Sunday, October 08, 2006

Snow today, gone tomorrow

Last weekend G and I went camping with our friends C and B, and their tenant’s dog Lily. We’ve been trying to arrange a trip together for almost a year it seems. All of last summer (after Christmas) my foot was injured so I couldn’t carry a backpack, and then scheduling conflicts kept us from getting out during the fall. But with the coming of spring we finally got our acts together.

We went on a pretty easy trip up in the Tararua mountains, to a place called Powell Hut. It’s a popular route because it’s relatively simple and well maintained, particularly compared to some of the other tracks through the Tararuas. (My previous post “At least it can’t get any worse…” illustrates the usual state of affairs in the area.) Even the name of the trail leading up the first half of the climb, the Gentle Annie Track, sounds leisurely.

Of course any time you slog uphill for 3 ½ hours it’s a bit of a chore, but the first half was indeed very well maintained, graded track. The second half was a bit more rugged, and as we got higher we started to see some remains of the winter’s snow. In fact, the ground was pretty much covered in snow as we got close to the hut, which was a bit surprising this late in the year.

The wind got cold and gusty as we neared the top, and a few times I had to plant my hiking poles in the ground and bend low to keep from being blown over! We were considering taking the long way down the next day, including three hours walking along the top ridge, but if this wind was any indication of how things would be along that ridge I didn’t stand much of a chance of staying on my feet. With no trees to block the wind, I’d be a human kite before long!

When we arrived, the hut was packed. There were over 30 people spending the night. (I did mention that this was a popular route, right?) Luckily C and B had saved us bunks. While we spent an enjoyable evening in the hut chatting with other campers, the wind outside howled and rain came and went several times.

The next morning, as if on cue, the wind died off. We decided to play it safe and go down a more direct route that didn’t involved hiking along the ridge. But as we left the hut, the sun broke through and we almost regretted our decision. It’s not often you get clear skies along the ridge, and no wind to blow you off. Still, it’s early in the season, and an 6-8 hour hike out sounded like an awful lot of work!

As we started to descend from the hut, I noticed immediately that things looked different. All of the previous day’s snow had been washed away by the rain. I felt so fortunate to have been able to hike up in the snow, when it was the last day of the year where that would have been possible! The higher peaks certain still have some snow on top, but as spring progresses it will disappear quickly.

It’s strange for me, since I grew up in a place where snow surrounded me all winter, to be living somewhere with no snow except in the mountains. Some of the guys at the hut were obviously finding it a novelty, staying outside in the bitter wind to have a snowball fight while the rest of us huddled inside. As for me, I kind of miss snow. Growing up in Canada, it’s part of my identity. I wasn’t in any hurry to join the snowball fight outside, but it was kind of nice to get a small taste of winter as I define it. (Even though it’s spring, and we could sure do with some warm, sunny days!)

Anyway, we hiked out on a beautiful, sunny day. It was an altogether enjoyable weekend, and I can safely say that I’m continuing to enjoy backpacking despite my rough start to the season. Our next adventure will be a long weekend of kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds. Stay tuned for that in a couple of weeks!