2/4 The Hundred K Day

Boyle River to Kiwi Meadow

26 K

Whew, it was chilly last night, the tents buried under the catabatic weight of the damp river air. The sun activates us when it hits the tents, and we caffeinate, fuel, and pack. In less than ten minutes we are at the Boyle River, and we all take off our shoes and roll up our pants to wade across the icy waters.

We carefully dry our feet, and re-lace our shoes, as yet unaware of the perfect setup this will create for the universe’s comedic punchline of the day. In less than a dozen steps we are at another crossing, which we tediously work to get around with dry feet; and in another ten steps, we are at a wide boggy mud hole. Blast. Time to choose between wet feet, or a maximum progression of half a kilometer per hour. Speed of progress wins.

The morning is filled with crossings- river crossings, bog crossings, mud crossings, creek crossings, so many crossings. The trail seems as though it is winding to intentionally hit every. single. one. The sandflies are abominable- each time we stop to scout a crossing or slow down due to the boggy mud, they descend like a plague of locusts, bloodthirsty and merciless. The dry stretches between the crossing are filled with nasty, thorny plants: thistles of all kinds and some kind of plant reminiscent of acacia. Even the weather is in on it- now it’s going to rain; now it’s not. Now it’s uncomfortably chilly, so we stop to layer up (and get chewed on); now it’s uncomfortably warm, so we stop to de-layer (and get chewed on). Etc.

Our progress still at a comparative crawl, we start to gain elevation out of the boggy river bottom, and climb along a fence bordered with, you guessed it, gorse. We stop for a break at the first nice overview of the morning, looking downriver along the Boyle River drainage.

The wasps also reappear, and are exceptionally thick, thicker than perhaps anywhere before, but luckily present on far fewer trees.

I hate them with an intense and acrid hatred, and I spend several hours and a lot of energy attempting to change, or at least modify, this useless and negative reaction. I suppose academically it is a worthy exercise in mental discipline, but in reality it makes no difference to my day, my mood, or my progress.

Once we climb up to the lookout over Windy Point, things get a little better. The trail tread settles down, and become fairly straightforward and dry walking. We all stop for lunch at a big log, a nice piece of furniture downed along the border of the trail, and line up five across each spreading our respective tortilla fillings. What a day, everyone’s expression already seems to say.

We cross a suspension bridge above a pretty creek gorge and reach Hope Halfway Hut around 2:00. “We made it!” “It was only 16 k to here.” “Well, you have to factor in an effort multiplier. With all the stream and bog crossings, it’s more like 25 k.” “And all the clothes changes makes it like 34 k.” “And the sandflies and thorns is like 50 k.” “Holy shit, we’re lucky we made it to this hut as early as we did!” “We are lucky we made it today at all!”

God it helps to have friends like this in conditions like these.

We peruse the gossip column, also known as the trail register, and learn that Mike No Evil is only one day ahead of us! How did that happen? From his last message I had assumed he was in Arthur’s Pass, but apparently something was lost in translation. It would be fun to catch him and see him again, but I doubt we will.

Past the hut is easy walking through a meadow dotted with short thorny bush-trees draped in moss. With only 8 k of this, we should be there in no time. I put in my headphones and listen to some Story Collider stories, but for the first time the stories I choose are simply mediocre. Just one of those days, I guess.

We are making good time, great time even; good enough time I should have known it was too good to last… when we hit the wall of downed trees. At first I think it is maybe one massive blowdown, and then I think it is one massive tangle- it soon becomes apparent it is one entire section of trail torn asunder.

Where is the trail? It develops into a three-dimensional game, clambering over, under, through, around the knots. Once out of one pileup, the trail has to be rediscovered before working through the next intertwisted puzzle. Our progress, to put it mildly, slows. Which is slow enough that the sandflies descend upon us like the sitting ducks we have become.

After inching forward for more than an hour, we aren’t really sure how far this will last. Was this from the windstorm we waited out in Anne Hut? Were these trees sickly somehow? Have the sandflies developed miniature arborist tools and felled this pile of timber for the sole purpose of feasting on hikers? We make a break deeper into the forest for slightly easier walking, and gain a bit of yardage towards the hut that is our goal before tackling the next tangle of shrapnel. Mouse, ever the optimist, observes, “oh well. At least my feet are dry now.” True! And the wasps are nowhere around the downed trees, which would be its own special nightmare, if we had to watch out for that too as we squeeze and slither through the trunks and branches.

Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel shows. We can see the meadow that, if we can gain it, we will be able to walk around whatever portion of demolished forest is left. As luck would have it, it’s also where the trail itself reappears.

Unluckily for all of our dry feet, it is across one last stream. Effort factor for the second half of the day? At least another 50 k.

The hut appears in the meadow, and the last half kilometer disappears. We reach the porch, and are mauled by a sandfly storm. We kick off our shoes and drop our packs, and shut the door and at least some of the sandflies outside. The hut is very full. And it is very full of people that have spread themselves out quite liberally. The layout of the hut is awkward, doors on the bunk rooms closed even when a few bunks are available, benches with people already sacked out on them in the communal area. A fire is roaring in the wood stove, making the air thick and hot, humid with everyone’s drying gear.

We decide to only cook dinner here and move on to camp. Prana & I’s menu is spaghetti and marinara with dried abalone mushrooms and green olives, a current favorite. We slurp it down, then pack to leave. Mouse decides to stay, since she was really cold last night, and a lot of her gear is damp. “That way it can dry, and I can meet you in the morning,” she says. We prep everything we can, then barrel through the sandfly gauntlet to freedom.

It’s a pleasant temperature for walking, and the rain has mostly stopped. The evening light is subtle, and a peaceful feeling overlays everything.

We reach almost the far end of the hut meadow, and cut up off the trail to an inviting overhanging tree. It takes quite a bit of poking around to find an adequately flat spot, but throwing some branches and rocks out of the way leaves a passable area. Mario and Peach find a spot for themselves as well, and once the tents are up and we are inside with dry clothes on and sleeping quilts tucked around us, everything is perfect. It’s much warmer under the trees than the river valley was last night, and the breeze dries the inside of the tent. We eat a whole chocolate bar while working on a crossword puzzle, and I fall hard asleep well before 8:30.

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