Five keen trampers set off from Wellington on Friday night, sustained by a Carterton Turkish dinner. We were not too enthusiastic about the rain and the gale-force winds that greeted us at the Waiohine road end campsite. After one casualty in the wind – Gareth’s tent pole – our fearless leader and one other chivalrous chap retired to the van for a night of deep slumber. The rest of us persevered with probably less sleep and something more like real camping: one in the toilet block, and two of us as ballast in the two tents.
A dryish ascent up to Cone, motivated by Steve’s brisk pace and Gareth’s bottomless bag of snakes: essential kit as per ‘Tramping Leadership 101’. The woosh of the wind got closer and more-serious sounding the closer we came to Cone, so we were well rugged up and psyched up by the time we emerged into the tussock at Cone and felt the full gravity-bending effects of the wind.
The exposed half-kilometer travel along Cone Ridge was the crux of the weekend for me, staggering, bracing every step to counteract the sideways wind force, wondering what random break-dance move the wind would send my body into next, applying martial-arts falling skills as I was flung crossways then downwards into a bush or a rock. Sorry, all photos have too much blur to depict the reality.
After tramping that brief fine line of scariness and excitement, the sanctuary amongst the contorted, moss-laden trees further along the Ridge was welcome. The noise of the wind followed us part of the way down the steep ~500m descent to Neill Forks hut. The changing vegetation and the example set by Steve’s brisk pace distracted me somewhat from the realisation that tomorrow morning we would ascend the same 500m! Satisfaction at arriving mid-afternoon at a cosy wee hut, and another personal record: sleeping on the most mouldy mattress I have encountered in a DoC hut (or anywhere that I have travelled). A few hours to while away the afternoon reading the selection of current affairs and not-so current affairs magazines in the hut, and snoozing before dinner.
Dinner was sublime: gourmet cheese and dip entrée served by Christine, Gareth created (and directed sous-chefs) a sensational hot curry (perfect fuel for racing up hills the next morning) and Steve was the purveyor of chocolate biscuits. Contented, we slept soundly, albeit with some consciousness that it rained a lot during the night.
A calm and slightly drizzly morning greeted us. Residual curry and morning cuppa powered us quickly up to Neill Forks junction, where it sounded even windier than the previous day. We took in more of the scenery as we descended to sunny Totara Flats Hut for lunch. Definitely a treat to arrive in a hut with gas and brew up a hot drink for lunch.
The next few hours along the river, heading back to Waiohine road end went smoothly and sunnily until we lost time near the slip – literally! If anyone finds a watch in that area, Gareth will be eternally grateful and may even reward you with some motivational snakes! Apart from that, a pleasant journey through the trees back to the bridge. The tramp finished on the swing bridge with a moment of reflection on another fabulous weekend in the mountains with an awesome leader and fantastic tramping companions.