What a weekend! I would say 4 seasons in two days, but really, it was a spring blast of winter for most of the weekend. This trip was a special one – my first overnight away without the toddler. As an added bonus, I was talking 4 other mums with me, for a night away from the family.
Friday afternoon there was a flurry of emails – the weather forecast for the weekend was ominous. Foul weather any which way you read it. Lovely. After one punter pulled out earlier in the week because they were unwell, another pulled out because of the weather forecast, and I was briefly concerned we were going to all decide not to go. The question was put to the chief guide and club prez as to whether perhaps we should be going – a party where every member had either not tramped in multiple years, or had only done one tramp – into the teeth of such a storm. “Dont worry”, they said, “Its sheltered, a fantastic all-weather tramp”.
So off we went.
Saturday morning. It rained most of the way north, stopping literally only while we were at Mitre 10 Masterton using their bathroom and buying a biscuit or two on our way north. It started hailing as we headed north out of town, and the Putara Road was not far off starting to flood as we got nearer to the road end. The hail stopped long enough to get our packs on, and then started again as soon as we stepped onto the boggy, muddy trail.
It was a very wet walk – the track was marked by the fact it was a fast-running stream. Side-streams that would usually go unnoticed were running fast enough that some party members required assistance to get across them. As we started climbing, the hail started to settle on the ground, anywhere there wasn’t running water. When we got to the top of the hill, the decision was made that there was no way we were going to try and get down the hill to Roaring Stag as originally planned – we were all too cold, and soaked through. The pouring rain and cold weather had meant no-one had stopped for a proper lunch either, we had all been surviving our slow plod up the hill with whatever snacks we had shoved in our raincoats at the van.
Plus it had now started snowing. Snow was settling on top of any flat patches of water. The ridgeline was exposed to the wind, and it bit straight through our wet gear. On we moved. The walk through to Herepai seemed to take a really long time as the weather continued to get colder (not aided by the fact I had no watch!). The snow was settling quite thickly under the trees, and was hiding traps. In one section, I stood on a submerged tree stump, and promptly slipped, landing on hands and kees in just under 10cm of icy water, with both knees landing on other submerged rocks / stumps / something. Agony.
Nothing for it though – I wasn’t going to sit around in the cold and cry. At some stage here I thought I saw the hut, but was mistaken. I even looked two or three times to be sure before I told Karen and Denise. But I was wrong. The smell of woodsmoke 5 minutes later was fantastic. We had arrived. The fire was going, we could get inside!
I don’t know whether it was the fact we were all so cold to start with, or what, but the fire just seemed to take forever to actually do its job of warming the place up. Probably not helped by the wind driven snow on uninsulated double-metal walls (inside and out) that literally ran with condensation – absolutely nothing dried overnight, including the floor.
That said, we had an awesome time chatting with a group from the Rangitikei Tramping Club who we were sharing the hut with. They were the best kind of people to share a hut with – welcoming, friendly, inclusive. They made hot drinks for everyone, kept the fire going, told stories, shared the rest of their dinner when some of ours didn’t work so well, and volunteered to clean the hut in the morning.
Sunday dawned fine. Sunshine! It had stopped snowing about an hour after we arrived at the hut Saturday night, and the difference in the track on the way down was incredible – almost no standing water, and no streams running down the hill. The barely crossable side streams were back to barely noticeable, and the river had dropped substantially. I would say we made it back to the van “dry”, but given we had all put wet clothes back on before we left the hut, it would be more correct to say we didn’t get rained on, although it did spit a bit as we were getting sorted to go.
A quick stop at the bakery in Kirupuni for a pie, and at Schoc for a treat, and we headed off home. We were all pretty chuffed with what we faced and how we fared for a group of “non-trampers” (really, even I count myself in that now). This was an incredibly difficult “easy” trip!