Te Araroa: Part 7 – We are Tramily
With rain lashing against the windows all night, the overcrowded hut at Slaty in the Richmond Ranges with noisy mattresses didn’t make for a brilliant nights sleep. As a result no one stirred until gone 7.15 am at which point the hut quickly turned into a flurry of activity and a cacophony of noise. The chaos of packing was made longer through the fact it was hard to decipher whose stuff was where. There were nervous glances outside where the rain had calmed slightly but was still unrelenting.
We waterproofed our bags for the final time and then set off down trail with the rest of the crew who quickly separated into groups by hiking speed. The climb to the top was steep and covered in shale. Quicker than anticipated, we were summiting Little Rintoul and were heading to the saddle between this and Mount Rintoul. This was the most technical part. It was more like rock climbing and had a steep drop off on either side. The rain made placement of feet more precarious, but with the company of others the trail flew by. We were now summiting the main mountain at a blistering pace set by Jenny. It was then over the flat top before we dropped down the other side over steep shale. At times it felt like we were skiing down the sand, rock and boulders trying to retain control as the ground slipped out from underneath us.
We skidded into the hut at about 2, just in time for a late lunch. With Daddy (a trail name), a fellow hiker from new Zealand who resides in London, we decided we would continue on as our spirits were high, and we were enjoying the day, the chatting and the company.
The day ended after a steep descent at Tarn Hut, where a fire had already been lit by an American named Connor, and we quickly jumped in the lake to rinse off the sweat from a well-earned day. Whilst the views were not brilliant due to being in cloud cover all day, it felt excellent to be trail fit yet adequately challenged by the tough trail.
The technical terrain continued into the next day, but luckily the weather started to get better with the rain subsiding by about 11. We hiked the day with Josie, a Dutch hiker we had been sharing cabins with since the start of the Richmond Ranges, as the others in the cabin had decided to try and push on to get out of the Ranges in the next two days (making a 9 day section into a 5 day one). We wanted instead to enjoy our time on what has been some of our favourite tracks so far. The conversation between the three of us was stinted, as it was over tricky terrain, so we resorted to singing “typisch Nederlands liedjes” (Dutch songs). Lunch was enjoyed outside for the first time in a few days and a swim spot made for a great mid-day dip coinciding with the first time the sun had appeared in the last 3 days.
The afternoon followed the Wairau river up to a hut. For once the department of conservation sign was accurate with a 4.5 hour estimate for the 8km being bang on. The trail involved 8 river crossings which ranged from knee to hip height, along with scaling many rock walls along the steep banks of the river which was a bit sketchy. At times Jenny had to pass her pack forward to help with balance around a particularly difficult traverse or slippery slope.
When we reached the Dutch Orange hut we found Daddy, who had decided that he preferred our presence, energy and conversation the day prior to the supposedly military pace being set by the rest of the faster crew. A skinny dip in the river washed off the sweat from the day, before we settled down for a substantial meal and bed. Jenny and I whispered to each other before we fell asleep that we are loving our time in trail again. We feel a little bit more wild again, and life is becoming simpler.
“It’s sunny”, I exclaimed to Jenny as I delivered her morning coffee to her in bed. The clouds had lifted over night and we were surrounded by beautiful red mountains. We set off as a group of five, summiting Mount Ellis early morning.
I felt the overwhelming joy of being out in nature and seeing the epic landscape we had been clambering over for the past few days. Being seven days in the wild so far had made me get those feelings of accomplishment back that I think I had been chasing since 2018 when we hiked the PCT. We continued over crests and up valleys, undulating up and down for the rest of the day. Conversations were held with whoever was hiking the same speed. When we reached the hut we decided that as it was a brilliant night it was perfect conditions for camping. So we set up our tent a few metres away from the hut hoping for some stars and a more peaceful night’s sleep. Whilst the huts do provide some comfort, they also mean that you put up with snoring and people setting off at different times of the day, which for one couple in the huts has been 5am.
Our final day in the Richmonds started covered in red, as the dust from the sleeping spot had caked all our gear thanks to the dewy air. We enjoyed a fairly relaxed morning that took us to the edge of the Richmond Ranges. In a moment of pure exhilaration we wolf howled as we reached the hut knowing we had completed the longest and most technical section of the trail. In the past week we had both climbed and descended the same height as mount Everest. It was an epic accomplishment and we were riding high. It then dawned on us we still had 20km to go until we reached the town of St Arnaud. The trail was simpler though, sharing its path with a steep mountain bike track, meaning 12km was done in 3 hours. A short hitch on the interstate later and we had arrived at the Alpine Lodge.
We were met with quite a troubling sight: a recognizable backpack, trousers and top of a fellow hiker strewn across the hotel lobby. “What’s happened to Daddy?!” We asked the receptionist. After a moment of confusion she clarified, “You mean the guy with the wasp sting? He needed to go to hospital so he has hitched 1.5 hours to the nearest town.” A few WhatsApp messages later, we found out that the wasp sting had resulted in cellulitis and he was having to take medication and rest.
We enjoyed a date night with pizza at the fancy lodge restaurant, reminiscing on how fantastic the last section had been. Whilst tough, we had one of the best weeks of our lives – we had great company, comradery and challenge in the right doses.
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