Tramping the Wangapeka
Day 2 and 3
should have been walking around in my hiking boots to break my
feet back in more recently, but I haven't. ( I know, it's
the boots that are supposed to get broken in, but in my case,
the boots are much tougher than my feet, so it's my feet that
give!) I did OK when using these boots last summer on the Kepler
and Greenstone tramps, but by the end of the second week, I was
quite happy to not to have to wear them for a while. I only suffered
small blisters on my big toes - nothing on the heel or instep.
But I definitely need to go see a cobbler and try to stretch them
a bit in the toes. It seems the front of my foot is wide relative
to my heel. If I get wide shoes, my heel flops around (and I get
bad heel blisters), but with regular shoes, my little toe gets
smushed. I actually have holes cut out in the sides of my cycling
shoes, but this wouldn't be such a good idea in the boots, since
it would let in water and rocks and other debris! I will admit
that I started to think seriously about carving up the boots after
a few days. But I'm getting way ahead of myself.
After breakfast, we cleaned up and gathered more
firewood to restock what we'd tried to burn the night before.
We then headed less than 5 minutes down the track to the old Cecil
King Hut. We'd read that it was the more characterful place to
stay, but I just couldn't make myself walk any further the night
before. Well we should have. Cecil King had a gold claim nearby
and originally built this hut in the 1930's from a single red
beech tree he had cut down nearby. He planted several new ones
to replace the source of his timber. Even after exhausting any
hope of finding gold, Cecil spent his summers at the hut. After
his death, his family spread his ashes nearby and donated the
hut to DOC. After many requests from hikers, DOC made an effort
to restore the hut and now keeps it open for use. We had a great
time looking around and definitely felt disappointed that we had
not spent the night.
The weather on the second day started out reasonably.
After so many clothing changes due to overheating and on and off
rain the day before, I decided to go for rainpants over shorts
and rain jacket over short sleeve woolie top. This actually worked
much better, as I was able to regulate the temperature better,
and not overheat in my rain gear. The 2 1/2 hour walk to Stone
Hut was quite pleasant - more nicely benched track through native
bush. And the weather seemed to be improving, as it stopped raining
5 minutes after heading out in the morning.
we got closer to Stone Hut, we heard a helicopter overhead. We
weren't close enough to the hut to arrive before it landed and
took off though. Presumably it was DOC just doing regular checking
of the huts, because there was no indication at the hut that anyone
had been there recently or had trouble.
It was a bit early for lunch, but given the shelter
of the hut and the changeable weather, we decided to take our
lunch break there anyway. This hut was much smaller than King's
Creek, and more charming as a result. Just as we packed up our
food, it started to drizzle again. Tempting as it was to sit around,
we had 4 hours ahead of us to get to Helicopter Hut. We walked
through several interesting areas, including an old slip from
the 1929 Murchison earthquake. Here the footing got interesting!
We then climbed the Wangapeka Saddle. There is a sign at the saddle,
and the track heads back down hill, but otherwise you'd never
know it's the top. Despite being over 1000 metres, it is still
in the bush with no view. The descent down to the river was very
gradual and pleasant, but just as I commented on how nice it was,
we came to a massive slip, with a good scramble up and over to
the other side. Not too long afterwards we reached Chime Creek.
We spent a bit of time trying to figure how to get across. John
was able to leap from rock to rock and got across with dry boots,
but my confidence and short stride were not enough, so I got one
really drenched boot. Once on the far side, I saw the sign for
the 3 wire high water bridge up above! I'm not sure how we missed
a sign on the other side!
We carried on down hill, but my wet feet were really
getting cold. I had several pairs of socks, so we decided to stop
to let me change into a dry pair. Of course, I had no idea at
the time that we had reached the part of the track where keeping
ones boots dry was just not possible. Our next obstacle was to
cross the ankle deep (according to the guides) Karamea
River. We spent a bit of time trying to find either a low spot
or stepping stones and logs to get across. I finally decided to
use my river shoes. Last year when we bought our boots, we also
found these super light mesh sneakers, that seemed designed for
walking through rivers. We used them for bike touring and tramping
as our off the bike/trial shoes, but had also figured they'd be
good for things like river crossings. While I changed shoes, John
found a way across on a slippery moss covered log that I could
never have even stayed upright standing still, let alone crossed.
