Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 11

Well, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Today is the last day of the hiking portion of my Kiwi Quest, and essentially my last day in the South Island.

Photos: 1) The crazy narrow bridge to cross a canyon first thing this morning. Maximum load: 1 persons. 2) The rest of the group is WAY up on the windy ridge. Photo taken with 5x zoom because I'm way down the side of the ridge. 3) The Tri-Falls at the Emerald Pool 4) Snack break behind some rocks as shelter from the wind. 5) Neat building in Christchurch.

We're up at 6am today because we've a lot to do before we bid adieu tonight. First challenge: eating porridge for breakfast with no utensils. Ha! This is fun stuff. We got practiced while eating pasta without utensils last night so we're prepared for this morning. I used my one-finger method of scooping food to my mouth, but it proved to be too slow and painful for the others to watch so eventually I was ordered to use one of our wooden cooking spoons which sped up the process quite a bit.

Juli and I are going to hang out at the hut while the rest of the group is off to explore a nearby water cave of some kind. It's rather cold this morning, and pretty darn windy too, so I didn't relish the idea of hiking out to the truck in wet hiking boots. I was also pretty tired and really didn't feel like adding an extra hiking section to my day. From all reports, the caves were pretty cool and no one got wet feet, but Juli and I had a nice time chatting and relaxing while the group was gone.

A quick tidy of the hut, then we're marching off down the path heading back toward the van via a very narrow bridge spanning a small canyon. Don't look now but the maximum load is 1 person at a time! As the first person across, I was quite tempted to jump in the middle a bit (my favourite bridge activity), but I sensed I'd probably get in a fair amount of trouble if I damaged the bridge and stranded my comrades on the other side of the canyon. Besides, I didn't have the van keys either...

Everyone's safely across now and the sun is coming up which means we should warm up soon. Keep in mind, I'm hiking in shorts at this point and we're in the mountains. Brrr! Lots of uphill today as we're on a different route from yesterday. I'm slow and huffing and stumbling as usual, and eventually I force my way up to the group who are having a snack break on the side of a ridge near a section called "School Bus Overhang". If I weren't so tired from slogging uphill so far, I'd be faster at whipping out my raincoat to protect me in my sweaty clothes from the cutting wind. As is it, I huddle shivering behind my backpack for a bit of shelter while I wearily chew on some trail mix and gulp water. Last one in to snack breaks gets the least amount of time to rest so I've got to get some food and water into me quickly. I'll heat up when we start moving again which almost always feels way too soon.

Eventually, we're through with picking our way across sheer rock faces, and back to the tussocks that I enjoy. We're heading more overall downhill now so I'm able to keep up better. The grasses are still so useful as brakes when I lose my footing and start to roll in the dirt. Although most of the group is way ahead of me, and the waist-high grasses are often hiding the wee narrow trail we're following, it's pretty easy to stumble ahead in the general direction of the group since the terrain is so open at this altitude. The sun is shining brightly and it's pretty warm even with the strong wind.

We all get a chance to rest and snack again at the point where the trail diverges. Some photos, some water, then I decide that I'll take a turn at the front of the group since the trail is pretty easy to follow now. Across some more tussocks, now we're in some more rocky terrain. Hup, hup, hup! I'm pushing myself hard to keep a good pace for the fast hikers that I can hear right behind me. I check back a couple of times and everyone seems to be keeping up well so eventually my minds drifts while my body marches on autopilot. This happens to me fairly often on this trip. I think it's a protective mechanism in a way: the primitive part of my brain is still keeping an eye on the trail for me, but the more developed parts of my brain are off thinking about things other than my aching feet or the painful muscles in my back or how tired my legs are.

I come out to the top of a ridge, a very rocky area still above the tree line, and it's as though the wind factor just jumped by 10! It's a very narrow area we're marching across, maybe a foot of room to each side, and the trail meanders through the rocks so there's very little room for error. It would be fine most days, but today the wind is blasting so hard that I am literally being blown from side to side. I'm bent forward against the wind and I'm no shrinking violet in size so you can imagine just how strong these gusts were. The whole group is staggering as though drunk out of our gourds. I'm blazing down the trail as fast as I can to to get the heck down to the trees for some shelter. I follow the switchbacks down the steep side of the rocky ridge, slipping a little on some scree, scraping a leg on a particularly large rock. I'm about one third of the way down, almost entirely deaf from the roaring wind, when I think I hear my name called. I pause and look back up the ridge. Where the heck is everyone else?? Oh, there they are, waaaaaay up on the top of the ridge still! They're shouting at me and the wind is ripping their words away. I shout back that I can't hear them. We switch to charades. I still have no idea what they're indicating so I sit down to wait for them to catch up.

Eventually, the whole group makes it down to the forest intact, and all too soon we're crossing the last bridge back to the parking area. Now it's hot again! There's almost no wind down here, definitely nothing like the gale-force on the ridge, so it's a good time to repack all of our bags for the last time. Oi, this should be interesting. I've got to condense all of my gear into just the two backpacks I flew down here with! I managed to gift some travel shampoos to Kirsten who is staying in New Zealand for another few weeks, but I'm left with the rest of my extensive belongings. Why did I go shopping in the South Island?? I sit on my big pack and snap the final buckle in place, then it's time to enjoy Mirjam's delicious pancakes for lunch. No one really wants much of all our leftover food so Sophie will donate it to a shelter in Christchurch tomorrow. What a great idea!

One final clean-up, one final stop for ice cream, then we're on the road and headed to Christchurch. Everyone's pretty quiet at this point. Perhaps they're reflecting on the new friends they made, or the crazy stories we've created, or all of the great photos we've taken of this beautiful country. We make plans to meet for dinner in Christchurch, and before I know it, we're at the front door to my hostel. Ahhhhh, showers!!! How do I love thee after 3 days in the bush?

Clean again, having repacked my bags for the nth time, I dress in clean clothes and head out to find an internet cafe before dinner. I'm in a dorm with 3 sets of bunks although I'm hoping they're not all full by the time I get back. I update my blog quickly, check my email, then find the others who showed to dine. Amazing! I don't even recognize them at first since we're all so showered and wearing clean clothes. Unfortunately, we don't get a chance to say good-bye to Kirsten and Sean as they were meeting family, neither do we find Jane for a chance to say adieu to her. The rest of our motley crew enjoy a nice dinner together before a few final farewells. Wow, it really is over! I offer to walk Louise back to her hostel since it's around the corner from mine, and we end up talking for another couple of hours while seated in a planted area in front of some random building. Good times, good times. I'm going to miss this hiking trip.....

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