Old Tropical Air

It is very rare that I talk to myself so I ‘m genuinely surprised when I loudly yell “Shut up!”. Theres a quiet after the omission that is followed by Jack’s calming voice. “Just put one foot in front of the other babe”. “I’m trying” I reply. With a little pep talk I climb up to the next rock. But then I freeze on it with fear. “Come the fuck on”. Again I’m talking to myself but it works. I slowly move my hand and then my foot crawling over the narrow ridge line of rock. I hang precariously over a gully before scuttling over to safety. We are up high in Tararua country. I love this place but my healthy respect, nah lets be honest, fear of the mountains is becoming inhibiting. Theres a little voice in my head that goes something like this. ‘Your gonna die on this mountain’ or ‘your gonna fall off this mountain and no one will ever find you’. Awesomely positive eh? But I keep trying. Little by little telling the voices to politely “Shut up!”.

Precarious climbing on Middle King

If I’m so scared what are we doing up here anyway? Well, this one has been on the bucket list for years. I had seen pictures of Tarn Ridge Hut all over the place. More recently pictures of the huts predecessors in Shelter from the Storm – The story of New Zealand Backcountry Huts. It was the view that got me, sold! So yeah it was my idea, like most of our trips Jack comes along for the ride. When we do get to Tarn Ridge Hut we almost walk past it. Having spent nearly 7 hours getting here over Mitre, Peggy and Brockett peaks a high cloud has been around all day. No views, not even a little bit.  The weather descriptor was ‘old tropical air’. I didn’t know what that meant until we were walking in it , through the thick clouds, sweating buckets, our merino has become embedded with the sour tart stench of hard work and B.O. Jack sees the ‘hut’ sign first, helpfully its parked right on the trail. “Oh its there!” They point to the right. I look to wards their direction. Well, shit, this is not the view I imagined. “I’m glad it has a red roof!”.

Barely visible in the cloud we make our way down to the hut. I strip off my shirt immediately. I can’t say I’ve been at 1,500 meters and felt hot especially not in the Tararuas. “Climate change is real” I gripe. “Oh my god!” Jack calls out from the hut. “What?”. “Theres beer!”. Now this gets my attention. I scramble into the hut. Some angel has left 3 cans of Garage Project Hapi Daze. Hapi Daze indeed. There didn’t need to be a view. Sitting on the hut deck surrounded by cloud Jack and I nurse the room temperature beer savouring every last drop. Once we try the water tank we realise what might have prompted the beer gifting. It dribbles out painfully slow. “Is it dry?” I pull the tap out completely and the dribble turns to a trickle. “Hmm”. I go through the intentions book and notice about 20 comments regarding the water tank. ‘Tap leaking’ is the most common followed by ‘filled a few bottles for the next guys’. We repay the favour and it takes an hour to get 3 litres. This certainly puts the wind up us along with the weather. We had planned to stay 2 nights at Tarn checking out Dorset Ridge Hut but we opt for 1 night instead. We may have a view tomorrow and with some gentle breezes among the old tropical air we decide to hit the 1500’s.

Spot the hut?

I try to calm myself heading back over the precarious ridge to Girdlestone. I manage to hold it together just in time to get our first view. The cloud below us clears some and through a gapping hole of cloud over the ranges below us Jack spots a “hut!”. Then I see it. We look on our map. At first we think its Te Matawai but then realise its probably Carkeek hut. Once at Girdlestone we have a lot of trouble navigating the spurs for all the cloud. We descend the wrong spurs twice before backtracking to Girdlestone. A map and GPS is no help with all the cloud and multiple spurs and  we rapidly loose confidence. “Maybe we should just back track over Mitre again” I suggest but we perceiver hanging around on Girdlestone for another 10 minutes . Come on just clear I think. We need to see it to believe it. It finally comes and when we are on the right spur it is obvious. It’s the first tramping Jack and I have done solely reliant on maps and GPS. It’s a big deal for us to be out here. I remember chastising the Te Araroa for lack of signage and trail markings and I realise now  how dam spoilt we were. There isn’t even a cairn out here to help. It takes us another hour to get to Adkin and thats when the cloud lifts and shows us the line. Its all there, laid out. Three kings, broken axe pinnacles and the big finish, McGregor. We stare into the distance “Well shit”.

Descending of McGregor

Middle king has me frozen on a rock again. I decide yelling at myself is probably not gonna help this time so instead I politely encourage myself in my head. Come on you can do it. Just move your hand. That ledge,  yes, then that ledge. So far so good and the clouds are opening up some to give us a view. All that tooling around on Girdlestone though has put us behind. While the plan was Jumbo Hut we get lost in the tussock and speargrass on the last ascent to McGregor and after both being stabbed several times by speargrass we descend the mountain and call it.

