March 8, 2018
START: Twizel @ 1915
FINISH: Locked Hut @ 2330
DISTANCE: 22.5 km
CUMULATIVE: 1,055 km
Late start tonight after forgetting my camera in a public bathroom only to realize hours later and sprint to the nearest shop to see if anyone had turned it in. I was sure it was gone, but miraculously someone
Not much to say about the night hike. I cruised it and was happy to arrive at Locked Hut. Cowboy camping outside, because it lives up to its namesake. So happy to be comfortably horizontal. I didn’t sleep well at all last night. It was really cold up at Sealy Tarns, and I cihldn’t find a flat spot to setup, so I was fighting a slope all night. No such worries tonight. Goodnight, all.
March 9, 2018
START: Locked Hut @ 0735
FINISH: Private Hut @ 1850
DISTANCE: 46 km
CUMULATIVE: 1,101 km
Reluctant to get out of bed this morning, because a possum kept revisiting my camp last night, so I didn’t get much sleep. Had planned a 59 k day to get to Top Timaru Hut and maybe catch Rob and Sam, but instead I hit snooze for an hour this morning and spent another hour at the start of the East Ahuriri Track looking out over Lake Ohau and composing my responses to a call for Gossamer Gear product testers. (Man, wouldn’t that be a rad gig!) I’m pretty fast, but not fast enough to make up for two hours and still cover a tough 60 k before dark. Wouldn’t mind getting in late, but I’m assuming there will be hikers there, and I don’t wanna disturb anyone. Instead I headed for a private hut just 46 k away that I’d read welcomes public use. For once, the rumors were true.
Today I mostly just put my head down and walked hard. With my camera tucked safely in my pack to avoid any rain, I had few distractions but the thick clouds overhead, and the fog that sometimes engulfed me entirely. Most of the morning was a combination of gravel and sealed roads, which were pretty much flat. Cruiser k’s. Once I hit the East Ahuriri Track, the climb started pretty much right off. Up and up straight into the clouds. I turned around and saw rain falling on Lake Ohau and clouds running up the valley behind me. I climbed hard but couldn’t outrun them. For most of the next hour, I couldn’t see more than one marker at a time going either direction. Fortunately, the track was mostly clear. When I finally reached the saddle, I was ahead of the clouds, so I raced down the other side amidst intermittent light rain and beams of sunshine.
The sun only rarely made cameo appearances today, and the constant wind made it cold. A northbound hiker this morning told me how lucky I was to be climbing on a cool, overcast day. She’d done the climbs from the other side yesterday when it was hot. I spent most of the day disagreeing with her. I longed for the warm sun on my face. Grass is always greener, I guess.
Didn’t take the East Ahuriri River crossing seriously, and it almost cost me. Swift water, high winds gusting downstream, opaque silty water, and slippery ankle busters together made for a really difficult ford. Constantly battling the conditions and fighting for footing. Chose a different line mid-ford, which required me to move upstream as I angled toward the opposite bank. That was a poor choice, as it meant overcoming an already difficult current. I was only about five meters from my destination, but I kept losing my footing. I’d start to slip downstream only to catch myself at the last moment with a luckily placed foot or trekking pole. (“Luckily” being the operative word.) Then finally, the water really started to take me, so I just kept my legs under me and sort of hopped and skipped downstream as I angled myself the last few meters toward the shore. My legs and arms were exhausted when I finally made landfall.
I must’ve been in the water for over five minutes despite the short distance I covered. And all of that because I was being lazy. There was an obvious braid about a hundred meters downstream, which would’ve allowed me to break the crossing into two easier fords. I couldn’t bothered to walk the extra tenth of a kilometer.
Arrived at the hut at the very reasonable hour of 1900 and found Kerima and Mike. I was elated at the former, because she was one of the first thru hikers I met way back at the start of the Richmonds. Turns out she’s hitching ahead to do some highlights, because her visa is nearly up. Mike is one of the few kiwis I’ve met on TA, and like nearly all the others I’ve encountered during the last seven weeks, he’s a nice guy. I was psyched to get in early, because I’ve had some rough nights of late. It’s 2000 meow, and I’m going to bed. With just 37.5 k to walk tomorrow, I’m thinking I don’t need to get up super early either. Winning.
March 10, 2018
START: Private Hut @ 0800
FINISH: Breast Hill Ridge @ 1925
DISTANCE: 38 km
CUMULATIVE: 1,139 km
Thick clouds dominated the landscape this morning. From the tiny hut window, we could see faint ridgelines masked in dark clouds. It looked cold, and I was feeling so resistant to putting on my wet shoes and stepping into the chilly morning. When I finally left, I could just make out some sun rays beaming through down valley. I was headed up to Martha’s Pass, so I didn’t allow myself to hope. As I climbed higher on the 4x4 road, I caught occasional glimpses of the peaks towering overhead. I wondered whether I might climb above the clouds. Hope crept into my mind.
