Upper Deception Hut to The Sanctuary at Arthurs Pass
12 k + 5 road k
It was a frosty morning, a glittering spangled onto the shoes and socks where they were poking out below the tent fly. I was plenty warm all night, which was an unexpected treat, (although in retrospect likely due to the belly furnace attempting to burn through that glut of a dinner) and even though there is plenty of condensation dripping from the ceiling, our sleeping bags are dry. We make coffee, and put off breakfast. I don’t know if I didn’t drink enough water yesterday, or just ate way too much last night before going straight to bed, but food sounds like a terrible idea. The last leg of the climb takes us right up through the middle of the creek, which is growing tinier by the turn. Peach has a slip that creates a domino effect on Mario, but everyone is safe, albeit wet, at the end of it.
Goat Pass Hut is gorgeous. It’s in a spectacular location, with views into the pockets of the high peaks, and it was obviously made with talented craftsmanship. The porch is expansive and inviting. The bunks have a unique and space-efficient mixture of double and triple bunk stacks in two dorm rooms. There are nicely sized tables for playing games, a Connect-4 set, and ample windows for plenty of light.
We sit for a long breakfast break in the sun on the porch, feet bared and warming in the sun, all the wet things spread out to dry. Breakfast still doesn’t sound appealing to me, the thought of anything in my stomach seeming repellant, but I take a few token bites and instantly feel overfull. Weird.
At one point it had seemed very important to reach Arthurs Pass in the middle of the day, so we could retain the option of leaving the same day if we wished. But right now that idea seems distant and irrelevant, and we bask and lounge.
When we finally get going again, the trail appears very well maintained, and we climb the last hundred feet to the top of the pass and proceed on a series of boardwalks, meaning I can walk and look around at the same time. Even in the short tussock, the trail stays well-treaded. The boardwalks are lovely, the top of the pass is lovely, the whole world is lovely from here. A deep gorge offers intrigue down to the right, a huge spilling cascade draws the eye up to the left. Helicopters buzz back and forth, delivering the people and goods for the aid stations that will support the racers tomorrow. We start counting the number of flights.
We descend into mossy beech forest alongside the Mingha river, a bright icy blue ribbon. The Mingha bivvy is a cute little two bunker with a huge hole in the fireplace; luckily it offers lots of good camping nearby. Mouse catches up as we are signing the trail register. We leave her to sign in and read the gossip while we continue downriver along the white boulders and cobbles. Only 200 meters from the bivvy, the trail shoots straight up. We dutifully follow, and come upon Mario and Peach crouched on the trail, motionless. “An alpine parrot!” they whisper. Sure enough, a huge dull green parrot is poking about with curiosity on the trail. Keas are endangered, so we are thrilled to see one. We watch it, take dozens of pictures, and watch it some more until it flies off. I am surprised Mouse didn’t catch up while we lingered so long. We follow the trail back down around the landslide it climbed so high to avoid, and perhaps another 300 meters later, Princess Peach spies a perfect blue swimming hole. What a great spot for lunch! We scramble down, strip down, and the water is sooooo coooold. Prana goes in three times; I make it twice and am shivering; Peach gets one good long dunk in. Mario declines. We eat lunch on the table rock that is perfectly positioned for picnicking. I get down a scantily smeared peanut butter and honey wrap, and feel overstuffed again. What is going on?
Even more weirdly than my stomach, we still have not seen Bigfoot Mouse. We check the map and can see that it has only been a half a kilometer since we have last seen her- how could she not have caught up yet? We come up with all kinds of scenarios. Maybe she took a nap at the bivvy. Maybe a helicopter drop asked her to help and she is now a committed volunteer for race support. Maybe a helicopter offered her a ride! Maybe she is somehow trapped in the hut. Maybe she fell in the river? After some musing, Prana and I go decide to go back and check- mostly because Prana accidentally locked me in Tarn Hut in the Richmonds, and he wants to be sure that hasn’t happened now.
As we approach the bivvy, two guys dropped from a helicopter seem defensive and suspicious, as though they are certain we are there to pillage. “Have you seen a German girl?” “No,” is their uninterested reply. Where could she have gone?
On the way back, Prana notices that an orange triangle marker on the far side of the landslide is visible at river level, and suddenly puts together she must have missed the sharp right turn up, and picked her way along the river edge. We go that way as well to investigate, and as we follow the easy route, think suddenly of Mario’s admonition that if we take too long he will come looking for us- what if he is on the trail above us right now, and misses us in the same we missed Mouse earlier! We laugh at the thought of how long this merry-go-round could go on today. When we reach the swimming hole again they are both still there, so we report our sleuthy deductions and we all resume our progress towards town.
The trail continues to be wonderfully maintained, and there are several long boardwalked sections, that are so long they have a springy bounce in the middle. Several groups of people are hiking up to man their race support stations, and we learn they are expecting 1500 racers! That would be tough to navigate peacefully, and I’m grateful our timing will have us off the track by the time it starts.
We climb a knob with some nice views, and then drop to the flats filled with river cobbles. The road appears in the distance, and grows gradually closer. Cell service kicks in, and we hear from Mouse, who is already in town. Our hypothesis was correct. She had thought she was behind us, and just tried harder to catch us up.
When we finally reach the road, Prana and I have some kind of mystifying misunderstanding about where to hitch from. We seem to alternate getting neurotically stressed out about town, and today it is his turn. Mario and Peach have decided to hike in, and when hitching doesn’t work out, we resign ourselves to the same fate. I continue trying to hitch as we walk, and one kilometer out of town a German couple picks us up and whisks us the rest of the way to the DoC office. We miss retrieving our box by 8 minutes. Looks like a mandatory night in town.
Luckily, the rumor of a free tenting spot is indeed true, and is already where Mouse is staying. A guy named Bill runs a place called the sanctuary, and we are on the way there when we pass the Wobbly Kea, a bar and restaurant, basically the only bar and restaurant, and it closes at 8:00. Hit the pause on finding camp, time to reprioritize. We send a text message to Mouse, and when we walk in, Jo is having dinner. She moves over to a long table with us, and we all order veggie pizzas, various salads, garlic bread, and tomato soup. I massively enjoy the little bit I can eat, and Prana happily finishes my portions that I cannot.
When we are all sated, we walk the last block to the Sanctuary. Bill is incredibly nice and gives us the tour, making us feel at home. We set up our tents, and see Amber and Mark, a couple we met several times on the North Island, as well as one of the girls we met at Boyle in a ‘cabin’ that is a creatively converted water tank. While a shower had sounded nonnegotiably excellent, it’s almost 9:00, I’m tired and just want to go to sleep. And so I do.