Day 98 Exhilarating with a touch of scary
Nichols Hut to Parawai Lodge Hut Thursday 16 January Start 7am Finish 7.20pm Distance 17km Total 1,579 Steps 34,000 Elevation approx 1,000m up and 1,400m down. Weather: morning: very cold, misty, moderate to strong winds on the ridges. Afternoon: sunny and warm. It was a day of two halves and I will keep them separate as they were so different. Be careful what you wish for is my first thought. Last night my last thought was a bit of hope that today would be windy and misty so I could experience an edge of the extreme weather that can happen up here.
The first half of the day was exhilarating with just enough scary. The day dawned windy and misty just as I had ordered. It was incredibly cold and hard to believe it is the middle of summer.
I was the first out of the hut. I rugged up with three layers, hat and gloves. The wind was initially moderate and a bit gusty, and you could just see the next marker pole through the clouds. Out of the hut and it was immediately into a very steep climb, and then another, and another, and so it went on. Progressively the wind was getting stronger, particularly on the narrow ridges. The ridge walking was an adrenaline inducing experience with the clouds rushing over the top and being pushed down the valley on the other side. I wouldn't have wanted the wind any stronger, otherwise it could have been me being pushed off the edge and down the valley. There was only one slightly genuinely nerve wracking moment. I was trying to get around a rock face with a steep drop off on one side, and the wind buffeting me. It required clambering, trying to get hand holds and I ended up crawling on my belly, trying to hoist myself up, for fear of falling off the edge. I slightly slipped during my efforts creating one hell of an adrenaline rush. I don't think my heart could beat any faster as the exertion had already maxed that out.
On this day, 16 January 2020, I was the first person to summit Mt Crawford, at 1,462m. I would love to say the view was stunning but all I could see was white. Which believe it or not made it even better. Just as I was coming down into the forest, I started to get below the clouds and could see snippets of the valleys and out to the sea.
The descent promised to be a knee aching encounter, dropping 1000m over 3km to Waitewaiwai Hut. I wasn't anywhere near as bad as I expected and I arrived at the hut at 12.30pm still with plenty of energy. There were two people at the hut who were taking a rest day there. One was Jess, who I first met on 90 Mile beach. We think we are the only two left from our original group to still be on the North Island. That said I think we are also the only two doing every single step. The other person was a French guy I hadn't met previously. Jess said that part of the reason they were having a rest day, was the day before, when it was also heavy cloud and windy, the French guy stopped at the top of Mt Crawford for a rest, and when he got up he headed back the way he came without realizing it. He walked all the way back to Nichols Hut before it dawned on him. It took me about 2 hours to reach the summit from the hut, so that's an extra 4 hours of extreme hiking he did. I am not going to make any judgment on how the hell he managed to not notice recognising that when cold, tired and in a white out, there is no guarantee I couldn't do the same. I thought I had enough in me to do the 10km to the next hut. If only I had known what was in store, I would have patted myself on the back and put my feet up. I always did think I was 6 foot tall and bulletproof!
The official track over the next 10km basically followed a river at the bottom of a valley. A little up, but mostly down. Easy. Well it would have been if it wasn't for the major detour around a slip on the track. The detour was a poorly maintained track with a great deal of wind fall over the track, and it added about 300m of climbing. Not normally an issue, but I was tired.
After climbing around and over yet another tree I came to a part that was a near vertical dirt drop that was too high for me to jump down, and too steep and high for me to sit on my butt and slide down. I decided to swing down from a branch. Even as I was contemplating this option I was predicting this wasn't going to go well. Although the branch held, my arms are not as strong as I thought (may have been the weight of my pack), and my legs still not as long as I thought. Bottom line I took a tumble. Nothing bleeding and nothing broken so nothing to complain about, however my sense of humour took a holiday, and remained absent for about two more hours.
It returned when the track rejoined the main track, and it was along an old railway line, used for transporting native logs back in the day. There were railway tracks still in parts, and as you can imagine this means the trail was wide enough for a train, as well as being smooth and reasonably flat.Bliss on my tired body.
I temporarily considered just camping there on the track, but pushed on and arrived at the hut just over 12 hours after my of walking had started. I am completely shattered but thrilled.