Day 140 (Thurs 8 April): Top Wairoa hut to Tarn hut
Started 7am, finished 2.35pm, 13.5k.
Pain in the head status: No pain again.
Word of the day: Apothegm, terse, witty instructional saying.
There were two parts to today’s walk – down the Wairoa river to Mid Wairoa hut, then, as in this environment what goes down must come up, a steep climb from the river onto the ridge line that will lead us over the high point of the Richmond range, Mt Rintoul.
The first section is widely reviled due to the eight or so river crossings, which can be impassable after rain, and multiple sidles across precipitous slopes, which can be narrow, slippery and scrambly. The online TA notes state: ‘Some trampers will find this section challenging.’
Yeah, nah. I was expecting more, from the expressions of horror and dismay in the Top Wairoa hut book and on Guthook, the community TA trail app. It was just another day at the office. I could see how the track and the river crossings could be difficult in poor weather, but for us, the conditions were perfect and I just needed to keep focused and take care where I placed my feet and positioned my poles.
After a self-congratulatory morning tea at Mid Wairoa hut, we wrung out our boots and moved onto the second section, climbing up through forest to Tarn hut. It was a bit like climbing up to the Travers saddle, but shorter, and the worst of it was over before I had to start a pep talk to keep going. I much prefer a steady solid up to an undulating/verticating track; is less tiring and more predictable.
The final part of the walk to Tarn hut was plagued by wasps – we hurried through as fast as possible to avoid annoying them and getting stung. Stinky goats were eating out the vegetation on the tops and were hardly bothered by our presence. It was a relief to reach the hut and close the door against any stinging or biting insects.
Injury anomalies: I gathered two small abrasions today – a scrape on the inner elbow from sliding down a rock and a grazed knee that I didn’t even notice until I saw blood oozing out of it. It was completely painless despite the bleeding whereas the superficial elbow scrape throbbed like a burn, hurting out of all proportion to the nature of the injury. Pain truly is a unpredictable and inexplicable entity.
Day 141 (Fri 9 April): Tarn hut to Old Man hut
Started 6.45am, finished 1.55pm, 12.5k.
Pain in the head status: No pain in the head; knees are suffering instead.
Word of the day: Brume, mist or fog. Bonus word: Dingle, a deep wooded valley.
We started as early as possible today because the weather forecast predicted rain in the afternoon and we were about to tackle the most difficult section of the Richmond Alpine track – over the raggedy scree and boulder strewn tops of Mt Rintoul (1739m) and Little Rintoul (1643m).
But first we climbed over Purple Top, so named because of the mauve coloured rock around its crown. It was cold and wreathed in brume but once we reached Rintoul hut, we had grey views over to Motueka and Tasman Bay and glimpses of Mt Rintoul behind the hut.
The climb up to Mt Rintoul was steep and the soft fine scree was difficult to get purchase on but we could usually find some more solid bouldery tracts to wedge our feet into. I kept low over my poles to reduce the chance of sliding backwards. At the top, we could see bits of mountain sliding in and out of view amongst the mist but as we descended down to the saddle between Mt Rintoul and Little Rintoul, the clouds unexpectedly lifted, revealing rows of mountains and the sheer unstable faces of the Rintouls.
The climb up Little Rintoul was more severe and scrambly but the past months have honed our mountain goat skills to a fine point. All in all, the Rintouls provided outstanding examples of verticating.
We spotted our accommodation far below in a dingle on the eastern side of Little Rintoul – Old Man hut. As we did so, an old man edged up the slope towards us. He was heading to Rintoul hut, skipping Old Man hut, maybe to avoid the jokes that were bound to follow.
My knees did not appreciate the sharp drop down to the hut but were grateful that we arrived before the rain. A fine drizzle started less than an hour after we had disgorged the contents of our packs onto the heavenly soft new blue mattresses. The peaks clagged in and the rain started in earnest not long after. But we has made it – dry, warm in the hut with a fire going, the hardest part of the Richmond track firmly behind us. If we had anything to celebrate with, we would have – an extra muesli bar had to suffice.
Day 142 (Sat 10 April): Old Man Hut day
Word of the day: Ennui, weariness and dissatisfaction resulting from inactivity or lack of interest; boredom.
We had planned a rest day at Old Man hut as there was heavy rain predicted – and it duly arrived in the night and continued relentlessly all day. Emily from Nelson had shared the hut with us last night but departed on a different trail than ours, leaving us a candle and an apple, as she had packed too much food.
The day passed slowly from one food break to the next. I finished the fantasy novel started at West Sabine hut; Tony relieved his ennui by breaking into the Wasjig someone had left in the hut, perhaps as a cruel joke as critical pieces seemed to be lost or missing their picture. The tiny potbelly fireplace kept us toasty. The clearing around the hut filled up with mini lakes and the weka under the floor boomed out disapproval.