February 16, 2018
START: St. Arnaud @ 1545
FINISH: Lakehead Hut @ 1825
DISTANCE: 10 km
CUMULATIVE: 465.5 km
Nero-ed out of St. Arnaud this afternoon after spending the day drying out gear following last night’s clear, beautiful skies which led to this morning’s dew. Way overpacked my resupplies, because I had initially planned to complete the Travers-Sabine Circuit before continuing on TA, but I’ve decided that the half of it that the TA includes is good enough for me. I’m imagining that completing the loop would be like that time I did the whole Tongariro Northern Circuit rather than just the crossing; the crossing was the way to go on that one. Anyways I’ve got all kinds of cool side trips planned, so I’m happy to save the extra couple days.
Planning to take it easier on this next section. I mean, I’ve got the food and the time to stretch it out a little bit. On that note, I moseyed out of St. Arnaud in no particular hurry. The walk was pretty enough, but nothing too exciting. Arrived at a large serviced hut to find only a handful of the two dozen bunks available. Quite a lot of folks, but also quite a lot of sandflies, so I slept inside, braving the crowd rather than the bugs. Hoping to start early tomorrow morning and catch some golden hour light on the climb up to Travers Saddle, a stout 1,000 meter ascent. Hope my alarm doesn’t ruin anyone’s morning.
February 17, 2018
START: Lakehead Hut @ 0615
FINISH: Blue Lake Hut @ 1915
DISTANCE: 35 km
CUMULATIVE: 500.5 km
Packed up quietly and carefully this morning so as not to disturb the others. Made Upper Travers Hut by noon (not quite the cruiser miles I'd hoped) and took shelter there out of the weather. It had been raining lightly but steadily all morning, so I was happy to be inside for lunch. Shared the space with a few hunters who were just arriving as I was and planning to stay a few days. We had lunch together, and they made me some hot chocolate. Trail magic!
I waited around a bit to see what the weather would do. It was coming in waves- heavy, then light, then heavy again. I figured it didn’t much matter. The climb up and over Travers Saddle was only two kilometres from there, so I decided to put my wet gear back on and face the conditions head-on. I tucked my camera away in my fanny pack, but didn’t go to great lengths to waterproof it. I’d invested a few grand in this new setup specifically because it’s weather-sealed, and I knew I’d need it for New Zealand's unpredictable weather. The kit weighs a ton compared to the rest of my gear, but I was happy to carry it for the piece of mind it gave me. Turns out I shoulda been more careful.
As I climbed higher, the rain started falling more heavily. And when I topped out, the wind was blowing pretty good too. I was soaked under my rain gear. Took a quick snap at the summit, then tucked my camera away again and raced down the south side. As I approached the treeline, the weather let up some. It was only sprinkling, and the wind had died down. There were even patches of blue sky, and I could see the sun shining on distant peaks. That I could even see distant peaks was a considerable improvement. I took my camera out to snap a few photos of a gorgeous mountainside teeming with waterfalls, no-doubt a direct product of the weather. It was a stunning scene like I’d never witnessed in person before. I was stoked to capture the moment, but when I switched my camera on, nothing happened. I knew immediately what I’d done, and a tight knot instantly formed in the pit of my stomach. I’d ruined another camera. I don’t even wanna think about how much money I’ve sunk into electronics - cameras, iPods, smartphones, etc - that have ultimately fallen victim to my wilderness ambitions. To be fair, I probably haven’t ruined as much gear as you might expect given the degree and amount of time I spend adventuring. But still, I hate it. Ruins my day every freakin’ time.
On the one hand, I’m angry at Olympus for marketing the camera as weather-sealed when it didn’t hold up to some rain. But more than that, I’m enraged at myself for not being more prudent. I must’ve had a dozen opportunities to stop and do something different that would’ve changed the outcome. The whole time I’m being pelted with rain as I climb up and over this saddle, I’m thinking to myself how smart I was to invest in a weather-sealed camera, and how the extra expense was totally worth it. And my camera was at that moment tucked neatly away in my fanny pack getting ruined. Ugh, it makes me sick to think about it. Shoulda buried it in my pack like I always used to when it rained.
