February 23, 2017
km traveled today: 24
total TA km: 2549
Day 112: Top Timaru Hut to Pakituhi Hut
Jack and I woke up in the hut as its other inhabitants stirred too, around 6:30 or 7:00, to the colorless sunrise that precedes a morning cold and still. Jasper and Shep were outside tenting so were colder still than we, and wet with dew. We got out by 8 and set off down and up the bulldozer track that took us to the hut yesterday, following it far up on the river’s left valley wall, gradually down through open sloping tussock land. Within a half hour though, the road ended on a thin ridge high above the river at the treeline.
There was a fork and some signage, indicating a track up to nearby Mt. Prospect. We descended down this ridge in the forest away from the wide open valley before coming to a smaller stream at the bottom of a smaller steeper valley, and from here followed this tributary down as it fed into the Timaru river, leading us back into the main valley the hut was in.
Over the course of a couple hours we crossed back and forth across the river and sometimes rose above it, mostly on the left, to avoid particularly cliffy parts of the bank. The track itself was pure North Island – a real ankle-breaker, a skinny track on the super steep valley wall high above the river, slippery and steeply charging up and down to and from side streams, and there was even some mud to be slopped through in places.
The forest, though, was South Island alpine beech, beautiful and open and with a smell and breeze much like the Pacific Northwest of America. Eventually we reached the junction with the Breast Hill Track, eleven km down the valley, after a million crossings and so many probably necessary but tedious ascents and descents, in only 3.5 hours of the 5-6 hour estimate in the notes.
At this point it was 11:30 and getting quite warm, and we thought we could get to the top of the next super steep climb for 2.2 km to Stody’s Hut for lunch. The climb itself total 1.5 km, from 600 to 1100 meters, and it was absolutely brutal, sheer and unrelenting.
A couple times we broke out of the thinning forest into a view looking backwards away from the slope, and at every viewpoint we were noticeably higher, which was exciting, seeing further and further mountains; eventually Mt. Aspiring poked its pointy head out onto the horizon. It was cool and entertaining to watch the forest change as we rocketed up through mid to high altitude zones. The treeline was right at the finish if the climb, very abruptly, and the track immediately cut across tussock right above the trees, sidling for .7 km until the hut where it dropped back into the trees.
Despite being marked on the map, the stream right next to the hut was hilariously small, and had to have a long metal spout/trough stuck into its bed to provide a constant bottle-fillable flow. We ate lunch for an hour and a half in the luxurious shade and gentle sun for a change, filtering through the small beech leaves. The hut had a dirt floor and looked pretty squalid, but I can imagine it is welcome shooter when needed. After our long lunch we were ready to take on our afternoon of more climbing for 11 more km to Pakituhi Hut. It was so hot right from the start, on 4wd track which was nice and graded but so steadily up in the blazing strong sun. We wound our way up to a ridgeline where it got a little less steep, and continued winding our way between slightly higher 1400-1500 meter rises for four or so km. From far off we could see the gently rising Breast Hill itself (with steep cliffs on the opposite side).
The track was through tussock and pretty recently used grazing field, judging by the modern looking fenceline and recent looking sheep manure.
We eventually got to a pretty sizable dip with a tarn off to the side of the track and then the final terrible climb to the top of Breast Hill, where we were rewarded with a sudden expansive view over the lake (Ohau) and town (Ohau Village) with Wanaka and its lake in the distance and steep brown mountains between the two lakes. From the summit we watched a hang glider zoom around and do tricks, looking very graceful and adept at his or her craft. The super clear day was a double-edged sword as it was so stiflingly hot that we all almost passed out on the climb up, but we could see forever.
The final descent to the hut was undulating, off of the 4wd track and above and along the slanted rock formations that caused the gradual eastern slopes of these hills and the steep western cliffs. We first saw the hut from 2 km away and a couple hundred meters above it, and soon descended down its side trail to find a lovely modern 8-bunk beauty, and with room for three of us and one on the floor! There was lenty of water in the tanks and plenty of shade on the huge front porch – such a nice end to a taxing day. It seems we are really turning up the heat again after a pretty chill month or so. We got in at 5 and chatted with some other soboers, Georgina from the UK (“Geors” for short which with a British accent sounds like “Jaws”) and Frances from NZ. After snacking on some dry ramen packets we made an elaborate curry with carrot, onion, milk powder, tuna packet, tomato paste, double curry paste and spices, which was definitely the most complex curry yet, over cous cous. We got some gratifying compliments on the smell which felt great after for most of the trip people being concerned about the basicness of our dinners. We ate outside on the deck in the cooking ate afternoon with our stuff drying in the weakening sun. All in all it’s a lateish night, winding down at 9:30-10, preparing for a long day again tomorrow to Wanaka: 36 km, flat for the most part but with thus intense descent right off the bat. Excited to get to town but probably going to be another late one!