December 19, 2016
km traveled today: 18
total TA km: 1556.5
We woke up this morning so thankful to be in the lodge at Makahika – it had started raining overnight and at dawn it was really coming down. Shortly after we woke up, the lights flickered and went out, as a tree had fallen on the lines right across the road from the office up the hill.
We had an eight o’clock appointment with John to go over some ideas for lengthening our stay in the mountains, and with his advice and some maps we headed off as the rain stopped at around 10. After 5 or so km of pine-forested gravel road walking and some farm walking we arrived at the edge of the forest where some DOC signs marked the split between the TA route and the Gable End track – we actually left the TA here because Sally said the track it uses is terrible and wet and goes pointlessly up and down, whereas the Gable End track is just a steep but straight shot up and relatively and conditionally dry.
Given the rain overnight we didn’t expect any real dryness and of course the trail led us through some sections where the the trail had completely flooded and actually become the stream bed for some rushing floodwater.
We walked flatish through the jungle for about four km and ate lunch overlooking an amazing river valley as the sun began to make itself known, and right after lunch started our climb of the day: from about 100 meters on the valley floor, straight up to 690 meters over about two km of walking, up a ridge. After that peak we lost some altitude but climbed up again, eventually getting up to a series of exposed peaks leading to Richards Knob at 985 m, which took us about three hours from the base of the climb.
By that time it was late afternoon and the weather was turning slightly, not raining but enshrouding us in cold misty cloud, so in a way we welcomed the next three km, which dipped down dramatically into the trees to a saddle at 600m and back up to Te Matawai at 900m. The last kilometer, although a grueling end of the day dismally cloudy climb, was through beautiful alpine thinning forest, and the hut is perched where there would be great views of the surrounding peaks (and will be tomorrow morning when it is supposed to clear up: a good thing because tomorrow we’ll be very exposed above the treeline, first thing in the morning and then later afternoon approaching Nichols Hut).
Getting in after a full afternoon, at five thirty, we were excited for the warmth of the hut- there were two guys already here who had started a fire, one Polish thru-hiker named Pavel and a Kiwi named Warren who isn’t hiking the TA, just tramping around in the mountains.
We ate some cheesy couscous and played a bunch of hearts around the table and are heading to bed now, exhausted after a pretty taxing day. Excited for tomorrow.