I’m usually so paranoid about this kinda thing - because of the experiences listed above - that I’m vigilant about protecting my gear. Today I was just willy-nilly taking my gear for granted. I can’t imagine finishing the next two months of backpacking with just an iPhone and a GoPro, so I’m planning to hitch out of Boyle Village to find a camera store where I can replace it. Probably won’t be able to get the same model, but I don’t care right now as long as it’s decent. I hate to think about how much I’m about to spend. And I literally just sold my Sony a6000 a week ago. Ugh, how like life.
Now in my experience (on trail, specifically), these things happen in threes, which has me a bit freaked out. What else am I gonna break? I already broke a tooth like a week and a half ago, which I still have to address, so let’s call that Thing One. (More on that in a later update.) My amazing camera, may she Rest In Peace, was Thing Two. And I found out twenty minutes ago that my headlamp is kaput, so I’m hoping that’s Thing Three. Wish me luck, y’all. I can’t keep hemorrhaging money like this. Every unforeseen expense here is a trip I can’t take down the road, which in turn is an earlier date that I have to return to work. And we all know I don’t wanna do that.
All kidding aside, it’s just money. Yeah I’d rather not spend it, but that’s ultimately what it’s for. At least I’m spending it on my health, on things I love, and on things I need. Besides I have bigger concerns. I don’t know whether my memory card is still functioning. If that was ruined in the rain also, then I’ve lost over a thousand photos that I can never get back. Money is whatever; my photos are priceless to me. They’re a record of my experiences, and they bring me back when I see them. If my memory card is dead, that’s what’ll break my heart.
I made repeated attempts to dry out both my camera and my memory card. No luck on the former. Talk about a lost cause. Still crossing my fingers on the latter. No way to know right now, unfortunately. Guess I’m just gonna be sitting with my anxiety for a while. There were a few beautiful shots this afternoon that my GoPro just couldn’t get, and each failed attempt brought back that familiar knot in my stomach. Glad that I’ll have some captures, but c’mon! And with Waiau Pass tomorrow too!! It’s been an emotionally difficult day, certainly my hardest on-trail in a long time.
On a happier note, my body feels wonderful. Still working my way back into shape, but it’s getting easier. My knees are taking a beating, which is to be expected, and that has nothing to do with fitness. Just the nature of backpacking a trail that goes steeply up and steeply down in rapid succession all day long. And today I felt a familiar, almost insatiable sensation: hiker hunger. Always a good sign in my book. It pretty much means I’m annihilating calories. Woohoo, I can eat whatever I want again!
Took a few good tumbles today, mostly from hiking blind with frustration. I was hiking hard and being pretty careless on some very tenuous terrain. Nearly went down a few dozen times, and totally laid out four or five times. I'm talking total yard sale. Twice I lost my footing on a steep muddy slope coming down from Travers. Both times I slid a dozen feet until I finally hit something that stopped me. No friction at all, like descending on a steep ice rink in roller blades. A few times I misjudged a wet rock or root, and my legs just slipped out from under me. Pretty much all stuff that could’ve been avoided if I had just calmed myself down.
February 18, 2018
START: Blue Lake Hut @ 0710
FINISH: Anne Hut @ 1910
DISTANCE: 42 km
CUMULATIVE: 542.5 km
No headlamp, and I didn’t wanna disturb the other hikers with my bright backup light, so I got up later today: 0630. Like a normal thru hiker, ya know. Worked out pretty well, because I had some nice light as I climbed and descended Waiau Pass. Of course, I didn’t have my camera. All was not lost, though. I still have my GoPro Hero 5 Black, and my iPhone 6. Neither is up to snuff compared to my dead Olympus, but they’re better than nothing.
