Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 10

Photos: 1) Old coal mining cart at the Blackburn Mine. Looks like it had a little accident... 2) Our skinny little path with cute looking rocks to trip you up if you get too absorbed in the beautiful scenery. The grasses are pretty soft to land on. 3) Woolshed Creek Hut next to....Woolshed Creek. I bet you didn't see that coming. 4) Tomorrow, we'll cross this bridge when we come to it. Don't look down!

I am sad that my hiking trip is nearly at an end, but glad that I still have more time in this great country.

Today, we got to sleep in until 7am. Hooray! We've got a bit of a busy day ahead of us with lots to accomplish, but we also don't want to be rushing too much because it's another beautiful sunny H-O-T day. It's more of a dry hot like Vegas was in August (as opposed to the wretched drippy hot that was Cuba in July), but by early afternoon we'll feel as though we're standing in front of a blast furnace with the door open.

Our project this morning is to get the van, trailer, and tents cleaned up and out. We've tracked a bunch of dirt and rubbish into the van while the tents are kind of "slept in" and the contents of the trailer need to be sorted and tidied. I grab some of our food bins to wipe and sort while others are unpacking the gear from the trailer, sweeping out the van, and rewashing all of our dishes and utensils. Wow, it's amazing how much crap is required to drag 9 people through the bush for over a week!

Finally, everything is put back in much better order, the filthy dish water is flung in the woods, and I quickly retrieve my clothes from the pine branch where they had been drying after my dip in the frosty lake yesterday. I'm already sweating but at least I smell a bit better now. We pile into our cleaner van and take off for our starting point for our final overnight hike to the Woolshed Creek Hut.

Enroute, Sophie informs us that she knows exactly where to find the best ice cream in New Zealand, and that a) it's on our way and b) a GIANT scoop (what we would consider 2 scoops most places) is only $2.00NZD {less in CDN!}. Sold! We sprawl in the minimal shade outside the store, panting in the heat and attempting to finish our most delicious ice creams before they run down our hands too much. I got a flavour called "Goody Goody Gum Drops" which tasted like bubble gum and had gum drops in it. Y-U-M!

If I had to guess (because I didn't have a thermometer handy), I'd say it's more than 30C today with minimal cloud cover. We've reached the Woolsheed Creek picnic area and those who were unfortunate (like me) to be in the back of the van are nearly prostrate with heat fatigue. The windows were open, yes, but the airflow doesn't really reach the back of the van. My only saving grace is that the sun was on Sean's side of the van. Pant, pant, pant...let me out!

Since it's W-A-Y too freakin' roasting to even contemplate hauling ourselves and our packs up a mountain for at least 3 hours without much shade beyond the forest section, we put our picnic table on some rocks down by the river under some trees in an attempt to cool ourselves a bit. Another round of sandwiches, re-application of sunscreen, then Kirsten, Louise and I decide to brave the river. Eeeeep! The water is very clear and beautiful, but when the air is so hot, the water feels so cold!! It's a wee bit difficult for us tall girls to dunk ourselves much when the creek is at most knee-deep, but somehow Louise and Kirsten manage to do so. Eventually, I end up sitting in a little pool with a nice cool soaking wet hat on my head, splashing little waves of water over my legs and arms.

Brilliant me! When I realized just how hot it was by the fact that I didn't really need to towel dry after my dip, I realized that I finally had a use for the bandanas I'd thrown in my bag so many days ago. I take one down to the creek and a soaking wet bandana tied around the neck (along with another soaking of my hat as it's already dried itself) proves to be a nice relief from the pounding heat. Louise told me later that my offer of an extra bandana was a life-saver for her. I recommend!

