Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Long Live the Tent!

I have something to confess. Although I wrote a whole book called "Sex in a Tent", I don't often spend the night in one these days. You see, the very convenient system of back-country huts in New Zealand makes it generally unnecessary to carry a tent around with you. And quite frankly, I'm in so-so shape and will take any shortcuts available to lighten my load.

However, last weekend we made an exception and took the tent out with us on what was meant to be a three-day weekend adventure. Our plans fell apart almost immediately, as we reached the trailhead, parked the car, and were totally unable to find the track we were planning to follow.

Two other tracks were clearly marked from the trailhead, but the "Mt. Reeves Track", a delightful little dotted line on our topo map, was nowhere to be seen. Not even the bridge leading to the supposed track was in view. So we hastily came up with plan B.

Plan B involved following the track we had originally intended to take back out to the car two days later. This track let to Cone Hut, a charmingly rustic 1946 construction that sleeps six people and has a dirt floor and open fireplace.

But as I mentioned, this was the tent's big day. So we continued along the track down to the riverside where the remnants of campfires past marked the most popular places to pitch a tent. We claimed a spot near the river (but not too near, just in case) and set up the tent. In the process we were viciously attacked by sandflies. The only good thing I can say about sandflies is that they usually appear in smaller numbers than their Canadian equivalent, black flies. Still, I managed to get bitten 3 or 4 times before the tent was up.

Being a long weekend in Wellington, there were a lot of people hitting the trails. So the hut quickly filled, and more people decided to camp down by the river instead. So much for a quiet, private night. But it turned out to be a pretty mellow bunch, including four people sleeping under a large tarp, and a young guy with his own tent.

The next day we hiked up out of the valley to the saddle we'd come down from the day before. Up a tree I spotted some old signs indicating the various tracks criss-crossing there.

It was about 15 feet off the ground, however, which made it rather easy to miss. I can't be the only one to think so, since a newer set of signs has been installed much closer to the ground.

It was decision time for us. We had been thinking of heading down the opposite side of the saddle to the next river. Up the river about an hour (maybe two) was another good camping spot called Totara Flats. On the other hand, once we reached the river, it was also about two hours in other direction to get back to our car. The weather forecast for the next day had been less than ideal before we left. Should we cut our losses and hike out, or go for another night in the tent?

In the end laziness and the overwhelming desire for a shower took over. We hiked out, promising ourselves that if the weather wasn't too bad the next day, we'd go for a good, long day hike.

We woke to a hot, humid day, and followed through on our plans. We headed off to the Rimutakas, and took on the Mt. McKerrow loop, which follows one spur up to the mountain, then the main ridge down again, then a flat track back to the beginning. All in all, it's a challenging (especially on a hot, humid day) 5 1/2 hour hike with some steep sections, especially on the way down. But we did pretty well, and managed to finish just as the first sprinkles of rain started to fall. You only get a few, brief views from the top. But you do get to look across the harbour towards Wellington. The skies were clear enough that you can make out a bit of the South Island at the back.But for the most part, the ridges are covered in mossy trees and lots of ferns.

So that was our weekend. Perhaps not what we had intended to do, but we had a good time anyway. (Give or take a few itchy bites.)

No comments: