Mt Tamahunga to Not the Dome Summit
15 Trail K
It is a bit of a business to get out of camp this morning. No one’s tent was all that flat, and the condensation on the summit soaked everything as though it had rained all night. There’s a lot of pep talking each other. Ellie finally leaves camp at 9:00, and Prana and I are behind her at 9:30.
What a glorious trail tread! The going is so pleasant. The trail is wide, and yes muddy, but not for oppressively long sections. The steps formed by the tree roots are brutally steep going down, but they are broken up by long flat stretches where the going is easy. The orange triangles are so frequent we can be mindless about watching for them, they just lead us reassuringly along. The only thing is the spiderwebs- they must be industrious spiders if they already built them so thick across the trail after Ellie has passed.
We start to see little signs identifying trees, placed in front of the specimens they are naming, describing the distinguishing attributes, and then a series walking us in precise and explicit detail on the introduction, history, reproductive patterns, and attempts to control the population of, stoats. It’s fascinating. We reach the bottom of the hill much sooner than I expected from the trail notes description, and I was surprised that the weather station marked on the map hadn’t been more obvious.
Prana finds a stack of new signs to be placed on the trail, and sorts through them, taking a picture of each one. I idly flick on our GPS map, even though the orange triangles keep marching confidently away in front of me. It seems to not be working. It shows us off the trail, and we are obviously standing on it.
Or at least, we are standing on a trail.
And it is not the TA.
I hit refresh again and again on the GPS, thinking something must not be registering correctly, that the floating blue arrow hovering over the topo map must be somehow stuck. But it stays exactly where it is, at the very absolute bottom of Mt Tamahunga, on the absolute wrong flank.
I quickly check the TA website, paw through the to-be-installed-signs again, even run a translation of the Mauri words on the green sign in front of me (which unhelpfully decode as ‘Department of Conservation’) all in hopes of having serendipitously stumbled onto a detour we weren’t aware we’d have to take. No luck. Orange triangles or no, this is not the TA, no matter how much we wish it. All the clues, the incongruences, the spiderwebs, line up to a perfect focal point. We accept the truth.
The most excellent thing about coming down this wrong fork, the redeeming detail, the concession of the trail, is the huge beautiful sign at the trailhead displaying both English and Maori names for many of the birds we’ve been seeing and hearing. The exquisite little Fantail, or Piwakawaka. The Silvereye, with its expression of surprise and its lime green back, or Tauhou. An owl we had briefly met face to face, the Morepork owl, or Ruru. And, at last, the Grey Warbler: Riroriro.
We check the GPS map one more time. The only possible divergent we could have taken was basically at the top. Almost the absolute top.
We turn around.
We start climbing back uphill.
We are now learning about the trees again, their identifiers, their uses. The stoats’ breeding habits. Deja review. About a third of the way up we see Parker and Bro hauling tail down the muddy chutes. We call up to them, “wait! Save yourselves any more steps!” “You’re joking,” they accuse us, but as we struggle mightily back up towards them, it dawns on them that we are not. “Nooo!!” We all struggle mightily back upward together.
An hour and change later, back on the trail, we see the offending sign. We all recognize it. We all saw it. It’s placed in such a way it blocks the way forward on the TA, and the picture of the TA is next to the arrow we followed, but the print saying ‘Te Araroa’, is next to the arrow pointing behind the sign.
Now the real progress, and real climbing, can begin. 2 hours later, we see the road, and Ellie sitting on the stile waiting for us. “I was wondering what took you so long!” she said. She also had a bit of an adventure, with a slip off the trail, and some newly tailored trousers. A rough morning for all.
A rough morning turns into a rough day. When we are on the trail, it is muddy. When we are on the road, it is steep. Our target water source is thick with dissolved clay, and hard to collect from.
Just one of those days.
A common excerpt from the trail:
We climb and descend, climb and descend. The cloudy sky makes it seem later than it actually is. At 7:00, still one full valley and peak short of our goal for the night, we call it enough. We have no idea how far everyone is strung out behind us (turns out not far) but we wish no one to be relegated to slopping through slippery clay-mud by headlamp. We hope we can just fit all the tents in to a small grassy area we found, if Prana and I go a few minutes back down the trail with our tent. We wedge it in, shim the downhill sides of our sleeping pads with the hiking clothes too filthy to use as a pillow, and call the day finished.