I found the shallowest section, rolled up my rain pants and waded
through knee deep water. It was freezing. And while I was shivering
and putting my boots back on, it started to snow to prove I wasn't
imaging how chilly it was.
after all that trouble we came to another big stream without a
bridge, and another, and another. We rechecked the route guides
and one of them mentioned numerous crossings. I continued to try
to find the driest way across, but as some point made another
big splash. After what seemed like hours and hours we came to
a big river crossing. At this stage my boots were pretty soaked,
but John's were still relatively dry. It was also pouring with
rain with the occasional bit of hail thrown in for fun. We knew
there was a high water route to avoid crossing the knee high
Karamea, but could not find any signs. After our experience at
Chime Creek, with missing the sign, we spent a bit of time looking
around. We finally gave up and decided to cross. I just waded
in, keeping behind the large rocks, so the rushing river wouldn't
wash me away, and managed to get across with water up to mid thigh.
John took a slightly higher route and stayed out of the water
most of the way, but ended up with his boots under water at some
point. Not too much farther we found the high water route. We
had not actually crossed the Karamea yet - that thigh deep thing
was just a little side stream. I looked at the river which while
not low wasn't moving that fast and didn't look that deep. The
track description that said the high water route added 20 minutes,
so I suggested just fording the river, since our boots were soaked
at this point, but John said we'd have to do it twice, and seemed
to prefer the high water route, so we started the scramble.
I'm not sure the folks who marked the high water route had actually
done it in high water, because there were 5 raging torrents to
cross, so it was certainly not drier than crossing the river!
It also had several slips with wires to hang onto for safety,
and other places where it just took guts and willpower. I did
lots of hanging onto roots, rocks and trees, and pulling myself
up and over stuff or letting myself down big drop-offs. This was
not what I needed at the end of a long day. But we finally came
off this part of the track and were back on the main route. Due
to all the shoe changes and hunting for good ways across the stream,
our 4 hour hike had taken much longer, and daylight was fading
fast. But just as I was really starting to worry, John spotted
the three wire bridge across Waters Creek, which
led to the hut. OK, at least there was a bridge, but this
was the scariest thing I've ever tried to cross. A few years ago,
we realised why I could handle some high speed descents
on the tandem with no problems and others totally freaked me out.
It's exposure, not the speed or even height. I can handle
a swing bridge 100 metres up, but this thing has no sides, and
I had to look down to wedge my boot on that thin little wire.
John had no trouble getting across, so I made him come back for
my pack. I started across and got to the second set of braces,
and backed up. I looked at the river below and tried to figure
a way across, but I couldn't. So I tried again. I tried to avoid
looking down and reign in my fear, but this was absolutely nerve-wracking.
I finally got across and there was our hut a few hundred metres
away. And ... there was smoke coming from the chimney!
got in just as it was getting quite dark. We were soaked. It had
been pouring for hours and we had walked through so many streams.
My gloves were soaked from grabbing roots and trees and rocks
as we scrambled over the high water track. We changed into dry
clothes as quickly as we could, and hung our wet stuff up where
we could. Our cabin mate was Kate Brown - apparently a relative
of the unsinkable Molly Brown. You have to be pretty tough to
hike a track like this on your own!
We actually were expecting to meet her at some point.
When talking with the shuttle folks in Karamea they'd told us
she had started from Karamea on Monday, so we would cross paths.
We shared experiences of our day and what to expect on the next
leg. I suggested not bothering with the high water section, and
she told us we'd have to walk across a waterfall. We had a pleasant
evening chatting away and listening to the rain and hail fall
throughout the night. The next morning when we woke, it was still
pouring and the river was much closer than it had been the night
before, and it was roaring by. The high water track would be essential!
My right knee was a bit stiffer than the night before.
