The weather forecast was not looking good for the weekend when I left work on Friday evening. A colleague said “See you on the news” as I left; the train conductor patted me on the shoulder when I mentioned I was going tramping saying “Good luck mate…. I really mean it” and I noticed that one of the windows in the old NZ Customs building had “Winter is Coming” painted on it. Obviously, all good signs that there might be an adventure to be had in the weekend.
The van left the train station at 5:30pm and headed for Mangaweka for the night. After a stop in Bulls for tea, which gave a good gauge on how cold it would be in the mountains, we made it to Mangaweka camping ground at around 9:30pm. We pitched our tents and went straight to bed.
We awoke to a cold, grey day. After breakfast, we set off in the van for the nearby Renfrew road end and the start of the tramp. The cloud had lifted and it had become a splendid day.
Our trip plan was to head up Deadman’s Track and down to Triangle Hut. The next day we would head back the way we came but would go out via Rangiwahia Hut, effectively doing a loop (or lasso?) track.
We started up the Deadman’s Track and after about 15 minutes our boots were crunching beneath ankle deep, compacted snow. The track opened out after about half an hour to terrific views of Ruapehu and Taranaki.
The walk continued up a ridge past several frozen tarns to Mangahuia with the snow progressively getting deeper. We made it to the track junction just past Mangahuia and got a quick glimpse of Triangle Hut in the valley below. The descent to the hut looked rather steep from up high.
Once we started descending the walking became trickier. We all had several tumbles as the snow concealed drops in the track. It was easier to walk slightly off piste on the more forgiving tussock and brush. The track got steeper below the bush line and it took about an hour to get down to the river. Once there it was a quick river crossing (the only one in the walk) across to the hut.
It was quite cold at the hut (3 degrees) so we set about making a fire and heating some water for hot drinks. We eventually settled in for the evening and were making tea when we heard a gentle knock on the door. Two hunters (or trampers with rifles as they described themselves) walked in looking exhausted having come from the same direction. They said that the weather had packed up a little on the tops and wasn’t looking good for tomorrow. We talked for a while longer but everyone was pretty tired, and after a hearty meal, we were in bed before 8pm.
In the evening it started raining gently, which probably meant it would be snowing on the tops. As such, we decided to get started early and were on the track by 7:40am. The rain was intermittent as we made our way back to the bush line. Once out of the bush line the conditions were pretty bad. There was a strong, cold southerly wind unable to make up its mind whether it wanted to rain, sleet or snow.
On the more exposed ridges it was particularly invigorating as the sleet was pounding into our faces while we trudged up to the junction. Our friendly hunters, who had left slightly earlier, were just in the distance by the time we got near the junction. They looked to be doing it pretty hard and we passed them reasonably quickly.
The weather at the junction was right on the point of being either seriously uncomfortable or a unique opportunity. We were all soaked and had cold hands but our bodies were warm due to the challenge of the track. As long as we could keep moving it was tremendous fun.
After the junction the track was more sheltered and it was largely downhill to Rangiwahia Hut. We pretty much flew down the track with the wind at our backs. The hut was like a powerful magnet with the thought of there being embers left from the overnighters that we could get a fire started from.
We saw the hut after about an hour from the junction. At the hut we saw that there were people in there and when we entered a wave of warmth hit our wet, cold bodies. The fire was roaring, the hut very cosy and we could peel our clothes off to dry, make coffee and eat our snacks. The hunters joined us also happy to be out of the weather.
It was difficult to pull ourselves away from the fire and return to the track but the van was waiting. It took a little over an hour to get back to the van.