Day 134 (Fri 2 April/Good Friday): Blue Lake hut to West Sabine hut
Started 8.50am, finished 12.10pm, 7k.
Pain in the head status: I woke up with a headache and pain in the front of my neck – I was expecting this as a consequence of slipping over on scree yesterday and wrenching my neck, a bit like a whiplash. This ended up triggering a migraine. It seems like all head pains lead to destination migraine.
Word of the day: Garboil, state of commotion or noise.
We had decided to have a short day walking down from Blue Lake hut to West Sabine hut, taking our time to enjoy the scenery. Once again the weather was kind to us – it was overcast but we escaped being rained on. The scenery was worth taking time over – huge crusty peaks that had disgorged sheets of stone and boulders the size of trucks towards the white-frothed river, more waterfalls, a sky full of creepy streaks of moving grey cloud.
The track was much worse than I remembered from our last visit – variously blasted away by avalanches and swept away by river flooding. I started to long for a clear path that didn’t involve scrambling and watching every step for a firm footing. We passed another TA walking bus going south – at Blue Lake, this would be a bus of at least ten people. It might also be called a walking school bus, as it included three children, one only six years old.
We knew that the huts in Nelson Lakes would explode with people over Easter but the crowd that had amassed at West Sabine by evening exceeded our dreaded expectations. The 30 bunk hut filled with trampers streaming up from Lake Rotoroa along the Sabine river – the easy route in bus water taxi. A few more intrepid souls trudged over Travers saddle. The fire was lit, wet gear was strewn everywhere and the hut resembled a sauna crossed with a secondhand shop, with a bar in one corner and a card den in another. After associating mostly with other TA hikers, it was odd to be in a hut with people wearing makeup, nail polish and deodorant and to see towels hanging up to dry that were not microfiber.
We retreated to our bunks – it was too many people to deal with and too much garboil. Three people ended up sleeping on the floor and half a dozen tents mushroomed around the hut like a travelling circus. I found a fantasy novel on the kindle app on my phone and transported myself to another place. The first time I’ve read fiction on the trail – it was quite absorbing. I had to remind myself at 9pm that it was a big day ahead and I needed to go to sleep.
Day 135 (Sat 3 April): West Sabine hut to John Tait hut
Started 7.35am, finished 2.45pm, 14k.
Pain in the head status: No pain today and neck muscles loosening up. It was the first day since Boyle Village that I’ve felt pretty much normal. And hungry.
Word of the day: Yutz, foolish incompetent person.
Despite the crowded hut conditions, it wasn’t too noisy until people’s alarms started going off from around 6am. Even though no one stirred, we took that as licence to get moving. We had 1200m to climb and 1000m to descend before the day was out.
This was another track I had done before but in the opposite direction. As testament to our improved fitness, we cruised up Travers saddle without an excess of sweating or puffing. We had excellent weather too – it was fine with minimal wind. The clouds clagged in on the Sabine valley as we passed over the saddle but on the Travers side, the sun was strong.
Trail highlights included non-swinging bridges over streams (so lovely to have dry feet for two whole days), a brief taste of red carpet walking, on a spongy soft trail cushioned deeply with beech leaves, and the most colourful tramping outfit I’ve seen so far. This was on a young lady at Upper Travers hut, where we stopped for lunch. She waltzed up in loud, orange-themed leopard print leggings with a matching sports bra, stopping to check her reflection in the large hut windows. (Belly piercings still present? Check. Midriff still exposed? Check. Hair still carefully tousled? Check. Preening complete.)
We had never seen so many people on the trail – courtesy of Easter, fine weather and the popularity of the area. At least two dozen people on the way over Travers Saddle; another two dozen from Upper Travers hut down the Travers valley to John Tait hut. There was a large school group not far from the saddle that had no tents or sleeping mattresses – I couldn’t help unkindly thinking that whoever organised that trip was a yutz.
Just when we thought we might have John Tait hut to ourselves, a sole hiker turned up at 6.30pm, then half a dozen young ones from Wellington then another half a dozen from an Auckland tramping club. The Wellingtonians had a birthday party, with cake and candles and singing, and maybe a small rave if the random flashing of head torches and thumping of the floor boards was anything to go by. I had retreated to my bunk by that stage, the most comfortable option in this critical mass of hut fullness. But if that weren’t enough to have me cowering in my sleeping bag, the tramping club then stayed up late to play introductory games to get to know each other. Even the silly fantasy novel was an insufficient distraction – it was podcasts at full volume to drown out the noise.
Gaiter update: My disillusion with my new gaiters reached new heights today when I snagged one of them against a tree root and tore a hole in it. I can’t express my disappointment and disdain. My old gaiters had taken years of abusive tree roots, in infinitely more difficult conditions, and had never ripped. My opinion is confirmed – these gaiters belong in the trash.