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Published: December 18th 2014
Last night, taking into account that there are likely to be about 30 hours available before some rather heavy rain arrives, the mind decided the wanderer was heading in to Fenella hut (4-5 hours), up Waingaro peak, overnight in the hut, then out tomorrow morning hoping to beat the worst of the arriving rain. So the long, long drive in to Cobb Dam begins. This road (Cobb Dam Rd) is rather infamous around here. It's variously described as one of "great fun", "an eye-opener", "ah, it's alright", "scary as hell", "the narrowest road in NZ", "sheer hell" etc etc. I'll hold off the hyperbole and just say that is starts narrow and sealed, the seal soon runs out to leave loose gravel and dirt, and the road continues to narrow until the point where some of the washouts leave just about enough room to nudge a car through between the rock face on the right and the drop on the left. All good fun really but very tiring. After the first hour of weaving up and down and around and wishing hard that no-one is coming the other way, you've kinda had enough. I eventually reach the "summit" ridge of the
road and a welcome pause on a flat piece of wide dirt road. I'm looking down at the dam and already re-thinking my plan.
Plan A (until last night when it became plan B) was to hike the two hours in to Sylvester hut, day-hike out to Mt Lockett and/or the Mt Iron Ridge, overnight in the hut and be out before the rain. The good things about this plan are that it cuts the remaining drive in half (down to the dam as opposed to down and along the entire length of it) and it cuts in the in and out hike times in half. Two hours in the morning is much more likely to allow a comfortable exit before the rain.
Now, if you've been following the wanderer for any length of time, you'll know he prefers longer walks. But, in this case, the wanderer is thinking more about the drive out. The thought of driving this road back out in heavy rain is not something that will make the wanderer enjoy the hike out in the morning.
So, excuses accepted, I head for Sylvester hut instead. Deposit the car under a tree and then
hike 1.5 hours up to the hut. The day is hot and the sun is harsh once I rise above the bushline. Soon at the hut, I exchange stories with the Scottish day-trekker who now lives in Nelson (in true Scot's style he got sick of paying for return tickets to visit his daughter in Wellington so he bought a single and is still here).
After a suitable pause to dry out, I head for the ridge above. As I reach the first false summit, Iron ridge soars away to my left, the Arthur Range behind it, the Seaward Kaikouras in the distance. All around are summits and clear skies. It's warm - very warm. I slowly and gingerly make my way up onto Iron ridge, gently navigating the rugged rockfaces down to Iron lake and back up to the ridge. Beautifully clear day but the sun in unforgiving and is making the wanderer slow. But up on the top of ridges is where the feet love to be, where the mind loves to dance, so it's not long before I reach the north end of the ridge and pause for a rest (I know, rest...).
this barren and desert-like rockscape, a human appears. Other than the Scot (who is probably already back at his car by this time), there has been no sign of any other human anywhere, not even in the far distance. This is a Frenchman who sent the ailing knee of his buddy round the lower route while he bush-whacked his way up here from Cobb hut in the valley far below. I can see the fatigue in his eyes but I also recognise the welcome sense of achievement. I point north, out to sea. "See that? In the far distance - out to sea?" He turns, gazes into the distance, pauses a moment for this eyes to adjust. He snaps his head back in disbelief: "Taranaki?" A big, beaming smile. One beams back. The perfect volcanic cone of Taranaki must lie more then 200 miles north of here on the west coast of North Island yet, to the human eye, it is clearly visible. It stands proudly out of nothing at all - soaring out of the sea like the mythical Fuji it portrays so well. I re-assure the Frenchman's weary legs that the hut is visible from only a few hundred yards along the ridge and we part, expecting to see each other back at the hut later.
Now the wanderer has the ridge to himself again. And it's not just one ridge. A ridge rides down and up again to Mt Benson. A sister ridge rides down and up again to Mt Lockett. Iron ridge lies behind me. I skip my way down to the decision saddle but decide against completing a summit of either Benson or Lockett, unsure that my weary legs and mind can handle more down and up to get the same views. In consolation, the body and I agree that we're going to avoid all the known routes down and instead scale the length of Iron ridge and make our own route down to the lakes when the ridge runs out.
Hours later, the body and I are still skipping rocks, questioning descents, skirting round sheer drops, grazing our palms, feeling the softness in our toes. But the mind is still. The tricky, treacherous ridge is like a welcome puzzle. More than half a dozen times it fools me right up to the edge of a dangerous drop. More than half a dozen times it teases me up a delicious scramble only to force me back down again.
Five hours later, I'm sitting below, the waters of Lake Sylvester lapping languidly at my feet. The ridge encircles the horizon. I sit for minutes, could be hours, I'm not sure and don't really care. It's a wonderful place to be. I'm exhausted, my skin is crisping under the hot sun, my legs are aching, I can feel every tendon playing a high-pitched tune. But all is well with the world. The hut is half an hour away behind me and sundown is still a couple of hours away. I could stay here.
But I don't of course. I eventually make my way back to the hut where the two Frenchmen - despite (because of?) their respective pain and fatigue - provide good company for the night.
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