Monday, June 04, 2007

Rugged, Rainy, Ruahines

The upside of rain is - rainbows!

Every time a long weekend comes along, G suggests we do a tramp in the Ruahines, a mountain range about half way up the North Island. But every time, we end up making other plans or going somewhere closer to home. Last weekend was the last long weekend we'll see until October, so we decided to bite the bullet and hit the Ruahines.

The problem with tramping there on a three-day weekend is that it takes four hours to drive there and four hours to drive back, which leaves you with not that much time for actually tramping. So we had to be quite conservative about how far we would travel on foot.

On day one we got to the trailhead around 1pm, had a bite of lunch, and got started on the way up to the most popular hut in the whole range - Sunrise Hut. Popular because the trail leading up there is wide, graded and switchbacked all the way up. So in three hours or less, just about anyone in reasonable shape can reach the hut and its spectacular views.

Of course, the weather can always slow you down a bit - and we got rather wet on our way up. It started as a pretty light drizzle, but about half an hour before the hut it turned into heavy, steady rain. It was my first real test of my new rain jacket, which did an admirable job. But my pants were totally soaked.

Luckily, the popular hut is something of a 5-star lodge compared to other huts. It has a gas heater inside, plus gas cookers. So once we changed into dry clothing, our moods were greatly improved. The hut filled up to its 20-person capacity, including 5 kids who were trying to play hide and seek but weren't very good at it. The only reason the game worked at all was that it got dark by 5:30, so it was hard to see anything to begin with!

The upside of tramping on one of the shortest days of the year is that you can get up to see the sunrise without actually getting out of bed too early. This picture was taken from the porch of the hut at about 7:20am. (In summer, the sunrise there happens around 5:45am!)
The gas heater had completely dried out all of our wet tramping clothes, so we were happy to put them back on for day two. But the weather was not on our side. More drizzle followed us away from the deluxe accommodations, over the saddle, and on towards our next destination.

The sun came out briefly, allowing me to go nuts with the camera, while G admired his beautifully-folded map (see last post).

The Ruahines are taller than the Tararuas, where we do most of our trips, and more rugged and steep. The track between Sunrise Hut and Top Maropea Hut (our next stop) couldn't have been more different than the previous day's. Exposed, covered with alpine scrub, steep and eventually muddy and slippery, this was not the beginner's route. One tramper had already sprained his ankle going for a day walk along this track, and was slowly limping his way back to Sunrise Hut. The rain returned along with - yes, a bit of wet snow. It was the first weekend of winter after all! So after a short but challenging walk, we arrived at Top Maropea Hut and decided to hunker down.
Top Maropea Hut is not often used, probably because it's so close to the much bigger and more comfortable Sunrise Hut. It also couldn't be more different from it's neighbour. It sleeps just four, and has an open fireplace which pretty much funnels any heat you create directly up and out of the chimney, rather than warming the hut itself. There is a long-drop for your toileting pleasure, but the roof has long since disappeared, making it rather unpleasant in the rain, and rather wet too! The ground in front of it has also eroded away so that even entering the outhouse requires some gymnastic abilities.

But it was our little hut for the night - with nobody else around. So we made dinner, lit a little fire with the driest wood we could find in the pile, and wore all of our dry clothes. Overnight, the temperature dropped to 1 degree Celsius, which made it the coldest night I've spend out (technically I was inside yes, but without any heat) and I was relieved to find that my sleeping bag is as warm as the makers claim. Being dressed head-to-toe in fleece doesn't hurt either!

By morning the wind had picked up a bit, and there was still some drizzle on and off. This time our tramping clothes were still cold and damp - and it was a self-imposed battle of wills to put them back on. There's nothing quite like a freezing, wet bra to wake you up!

We had to retrace our steps of the last two days back to the car and drive home. We started back up the steep, muddy track to the ridge. My hands got cold and wet, trying to pull myself up the bigger steps, and I had to put on my gloves on before cold hands became frostbitten hands. I then felt something I haven't experienced since my last winter in Canada - that intense pain you get when a cold hand (or foot) begins to rewarm. Man, that hurts!

The ridge showed evidence of the frosty night with ice scattered in small patches here and there, slowly melting. While it was a bit blustery making our way over the saddle, we got back to Sunrise Hut to be greeted by clearing skies. From there, the walk down was uneventful, although we passed about a dozen day hikers going up to the hut for lunch on this public holiday. Without heavy backpacks they weren't even breaking a sweat!

We got back to the car by around 12:30, tired but glad we had made the trip. With a long winter ahead, who knows when we'll be hitting the trails again. So it was good to end the season with something memorable.

Giving my rain jacket a workout on top of the Ruahines.


carry said...

Hi michelle, thats interesting to see where you guys went, on it must have been Queens birthday - renowned for being cold. The Ruahines are so wild, i really love it but I have to toughen up a bit more - not to mention get much fitter. Stunning photos of the sunrise. Hope the French in Paris werent too hard on G.

Sugar - The Girl Behind the Flash said...

What a fantastic sunrise! I can almost hear the silence. Looking forward to reading the Sex In a Tent book. Does it come with a hot man? You'd sell more... hahaha

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