Day 48: Goat Pass Hut to the Otira River… and back to Arthur’s Pass

Wow! Today was a big one. My comfort zone was a mere speck on the horizon for the entire day.

It was misty and windy in the morning. From the hut, I could see the clouds travelling up the Deception Valley, past the hut and then whipping across the pass about 50 metres above me. In the absence of rain, though, I decided that it was time to attempt the notorious Deception River track. Well, the notorious Deception River.

Blue sky, even!

Katie and I said goodbye to Josh and left the hut, after some procrastination in putting our freezing cold and wet shoes on, and began the climb down a rock stream that led to the Deception River. It was slow going, technically challenging, and ice-cold. I lost feeling in my feet within minutes. Katie turned to me and said “It’s cool there’s a warm-up, huh?”. Yikes.

Within half an hour we reached the river and graduated from stone-clambering to big, slippery, rapid-covered boulder hopping. We were in and out of the river, navigating over rockfall and between rapids, and it was terrifying! In the intense concentration I lost sense of time. After a while, I heard a cry from Katie and looked up to see her grinning wildly, next to a tree that read ‘HUT’. It was a glorious moment.

Woohoo!!

We took a quick break inside, so as to not cool down too much, and then we were back at it. Now, the route was a mixture of the intense river navigation from before, and comparitively easy forest tracks running alongside it.

As soon as the track moved out of the river, I was able to snap a photo of it. It was raining again by this point so it was a hurried, inexpert photograph taken with my nose, as my phone wouldn’t recognise my gloved fingers!

For the next six hours we continued to follow, cross, and walk in the river. It had begun to rain steadily since we left the hut, and it was a fairly cold and miserable afternoon until the last couple of hours, when the rain ceased and the sun threatened to appear.

The adventures were not over yet, though. As we had been following the river down to its confluence with the Otira, more and more sidestreams had joined it, and the river had grown from a narrow rocky one into a wide and powerful one. I could tell it was high looking at the odd submerged flax bush.

As the track emerged onto some grassy river flats, I was at once excited to see the road in the distance, and dismayed to see a trail marker sticking up from the grass… over the other side of the river. Katie and I looked at the impassable river and agreed to follow it for a while to look for a cross point. After a few minutes I turned to see Katie behind me, in the middle of the rapids, up to her waist and struggling. My heart sped up as I watched her slip and very nearly be swept away. I got my beacon out, ready to call SAR if need be, and anxiously watched her inch her way towards the other side. As soon as she made it, I was furious with her.

We walked further downstream, one of us on either side of the river, and I found a place to cross. Though it was the best place to cross, and technically achievable, it was still difficult and I was at my river-crossing limit in terms of depth and current.

I had decided I would try and get a ride back to Arthur’s Pass just to spend the night, so I could warm up and dry my gear out. I knew the backpacker’s reception closed at 7pm, and by the time I had practically jogged out to the highway it was already 6.15. I was mentally and physically exhausted, and in quite a grumpy mood by this point. It was an all-consuming relief when the second car to drive round the corner stopped to pick us up. The woman driving was a little taken aback by my enthusiastic thank-yous.

I stumbled into the backpackers at 6.50, only to see Josh sitting at the table enjoying his second, or maybe third, dinner. He told me the first thing he’d done when he’d got into town was go to the DOC office and ask if there had been any rescues that day! Then, he informed me of the severe weather warning in place for the area for the following 24 hours. My heart sank as I realised the next section of the trail would be impossible, but I was also grateful I had indeed managed to come into town. If I had been forced to camp along the trail I would have no doubt wandered on and found myself stuck between rivers, cold and wet. I’d had enough of that.

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