I’ve learnt a handful of valuable lessons on this trip already.
Valuable Lesson #1: The day is always going to be longer and harder than you think; plan for that.
Valuable Lesson #2: You will be that hungry. Take the extra food.
Valuable Lesson #3: Put the bug spray on before leaving the tent, no matter how much of a coughing fit it lands you in.
Valuable Lesson #4: When in towns, skip the burger and chips and go for the salad and veges.
Today I learned some more lessons.
Valuable Lesson #5: When packing down a tent, never take out all of the pegs first. Take out only those you need to, and pack down piecewise.
Valuable Lesson #6: An exposed track is not only dangerous in a storm. It can be just as dangerous on a sunny day.
Today started with getting swarmed by sandflies as I was packing down my tent. I hurriedly got the bug spray out of my bag, swatting the sandflies and simultaneously spraying my skin, only to suddenly be distracted by my tent, flying away down a gully.
Lots of stumbling and swearing ensued as I watched it continue to tumble, over a farm fence, and down to the river. Thankfully, I saw it had caught on a tree down there, so I took some time and care climbing down to it. Retrieving it, climbing back up to the campsite, and packing my gear away in the ever-increasing wind, I felt grateful that I only had 9km to walk today.
The track left the campsite and immediately began to climb. The map told me that I would be climbing from 400m to just over 1000m in altitude in the first few kilometres. As I climbed, the gusts of wind transformed from entertainingly challenging ones to slightly worrying ones. At around 800m in altitude I was being repeatedly knocked off my feet, and I had another kilometre up an increasing ridgeline to go. Clinging to the side of the hill, I realised with a rock in my stomach that it was going to be more dangerous to try and turn back. Over the next three hours, I inched along the ridgeline with extreme caution. Most of that time was spent merely holding on. I lost my sunglasses and my headscarf straight off my head, and my bedroll had telescoped out to the right of my pack.
The wind at the peak was the strongest I have ever felt in my life, and I knew I was in a dangerous situation. Nevertheless, I also knew I was being careful about it, and I kept telling myself that I would continue to crawl to the shelter of the forest, which I could see 300m away, if I had to, and that I would get there.
I did get there, and as soon as I had descended into the safety of the trees I found a place to collapse. I noticed I was suddenly freezing and shaking, so I put on all my clothes and did some star jumps while I waited for water to boil for a coffee.
I thought I would feel triumphant, but I just felt sad and exhausted. I was annoyed that I hadn’t thought to look at the speed of the clouds near the peak before I climbed; I knew it was going to be an exposed track.
I warmed up and ambled along the beech forest track, trying to regain a sense of normalcy. It slowly returned, and just before reaching the hut I came across a southbound hiker. I warned him of the track ahead and recounted to him how I had spent three hours moving 500m. He looked exasperated and told me how he just wanted to get to Bluff and that his mind was tired. I implored him to be safe and told him it was possible to camp at the edge of the forest if it looked too windy at the top. Hopefully he’s alright.
The hut is clean, dry, and warm, and I just had enough time before the rain began to split some firewood and kindling for a cosy evening, no doubt spent scrutinising the trail notes, map, and elevations for the days to come.