I had one of those days where serious lapse in judgment overtook me. This coming Sunday weather was going to be a stunner. So, what do I do? I decide to enquire with Shirley (Queen of the Tararuas) if she’d like to do a day walk on the Sunday. Left it entirely up to Shirley for a destination as she was intending to go out anyway and I didn’t want to offer any suggestions as I was the interloper and it was to be her day walk. Shirley had decided that she’d like to do her own favourite circuit of Holdsworth; she’s only done it four times.
8 am Sunday, I met Shirley at the bottom of Aro Street. Wellington was cloudy but warm. We drove over the Rimutakas, stopped at The White Swan in Greytown where Shirley bought herself a coffee, and then travelled the rest of the distance to Holdsworth carpark.
10.15am we were on the track. We passed Donnelly Flats walking through easy bush with the Atiwhakatu River beside us. Not long after, we arrived at the junction signpost for Powell/Jumbo Huts. The walk to Powell would be 3½ hours of a very hard grueling climb. At this stage I didn’t really know what I was getting myself in for. I thought a climb to the top in beautiful fine sunny conditions… ‘I can do that’. (What top? Did I even consider how far I’d be climbing – NO!)
True to this description it was grueling and relentless. And this is where I discover how truly unfit I am. My last tramp was on 28/29 May doing the Tongariro Circuit. No tramps since then – no wonder I struggled big time with the route. We started out with a few gradual climbs until we hit the steeper sections. Being a total shock to the system, my body reacted quite severely; I felt I was going to be sick and was slightly light headed. Up and up into this hell of a descent. I had to make regular stops, lowering my head to shake off giddiness, sometimes to get my breath back, sometimes stopping just for the sake of it – I guess my way of coping with the situation. Shirley coped admirably; after all, this is her territory. Me, I avoid the Tararuas like the plague.
After feeling sorry for myself, I coped as well as I could. A lone day-walker caught up with us who was pretty fit and practically running up the hill. Admittedly she was only carrying a bum-bag. I don’t think weight would have made any difference to my abysmal performance. Oh well! On and on we continued climbing – forever and ever and ever! Yeah I know I’m a drama queen. But damn at this stage I was really feeling sorry for myself. We had climbed a fair way and you could see the thinning of the trees which was a good sign; unfortunately we still had a long way to climb. A very very long way to climb.
Just before we got to the open clearing we stopped to have a quick break and to don our rain jackets. Shirley mentioned that it would likely be windy and cold she thought she’d prepare herself. At that moment the lone woman who had passed us appeared. Since she was returning the same boring uninteresting way we had come from, Shirley invited her to join us on our circuit. Her name was Heather and she hailed from sunny Masterton. I enquired as to weather conditions where she had come from. She said “not bad”. For some dumb reason I thought the tops would be sunny and fine but windy. My inexperience and total ignorance of winter alpine conditions was clearly evident. We donned jackets. Shirley and I both had shorts on having decided earlier that we would get hot from the steep ascent.
When we came out onto the clearing there was snow everywhere and the cold wind just blasted into our faces. OMG, I thought, I’m not prepared for these alpine conditions. I didn’t even have the basic attire, ie leggings and gloves on. Both were in my pack. My whole perception of our ridge climbing was totally incorrect. As we started to climb – yes – more climbing was involved here, I wandered how on earth I was going to get to our destination when I was already badly fatigued and unprepared.
At this point, feeling a bit deflated, I had to stop to rummage through my pack for gloves, far too late now to change into leggings. Thank goodness I had brought gloves. People started coming down as we started our ascent. They must have thought Shirley and I were crazy not having leggings on. Even though the wind was bitterly cold and strong, my legs fortunately didn’t suffer too badly. I probably could have done with another layer, but also too late to make a change. It took me a while to retrieve my gloves Shirley and Heather were already waiting in the biting wind and cold further up the track.
Our first task was to reach the top of the snowy ridge. This was quite difficult as no markers could be seen and the track was hard to find. In front, Shirley had to scrape away into the ice and snow with her walking pole; luckily she had this valuable piece of equipment. She also plugged steps which were very much appreciated by me and Heather at the back. Ice axes would have been valuable up here. Shirley probably wouldn’t have continued on in these conditions but as we were probably at the point of no return, it was decided to continue on to Powell.
The icy conditions made our way to the ridge even more difficult. Once we arrived at the top we picked up the track and made our way through the snow. Some parts of the track were very icy and caution had to be taken. We slipped quite a lot on the ice picking up a few bruises along the way. Progress was very slow making the ascents/descents further up the mountain.
It seemed like ages before we came upon the Powell Hut signpost which was an hour away. An hour, in good conditions, would normally take an hour, but this seemed like it went on forever, made difficult by snow and ice. We were also descending so great caution had to be taken.
We finally reached Powell Hut at 3.40pm. I had had a good breakfast at 6am, half a muesli bar before we started at 10.15am, then the other half before we made the ascent in alpine conditions. I was starving and lacked energy.
At Powell a group of school kids from Paraparaumu had arrived. They were staying the night at Powell and continuing on to Jumbo Hut the next day. A poor Maori boy had collapsed on the deck outside; I thought I was the only one who felt like that.
It was already late, so a quick lunch was had before we decided to hit the track at 4pm – I had only eaten half my lunch. We had a further 3 hours to the car park. From the hut there wasn’t much snow on this side and there was no wind (yay!). The terrain was a steep descent (Hmmmmmm – so good for my knees – NOT!!!). Again, slow-going. As we only had another hour of daylight left, the last 2 hours would probably be in the dark. As Heather had decided to join us at the last minute she would need to share the light from both our torches. Luckily I had new batteries. We descended most of this difficult terrain but in a few sections a few gradual climbs were required, not too grunty thank goodness.
Light seemed to disappear quite rapidly so torches were now required. Heather had gone on in front as she was way faster than Shirley and I. She waited along the track as lighting became difficult for her. The last section of the journey seemed to go on forever; maybe because it was so dark and we couldn’t see anything. We were now walking the Gentle Annie track and DoC steps gave my knees reminders why I should never attempt these sorts of tracks. I don’t know how long it took but I was so grateful when we reached various signposts leading us to the car park, our journey finally coming to an end.
By the way, Shirley and I both wore our new Meindle tramping boots. The day before, I wore them for the first time for a few hours around the house. Shirley was wearing hers that day for the very first time. I didn’t suffer any blisters, or bruised toes. But I think they may be a tad too big as they don’t fit like gloves and there seemed to be too much room in the boot; I felt like “bigfoot” walking along the track. Neither Shirley nor I experienced cold or wet feet from the snow, which most probably would have happened in my older boots. We wore our boots in pretty well that day, walking in muddy, gravel, snow and icy conditions.
We arrived at the car park at 6.15pm in total darkness. A total of 8 hours (approx) with stops and lunch included. Thank you Lord for having delivered me from this hell of a trip. Shirley claims that in better weather conditions, it would have been easier and would have only taken 7 hours.