Day 117 (Tues 16 March): Double hut to Comyns hut
Started 8.25am, finished 3pm, 16k.
Pain in the head status: No pain.
Word of the day: Epigore, inferior imitation.
The day dawned fine and clear, the wind and rain having disappeared in the night. It was a steady climb for three hours, climbing up and over folds in the earth, with the usual thrashing about in tussock, ripping our way through matagouri and scanning the land for the next marker pole. The dead speargrass flowers sometimes fooled me – sticking straight up like a waratah, but a misleading epigore.
After crossing three easy scree slopes, we reached Clent Hills saddle (1480m). We could look back across to where we had come from and marvel at how long it takes to walk this country. Looking down to where we were headed, we could see the earth creating clouds – vats of steam rising from the river valleys, being sucked up into the air to form huge wafts of cumulus.
The cicadas were clacking loudly, as if applauding the sun, and the crickets were leaping wildly, celebrating the warmth. We sat in the sun on the saddle, until a chill wind drove us down the other side, to the Round hill creek, then the north branch of the Ashburton river. I’d read that there were over 40 river crossings in this section, with wet feet guaranteed. Our boot-gaiter defences kept our feet dry until the Ashburton river, then it was gumboot-slosh time, but the crossings were easy and it was a sweet beautiful wander down a gorge, sheer rocky outcrops fringed with greenery, mountain peaks peeking out through the clouds.
We arrived at Comyns hut, a tin can of a shelter, to find it already occupied by Dennis, a TA section walker from Auckland, who had the latest results from the America Cup, that neither of us cared about. We set about wringing out socks and boots and gaiters, ready to get wet again tomorrow.
Reflection of the day was on the marvel of skin; how it is completely waterproof, unlike my wet weather gear, how every time a scratch or bruise heals is a small miracle, how it quietly spits out thorns from under its surface. I also pondered why the skin on my legs was as dry and scaly as a shedding lizard whereas Tony’s legs were perfectly smooth as if he’s been following some secret moisturizing routine.
Day 118 (Wed 17 March): Comyns hut to Glenrock Stream carpark (Rakaia river) and Methven
Started 8.25am, finished 2.55pm, 16k.
Pain in the head status: No pain again.
Word of the day: Oneiric, of or pertaining to dreams.
A light frost on the ground this morning explained why it was so cold in the tin can overnight. It was the first time I’ve walked with my down jacket on for the first half hour or so, until my fingers and toes regained some feeling. We felt sorry for Dennis, starting out the day with 40+ frigid stream crossings, with no sun until at least 10am, then wet feet all day. This section is better walked NOBO – we only had wet feet for an hour yesterday. Points to us.
Once we warmed up, we had another nice rambly slow day, with lots of sitting down to enjoy our last muesli bars, wraps and plastic cheese. At A-Frame hut, we sat in the sun and read the hut book; at Turtons saddle, we watched the karearea soar across the hills, one of them sweeping down to eyeball us, so close we could see the flecked pattern of its feathers. The view down to the plaits of the milky pale blue Rakaia river and the alps was spectacular.
A huge pack of day walkers passed by, willing to give us a lift to Methven, but we had booked a pick up on the school bus at 4pm at the Glenrock stream carpark – hence the lazy approach to the day. One of them even told us where she lived in case we needed a place to stay. People can be very generous.
Just before the car park, we passed another TA walking bus – seven SOBOs, five of whom we’d met in the North Island. After much mutual congratulations and discussion of the trail ahead, they began their trudge up the saddle and we ended our saunter down in the car park, where the wind was so fierce we huddled behind the DOC track sign, as the only shelter. It was pretty exciting to see some native trees though – kowhai and ti kouka/cabbage trees – the first native trees we’ve seen for days.
It was 4.30pm before the school bus disgorged its load of children and picked us up, and an hour to Methven, during which I dreamed of a hot shower and undehydrated food. The last few nights, my oneiric sleep has been dominated by random images of food – Boston buns with pink icing, slabs of chocolate, platters of cheese, lamb shanks (ew). As soon as we were clean, we beelined for the Indian restaurant for dinner (guaranteed to be highly calorific) and then the Four Square for breakfast supplies.
Tramping lesson from this section: Water from streams with didymo taste disgusting, like dirt, even after filtering. Boo to didymo. I hope my insides don’t grow brown snot like these south island waterways.