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Published: December 9th 2014
Powell hut - Mt Holdsworth summit not quite visible above.
So Monday dawned and I dragged my weary bones into the car to navigate the 2-hour drive to the road-end below Mt Holdsworth. Battling some Wellington-bound commuter traffic for the first half hour, then queuing up to get past the results of the guy who decided to start his week by plowing his truck into a concrete electricity post, dropping the post and the lines skillfully across the road. Eventually managed to start heading in the right direction (i.e. away from Wellington) and made it to Featherston to stop for a decent coffee and a spot of light breakfast (at the Everest cafe...).
Then onwards to the road-end, final re-packing of the pack, some cunning hiding of important things in places within the car where a thief might not think to look beyond the obvious bag of clothing (yup, yet another hire car without a secure "boot"), and then it's off up the track. My planned route would take me to Powell Hut (4hrs), onward to the summit of Mt Holdsworth (1470m, another hour on), then along the ridge (another 3 hours) and down to Jumbo hut overnight, then back out in the morning (3-4 hours). So I begin working
Approaching Mt Holdsworth summit
my way steadily up the rising, attractively wooded path. It's warm. I'm a lot warmer. It's hard to tell, but I think the amount of sweat pouring off me as I hike is substantially more than "normal". Two hours in I'm beginning to feel a bit weak. The doctor's words are beginning to niggle. The mountain is wonderfully free of human infestation today but I do pass the hut warden who is on her day off but has decided to bring her mum out for a hike - not the first time I've met a hut warden on the trail on their day off. She mentions Jumbo is having a new toilet (long-drop) fitted so I may even get to christen it. Another hour in and I'm thinking I may not make this. But I have already had a sight of the beautifully sited Powell Hut above so I decide I will at least get that far and decide there.
The one gust of cold wind caught me at the exposed rocky lookout and immediately led to a chill in the chest and coughing fit. Not good. Struggle on to the hut, dump the bag and decide some lunch
View from Jumbo hut
might help. I'm sitting in the hut when a young man appears with a very impressive bow and quiver strapped to his back. He's Ron - a semi-pro cyclist who is working his way back to fitness following a broken leg, a resulting blood infection, and three chest infections. He's taking it easy before he starts competing again so he's just run up the other side of this circuit in 2 hours, across the ridge and down to here in another hour. The bow and arrows are in case he comes across the wilding goats that are supposed to be hanging out up here (no sign of them today). Ron reports visibility of no better than 3 metres or so up on the ridge and thus some rather tricky route-finding.
I decide I should at least make the summit and then I can double back from there and find a motel for the night if I don't fancy a night in a hut (temperatures forecast at -4C before dawn). Getting going after lunch isn't as hard as I thought it would be and I'm soon approaching the summit. By the time I reach the misty summit, the clouds are
Friendly chopper (sorry - video too big too upload).
clearing and so is my mind. I feel healthier. My chest doesn't ache, I can breathe ok, and the visibility along the ridge seems patchy but ok. So I make my way along the ridge - it takes me a couple of hours to make it to Jumbo hut. It's been a 6-hour day on the trail but I don't feel too bad. If anything, I feel better than I did this morning. Maybe I've sweated something out.
Just as I'm beginning to think (hope) I'll have the hut to myself tonight, an American from Wellington turns up, then four DOC workers are dropped by a chopper that very nearly slices the hut in half (the edges of the rotating blades were no more than two feet from the hut, which is impressive even by laid-back-kiwi-chopper-pilot standards), and four kids turn up with a gun (been out hunting deer). Lots of good hut chat and story exchanging ensues. I'm in my sleeping bag quite early and soon asleep. I wake a couple of times in the night but have the best night's sleep I've ever had in a hut. By 6am, I'm up and enjoying the expansive views down
The valley below (on the way out)
to the valley far below as the morning cloud lifts languidly.
Now, I'm about to share too much information about what happened next, so skip this paragraph if you're not that interested in (or can't stomach) what my body decided to do next. A morning movement was required so I made my way to the aging long-drop toilet (the new ones haven't been finished yet, thus why the DOC guys are here). The boring, functional bits you don't want to know about but as I leant forward, my sinuses finally decided it was time to release whatever they held. Another new sinus experience for me. The flow of liquid was really quite impressive. I now think I need to do some research into how much fluid it's possible for a human sinus to hold. Anyway, whatever the volumes, this was definitely a case of better out than in. A massive relief. That happened twice more throughout the day so I'm assuming there simply can' be anything else left up there now.
Right, that paragraph out the way, I can move on. Great (but hot & tiring) hike down (1hr) through steep, root-ridden woods to a cold river whose waters simply had to be liberally sloshed over a hot head and back. Then another couple of hours out to the road-end and the same river is handily close to allow for a bit of soaking of overheated feet. Sitting on a rock, my feet bathing in icy water, leaves dancing through the breeze, falling to the glistening surface to be carried away. Birds singing, sun shining, leg muscles singing, mind soaring. Such a great feeling to be out in the New Zealand hills again.
Drive to Wellington airport, visit Moa Point (no penguins to be seen but no surprise as it's the middle of the day), drop off the hire car, check in to flight to Nelson. Clouds drop away and clear skies open up as we fly across the sound towards South Island. We land in warm sunshine and I haven't noticed my sinuses once. Pick up another hire car, drive across to Mapua and eventually find the wee cottage that is my base for the next two nights. In fact, I found the cottage easily enough, it was the owner that was harder to locate - turns out he'd forgotten I was coming. But that was easy to correct and now I'm installed in beautiful Quail Cottage, the Tuis singing and frolicking a few feet from where I type.
The wanderer feels like himself in New Zealand again and it feels wonderful to be back on South Island. Just don't tell the doctor.
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