We had seen McGregor bivvy, blaze orange with a cute little tarn on the spur beneath us and it was so inviting. But it’s strangely difficult making ourselves descent 60 odd meters knowing that we have to walk back up it the next day but it was 5:30pm and it had been called. I know better than to push Jack when they say “I’m tired”. After spending over 4 months together on Te Araroa I know that to push on after hearing these two words I’m in big trouble. But I was glad we decided to check out the bivvy because dam it was cute. Blaze orange from a distance makes for a  surprising deceptive size. I get to the edge and overlook the bivvy. “Its tiny! Aww. It’s so cute”. I open the door to the two person bivvy and it tugs at my heart strings. Two cans sit on one shelf, tomato soup and baked beans with two mouldy books on the other. The intentions book is falling apart a victim of the dam winters. The rain water tank is almost the same size as the hut but thankfully theres free flowing water in it. Home for the night.

McGregor Bivvy killing it with cuteness

Theres two miromiros hanging out on the laundry wire and I’m surprised when I see a long drop around the back. From the comments in the intentions book though the installation of it was necessary. One such walker even having the audacity to brag about the ‘big shit he took behind the hut’. Jeez some people need a clip round the ears. That night though as I’m cozying down on the floor I hear the distinct scuttle of mice in the walls. “Ahh shit”. I bang my palm on the walls. Theres quiet for an hour before they start up again. “Dam you mice” I pummel the walls again and wake up Jack. Have I mentioned I’m afraid of mice? Stupid fear I know but those little furry bastards are a nightmare. I knew I wasn’t going to get any sleep so at midnight we set up the tent out front. For our efforts we get to see the milky way illuminated by the impressive glow of a half moon. At the back by the long drop we could see moon hanging over the mountains. Silhouettes of peaks lined with pockets of wispy clouds.

After all of 4 hours sleep I’m woken up with the thunder of rota blades. I stick my head out just in time to see a dark  chopper fly over us towards the kings. “Woah what?” I say bleary eyed. I look at Jack who’s frantically looking around for their glasses to get a look. I remember its Sunday “I hope there haven’t been any  accidents this weekend”. We grumble out of the tent and start packing but after leaving all our gear in the bivvy I’m glad we set up the tent because there is mouse shit on almost everything. “Aww they shit in your breakfast bowl babe”. I show Jack. “Eww can you rinse it with some of the jetboil water?”. “Yeah, absolutely”. After decontaminating Jacks food bowl I fill up my camelback from the rain tank and go to take a drink. But a brown spot on the mouth piece catches my eye. “Argh! They shit right on my mouthpiece!”. After removal of the offending shit I dunk the mouth piece in boiled water and scrub at it aggressively with our pot cloth. The final step is a good slathering of hand sanitiser. Even then I’m reluctant to put the mouse shit receptacle in my mouth.

Tarn near Angle Knob

The sun is rising over the ridge and we try to beat to the ridge line huffing and puffing our way back up. The ridge is wide and breezy and after yesterdays efforts a welcome relief.  Tararua daises are everywhere, there soft wooly flowers and tough succulent roots sprouting from the rocks. At Angle knob we see a few walkers on the top probably bound for the RNZAF wreck on shingle slip knob. We already decided to save this for another trip. After lack of sleep and the sun heating up we are keen to get to Jumbo Hut for lunch and then a cruisy afternoon descent to Atiwhakatu Hut. We walk to Jumbo Hut in almost perfect weather, the old tropical air being replaced by dry heat and a moderate breeze. We are pleased to see the welcoming Jumbo Hut near the tree line. Brand new roof beams and tethers are everywhere, the recent work done to improve structural safety evident. It’s a sweet and popular hut and we nap on the cold sage green mattress briefly before eating lunch. We thankfully are in the trees for the rest of the day and get to Atiwhakatu Hut in an hour and half. In the heat of the day I’m gasping for a swim and I dump my pack and head to the river. Theres a small pool I lower myself into. It’s the first time river water hasn’t made me want to leap out with cold. I feel my body decompress in the water as I immerse myself over the river stones, relieved to be here and to be alive. We read for the rest of the day and say hi to all the weekenders that pass by us. Most don’t stop for long and weirdly no-one explores the hut. Its Sunday and we spend another night in a hut by ourselves. Thank fully the mice that do live here contain themselves to the kitchen.

Relief washing over me

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