2/9 Attack of the Keas

Arthur’s Pass to Harper River Headwaters

17 k

It was a very chilly night, and misty clouds form a low, cold ceiling this morning. Prana gets up to put laundry in early, and when he does there is a loud thud against the top of tent. What the? There is also a raucous squawking, and I assume a bird miscalculated it’s early morning, pre-coffee trajectory. Suddenly another thud, like a soccer ball being bounced off the tent. “Haiku!” Amber calls from her tent, “the Keas are attacking your tent!” I zip open the door to see a large Kea poking at Prana’s shoes, and three more pacing on the ground just beyond it, big taloned feet grasping at the ground with each step. The tent-shuddering thud happens a third time, and I realized a pair of those talons is trying to land on the tent. Yikes! The universe is unequivocally saying: time to take the tent down.

I put laundry in while Prana packs up, and then we retreat from the parroty onslaught to the bakery and cafe and across the street. Jo’s already here having breakfast, and we find a table and collect pies and coffee. The non-meat handpie choice is veggie korma, and especially after half a pieless island, it is fabulous. They also have apples, something I have been craving, and they are perfectly crisp and flavorful, an unexpected treat. Mario and Peach join us after their showers (Mouse stays in her tent for a morning nap).

The sun pierces the cloud layer and lasers in through the giant picture windows of the cafe, heating the room, feeling fantastic. We all linger, wallowing in the warmth and the caffeine and the baked goods.

I walk down the road to the DoC office to retrieve our food box, and the folks there are very friendly. “Oof, someone’s not eating instant noodles anymore,” says one as he slides the box across the counter. The other comments on the weather, but offers reassurance that it “shouldn’t be too bad on this side of the pass.”

I call my mom on the way back to the bakery, and am struck by how much I miss my family, and how much I worry about them, and again by the wish to be able to live two opposing choices at the same time. I am struck by uncontrollable tears. The cafe is now hot and full of families and friends of the racers lined up for coffee and snacks, so we retreat back to the sanctuary to organize our food bags at a picnic table. All the chores done, we hug our goodbyes to Super Mario and Princess Peach- it’s the end of the line for us all together for now, as they have to go to Christchurch to run errands and wait for Peach’s brother to join them. We will see them again in this country, but when? Where? Only time will tell.

Finally everything is ready, and it’s time to hitch out of town. We make a sign, and walk to the road on the far end. After only a few minutes, Prana becomes impatient and takes off walking. Mouse and I stand in the hot sun, as car after car goes by. “I hate hitchhiking,” we agree. As if to play devil’s advocate, a large RV pulls over right next to us. A German couple is driving it, and they say they will take us in the back, even thought they aren’t supposed to. Mouse translates to them the explanation of Prana walking ahead of us, and it we can pick him up as well, and they proceed to collect every hiker along the road into the back of their RV.

They release us all at the junction where we left the trail, and now there is race paraphernalia everywhere. Runners come up the road in varying states of elation and exhaustion, and split checkers record their numbers and times. We cheer each one as they pass. We find a little grassy bowl of meadow within sight of the finish line to have lunch in, and afterwards, we leave the melee of the competition behind.

We attempt to follow the track out of the race finish area, but it simply disappears. There is an occasional pole, but no tread to speak of. We turn on the GPS and walk across the river terrace until we are standing on the recorded track. Still no trail tread. Argh. We angle back to the river bed, and make our way in the direction we need to go on paths of slightly lesser resistance. Occasionally an orange pole appears out of nowhere, rarely in line with our path, and never on a tread of any kind, so Prana begins awarding gold stars for spotting them, as this is all they are good for. In this halting manner we make it to the river, and cross successfully.

We bushwhack up through the forest to Bealey Lodge, then down from the ridge it is situated on to a very faint intermittent four wheel drive track, and follow this until it ends at a locked and barb-wired gate. This takes far, far longer to execute than it does to tell about it.

After an awkward but tetanus-free scramble over the gate, we are finally on a road and able to make some good, mindless time. I talk to John for a few minutes and find out he is doing well. We turn from the highway and onto the Cora Lynn road to our trailhead, and begin climbing a beautiful track up into lovely young beech forest. After a few hours through the sun dappled palette is greens, the forest morphs to tall dark pines speckled with a miniature mushroom forest of amonita mescaria.

The pines in turn yield to open tussock highlands, with views away to the west and south- quite a spectacular overview! The river valleys here seem strangely truncated, as though they are a trapezoid on their top rather than a triangle. I can only assume that the mountains erode at a significant clip. Some impressively jagged peaks, replete with snowfields and glaciers rear up from the direction we came, from within far reaches of Arthur’s Pass National Park.

We pass an awesome camp spot on a high shoulder, but didn’t carry any water to here, and it’s the one spot that’s almost a kilometer in any direction to a creek. Onward then by default to Lagoon Huts.

We descend back into the beech forest, cross a few creeks, and reach our destination. The A-frame shelter, built in 1983, is pretty cool looking, but no overnight sleeping allowed. So many of these huts and structures remind me of people’s clubhouses back home, and when I am explaining the Illinois concept of clubhouses to Mouse, the hiker cooking dinner pipes up and says he is from Edwardsville. Small world.

The other hut’s two bunks are already full and the camping isn’t great, so we grab water and push on, hoping for another camp spot that will rival the one we passed earlier. The country gets steeper, and we start to wonder if we will be hiking later than we planned. Eventually the path leads off of the steep ridges and down to the Harper River, where we locate a passable grassy spot directly on the bank. It’s gonna be a cold one tonight.

Dinner is pumpkin Thai soup with gnocchi, and dessert is a turmeric latte. We all share dinners, potluck style, and reminisce about Bro, wishing he were here too, as we watch the stars come out in the unusually clear sky.

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