Saturday, 21 December 2013

Days 99-105: Lake Tekapo to Lake Coleridge

Day 99. Well, at last I got going again. Itneas much cooler today with clouds threatening throughout my walk. I was up and gone from the backpackers before any of my dorm mates had even stirred, and enjoyed a coffee in Tekapo with a UK visitor called John who had served with the 11th Hussars in Aden as well as running one of those hippy buses from Europe through Afghanistan into India etc. Bloody nice bloke who paid for my coffee! Speaking of which, did I mention dinner last night was given to me on the house by James at Pepes. Again, really nice guy and another example of human kindness that continues to humble me.

It was a nice walk today, and I have been trying to heed advice from experienced TA walkers to slow down a bit least I break myself! As usual, the views were stunning...

Oh, and another contender for Best Longdrop on the TA!
It's clean, massive (you could hold a rave in there!), AND toilet paper!

By 5.30 I was near my first hut after going past Roundhill Ski Field (yes, found it! ;-)

Camp stream hut is pretty cool, old fashioned and kept like a working museum...

Day 100. Hah, I just realised this is my 100th day on the trail! My original plan was to walk to Stone Hut today, but I read in the hut book that 'Husky' had managed from Crooked Spur Hut to Camp Stream Hut, and I thought quietly that depending on how I felt, I might give it a crack too!

As usual, the weather looked threatening and I opted to walk the inclement weather track which sticks to a ridge overlooking Tekapo. It was great, but caught most of the wind up there!

Stag Saddle is the highest point in the TA at 1925m, but I ended up a bit higher ascending part of the peak overlooking the saddle.

After the saddle, the rest of the day was a bit of an anticlimax- Royal Hut wasn't painted Robin's Egg Blue as I had expected, Stone Hut wasn't... And I got there around 4pm. I found an Austrian and German already there, section walking the TA. After a brief chat I realised I didn't want company, so I pressed on to Crooked Spur Hut.

On the way I spotted a large group of tahr, but too far away for a decent pic (as usual!). The hut was apparently 'just around the corner' from the top of this saddle...

...nope. Not to worry. I had a break and against all evidence to the contrary, a butterfly mistook my foot for a flower.

I reached the capacious Crooked Spur Hut after a three hour slog. This gives me a good time buffer to negotiate Bush Stream which according to other recent walkers is a bit tricky to cross. Great, can't wait for tomorrow!

Day 101. Ok, I have to admit I was a bit nervous last night thinking on today. I had resolved to cross as few times as possible as I followed the stream downhill towards the Rangitata. I was woken early to a low rumbling.... Earthquake? Probably rockfall somewhere nearby. The rest of the night passed without incident. The morning light felt different when I woke. I had a look to see...
...neato! But it got me thinking about rain in them thar hills. So I got moving.

This is the view of the valley I would follow, with glimpses of Bush Stream.

Once I got down off the ridge and next to the stream I looked for a crossing point. The flow looked pretty fast to me, but 'normal', whatever that means. I berated myself for being a pussy and I took the pludge. First time across, it wasn't too bad! Fast, yes, but my magic sticks weren't thrumming like they did in the Ahuriri River which I took as a sign when the flow is borderline for a solo crossing by a flyweight like myself! :-)

The next bit looked worse. Much, actually, and after a good look I couldn't find a crossing point I was comfortable with, and I was bluffed on this side. I looked at the bluff, and thought I could see a route up a rock and scree chute which had a few scraggly beech trees clinging on for dear life. Should I? Another glance at the 'stream' convinced me to give it a go. Up I went! At first the scrambling was ok. Slippery, but with care I was gaining height. Midway up the slope I started having doubts as to the wisdom of my choice as good footholds grew scarcer and the slope steeper. A couple of crumbly boulders gave way under me which gave me pause... Stop, assess, decide. Keep going? I broke out my gps, and smacked my head when I realised there was a formed trail above and upstream of me where I should have ascended before the bluff. Crap. But I thought I could continue and join the trail from here if I could sidle around some more crumbly boulders. I kept going, clinging to whatever plant life and stable rock I could find. I was even pleased to find matagauri and embraced the prickly stuff like a lover. After a bit of tense effort I was back on the trail!
Looking down on it, it looks easier than it felt! I went up the rocky outcrop centre right on this side of the stream, I ascended on the reverse slope which is hidden (of course).

The trail descended back to the riverbed, and I was forced to undertake no less than a dozen (seemed like) crossings. The flow was getting tougher with each crossing, but was still manageable even with water up to my hips.

After about three hours I was out of the valley and looking onto the Rangitata!
I headed to Mesopotamia Station where I would stay in an old musterer's accommodation, dry and clean gear, with a view to meeting up with Shane Davidson of followmyspot who has kindly offered to pack raft me across the tricky bits of the Rangitata tomorrow.

(The paddling pool was for the sheep, but I figured they wouldn't mind).

Day 102. Much anticipation today- would the Rangitata be crossable? If not, would Shane come through for me? Certainly the weather looked ok.

