Day 19: Roses Hut to Highland Creek Hut

Fri 10 February 2017

  • Km today: 11
  • Total Km: 354

I was up and out of the hut at 0800 after a quick breakfast of porridge. There were two serious peaks to climb today. This part of the track was described as one of the hardest on the TA so frankly I was not sure what to expect and you could say I was packing! From the hut there was a short walk across the paddock and a stream to the base of the first mountain climb which goes up the prominent ridge of Knuckle Peak. The ascent was steep and drastic so it was slow going however as with yesterday the weather was perfect with a cool breeze and it wasn’t too hot. I had about 4 litres of water onboard but didn’t want to drink too much too early as I wasn’t sure where the next source would be. So I would limit my intake to 4-5 sips from the bladder at a time, and refrain from drinking from the water bottles until I got to a water source. At 0900 a helicopter flew into the valley. I was chuffed that it was at the same altitude as I was, so I thought I must have climbed a decent way already. It had something big slung underneath and to my chagrin it landed the equipment and itself at Roses Hut. I suddenly had an attack of FOMO – if I had left an hour later I would have been there for its arrival. The helicopter flew on and out about four times but I had lost interest by that stage. I later found out that it was DOC doing something with the long drop toilet. I was pressing onto the highest point of this climb. At the top the track followed a fence along the very narrow and exposed ridge line. I had cellphone coverage so sent a couple of messages then turned the phone onto flight mode again. There was a 280 degree view from the top of the Soho station from Cardrona around to the Harris Mountains and down to Wanaka and Mt Aspiring.

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From this point the trail took off down the mountain side past some woolly Merinos and then a steep zig zag down further to a small beech forest. On the other side I could see the mountain rising again and a quick check of my GPS confirmed my fear that that was my next immediate climb. In the meantime I replenished with water in the stream on the beech forest valley floor. Not long after starting the next ascent I pulled a muscle in my right calf. Oh how did it hurt and I was thinking hell what do I do now at the bottom of two equally massive mountains and with a vertical climb of 500m. So I started a crab walk slowly up, that is side stepping up the hill rather than climbing straight and putting a lot of weight on my hiking poles.There was nothing but to keep going and as this was the third time so far in the journey that my calf muscles had pulled I knew it would come better in time. So I pushed on up a bloody steep hill with a sore leg. After an hour and a half of climbing the track followed a siding around to the highpoint around 1200m. It was here that I had a rest and some lunch and took a photo of the tramping boots that hung artfully from the trail pole. The new view now looked across to the highland saddle to give me a taste of tomorrows hike and it looked like a hairy descent down to the next hut.

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My hiking poles have been indispensable and I really could not imagine making these walks without them. I see others walking without poles and I think ‘you’re mad’. I rely on them all the time. When I first got the poles I had them set at 130cm which has the hand grips perpendicular to my body with a straight arm. However as I have progressed I find that I prefer to have my hand gripping the top of the pole knob as I walk so now I set the poles at 125cm and this allows for an easy swing of the poles as I am walking. If I am going downhill I will have them at 125cm but if ascending will shorten to 120cm which gives a shorter length to put my weight on and maintain composure. So the pole length changes during the day dependent on whether I am going up down or all around.

The descent to Highland Creek hut was really awful. It was a very very narrow (imagine width of a boot) siding around very steep mountain sides that fell away for hundreds of metres. I really didn’t want to trip over a lace, stumble or fall in any way so I took it slow and steady. Was it scary – hell yes. So I just kept my eyes on where I needed to walk and followed the wise words – don’t look down! It was not pleasant at all and I was pleased when I had descended down the last blim’n steep ridge and the hut was in my sights. Typical for the TA the final approach to the Highland Creek hut is a near vertical muddy climb from the creek. Jeremy was on the hut steps when I arrived. I immediately liked him. I think it was his friendly welcome and sonorous voice, imagine a combination of Chris Pine and Chris O’Donnell. And then remarkably he told me about his hike today – he didn’t just follow the track from Fernburn Hut to Highland Creek Hut, oh no he climbed and followed the whole mountain around. It was a great afternoon and you can follow his excellent blog at http://www.chasingcairns.com.

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The view from the hut was stunning, not an adjective that I like to use often as in my opinion it is grossly overused by the great unwashed but it aptly described the outlook we had from the hut steps.

It has been a long hard slog today. The mere kms walked during the Motatapu do not represent the effort and agony that goes into every km, every step. There are no easy sections on this track – fortitude, courage and commitment are needed every day and there is no place for complacency – a misstep and it would be all over. And if you are afraid of heights then this is not a hike for you.

The hut filled with trampers, NOBO’s and SOBO’s until all bunks taken and as everyone had had a long hard way, whichever direction they had come, the hut was silent before the sun had gone down.

PS: I was the loudest snorer

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