Nichols Hut to Waitewaewae Hut
We wake up nice and late on the Nichols Hut and make lots of coffee. The clouds have rolled back in, obscuring everything except what’s directly around us. I still am incredulous at our luck with the weather and views yesterday. We leave very late, after 8:00, but it’s worth every lingering moment. We have one major climb, to the highest point in this section, then a grueling downhill all the way to the next hut, where we will have lunch. The trail is marvelous for the entire time we are on Mt Crawford; above tree line, occasional skylights in the clouds, and narrow.
It takes surprisingly little time to make it to the summit, and the sky clears on the descent of the far side. The trail is spectacular, a vision balanced on the steep spine of the ridge. I can see how it would be anywhere from unsettling to terrifying with 60 mile an hour winds.
There are plenty of little ups and downs before dropping into the forest for the final time. The clouds have rolled back in, and the trees look like an army of stuffed animals with arms outheld for hugs. The roots weave into an ornate, if somewhat sinister, staircase.
We descend and descend, half hiking, half sliding. Most of the time we stay in control, but I’m surprised there are no injuries. Down, down, down. Just when I am trying to guess whether my knees will give out first or if my ankles will, I hear the river below. Around the next corner Prana and Bro are taking a break, waiting for me. We all agree to still make it to the hut for lunch. The downward hurtle finally lessens, then disappears. Flat land! Well, New Zealand flat.
We cross the spiciest suspension bridge yet; only one person at a time allowed. Each bounce creates a mini-movie-mental-vision of it snapping. The river below is beautiful, though; deep crystal clear pools, no eels I can see. It would probably feel good to get dumped in.
We practically run on the riverside track, relishing the feeling of stretching our legs. The trail takes us straight to the porch of the Waitewaewae Hut, possibly the best one yet. It’s painted a mint green with a gorgeous covered porch.
We set a leave time of 2:00pm, devour lunch, then try to work on planning for the South Island. It’s a headache trying to juggle all the notes on our phone screens, and impossible to predict how fast we will want to go in each section or when we will want to take days off. 2:00 ticks towards us, and frustrated and now out of our momentum, we decide to stay at the hut and keep working on plans. This decision instantly feels right, and we change out of our putrid hiking clothes. We find a Van Go in the sign in book that perfectly describes the last descent.
We have a few cookies, make some more planning progress, and Jo arrives. We chat a bit, then our curiosity turns to the river. Washing our legs and hands would feel good. Prana heads down first, and I hear a big splash. When I reach the bank, he’s standing on a rock and dripping next to one of the best swimming holes I have ever seen. It’s ringed on the deep edge by smooth clean rock ledges, at least 15 feet deep, and crystal clear. I could read a book that was laying open on the bottom. Prana runs up to get a towel. “I told the others to wait a few minutes because there was going to be skinny dipping down here,” he grins. Usually I’m reluctant to go for the full skinny, but since the others are warned, and the water is clear enough to prove there are no lurking creatures waiting to attack, we both strip and jump in. It’s cold, but not numbing; just as refreshing as I could possibly imagine. It’s absolutely perfect. I could live at this hut and this swimming hole.
We towel off, dress, and return to the hut. I do some journaling, then break out the hula hoop. Hula hoop!!! God I love hooping. I don’t know why I don’t take the time to this more evenings. Actually I do know why- there are too many chores and then it’s time to sleep. But next time I have a mini internal freak out about cutting a hiking day unexpectedly short, I should remember this awesome moment.
We cook dinner, then start taking bets when Super Mario and Princess Peach will arrive. At 6:10, we see an orange pack cover begin to materialize through the trees. “Yeeeaaaaahhhhh!!!! Woooowoowoo!” We cheer them in. They look whipped, and happy. “Before you do anything else, take off your backpack, and go down to the river. Trust us.” They look skeptical, or what skeptical might look like if it made it through the general expression of fatigue, but they trust. I press a Snickers bars into each of their hands- it’s no shower beer, but a swimming hole Snickers is as close as it gets out here. We hear great whoops of chilly shock and delight echo up from the water.
We trade stories of our time apart over dinner (Prana and I cook a second of potatoes since there is so much food in our packs.) Mario and Peach are down 2 out of their 3 trekking poles after some epic falls. They had an awesome camping spot next to the Draco Hut the night before. They came upon a German woman who had fallen right after we met and passed her, but she seemed capable of continuing on this morning. Peach has got the salt rash too. Even though it was only one day spent apart, it’s so exciting to be together again.
The crosswords come out, and I try to catch up on journaling- I don’t understand how I always fall behind. A rat scurries past the open door, and I think ‘hi little guy. I don’t want you to come in, but I promise I won’t maul you if you do.’
Eventually it gets dark, and we fall asleep to the cozy sound of rain pinging on the roof.