Here's a view back up yesterday's valley:

I had about two hours from Meaopotamia   to the RV with Shane, I didn't think it would be a problem. Firstly, lots of matagauri down to the river...
I eventually found a stock trail that made the going quicker. Once down, it was into the first of many crossings as I threaded my way diagonally across the braids to the RV. I wasn't sure if the last two braids would be crossable... But after some upstream walking, finding some quicksand (the hard way), and eventually crossing all but the last braid, I saw bright red and yellow rafts! Shane and his wife Jane had made it so I didn't have to negotiate the last (and deepest) braid. I was a happy chappie.

Shane took my pack and I paddled the second pack raft across. Jane took action shots...
... Then Shane towed the second raft back so Jane could join us on the other side. They pack down pretty small, and not more than 2.5kg I think, without the safety gear and paddle.

On the way to the Potts River Bridge we chatted about our experiences on the TAT- Jane had completed the South Island last year, so it was good to hear her stories! It was about an hour's walk to the bridge where we said our goodbyes- thanks again guys for taking the time to help me out!

The weather continued to hold... 
 I was again reminded of prairies...

But the clouds and wind started building, and my thoughts turned to finding shelter tonight.

After I had set up my tarp in the lee of a small escarpment, the wind changed direction on me (typical). I'll hope it holds up overnight! At least the sun is back out...

I had a joyous evening, watching the sun set, the tussock turn golden, and harriers hunt for rabbits til twilight. Its been a good day. I think I'll sleep well tonight!

Day 103. A bit of rain overnight and this morning, but no worries with the shelter. 

However, when I opened my pack up I knew something was olive oil bottle had emptied all of its contents inside my food bag, dripping into the rest of my pack contents! This wouldn't happen to Bear Grylls! Although I can imagine the episode- 'just when I'm getting comfortable, disaster! Not only have I lost precious calories that I can ill afford to lose, my kit now smells of garlic and rosemary-infused olive oil. I realise that if I can't mask the odor somehow, I'll be easy prey for carnivores that have a keen sense of smell, like the Great Southern Panther or the Drop Bear. Luckily I find a sheep carcass I can rub myself down with. That was a close one!' Hmmm... At least I can now oil my beard by wiping it with anything I own. I only wish it had a more Christmassy-smell, like frankincense. Speaking of Christmassy:

As I walked, I calculated if I should try for a different hut tonight...

I decided to stick with the original plan and head for Double Hut, which will give me plenty of daylight hours to try and wash the oil from my gear!
 The views again today are stunning!

By 1.30 I am at Double Hut after a fairly leisurely walk. Time to clean gear and dry stuff in the sun!

 The hut is great, with a bit of character, and plenty of drinking water nearby. Bliss!
Oh, if you haven't seen them yet, there is a hunt on to spot a rare alpine gecko... I've been seeing plenty of skinks everywhere, but no geckos til today- I surprised a big green one in the long drop at Double Hut! He didn't hang around for a photo, sadly. They can jump a fair way when they have a mind to! Because he scuttled into the loo, I may have scared him a second time too, poor wee fella.

Day 104. I woke to a beautifully still, blue-sky day... Off to A Frame Hut today, which I should reach by mid-afternoon.
For some reason I had woken early, so got going a little earlier than usual...
This is the view towards Clents Hill Saddle:

The bad news was the Spaniard around here grows in large communities!
The going was slow until I got to the top of the saddle after a bit of sidling around some pretty impressive scree slopes.

From here it was pretty much walking/wading down a stream all the way to Comyns Hut... I sung a few Christmas carols etc as I splashed my way down, watching the trail markers curiously as they seemed to lead into thickets of matagauri that grow thick and tall along the edges of the stream. Far easier to walk in the water!
I got to Comyns Hut in time for a late lunch at 1pm. It's an older place, not quite as charming as Double Hut.

The wind has been picking up, and clouds approaching from the South, so I didn't hang around long. The track led upstream this time, partly following a 4wd track. Much quicker!

This place has the beginnings of a formation like the Putangirua (spelling?) Pinnacles

Two hours later, A Frame Hut!

So into the stream to bathe.... I could get used to these early knock offs!

I particularly like this hut- very cosy feel to it. I could live here!

Tomorrow I have a midday RV to take me to Lake Coleridge Lodge, the walk down from here should be straightforward though. I'm hoping my food drop has arrived there, I've only got odds and sods left in my food bag, and that's all covered in oil still!

Day 105. Another early wake up, I felt disorientated, maybe the shape of the hut had me confused? Anyway, the wind had picked up overnight and was blowing strong, so I figured I would start walking.

It was an easy walk to the trail end, 2 hours ambling. Which means I got there around 9am, leaving 3 hours to kill! 

I snuggled into some shelter, put warm gears on and turned up the music! 

Snoozed until Dean from Coleridge Lodge arrived early at 11.30, great timing as the rain started coming down. Gears in the laundry, food drop received (hooray!), and lunch made by Toni greedily scoffed. Another great lodge to rest at. I'm hoping the weather blows through so I can have an easy time of it walking to Arthur's Pass for Christmas! Speaking of which, Merry Christmas everyone!