By this point, I was walking with Mike, who it turns out is Lost Kiwi. I hadn’t realized. It was a cool shade, because it meant that I’d caught up to someone I’d seen in the hut books and had heard about. I love that- hearing little bits about people before I meet them, and sometimes meeting hikers who have heard little bits about me. We were chatting away, and wouldn’t you know we walked right on up and out of the clouds to be greeted by a blue bird sky that persisted the rest of the day. Hardly a cloud to be seen. Mike got ahead as I snapped photos, and I overtook him on the way down to Top Timaru Hut. I was looking to cruise today. Peaked into the hut and found that FAFBAB and The Man, Rob and Sam, and Anuck and Fergus were all ahead in the hut book, so off I went bounding happily down the valley.
Beyond the hut, the trail climbs a short pitch, then abruptly drops down into the trees and follows the valley for quite some time, weaving in and out of drainages as she goes. Lots of steep up and steep down on narrow tread cut into steep side slope. Had a few slips, and even lost the trail at one point. I’d climbed high up on a cliffed out side slope and still wasn’t sure I was off trail until I saw Rob pass me in the riverbed far below. Oops. I just skated the scree and slough down to the trail and carried on like nothing happened. It was quite the adventure there for a bit. I walked with Rob and Sam a little while before pulling away just before the epic climb up to Stody’s Hut.
I was excited for the steep climb up to Stody’s. Rob had been talking it up for over a week. The sign says 1.5-2 hours to go 2 kilometers. I thought surely it couldn’t be that bad. Figured I could do it in an hour, tops. Made it in 58 minutes, which included a break to talk to Anuck and Fergus, who I caught on the climb. It was freakin’ tough. My legs were shredded, and I still wanted to make Pakituhi Hut a further 10.5 k’s. The odds were pretty high that it was gonna be full, but I figured I’d just carry on if that was the case. (It was, and I did.)
Rather than complete the climb up to Breast Hill, I opted to follow Grandview Ridge, which bypassed the former. The alternate set me up a little better with the sun low in the sky behind me and had the added benefit of arriving at the hut en route rather than as a side trip. Caught a sick view of the lake and town below along the Grandview Ridge, but the walk generally wasn’t all that grand. Thinking I made a mistake by skipping Breast Hill. Woulda been a cool campsite. Instead I’m tucked in a sweet little nook along the ridge beyond the hut, which was full to the brim with hikers. Bummer that Grandview fooled me, but these views right now are epic. No redos in thru-hiking. Should be a wicked sunrise right here tomorrow anyways.
March 11, 2018
START: Breast Hill Ridge @ 0805
FINISH: Glendhu Track @ 2145
DISTANCE: 38.5 km
CUMULATIVE: 1,177.5 km
What a blessing having the hut be full last night. The wind died down at some point, and I woke up briefly in the night to see millions of stars shining overhead. I slept warm and comfortable in my little nook. My alarm buzzed just before sunrise, and I watched as the alpine glow lit the distant ranges across Lake Hawea, its water smooth like glass. And all of this from the comfort of my Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20 bag. Man, we’ve done some cool shit together. This bag has been my go-to since the PCT back in 2014. And I’ve never had to do anything but wash it and patch a small hole. Solid investment.
I didn’t exactly shred today. Reached Lake Hawea around 1000 and spent nearly four hours at the cafe eating and charging my electronics. Cruiser the next 25 k into Wanaka. It was a stunning walk along the Hawea River and Wanaka Lake. And it was almost perfectly flat, a well-graded walking track. It was clear and warm today, so I stopped for a swim in the river. The path was buzzing with walkers and mountain bikers. I passed the Wanaka Rodeo, which I think is kind of a big thing, and considered stopping in. Tempting, but I decided to keep on. That sort of thing is more fun with company, I think.
I arrived in Wanaka around 1830 and immediately bought stove fuel. I went without on the last leg, which brought me back to my PCT days. It wasn’t bad, but I’m carrying the stove, so I may as well eat hot. Next I resupplied at the local New World Supermarket. Thinking it’ll just be 2-3 days to Queenstown via the famed Motatapu Track. Stoked for some more big climbs and epic views. Spent about three hours altogether before leaving Wanaka. Wanted to top off the juice on my electronics and make sure all of my gear is squared away for the next haul. My shoes are absolutely shredded, but I’m having a hard time spending the money to replace them. They can make it another leg. (I’ve been saying that for nearly two weeks now.) I‘d much rather spend that money on food and accommodation.
I’m stealth camping along Glendu Bay tonight and planning to cover a tough 37 k tomorrow, so it’ll be an early morning. Clear skies and city lights from my spot on the shores of Lake Wanaka at Waterfall Creek. Man, I love this. Found a great spot under a tree by the water’s edge. Despite seeing thousands of stars through the tree’s canopy, I feel occasional rain drops falling on my face. It’s got me worried about my choice to cowboy camp, but I think I’m gonna let it ride. Something about the rhythmic crash of the waves that’s got me thinking everything is gonna be alright. We’ll see how this goes.