Day 113 (Fri 12 March): Stone hut to camp by Bush Stream roadend (near Rangitata river)
Started 7.55am, finished 3.50pm, 16k.
Pain in the head status: No headache today.
Word of the day: Blepharospasm, eyelid twitch.
For the first time in ages, I didn’t sleep very well, thanks in large part to a shooting pain in my hip that decided to visit in the night, after being quiescent for months. So I was tired when we got up, which manifested as an intermittent blepharospasm of my left eyelid, usually a sign that my eyes wanted some more time being closed. But the trail notes said we had nine hours of walking ahead of us, so I was unable to oblige them.
When we left the hut, the world was layered in mist, which persisted while we dropped in and out of streams, sought out the infrequent track waratahs to find the wandering track through the tussock and climbed over a 1500m saddle from which we could see still more mist, hiding the 2000m peaks we knew were around us.
Two kea flew over to check us out, screaming wildly, which could have been: ‘Greetings! Welcome to our world!’ or ‘You stink! We can smell you from here!’ and later, we heard them overheard, probably yelling disbelief at how little we had travelled in the intervening hours.
Still, we reached Crooked Spur hut for an early lunch, described in the online TA notes as ‘tired’. It certainly wasn’t as pleasant and spacious as Stone hut. Pipits peeped and clattered over the roof but I was glad to leave as it was cold. The other wildlife sightings were of enormous hares, which bounded away then stopped and stared down their noses at us as if to say, ‘You can’t catch me!’
It was a steep drop down to Bush Stream, which was the waterway which marked our route out. The TA notes states the stream ‘crossings are straightforward in normal flows but can be tricky after rain or during spring when the stream is fed by snow melt. Take extreme care at these times.’ It’s difficult to know how any kind of care will get you across a swollen stream. Of all the indecipherable track advice in the online TA notes, this might take the cake.
The first crossing was stronger and more challenging than the Ahuriri River, although that river was bigger and wider, which didn’t bode well. We took a diversion track over a ridge to avoid a gorged section, and met two trampers coming the other way who alerted us to the difficulty of the crossings ahead. We soon understood why their legs were scratched and bleeding as the track marched us through thickets of matagouri and finished blindly at an impenetrable wall of intertwined coprosma.
The next two crossings were right at the limit of what was possible for me to pass, with the current so strong it took all my strength and concentration to inch my feet across. At another section, I couldn’t cross and ended up executing an utterly stupid rock climb and dirt crawl above the swirling stream, the sort of idiocy I would scoff at in other people. I did find evidence of other idiots having done a similar climb though, with broken tree branches and scuffed ground, but it took a long sit down, a muesli bar and a cuddle for the hyperventilating to pass.
After this, the crossings were easier, with the stream breaking up as it spread through the gravelly valley. We passed another nine people trying their luck on the stream – and then a tenth, a hunter, who popped up out of nowhere at around 5.30pm, just as I had finished my afternoon stream wash and was changing into my ‘clean’ clothes. It always seems to be that way. You are alone in the wilderness, having not seen a soul for days, but the moment you take your top off, or drop your pants for a wee, some stranger will immediately come around the corner.
The sun had pushed through the clouds by the time we got to the stream so once all the crossings were behind us, we camped out on a flat sandy patch among the river rock. It was calm and warm and just what we needed after the afternoon drama. We squeezed the water from our boots and propped them up to dry and ate every bit of chocolate we had left.
Day 114 (Sat 13 March): Bush Stream roadend to Mt Potts car park (Rangitata River diversion)
Almost a zero day, as our only trail walking was from our camp by Bush Stream to the car park, where we were picked up at 10.30am, 3k. Dropped off at Mt Potts carpark and campsite at around 5pm.
Pain in the head status: Slow burning migraine over the course of the day, eventually aborted with a migraine tablet. Just as well we weren’t doing much. Probably a consequence of yesterday’s panic attack. My head doesn’t like emotional stress.
Word of the day: Pecuniary, pertaining to money.
Wayne from alps2ocean shuttled us from the southern to the northern side of the Rangitata river, one of the two large braided river systems in Canterbury that we have to dodge. We drove through Mesopotamia station, so we could remind ourselves what sheep and cows looked like, in case we’d forgotten. We had a few hours in Mt Somers, mostly spent making pecuniary transactions at the general store, first for supplies for the next section, then lunch and ice cream, then afternoon tea.
Wayne told us stories about Bush Stream – how a French hiker had camped in the toilet at the road end for three nights because he didn’t have a tent but was desperate to follow every step of Te Araroa, even through flooded rivers; how Wayne had fished out three packs from the stream and discovered they were from a group that had tried to get up to Crooked Spur a few weeks before but had taken off their packs to cross the stream and the packs had been washed away. He pointed out an alternative route that led up to Stag Saddle – if I would do this again, I’d definitely go that other way.
After Wayne dropped us off at Mt Potts carpark, we set up camp and admired the sun on the mountains, slapping at the occasional sandfly. Mt D’Archiac made a snowy triangle on the horizon, which feeds Godley river that drains into Lake Tekapo. It was sobering to reflect that it had taken three days of walking to get around to the other side of it. In bed by 8.30pm – another Saturday night on the trail.
Drinking issues: I drank some water from Potts river before I realised there were cattle wandering freely along the banks. I hope the bovine ablutions don’t upset my stomach.