Rambling through River Valleys
Chris, our wonderful 130 km hitch (Whom I'm assuming is a reincarnation of Chris Kringle.. obviously.)
White bait from Chris!
12/18 Feeling somewhat rested after our easy hike yesterday, we quietly made our way from our shelter in Anne Hut, happy to have been inside with good company during last night's rain. As is often the case, our bunk companions were still asleep when we hit the trail, so we didn't have a chance to say our goodbyes (inevitably, the first people we see each day comment on our early bird tendencies). We were somewhat surprised to see frost on the ground, but the skies were clear and promising, the trail conditions good, and we were feeling refreshed; the perfect way to start the day. We undulated up a secluded valley, feeling like adventurers pushing through an unexplored land (despite all evidence to the contrary), sending geese and rabbits scrambling through the morning silence as our crunching boots heralded our approach. After basking in the morning light for awhile, we crossed the low Anne Saddle and stared down our next valley, intent on reaching Boyle Flat village for lunch. In the distance, the far peaks were still coated in a dusting of snow, and we eagerly watched its slow retreat in the steadily warming air. When we reached our supposed destination, we found not the 'village' did not really exist... but instead came upon an outdoor center situated there. Though they had little in the way of real resupply, they hooked us up with some leftovers and coffee, and we were able to scrounge enough to allay our fears of running out of food on this next stretch. We headed out, crossing into the low tussock country of a wide and exposed valley, the first of our real encounters with New Zealand's famed braided rivers. The terrain was rocky and uneven, but the sun-washed vista, painted as it was with yellow flowers and framed by steep hills, made the walking worthwhile. After several knee deep river crossings, we turned and entered a muddy beech forest, hiking in dappled light until we called it a day and camped atop a mossy knoll in the silence of the woods. Our next stretch took us through more varied terrain, alternating between shaded trees and open river valley. Our love of the NZ backcountry huts was solidified here, as their undeniable undeniable charm and character was on display throughout the area. Each is a unique construction, seemingly designed with the specific surroundings in mind, and full of quirky details that work their magic on anyone tramping the wilderness here. We stopped at the Hope Kiwi Hut, with its open floor plan, red linoleum tiles, and bunks in he kitchen, before heading around the wide pastureland at the head of Lake Sumner. We crossed another swing bridge, and rested at the Hurunui Hut, another beautiful structure overlooking the valley we found ourselves ascending. The trail took us past some much-touted hot springs, but the ubiquitous sand flies kept us from stopping to enjoy them (an unfortunately recurring theme). We eventually found ourselves at the next shelter, a '1930's wonder' with triple decker bunks, with 5 Kiwis out for a weekend tramp, who peppered us with questions before we shoved off for one last push to the dilapidated Cameron Hut. This corrugated aluminum shack, full of holes and outfitted with rigid bunks covered in a layer of burlap and a concrete floor, was not what we had expected... but we were thankful for its presence all the same, as it allowed us respite from the sandfly onslaught. We ate dinner indoors, but camped outside all the same. Our decision proved ill fated, as we were woken by the pitter-patter of rain in the morning, a sound we have grown accustomed to. Thankfully the precipitation was light as we set off to climb Harper's Pass, a relatively low mountain crossing that took on a mysterious air in the heavy atmosphere, populated as it was with strange, spiny leafed trees and white alpine flowers. The clouds parted just enough to give us a view down our next valley, where the Taramakau River unspooled like a silver thread beneath us. As the trail dropped, it became less well marked and apparent, until ultimately becoming nonexistent. We picked our way among the rock strewn flood plain, trusting our senses to navigate the tricky terrain and praying we wouldn't turn an ankle. Much of our day was a hopeless monochrome, the world we inhabited painted in dull shades of gray; a sea of gray rocks under a slate sky, with the blue-gray river slicing between. I wished I were more knowledgeable, and able to discern something interesting from the subtle differences in the each rock's character, or identify to each half-heard bird call in the mist, but instead I contented myself with trying to put a name to each of the endless tones as we wobbled our way down the river bed like drunks. Finally the trail picked up at a confusingly sign junction, and we found ourselves on a terribly eroded flood track sidling high above the river. It was strewn with blowdowns, making progress slow and strenuous, the worst kind of end to an already long day. We eventually cut down to the riverbed once more, aiming for a footbridge in the distance that was our next landmark. After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived and quickly elected to set up camp nearby while several day hikers ambled past and gave us puzzled looks through the steady veil of rain that had hounded us all day. Exhausted and wet once more, we drifted off to sleep, apprehensive of what tomorrow would bring, but happy to almost be done with another section of our epic walk. The day did not disappoint, as this section followed the aptly named Deception-Mingha track. This stretch is a notoriously brutal part of the famous Coast to Coast run, and adventure race that could only exist in a place like New Zealand. It barrels straight up the narrow Deception River gorge, crossing the current out of necessity about 30 times as the torrent surges back and forth amongst slick boulders that must be surmounted. The "track" is a laughable series of markers that offers little in the way of assistance in navigation the terrain, making the climb all the more tiring as your brain works overtime to figure out how the hell you can haul your ragged body up any further. Thankfully a childhood of scrambling up and down waterfalls with my brother had prepared me for just such an occasion, and we tackled the task with as much energy as we could muster. In spite of the challenge, the day was beautiful as the skies had cleared, and we made as best time as we could. Two trail runners, presumably training for the big race, leapt passed us with their minimal packs, agile as gazelles compared to our own clunky tramping. Regardless, we reached the summit at Goat's Pass, where a beautiful hut stood crowned by snow capped peaks. The trail immediately eased as we followed boardwalks down the other side (a luxury reserved for the more popular and heavily used tracks). The heavily eroded canyon was overseen by a number of towering avalanche chutes, but thankfully our way was clear. We pushed onward until bottoming out on another rocky riverbed, and crossed to highway 73. Having studied the trail note and maps, we ascertained that we would need to resupply at the nearby Arthur's Pass Village, so we hitched with an Israeli named Alex to this expensive tourist town. The only store was cripplingly expensive, but lacking supplies made a purchase necessary. After dinner, the rains rolled in once more and we decided to stay at the backpackers there against our better wishes, while we reassessed our holiday plans; our original hope had been to make it to Lake Coleridge, another 75 km distant, before hitching to Christchurch for Christmas (Christchurchmas?). The guide had made this seem feasible, but on examination we realized that hitching from there would be all but impossible, so we scrapped those plans and decided to get in a few days early. We left the village and scored a ride with a French student studying business, who dropped us off back where we had left the trail. From here the track struck out across the river flats and through waist high purple flowers, eventually leading to a challenging crossing of the ..........River. We treated ourselves to a beer at the Bealey pub on the other side, then continued for a short while on the highway before turning off to stay at a hut nearby, officially in full holiday mode as we had no more trail to cover before heading in to the city. We were joined by Jess, a young woman from Australia who was thru hiking solo, as well as a family of 5, out for a holiday tramp. It was quite crowded, but the atmosphere was jovial as we swapped trail stories and were gifted some extra food by our Aussie peer, who had been carting around a ridiculous amount of food after she was resupplied by a well-intentioned but unknowledgeable friend. We settled in, content that we wouldn't be hiking for several days (by far our longest time off the trail), and got ready for some much needed R&R.