After I had gone to bed last night I suddenly heard a loud, ridiculous sound from outside the hut. It took me a while to realise that the hunter who had come in to the hut late was using his magic stag-caller, which I can only assume mimicked the sound of a doe. Caroline and I watched and listened from inside as Remy and the hunter tried to attract a stag over the river with the magic stag-caller. It was really something to witness; every time the hunter blew the caller the stag responded with a roar, one I have come to recognise in the bush over the past week. This time of year is ‘The Roar’, or the deer mating season. Stags begin to roar to attract females, and in doing so, hunters. The stag never came over the river, but it was fascinating hearing it so close.
After a decent sleep in the small hut, I woke to see a dim sunrise in a cloudless sky, and knew that today was the day to attempt the pass. I left first again, but I knew the others would catch me up, going uphill. Ever since I hurt my knee I have been terribly slow going both uphill and downhill.
The trail took me first up the river valley for another ten kilometres before reaching the beginning of the pass. I took a big long break, let Caroline and Remy pass me, and began the climb. It wasn’t as tough as I was expecting, and I think Avalanche Peak in Arthur’s Pass had prepared me well. It was a similar gradient and climb in altitude to the Waiau Pass, except this time I was carrying a heavy bag.
Near the top the track turned into a rock-climb, and instead of trying not to panic at the sheer drops on either side of me, I really enjoyed the climbing and had a great time! I’m not sure why.
The weather was perfect and I stopped for lunch at the top, enjoying the sun and lack of sandflies for the first time in what seemed like weeks.
Then came the descent. This was unpredictably difficult. It was incredibly steep and tracked through massive sections of scree, through which I slided, terrified. If the side of the mountain weren’t so steep, then sliding down the scree would have almost been fun. The problem with this track was that one uncontrolled slide could end in me tumbling down to my imminent doom. I was really glad my mum wasn’t there to see it.
I reached the bottom and skirted round Lake Constance, then steeply up and over another bluff to reach Blue Lake, supposedly containing the clearest water in the world.
At the hut I met Remy and Caroline, whose joints were as sore as mine, but whose day had also been as fun and satisfying. Others slowly arrived at the hut and by evening we were a mix of people, all fairly young, and all with interesting stories to tell. Adrian, the hut warden, had been working this year as a paid DOC ranger and had been taking care of all sorts of tramping tracks in the South Island. Duncan was a wilderness therapy guide in America, and he took groups of recovering addicts out hiking as part of their rehabilitation treatment, which I thought was fascinating. Emily was a therapist from Switzerland who had decided to make a brave decision and go on holiday by herself to New Zealand to tramp, and had gotten herself completely out of her comfort zone with our difficult, rough, and overgrown tracks, and she’d loved it.
Our group sat around a candle until the late hour of 8pm solving the world’s problems and covering some usual left-swinging subjects: addiction, polyamory, Trump, psychedelics, corporations, meditation, and preservatives. The conversation slowly devolved into a mixture of muddy conjectures about government conspiracies and alternative universes, and I went to bed.