The Richmond Range did not disappoint, providing the best views on the Te Araroa and most difficult terrain.
The Richmond Range has me hiking above the clouds in the latest video:
DAY 58 – Rocks Hut to Slaty Hut
I awoke in Rocks Hut listening to all the other hikers packing up. Three girls had shown up in the dark and were sleeping on the floor. With all the noise, I decided to get going with a big day planned.
Today I would head up into the Richmond Range. The alpine track would take me up onto ridges and peaks well above tree line. I was excited to start this section. I’d hiked several mountains in the range when I lived in Blenheim so the area was familiar, just not this particular track. The guide said the 98km section takes 5-7 days. Normally 98km would take me three days. I planned to try and go at least 30km today.
I set out in clear skies. The day started with difficult terrain, climbing over hillocks and the trail was covered in roots and rocks. I was feeling rather sluggish. Maybe Tom had rubbed off on me…just kidding.
Eventually the trees parted to reveal a nice clearing of tussock. Apparently this was an old strip-mining site (very small). I didn’t mind since the unobstructed views were great.
From there I reentered the woods and descended steeply down to a stream. I stopped at a hut for a quick break and continued on in the heat of the day.
The trail followed the Hacket Creek, crossing it multiple times. I took extra care to find the best crossings to keep my feet dry. A 900m (2,950ft) climb was coming up and I didn’t want wet shoes for that!
In general, my pace was slower than I’d like. My body was tired from the day before and the terrain here was much more difficult than I was used to.
After crossing the creek enough times, I began the huge ascent…and it was a bitch. It took me nearly three hours to go 4km! It was so steep and relentless. I don’t recall a climb of this nature on the Appalachian Trail but maybe I’m soft from the North Island.
I climbed and climbed, with a pounding headache. I drank water but probably not enough. It felt like every five minutes I needed a break. My legs felt like giving up constantly. I’ve never felt this fatigued on a hike before.
The climb went through tree graveyards full of downed trees, blown over in storms perhaps. There were no switchbacks, the track went straight up the mountainside. I remember saying my toughest day was back in the Tararuas…but today has overtaken that to become my toughest day on the trail.
At last I emerged inti a clearing and a hut. I met another American hiker, Ben, who was just doing a section of the TA. Will, a Kiwi/American also caught up as I ate lunch. It was already 2pm and I was starved. I ate cheese wraps and Nutella and peanut butter wraps. Then copious amounts of water were had. The view was beautiful above tree line.
After a lengthy break, I set off into the alpine zone with rock scree underfoot. Even after my lunch break, my body was quick to return to fatigue mode. I was utterly exhausted climbing so slowly up Mount Starveall.
The view from the top was fantastic with mountains all around. I could see Mount Richmond, the tallest in the Richmond Range and one of my favorite hikes. The wind was strong but I could still manage in just my t-shirt. The good thing about being up this high was that the temperatures were low and helped reduce sweating.
It was pretty awesome seeing all the mountains around. And I loved hiking above tree line on the exposed rocks, though it can be scary at times.
And then it was depressing, coming over the ridge and seeing a low saddle to hike down to reach the next peak. And so I descended quickly into the woods. The trees changed dramatically to mountain beech and it was such an interesting forest.
From there it was another grueling climb to the next hut. My pace was a crawl as I inched up the steep track. My legs were going to fall off.
Finally I made it to Slaty Hut. I had planned to hike on 8km more to the next hut. It was almost 5pm and for once I did not try and push myself. This was enough for the day. The upcoming terrain would be more of the same, climbing up and down steep ridges.
And so I relaxed and chatted with Ben and Will who were also spending the night at the hut. An Austrian girl came by as well. I took a quick nap and then we ate dinner together. Cool fog and clouds rolled in and threatened to rain. Good thing I hadn’t hiked onward; my views would’ve been ruined.
It was nice to have some downtime to chill and let my body recover. The Richmond Range was really slowing me down but I just have to enjoy it. I’ve got nowhere to be.
