1/23 Along The Pelorus

Tinline/ Pelorus Confluence To Beech Saddle

29 k

Awake at 5:00 this morning, both well rested, we have everything together and are hiking by 6:00. The temperature this morning is a delicacy after yesterday’s heat. Clouds rolled in last night, and they are tattered on the peaks we are walking towards.

There’s a tent in the backyard of the rundown house, and then two waving hikers. It takes me several seconds to recognize Claus and Giovanna from last night. They were the ones behind us on the road!

The road parallels the Pelorus River from up high, and looking down into it is mesmerizing. It is a clear green color, always so clear you can see straight to the bottom, even in the deepest spots, framed with sculpted pale gray and white rock.

We diverge from the road onto a track tread, which leads us gently along a contour before lowering us towards the river. The Pelorus not only takes the award for most beautiful water, but also for sketchiest-feeling bridges. Strictly one person at a time.

There’s a picnic table and a sign to Emerald Pool that promises it is only 2 minutes away. There is a swimming hole there that is actually a strongly circulating eddy; even though it is only 8 in the morning, we strip down and wade in. The water is so cold that it burns my skin. I sit up to my neck for as long as I can stand, which is not even one minute, then clamber out. The air is already hot enough that it feels good, like a towel straight from the dryer, and I plunge back in. After several dunks, we carry on.

The trail is lined with little side creeks rushing and tumbling in, and the hiking is pleasant and engaging. It alternates between being close down to the river and up in the forest with tantalizing views of what is to come.

We reach the first hut, Captains Creek, and the sandflies are as swarming thick as promised. It’s a testament to the entrenchment of the colony here, the fact that this is the first hut with screens. The hut is an oven, so we drop our packs and head down to the river for swim number two of the day. We had read to expect a great swimming hole, and there is indeed.

I take a great and perverse delight in emerging from the water, letting several dozen sandflies land, and then submerging again, as though I am the Titanic and they the hapless passengers. When I tire of the game, we hike on again. The river below us is spectacular. Is this river runnable? How hard is it? I have to find out. This is the most amazing river I have ever seen, and I want to explore it in a boat.

We cross on a swing bridge again, and hike the other bank for awhile, until we reach Middy Creek Hut. Another great swimhole, replete with sandfly plague, awaits us to break the heat of the day. “The Price of Paradise is Sandflies,” someone has wryly notes in the DOC logbook kept in the hut. Amen, brotha. The last text I had received from Mario and Peach had said they planned 9 days and started the 22nd, but the register reveals that they came through on the 21st…and didn’t stay at this hut. Huh. Maybe we won’t catch them in this section, but it will be fun to try a little and see if we do.

It’s a stiff climb from here to Rocks Hut, and while it never eases, it does not feel as steep as I anticipate from the map. We cross lovely sidestreams that tumble merrily across the trail as we climb and climb the infinite ladder of roots.

We finally gain the level of the mountain the Rocks Hut is perched on, and decide to cook dinner before tenting somewhere down the way. There is a couple here already, quite ensconced, the 16 bunk hut appearing half full already, although I only see the two of them. “Where are you from?” they ask. “The United States, Illinois and California,” we answer. “How about you?” “Australia,” she says, with clear bright eyes, a thick braid, and a kind smile. “Alabama”, he says, a big friendly bear of a guy, invoking a 70s rocker with his tattoos and beard and ponytail. “Oh, where in Alabama?” I ask. He gives me a bizarre look. “I have an aunt in Opelika,” I offer. “You just never know.” “Yeah! Yeah, that’s it!” He claps his hands, “Ope… Ope…” then dissolves into laughter, and I realize he’s putting me on. ”I just really want to be from somewhere other than Australia, you know, see if I can get away with the accent.” They are Paul and Kat, and they are an absolute delight, and we chat with them while digging out the fixings for dinner. Prana and I each separately search out ‘The Rocks’ up the hill from the hut that are drawn as bouldery silhouettes on our map, and they look more exciting on the map than they do in real life.

As our lentils simmer, a tall lanky guy comes in from the trail. Dropping his pack, we go through the formalities: he’s from the U.S, works in Alaska, hiking the T.A. northbound, name Luke. “What do you do in Alaska?” I ask. “I’m a field guide,” he says. “For Alaska Crossings?” I ask. It’s a company Prana and I have had our eye on to try out, and like I told Paul, you just never know. “Yeah, for Alaska Crossings. You’ve heard of it?” We grill him for the rest of dinner about the program, the clients, the co-workers. The down? It’s a river program of canoes, not rafts. (Please reference the Whanganui River section of this blog, dear reader, if you are unsure of my opinion on this discrepancy.) Hmm. The up? He loves it wholly and the client base is quite different than ones we have worked with before, which sounds enticing in certain ways.

While we are talking, suddenly the door flies open and a sobbing shrieking blur of a girl flings herself onto Luke. “I was lost! I was so lost! I thought I’d have to push the PLB!” is about all I can make out. The hysteria is such a contrast to the calm energy a few seconds before, no one seems sure what to do. Well now,” says Paul kindly, “I’m glad to see I’m not the only one that cries on the trail.” The girl curls up on a bunk, and we pack up our things. Kat and Paul seem surprised that we are pressing on tonight, and I do wish to stay and visit longer with them- they are awesome, and I am sure we won’t see them again due to the mellow relaxing pace they are looking to keep, and the pace of fuller days that we prefer to keep. But it’s nice to be so free with our decisions, just hiking the two of us, that heading on and camping wins the ambivalent battle. Maybe we will see them again- one just never knows.

We walk an hour of pleasant hiking in neat and orderly beech forest. Looking at the map, I assume it will only be the same on the upcoming ridges and saddles, meaning camping will be no problem whenever we want to stop. Sometimes I forget what a difference one turn on the trail can make.

Down to an hour of light, we come around onto a different aspect of the ridge, and it looks like a bomb has gone off in the forest. Huge trunks and branches are down, stumps with splintered remnants jabbing into the sky. The trail tread itself still exists; it appears that someone has done some kind of maintenance, clearing wood shrapnel and chainsawing what’s laid over the trail. But there is no hope for a clear space off the path.

For another hour we work our way forward along the path as it twists it’s way through the tangle. At one of the last hopes for a flat area before a descent that is longer than perhaps the evening will allow, the trail turns inwards, away from the steep face of the ridge, to the interior of the forest. Here there is none of the damage that covers the exposed ridge, and at one point Prana stops and says, “I think there might be a spot near here.” I go off trail to search, but can only find a flat spot not quite as big as our tent. Prana goes farther from the trail, and while I wait so we don’t both get turned around, he calls: “I’ve got something!” And he does.

Several humps in, there is a perfectly flat spot just bigger than our tent, with a few branches on it. “There’s no way you can see this from the trail, how did you find it?” I demand. “I guess I heard it calling me,” he teases. We clear out the few branches and a curious Fantail swoops in to oversee our project. We set up the tent, sit to take our shoes off, and…it’s perfectly quiet. No people. No vehicles of any kind. And no bugs. For whatever reason, right here, there are no wasps, and no sandflies. It is perfect.

We cook a little dinner, stretch out on our little mattresses, eat a little chocolate. It feels like the entire forest is our familiar cozy next tonight.

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