroyed, they have giant holes in them and the right one is about to tear right across the middle, it’s a good job they don’t have to last me too much longer as I will pick up new shoes in Wellington. They will get super muddy again tomorrow but at least it might be a tiny bit nicer when I initially put them on in the morning. I tried to wash off the mud on my legs before putting on my sleep clothes on which felt so nice. It was raining hard outside and I didn’t even want to go out for a pre bed wee.
By 7:30 I was lying down in my sleeping bag, it was too painful to be upright any longer. My whole body was throbbing from the long intense day. Everyone was under strict instructions, from me, not to even think about getting up at 5am. Thankfully the others decided to not set an alarm and to just see how it goes in the morning.
I’m walking thousands of miles for Just A Drop because everyone should have access to clean water. Please donate here, every little bit helps.