Day’s Distance: 25km (15.5mi)
Total Distance: 1,861km (1,156.6mi)
Distance Remaining: 1,139km (707.9mi)
DAY 59 – Slaty Hut to Mid Wairoa Hut
I woke up at 8am, which is really late for me; I couldn’t believe I’d slept for ten hours! Looking out the window of the hut I could see only clouds. The trail was above tree line on rock scree so the only way to find the trail was to follow orange poles sticking out of the ground. I wouldn’t be able to see them in this fog and so I stayed in bed a bit longer.
Just before 9am I set off on the trail. The fog was heavy but usually I could see the next marker. It was a fun challenge.
Fellow hikers Will and Ben weren’t far behind and we also met Austin, another American. We’d leap frog each other for most of the day.
It was a challenging climb up Little Rintoul at 1,643m (5,390ft). I was doing better than the previous day; the ten-hour sleep did me some good. I was getting soaked in the clouds with sweat on my face and condensation on my beard and arm and leg hairs.
There were some sketchy rock sections that were quite dangerous. One slip and I could’ve seriously injured myself. I picked carefully around to find the best footing. The moisture from the clouds didn’t help.
At last I reached the summit of Little Rintoul and the clouds finally began to burn off a bit. The views were spectacular. Ben was up here and we enjoyed the view.
As the clouds parted again, we could see the steep saddle below us and the even taller Mount Rintoul ahead. It was beautiful but daunting.
Down I went on a steep descent 250m (820ft) to the saddle. I put on sunscreen earlier at the top of Little Rintoul but now I was back in a cloud. The clouds hung low around the tree line and I was getting wet again.
It was a grueling climb back up to Mount Rintoul at 1,731m (5,679ft). I was dripping in sweat but the sun was shining and the clouds kept parting.
The view from the summit was out of this world. I could see mountains all around and was well above the clouds. I could see Tapuae-o-Uenuku (Mount Tappy) way off in the distance. The Kaikoura Ranges still had some snow on them.
It felt like being on top of the world. The low clouds made me feel even higher. This was the highest point of the Richmond Alpine Track that the TA followed.
From the summit the track continued up on the ridge. I couldn’t get enough of the views; I felt so alive up there.
There was a steep, short descent and then back on the ridge for a bit more. The sun was hot and I applied more sunscreen.
Eventually the track descended very steeply to the tree line. It was all rock scree and I was basically surfing down the mountain. It was dangerous but I was familiar with it from my scary hike on Mount Tappy.
At the Rintoul Hut I stopped for a quick lunch of cheese wraps before continuing on. There was another small climb ahead. On another exposed ridge I enjoyed the views. The clouds kept doing crazy things, adding to the beauty. I met another hiker, Yon, up there.
From here it was a gradual descent with some climbs here and there. Eventually I hit the tree line and remained in the woods.
I followed the track down to the Tarn Hut, situated on a large mountain lake or tarn as they call it. Austin and Ben were here and it seemed neither could decide whether to hike on to the next hut. I, of course, was stubborn and pushed on.
It was 5pm but the hut was only 6km away and mostly downhill. There were a few climbs to start but I was doing alright. My legs were surviving. My knees weren’t doing as well with all the steep descents.
Down and down and down I went, on some of the steepest terrain. My knees were sore but I was flying. The trail was tedious but at last I reached the Wairoa River.
Across the river was the Mid Wairoa Hut. It was just after 7pm, which is half the suggested time from the last hut. Another American hiker, Nicole, was inside. We chatted until dark, she being from Illinois and me from Michigan. I probably should have ate more since I went to bed feeling hungry. Mice scurried around, excited to celebrate New Years Eve as the two hikers slept.
Day’s Distance: 28km (17.4mi)
Total Distance: 1,889km (1,174mi)
Distance Remaining: 1,111km (690.5mi)
My favorite song by Australian Brendan Maclean, hiking in the clouds made me think of this tune.
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