Monday, January 3, 2011

Heaphy Track, Day One: Brown Hut to Perry Saddle Hut (17.5km)

Sigh, even with the iPod, listening to Bevin snore on the other side of the dining room table kept me from having a good night's sleep. Or maybe it was my being unaccustomed to sleeping on a folding mattress; either way, I woke at 6:15am not feeling terribly rested, and knowing I had a long day of hiking ahead of me!

I had my last shower for five days, and enjoyed a breakfast of eggs, hash browns, and back bacon cooked out on the grill on the patio. Then we loaded all of our stuff into the bus, and Alastair drove us the 33km to the Heaphy Track head. We were afraid we were going to have to walk the last 4km to the trailhead, as the road runs through three unbridged creeks that we had to ford, but Alastair's skillful driving got us through (we clapped appreciatively). As we were unloading our gear, I pleaded (that's really the best word to describe it) with Alastair to take good care of our belongings that we were leaving in the boot of the bus, as my computer was in my backpack... I had visions of the bus being left out in 30ºC+ weather back up in Nelson.

As we assembled at the track head just before Brown River Hut, we took a "before" picture of us all smiling and raring to go; we're going to take one every day before we set off... we'll see how worn out we look by the last day! My pack is quite heavy, and my collarbones, rather than my hips, seem to be taking the brunt of it. I'm also somewhat amused that the chest strap to hold my back straps in place across my shoulders is situated right under my breasts; I'm calling it the "boob strap" for the way it cuts across my ribcage.

Our hiking party. Left to right: Puff, Katrina, Mark, Lynn,
Bevin, Mary, Carolyn, John, Sally, and Lynn.

Brown River and the Brown River Footbridge

Today was 17.5km of uphill, which sounds brutal but was actually somewhat reasonable; the track is fairly wide (a quad bike could navigate it easily) and was originally surveyed to be a road to the west coast. As such, the grade is a gently ascending 1 in 13 (and seeing as the land is now part of Kahurangi National Park it is protected, and the road will never be completed). However, the track is very rocky, and it can be difficult to get a good footing without picking one's way carefully; it reminded me of several sections of the old logging roads on Mt Tzouhalem. 

A viewpoint about 5 km up the track

A sign at the start of the track warned that "the Heaphy Track has suffered significant storm damage. There are numerous slips and windfalls between the Brown Hut and Perry Saddle. The track is not closed but only those that feel confident that they can negotiate the storm damage should attempt the track until repairs have been carried out". They weren't kidding; piles of squishy mud, rocks, plants, and uprooted trees that were thrown down the mountain in the recent flooding completely washed away sections of the track. (The Heaphy Track normally sees 4000mm of rain a year; they got 1400mm of rain in 24 hours last week!) We gingerly navigated our way across the slips, marvelling at both the forces of nature and the braveness of the trampers before us who first crossed the slips and created the little goat tracks we now followed in.

Crossing a slip

About twelve minutes after leaving our first rest stop I realised I had left my sunglasses behind, so I set down my pack and trotted back down the track to retrieve them. When I returned to my pack I feared I might have to "book it" to catch back up to the rest of the group, but by walking quickly I was able to catch back up to them just as they sat down for their second hourly break. This extra 1.5km of walking, combined with my quickened pace, however, meant I was pretty tired when we started up again.

My pace ended up matching up best what that of John and Mark, so the three of us formed the leading pack of the group. The forest we were walking through consisted mainly of red and silver beech, but as we climbed higher, stunted mountain beech started to appear as well. The vegetation was interesting, too; I took a photo of some giant lichen, huge fern fronds, cabbage trees, and mistletoe growing up a beech tree (an aluminum sheath was put around the trunk about ten feet up in the air to keep the possums from climbing the tree and disturbing it). We also saw an inquisitive grey bird in a bush beside the track, but couldn't determine exactly what it was.

See the mistletoe? It's in the centre of
the photo.

The aluminum sheath protecting the
mistletoe from possums

The inquisitive grey bird

We were passed by a man training for the Coast to Coast marathon; he was running up to Perry Saddle Hut and back(!), and later we met up with his partner, who was walking halfway up the track and back. After a brief snack stop, we made our final push to Aorere Shelter, which I was very happy to reach; I was tired, hungry, and dehydrated. I normally don't sweat a lot, but the constant presence of the heavy pack against my back caused my t-shirt to soak through (which quickly dried up in the hot weather). I devoured my bagel, cheese, and the rest of the potato salad from yesterday.

Feeling our second wind, we pressed on at 2:30pm, further bolstered by our second encounter with the runner coming down the hill, who told us we were an hour and fifteen minutes from the Perry Saddle Hut. We stopped at the lookout at Flanagan's Corner, which at 915m is the highest altitude on the Heaphy Track.  The view from the lookout was incredible; the majestic mountain peaks and the river valley so far below a visual reminder of how far up we had climbed. 

Enjoying the view at Flanagan's Corner

Once again heading on down the track, a post proclaiming "Hut 1km" was highly motivating, but the slight downhill and rocky terrain were hard on my feet; I now have a lovely blister on the near side of my left foot.

16.5 km down, one to go!

At 4:15pm we arrived at Perry Saddle Hut, located 880m above sea level in Perry Saddle. I took off my boots (aaahh....), and on the advice of the Department of Conservation Ranger Ivan, pitched my tent in the farthest (and best-sheltered) campsite, facing into the wind. I found a flat rock to help me bang in the tent pegs that was so perfectly suited for the task I may carry it with me to the next campsite.

Mt Perry

Teatime inside Perry Saddle Hut; John and Bevin figure out
how to work the gas cooking range.

I should send this to my engineer friend
Peter.  ¡No arrojar basuras!

Home, sweet home.

After a cup of tea in my little cup (and I mean little: it holds about 125mL), I scrambled down a goat path trail with Mary and Katrina to Gorge Creek pool, which was VERY COLD. I waded up to mid-calf and washed my hands and face and dunked my hair in, which was more than enough.

Gorge Creek Pool. VERY COLD.

After dinner (freeze-dried Thai Curry Chicken is actually pretty tasty!), clouds started to whip in through the saddle at a ferocious rate; Perry Saddle is the lowest inlet between the mountains, and as such the winds can be very strong. I hope Ranger Ivan's weather forecast doesn't come true, as I don't want to tent in the rain (besides getting wet, the water would make my pack even heavier, and several members of the group have already commented on how heavy my pack is! I consoled myself with the fact that a significant portion of that weight is food, so at least that will decrease as the days pass). 

I came out of the hut and saw the guys all sitting in a row.
How could I not take a picture?

Clouds rolling in through Perry Saddle

Tomorrow we are hiking around 12 km to Saxon Hut, so the walk will be shorter than today's. I am off to bed now; while it is a pain to have to haul around a tent and worry about the weather and pitching/taking it down every day, at least it is private, and I am far enough away that I won't hear anyone snoring. Night!


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