Days 43-45 Richmonds part 3
The weather has finally turned so we set off early into the misty morning. It made the forest quite spectacular.
We were up over Purple Top mountain fairly early on but that was quite straight forward.
We made it to Tarn hut for lunch and the Tarn itself was a nice surprise for a change in scenery.
There were a couple of little tricky bits along the way and a bit of sidling but on the whole a relatively pleasant day.
Until the end and we were getting tired. I enjoyed the little distractions of notes written on the wasp bait stations. Someone had written little positive comments like ‘smile’ then someone else had come along and added their comments like ‘I’m trying I really am’. I was looking forward to reaching each one to see what was written next.
The day finished with a very steep descent down to the river and a most welcome hut.
We had no hut mates tonight as Lisa and Marley had both pushed on to the next hut to try and beat the rain for upcoming river crossings. We’d done 9.5 hours to get here so that was out of the question for us. We missed them but it was also nice to have an extra early night and catch up on unsociable activities like toenail trimming.
We started off the day excited about what the new challenges would be and what we’ll see and experience. On the agenda today was 8 river crossings and rain was forecast so we were a bit nervous about that. We were ready to go at 7 but didn’t leave till 7-30 as was waiting to receive updated forecast.
The rain was fairly light so the river crossings were fine and even enjoyable little challenges to negotiate across them. None were more than knee deep.
And the river was quite photogenic.
But it was very tough going with the sidling on slippery terrain. Lots of huge trees down on track so very time consuming finding ways over under or around them. We were quite over it half way through. It was mentally very tiring.
We got to the hut for lunch at 1pm an hour later than expected time and we were shattered. Mentally more than physically. And rain just started to fall heavily and set in.
Over lunch we discussed our options. The next section was a big climb and exposed alpine terrain. The guideline time was 5 hours but we were likely to need a bit longer with how we were feeling and the weather. So we wouldn’t make it until close to dark. Along with the rain and strong winds forecast we decided safer to wait it out and see what tomorrow brings.
We were both very disappointed as we were excited about finishing on Sunday after 8 days versus our originally anticipated 10 days. We calculated that was still a possibility if we have two final big days and hitch the 8km road section into St Arnaud.
I lit the fire to warm our spirits and to keep the chill from the air and then spent the afternoon keeping it going with the sparse twigs available. In periods of lighter rain I went out foraging for broken branches to replenish what I was burning. There were slim pickings in the area due to the alpine terrain.
Our other key issue at this point was a toilet paper shortage. We’d come into the ranges seriously under resourced. Our whole TA journey to this point generally had paper in public and long drop toilets we’d used and we only carried small backup supplies with us. I did know the South Island would be different but had completely forgotten. We were rationing out our remaining tissues and starting to discuss alternatives.
After our short 5.5 hour day yesterday we felt somewhat rested and started the day excited to crack on and get to porters hut. A 9 hour day but we were ready. We set off in rain but kept up a good pace up the hills towards mount Ellis.
We were very blown about by the winds up on the high exposed ridges and unfortunately had no views or outlook to compensate.
Across a few boulder fields but easy to grip under foot as boulders had a coarse surface
We were moving really quickly to get out of the cold wind and rain and almost ran down the mountain. Luckily the surface was fairly good.
The rain was coming at us like sleet at one point.
After coming off the mountain it was into a bush section down to a river for a river crossing we were most concerned about for today. The trail notes had warnings about not crossing it after heavy rain and be prepared to turn back. There certainly had been heavy rain yesterday and today but the river must have been extremely low prior to that on account of no rain over prior week or two. We were hoping for the best but aware we may have to spend 5 hours returning back to the hut.
The bush was very dense with massive amounts of wind fall. There was a bit more sidling along very slippery banks. At one point I held onto a tree to climb over a log and the top half of the tree broke off (turns out it was dead) and I slid down the bank. The tree had a marker on the other side of it so I mentally apologised to future nobos for taking it out of action. We had to take packs off to be able to manoeuvre over some logs. After the sidling we headed steeply straight down for a long way. Rain was heavy the whole time and we could hear the roaring river getting louder and louder. We were getting very nervous about the upcoming crossings.
Finally we reached the river and the markers indicated a bit of sidling but it was treacherous both above and below the massive fallen logs so I checked the phone to see how far away the river crossing was. We were horrified to find that we were 2km off course.
Nothing for it but to backtrack. We didn’t feel lost as there were markers all the way - minus the one I’d knocked out, just confused as to what track we were actually on as it wasn’t shown on our map and there’d been no mention in trail notes or any signage about this track. We were gutted. That extra 4km added another 3 or more hours to our day and wiped out our plan to get to Porters hut today and out to St Arnaud on Sunday. It also meant we wouldn’t have time to return to previous hut if river crossings were too dangerous.
I was now extremely worried about the river crossings with an extra three hours of heavy rain going in. Pressing our sos button was potentially a real possibility if we couldn’t safely cross or go back or set up camp.
Once back to the official track we immediately saw the marker on a tree in a different direction from where the pole with the marker on that we’d followed. Luckily the actual track was so much easier to navigate. Once headed down into the correct valley the rain stopped and then the sun even tried to come out. There were a few more open areas so I replaced the sos option in my mind with camping for the night if we couldn’t cross the river.
Coming down the hill the sun finally came out and we had a vista of the red hills the river and even the hut. The river looked so pretty and harmless. We were comforted for the first time all day.
We negotiated the first crossing putting into play all the techniques we’d learned online and were happy. Only getting slightly more nervous seeing how much bigger and angrier it was getting as we went along. Still eyeing up emergency camp spots. The final river crossing was scary but we made it. The recommendations are to cross where the current is no faster than walking pace. I don’t think I could have sprinted as fast as it was going. I couldn’t even get my pole into the current, the pressure just flicked it off. We only attempted it because it was reasonably shallow. Linked up we felt relatively strong and solid and would have backed out if it felt to dodgy.
There was a short uphill kicker to Hunters hut which is the nicest hut yet. It had lots of windows and a table. A lot newer than others. Built in 1997.
Lisa had left us some toilet paper and I cried I was so happy. We had three tissues left between us and they were soaking wet.
And the hut had great views of the red hills. It was a nice end to a shit couple of days.
Still gutted to not get out on Sunday but just so pleased to have made it safely this far. The remaining day and a half doesn’t feel as challenging and really looking forward to getting out now.
There was a map on the wall showing the track we took and stating it was no longer maintained. we can definitely verify that. It was a level or two worse than the track from mid to wairoa huts but we just thought that was how things were. It would have been helpful to have known of this prior to being there.
Day 43 ~ Walked :15 km, ~Start: Rintoul hut ~ End: Mid Wairoa hut, Richmonds (km 1909)
Day 44 ~ Walked : 7 km, ~Start: Mid Wairoa hut ~ End: top Wairoa hut, Richmonds (km 1916)
Day 45 ~ Walked : 10 km, ~ Start: Top Wairoa hut ~ End: Hunters hut, Richmonds (km 1926) plus detour