This was one of those trips that makes you think the grading system really should have an extra category so you can get a feel for how demanding the “EM” is really going to be. Of course you should be able to tell that from looking at a map (note to self…read map more closely before signing up for next trip!), but how much simpler would it be if an EM tramp also had descriptors like: “easy peasy” or “gutbuster”? On the other hand, perhaps eight of us wouldn’t have signed up to do this trip if we knew it was of the latter variety!
We left Wellington on Saturday morning for Kiriwhakapapa road end, not too far past Masterton, and as we were standing in the shelter waiting for our last group member to arrive, looking out at the driving rain, two guys arrived down from Blue Range Hut. That’s about 650m or two hours up the hill and a convenient lunch stop. They looked a bit surprised to see that we were heading into the range given the gale force norwesterly winds and the heavy rain. We were a bit dubious ourselves!
Our wet weather gear got a workout and we headed up to Blue Range Hut. Our arrival was perfectly timed as we managed to avoid some hail showers. We were grateful to have lunch and a hot cuppa in the comfort of the hut, a very homey four-bunker.
After lunch we had a bit further to ascend and also headed onto the more exposed side of the ridge. Fortunately, the wind had dropped a bit from the morning and no hail dropped on us. We took our time descending the 550 m to the Waingawa River as it was fairly steep and wet. We even linked up two-by-two to cross a stream which, although not at all wide, was moving swiftly with all the rain. The river itself was raging, and we were glad to come to the fantastic swing bridge across from Cow Creek Hut, as we could never have crossed otherwise.
We reached our sanctuary from the rain about three hours after leaving Blue Range. It was already warm in the hut, as the MFs had decided to abandon their more ambitious plans for the day due to the weather, and had holed up there. Cow Creek is a six-bunker, so it was a squeeze, but everyone was just very glad to have shelter.
Two of our group pitched the tents they had brought (having figured that with eight in the group and a six-bunker hut our destination, a tent may be handy). We also pitched a large fly for extra room for gear, so that we could free up floor space. Having seen for the first time how one of these performs in the rain, I’m glad that we were able to use the floor and didn’t need to sleep under it!
Along with the cheerful sharing of a small space among a large group, the other highlight of the trip was dinner. We had chilli con carne with spices Tim brought specially, and for dessert fruit and amazing custard. We had enough left to have some for breakfast the next day, and it was still delicious.
So we ended up with four on their sleeping mats on the floor, including one in a snug position under a bunk. This was a pretty successful arrangement except unfortunately for the person who ended up under the dripline of the wet clothes we’d hung up.
Sunday dawned less wet and windy thankfully. We headed back the way we’d come, slogging up the hill. Although we weren’t in any doubt, we had it confirmed that there’s heaps of room for improving our fitness when the MFs caught us up a couple of hours later, having patiently waited until we’d cleared out before getting themselves sorted.
We were all fairly glad to reach the van in the mid afternoon and then be on our way to coffee, cake, pie, or fish and chips in Carterton. But it turned out we had one more challenge to deal with…we discovered we had a flat tyre, although fortunately this was when we got back to the van from our coffee stop! It turns out that changing a flat in one of the club vans is not that straightforward. It was a true team effort, and we also met some friendly locals who came to help.
So we finally got back to Wellington in the early evening. It was a great group to go a tramp with in crappy weather, and Blue Range and Cow Creek are both great wee huts that we were able to fully appreciate given the conditions.