Lake Rotoiti to Upper Travers Hut
The tree did not fall on us. That was a huge relief to wake up to. Thankfully the storm never amounted to much, and the rain stopped early. The only bad thing about this morning is the sandflies. They are ready to invade as soon as we open the zippers.
Sigh. The price of paradise, and all that, you know. The morning light is beautiful on the lake, the mist rising and collecting in the folds of the still-shadowed feeder creeks.
We pack up and head up-valley. A dock leads out to a viewpoint of the lake, and the area surrounding the dock is full of black swans, dipping their graceful necks straight down in search of food, which causes their lumpy bodies to bob vertically in a comical way, feet feebly paddling in the air. We watch this spectacle for a bit, their musical sounds drifting over the water. At the southern end of the lake is the bottom of the Travers River, and today we will trace that river backward up to its source. The forest bordering the lake and lower river is lovely, a healthy beech forest mercifully devoid of wasps. We cross a few debris slides and streams, and the lichens covering the boulders are celebratory colors, vibrant oranges and gleeful yellows.
We reach Lakehead Hut as most people are exiting to start their day. It is a large, well designed hut, and their is one older woman inside, lingering over her steaming morning tea, who speaks gently about her love of the area as we seal patches onto the circled holes in our air mattresses. She describes a little-visited hut and extracts a promise to not spread the word too far. It is a hut whose name had captured my imagination when I noticed it on the map, and I vow I will spend time there one day.
We take to the trail, and it leads through shoulder high green and gold grasses, the enticing bare peaks of the mountains beckoning in the distance. The meadow smells like sweet hay, and is dotted with small stunted and gnarled Beech trees draped in Spanish moss. The trail kisses the side of the river now and then, and at one such brush, there is a flat rock table above a deep still pool. It’s not quite warm enough for a full swim, but we rinse and wring the accumulated sweat out of our shirts and rinse out our hair several times.
As we cross upstream of tributaries, the river becomes a little smaller and a little steeper, gaining personality. We stop for lunch where Travers Peak is perfectly framed in the distance, and two tussocks mounds offer comfortable seating.
The trail takes to the moss-gilded forest for a long stretch after this, and I lose myself in my thoughts. A portion of my brain sill watches the trail, and that portion alerts that I am stepping over a letter shaped stick. “U,” and then “S.” What? I stop, back up, and see there are a line of these strange sticks. “Prana?” I call, curious if he noticed these. “S,” “U,” “P,” as I walk backwards. “E,” “R,” “7.” Suddenly I see it and double over laughing with delight. “Prana! Check this out!!” He comes back, puzzled. “What is it?” “Just look!” He spells it out as well, unable to identify the final character. “Oh! Super 7s!” Mario and Peach are so close!! We have to catch them today! We laugh at how long it must have painstakingly taken them to draw out this sign for us, and how cryptic it will seem to anyone behind us, and Prana drops for a token push-up with his pack on.
We hurry on, light-footed and light-hearted, and in short order stumble upon the 2000K marker. 2000K down! We take note, but the sign doesn’t bring close to the same joy that the sign left just for us sparked. “Remember on the PCT how we celebrated every 100 miles?” “Yeah, and now this 2000k doesn’t really mean that much.” “What do you think has changed?” “I think we are celebrating the individual moments every single day more.” And that is a perfect realization.
The path steepens, and we begin crossing bridges over cascading side creeks, the terraces curtains beautiful in the dappled green light.
We reach the John Haitt Hut, nestled in a golden meadow with Travers Peak keeping watch in the distance, and stop in to check the logbook.
It’s 3:00 now, and Peach and Mario are the last ones signed through, their comment urging, “Haiku and Prana, go, go, Go!” But what time were they here? If they are a few hours ahead, will they have attempted the pass tonight? Or will they be waiting at Upper Travers? The fact that there is no way to know until we get there is both a torment and a terrific motivator. We have a quick snack, water ourselves, and then note the irony that the avalanche swatch ends just past where the hut is located as we pass the sign on the trail.
We hike up through the forest. I am feeling strong and optimistic, and I love every detail about Nelson Lakes National Park so far. We reach a ten minute turnoff for Travers Falls, and of course I am going to check it out. I drop my pack to scramble down, and Prana joins. It is spectacular. The plume tumbles out of a tight dark gorge into a deep turquoise pool, the surrounding overhanging walls and stalactites draped with hanging gardens of moss.
I watch the frothy play for several moments, mesmerized, the cold spray blasting out from the point of impact. We climb back up to our packs, and continue on.
Another hour brings us to an open pocket of springy grass sandwiches between the old and mysterious beech forest and the diminutive Upper Travers River. We stop for a snack break, alternating warm and cold breezes blowing across our faces and bare feet. What a place to stay for the night! But we are too curious to get to the hut, and after a lovely break, we tackle the last hour of hiking. The trail leads up through magnificent forest, gradually steepening, and my climbing muscles are starting to fatigue for the day. We rest a brief moment, look back down the river valley, before finally cresting the meadow where we can just make out the hut at the far end.
And on the porch of the hut, we can just make out a bright speck of blue fleece and four waving arms. Whistles and cheers drift on the air down to us. They are here! Our friends are here! Prana and I look at each other and grin, giddy. The light is perfect, and I take a few pictures while Prana heads up to the hut. Mario and Peach come down off the porch and meet us on the trail, trading big hugs all around. “We’ve been watching the trail every minute since we got here!” they say. “We were having dinner, and I don’t stop dinner for just anyone!” teases Mario. The four of us walk up to the hut, trying to catch up on everything all at once. We laugh about the sign they left, and then do a round of Super Sevens like masochists before digging into dinner. I almost go berserk with happiness, and it takes me a long time to focus enough to finish cooking our spaghetti and olives. Jo is here too, Jo!, and she gets a big hug whether she wants one or not, and she tells me about her epic in the Richmond range while I simmer the pasta. There is an American couple, Cass and Pete whose names we have been seeing regularly in the register, and we are doing introductions when Pete goes: “wait. We met you in Paihia!” Pete and Cass are Furniture and LadySlipper, whose off-trail names we never knew, and who we have wondered about throughout the trail. Voila! They have been loosely hiking with Mario and Peach, and I hope we also have a chance to get to know them, they seem like such lovely people.
Peach and Mario had resupplied at the little store in St Arnaud, “and I forgot chocolate, if you can believe that!” bemoans Mario. Prana and I look at each other and nod- fates would have it that we have over 2.5 pounds of it weighing down our foodbags, due to the appetite-suppressing heat of the Richmonds. Prana pulls out the biggest intact bar, coconut, and waves Jo over as well, and we all happily share dessert over more story swapping.
Dinner finally done, darkness finally descended, we all turn in. Prana and I had intended to camp tonight, to keep a semblance of the last week’s pattern, but we decide to go ahead and join the slumber party inside. We three couples get one of the bunk rooms to ourselves- 6 people, 12 mattresses. “Double mattress treat?” someone suggests, and we all pile up our beds and snuggle down. “Early morning start?” asks Mario. “Of course.” I close my eyes, my body humming with contentment.