I relied heavily on my GoPro to capture the day. It’s an excellent option for the price, size, and weight. That said, it’s limited in many ways and insufficient for my all-purpose backpacking needs. It operates via two buttons, but all settings and photo reviews are controlled by touchscreen, which hasn’t been very responsive. It’s downright infuriating sometimes when I’m standing there trying to review a photo I’ve just taken, or trying to switch views from fisheye to narrow. I swipe. Nothing happens. I swipe again; nothing happens. I swipe and swipe and swipe, then the screen does something I wasn’t even telling it to do. Even with its limits and areas that require improvement, I love this little device and am happy to have it, especially now.
I hiked hard today. It was beautiful and fairly easy once I cleared the climb and subsequent descent off Waiau Pass, which was super challenging. Steep up and up, then down and down and down. Next it was traversing boulder field after boulder field, then finally the wide, flat, gorgeous valley that ultimately brought me to Anne Hut. I really enjoyed today and spent most of it kicking myself for not protecting my camera against the elements. The photo ops were endless, and the GoPro just wasn't doin' it. Why didn’t I just bury the thing in my pack before I left Upper Travers Hut after lunch? I knew I was walking into a storm. That was so freakin’ stupid.
I’m guessing the closest city where I might be able to purchase a replacement is going to be Christchurch, which I’m told is about a two and a half hour drive from Boyle Village. Hopefully there will be enough traffic on SH7 to get down there. I’ll also try to schedule an appointment with a dentist to get my tooth taken care of. Then, if the weather looks promising and my schedule permits, I’m planning to come back up to St. Armand and hike this section over again. Too many missed photos to keep on.
February 19, 2018
START: Anne Hut @ 0735
FINISH: Boyle Village @ 1410
DISTANCE: 28.5 km
CUMULATIVE: 571 km
Head down and hiking hard all day in order to make Boyle Village as early as possible so I could get down to Christchurch tonight. Arrived at Boyle just after 1400 and took a quick shower before heading down to the road to catch a ride. When I got there, I met two other hitch hikers who said this was their second attempt. They’d waited nearly two hours earlier and had no luck, so they took shelter out of the weather before trying again. Dang. Tough hitch, and the whole point of investing the time and money to send ressuplies ahead was to avoid these difficult hitches. Insult to injury, y’all.
But then it all worked out (of course). I walked down the road a half kilometre to give them a better chance of catching a ride. Pretty hard for three people to get a ride even under good hitching conditions. I only waited about ten minutes after finding a spot before catching a ride. I pulled open the door to find the same two hitch hikers I’d met earlier. Funny how things work out sometimes.
Yaelle is awesome. She did a lot of hitching in South America, so she picks people up whenever she can. In fact, there was already a hitch hiker in the car, so four of us total. Then we dropped Rafael and Iris in Hanmer Springs, and Yaelle picked up yet another hitch hiker. What a kind person. I'd say she's more than balanced her karma. And it was even better because she was heading to Christchurch, so I made it! Got to the camera store just 20 minutes before closing. Turns out the lens I’ve been using isn’t weather-sealed, so that defeats the purpose of a weather-sealed body. Mystery solved. Managed to leave with a new setup - same camera body and a slightly better (weather-sealed) lens - for $1,500. And now that’s done, so I can stop fretting about it. And the best part: my memory card survived! You can't imagine the sense of relief I felt when I flipped my new camera on and hit the review button. There I was just-a smilin' back at myself from Travers Saddle. Best selfie I've ever taken. I physically felt the tension I'd been unconsciously holding in my body ease.
Next up: dentist. I have an appointment for an exam and x-rays in Blenheim on Wednesday. Not stoked, but it needs to be done. Planning to re-hike the last section after the appointment, weather permitting. Missed some really incredible shots after I murdered my camera. Besides, I can use the workout.