Day 111 (Wed 10 March): Roundhill ski area camp to Camp Stream hut
Started 8.20am, finished 10.20am, 7k.
Pain in the head status: The hiatus continued- until the afternoon. I had just calculated that it was almost a fortnight since the last migraine and was reflecting that I hadn’t had a break like this since…I don’t remember. Maybe years. Then a weary heaviness came over me and a dull throb began over one side of the forehead. At least I got to try out the ginger tablet- alongside the usual ibuprofen. It did lift after a lay down but the weariness persisted. Hoping for a decent night’s sleep. It was so mild I’d like to discount it, but it should probably still qualify as a migraine of sorts.
Word of the day: Subfusc, subdued colours.
Sadly, the weather forecast was correct and we woke to rain. The clouds made for a subfusc landscape, the bright golds, greens and deep browns of the tussock, flowering grasses and earth muted by the mist.
The rain was light but enough to saturate everything it could get into in the short time it took to reach our refuge for the day, Camp Stream hut. Tony soon cranked up the fireplace and we spread our wet gear over every possible hook and beam to dry out. This was a private hut, built in 1898, but with an excellent supply of firewood, relics of nights warmed by alcohol and a mousetrap. Considering how much wood we burnt, a bargain at $10 each.
A quiet nero day of waiting – for the next meal, for our clothes to dry, for any other trampers to turn up, for the weather to change. The meals came and went, the clothes dried, two other trampers turned up (Mark and Ken) and the weather cleared and brightened by early evening, unexpectedly as a cold front was forecast until; but it closed darkly in again a few hours later. There was nothing to do but wait and see what the morning brought.
Idiot prize of the day: Awarded to me, for burning the sleeve of my down jacket against the flue of the fire. Patched up, I’m really starting to look like a HOBO.
Mouse trap tally: three mice, one finger.
Day 112 (Thurs 11 March): Camp Stream hut to Stone hut (Two Thumb Range)
Started 8.05am, finished 4pm, 20k.
Pain in the head status: No pain today, slept away the remnants of yesterday’s headache.
Word of the day: Bellwether, leader of a movement or activity.
It was worth the wait for the weather. Cold clear skies greeted us as we left the hut, to start the climb to Stag saddle, the highest point of Te Araroa (1925m). There was no rain and no wind and it was easy going apart from one sweaty slog up a rocky peak. We were rewarded with magnificent views across to Aoraki and the Southern Alps and down to Lake Tekapo.
Mark from last night’s hut had told us there was a group of eight or so SOBOs to come – which he disparagingly described as the ‘walking bus’, a collection of individual SOBOs who had spontaneously banded together. We heard them before we saw them, hooting and cooing from the saddle and from the crest of a high point just off the trail.
By this time, we had ascended into cloud which cut off our alpen views and were scooting along a scree slope on a very obvious and fast path. We were surprised to find trampers emerging from the mist above us, where there was no path, picking their way painfully and cautiously over the loose rock. Maybe they had not seen the very clear cut path in the cloud? Maybe they were on a scree sidling challenge? Maybe the bellwether of the group didn’t know where he was going and the rest blindly followed? They passed us by without much comment, concentrating on their footing.
After lunch at the saddle, we dropped down sharply to Bush Stream, which started as a placid gurgle we could step across to a knee deep boot wetting flow. We passed by Royal hut, so named after Prince Charles and Princess Anne flew in for a visit and a cuppa back when they were young things.
We ate our afternoon muesli bar inside and were glad to be leaving, with all the scampering about in the ceiling. It was nearly two hours on to our night’s lodging – Stone hut, another old musterer’s hut with a stone side wall and fireplace (but no wood).
The track had been tough going for the end of the day, buried in tussock which hid deep, ankle-twisting holes and sought to trip you up by tangling its long leaves like tentacles around your boots. My legs, surprisingly, had not begun complaining by the time we reached Stone hut, but my mind was fatigued from the constant vigilance in finding a safe place to plant my feet. The dry bristling rustle of brushing past tussock may yet become the sound of nightmares.
We were all alone at the hut tonight. Not even a mouse for company. I liked the quiet and the cute hut, which was first built in 1862. This was destroyed by an avalanche and replaced – rather oddly, in the same place. Oddly, because there were rocks from a landslide just metres from the hut door. I wouldn’t want to be here in winter.
Scary thigh award goes to the blond deadlocked German who camped out on Stag Saddle overnight so he could watch the sunrise over the Alps. He was so thin he looked like an anorexic model with calves wider than thighs. It was a wonder he was still standing, and so cheerfully.