This happened last summer when we hiked, but it had taken much
longer to get so sore. I was a bit worried about how much hard
stuff we had ahead of us with a sore knee. I was also freezing.
While Kate had done a great job building and stoking the fire,
it just never got warm in the hut and none of our stuff had dried.
So I waited as long as possible and put my wet gear back on. I
had to keep my dry stuff for the huts and walk in the wet stuff.
I would warm up once moving, but at this stage, I needed to get
moving. John helped collect and chop fire wood, and I started
slowly heading up the track. In thinking about it, it was probably
not a smart idea to go out alone. I came to quite a deep stream
crossing, but I just walked through, keeping behind the big rocks
to avoid being caught by current. My knee was loosening up a bit,
and since I was no longer wasting time trying to keep dry, progress
seemed good. But then I came to a 30 metre wide raging torrent.
I could not see anyway across, and going up didn't seem very possible
either. It looked quite easy to get swept away in the current
while crossing. At this point, I realised how stupid it was to
be out here alone, so I started back to meet up with John, and
to keep warm.
met up shortly after he had crossed the first big stream and I
told him I'd come to one that I just couldn't get across. I turned
around again, and we headed back to check it out together. It
was still hammering down with rain, but since we were together
again, I was feeling better. We got back to my turn around point
and spent a little time trying to find a way across. We talked
about our options and finally decided that even if we got across
this one, the next one could be worse, and then what about the
one after that and all the others after that. We talked about
our food supply - we had packed a couple of extra meals, and the
track description which basically said the remainder of the route
was harder with many more creek crossings - which today would
be more like raging river crossings. We decided to head back for
shelter and wait it out. We got back to Helicopter flat, started
the fire, got into dry clothes and made soup to warm back up.
I crawled into my sleeping bag and read an entire National Geographic.
The rain continued to hammer down, with those occasional bursts
of hail. John chopped more wood to keep warm - not that the fire
was doing much but the chopping generated heat for him. We quickly
decided that we should just retreat and take the devil we knew
(what we had hiked in on) versus the one we didn't (what was described
at more difficult with lots of stream crossings). Of course then
I began to worry about how bad conditions would be going back
the way we came as well, since the river was getting closer and
closer to the hut. The raging torrents we had crossed the day
before would be even worse, and there was that bloody scary 3
Boredom and worry competed with each other for the
rest of the day. I had only brought along a National Geographic.
I hadn't planned on needing a days worth of reading material.
The fire did start to warm the area right around it (it would
be a stretch to say tit warmed the hut) after about 8 hours.
didn't sleep well that night. I had wide-awake nightmares about
that 3 wire bridge, and the rain hammered off the tin roof all
night. The next morning it was still coming down, but the river
hadn't actually risen much more overnight. But what did happen
was hail and snow had covered the ground. It was just a light
dusting, but if we were feeling chilly, there was a good reason.
We didn't rush out the door, but we knew we had a long day ahead
of us, and did try to get moving. We were cleaning up the hut,
and I cleaned the ashes out of the stove to carry out to the ash
can. As I was walking out, my back suddenly seized up and I doubled
over in pain. I managed to get back to the hut, but I was in agony.
I've never had such a sudden rush of pain before. I stretched
for a while, but then I really wasn't sure how we were going to
get out of this, especially how I'd make it across the wire if
the spasm came back. Amazingly the weight of the pack seemed to
help. And then it stopped raining. We headed over toward the 3
wire and I saw the ford. It looked knee deep - which was amazingly
low given all the rain for the last 40 or so hours. I looked at
John and announced my intentions to ford the stream rather than
take the wire. He was dubious, but I had a lot more confidence
in my ability to fight the current than my fight with gravity
and fear on that wire. It was knee deep for 2/3 of the way across,
and suddenly I found myself at mid thigh, and the current was
strong, but I stayed calm and managed to slowly get to the far
bank. John headed for the bridge. We were back together in a couple
of minutes. And amazingly I wasn't frozen solid, despite being
pretty wet. The sun actually won the battle with the clouds, and
my rainpaints actually dried pretty quickly - in between dunkings
in various streams.