We're doing the Miner's Track (see link above) to the Woolshed Creek Hut and it's projected to take about 3 hours. We'll be eating a late dinner tonight because we're not setting out until about 4pm due to the sun and heat. We're travelling as light as possible again since we'll be able to sleep indoors tonight. After heading into the forest, we pass the site of the old Blackburn Mine where coal was once taken. so Sophie decides to take the shaded side trail to try and keep some greenery between us and the unrelenting, blinding sun. Yikes! This trail is narrow and tricky as all get out as it steeply winds steadily uphill, snaking back and forth on itself while we heave ourselves up and over slippery roots, giant rocks, and uneven gravelly patches. I think we're blurring the line between climbing and hiking, made even more entertaining by our packs getting caught on branches or causing sudden staggering shifts in balance. If you have issues with heights, I don't recommend looking down the plunging hillside about 3 inches past the outside edge of your right foot...

I'm gasping for air, sweat is streaming off every part of me, my legs feel like painful, heavy rubber, and the group has disappeared somewhere ahead. Just another hiking day in my life. Grunting, heaving, cursing quietly, and tripping occasionally, I finally reach the top of the giant cliff of forest and am pleased to discover that it's snack break before we leave the shelter of the woods. I lower myself carefully to the ground on shaky, hurting legs where I begin to gulp water at a rate that alarms Juli so much that she begs me to slow down. I think it was the gasping between swallows that set off her physician alarms. I don't have the energy to tell her this is how I usually drink but I heed her advice. It's too hot to make someone have to save my life if I choke.

We're out of the woods, literally, which means no shade anymore. Hup, hup, need to keep up! Juli and I have a moment of consternation when the group vanishes ahead again and we can't figure out where they've gone. A quick "Coo-ieee!" and we find them again. More tussocks here which means more opportunity to get my feet snagged on beautiful grasses since my lower appendages are too fatigued to lift more than 2mm off the ground. I can see for miles! We're in Lord of the Rings country too which would probably mean more to me if I had any interest in those books/movies. I can see why they wanted to do some of the filming here.

Haul myself over more rocks, up some more hillside, pick myself off the ground and safely assume that no one witnessed that accidental barrel roll since I'm last in line again. At last, we reach the "high" point of our hike at Trig R which is a measly 934m above sea level. I scoff because the Unknown Peak that I conquered two days ago was about 2,000m so now I can climb anything! A quick few photos while Sophie points out our hut in a valley far, far below along with the wee little bridge over a canyon that we'll be crossing tomorrow morning on our way back. My aching feet think that hut looks very far away....

Slip-sliding down more rocks and sandy dirt, add another scrape to the collection, stomp stomp stomp, keep up to the group, my knees are still mad at me for the 5 hours of downhill hiking recently. Everyone's moving quickly now with our dinner destination in sight, but I suspect it's more the idea of shade and a chance to lie down out of the heat that has us so motivated. I can't even remember what it's like not to sweat and I really don't even care anymore. I yank up my droopy shorts once more and keep trudging, hat pulled low to absorb perspiration and keep the sun out of my eyes. I've unintentionally lost weight on this trip and it's not because the food was bad. When I bend over or crouch down, I have to yank my shirt down over my lower back because my bottoms are looser than they were when I left Canada. Turns out tormenting myself halfway around the world for 1.5 weeks is the secret to slimming down!

Yay, we have the place to ourselves! No farting old English dudes, no sandflies either, lots of bunks to spread out on. It's a hut made in heaven. As our bags begin to vomit our belongings and we search for our share of the common items, we discover exactly how light we're travelling: Sophie forgot our spoforknives! These clever utensils are a spoon at one end and a fork with a serrated edge that is used as a knife making up the other end. Much to our own entertainment, we end up eating a fine dinner of linguini with red sauce out of our blue bowls with our fingers. We each seem to have a different style, ranging from plonking ones' face right into the bowl and sucking up noodles to elegantly pinching a few noodles and dangling them into our mouth from overhead. We're laughing as much as we're eating which makes for a really nice final dinner together. Try as we might, we're having a hard time coming up with a meal that would be impossible to eat with our hands. Our best idea is lasagna as the layers would be pretty tricky to navigate. Any other suggestions?

After washing up the bowls, it's time for some chatting by candlelight (DOC huts don't often have electricity), then we all turn in for a good night of sleep after exerting ourselves so much in the heat today. Tomorrow is the last day of hiking.... :(

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