Monday, March 8, 2010

Kiwi Quest 2010 - Hiking Day 7

Photos: 1) Louise and Mirjam working on the dinner preparations 2) The beautiful, cold, crystal clear river we camped beside 3) Sweating our way up to camp through the forest. This area is very dry compared to some of the spots we've already been to 4) Good-bye, Lake Ohau. See you tomorrow, providing we survive... 5) Send this shot of me at Lake Ohau back to my family if the 4am hike gets the better of me

This morning had a pretty low-key start. Yes, we were up early as usual, but after eating breakfast, packing up the tents, and doing the dishes, we headed into Alexandra where we were given time to explore the Farmer's Market taking place at the central park. Alexandra isn't THAT big of a town so there was no real risk of losing anybody in the crowd.

There were the usual array of farmer's market vendors selling anything from jewellery to lotions, greeting cards, local fruits and vegetables, junk too. There were three different groups of musicians, scattered around the market, and I felt very jittery when I found myself standing in the approximate centre of their range. My brain didn't really know how to process being assaulted by so much music at once, and all three were very different from one another. I ended up buying some locally grown flatto peaches which were really cool because they're flat on the top and bottom as well as tasting a bit different than a traditional round peach. Check here for more info:

Eventually, it was time to pack ourselves back into the van, and head to the galloping town of Twizle (permanent population 1200 persons) in order to replenish our food stocks at the grocery store. I offered to go in to help with the grocery shopping (we usually took turns) where, to my complete dismay, I could find no sign whatsoever of any kind of Twizzlers! Here's a town with nearly the same spelling and not a delicious piece of twisted red licorice in sight. Imagine my heartbreak when Sophie gently informed me that Twizzlers don't exist in New Zealand, period. I guess it was too clever to be true. I did, however, discover that Milo comes in bar form which did not impress anyone but me when I shared my new information with the group.

Moving on, we crossed the Lindis Pass into Mackenzie country where we soon found ourselves at Sophie's Secret Spot on the shores of Lake Ohau, just in time for lunch. It was a beautiful bright and sunny day, with an onshore wind helping to dispell some of the heat. We were parked in a perfect clearing and I soon found myself down on the shores of the lake taking photos of the incredible scenery. We thought about swimming because it was so hot, but the water was pretty cold and a bit rough so we chickened out. In addition to getting all the lunch food out and ready - we usually had sandwiches because they're easy and quick - it was time to repack our bags (yet again) in preparation for our overnight hike to the Unnamed Peak. This trek would soon become known as "The 4am Hike", but more on that later...

With everyone satiated and somewhat reorganized, we're back in the van headed to the trail head at a private ski club down the road. It's summer right now so the ski club people don't mind us leaving the van and trailer on their property overnight. We'll be hiking up the valley two over from the ski runs which should give you a good idea of the slopes we will be facing.... Holy smokes, look at these houses we're driving past!! For those of you reading this in Ontario, think Muskoka cottages; those in BC might think of places up near Whistler or Horseshoe Bay. We're talking mega-views, big places practically on the shores of Lake Ohau, and intimidating-looking gates at the driveway to keep riffraff like us out. Only drawback? You're at least a good hour of driving from any kind of town for supplies. Oh, wait. That's probably not a problem for the place with its own helipad.

One last toilet stop at the trail head, then we're out in the sunny open, striding across tussocks and stumbling up and down the walls of ditches in an area that was farm land until a year or so ago. Oi, lots of spaniards and madagari here, ouch. And yes, they'll stab you through whatever you're wearing, even gaiters. Boy, it's a scorcher today! And we're pretty exposed here. Good thing we're always reapplying our suncream. A quick rest stop in the shade beside a creek gives a few people time to readjust their backpacks and fill their water bottles, then we're making haste in the blazing heat to the promise of cooler temps in the forest about 45 minutes walking time ahead.

A longer snack and water break just inside the forest, as well as a chance to take some photos, then another hour of hiking up through the forest to where we'll camp for the night. Yay, not-so-favourite thing about hiking.... but I try my best to forge ahead and try to forget my physical discomfort by drinking in the beauty of the woods around me. The few bridges we cross help to break up the fairly constant upward climb, and I hear a few birds from time to time. As we near the top of the forest - and our campsite - we're out in the open for a few minutes, clambering across the bottom of a couple of giant rock slides.

Finally, with the group pretty much out of sight ahead of me save for Julie, I stagger the last few paces and wobble over to a big rock to throw my pack down and rest for a few minutes. I should probably try to breathe a little slower too. Forget talking; that's way down the list right now. I look around me at the clearing and marvel at how perfectly our tents will fit right into their spots with barely a few inches around their perimeter to spare. This is a well thought out camp site! and we're right beside the most beautiful, clear, sparkling river which means a convenient water source for cooking and drinking. As long as I take my head torch if I get up in the night, I probably won't fall down the river bank that we're camped at the edge of.

Tents are being set up, people are digging into their packs to unload whatever share of the food and utensils they're carrying, water is being fetched for the pasta, but where is the bathroom? Funny thing about that: At one point near the end of the hike today, I was by myself in the woods (everyone else was somewhere ahead of me), and, still to this day, I swear I saw a forest-green (no pun intended) portable toilet - known to some as a Johnny On The Spot - with a white roof, sitting by itself in the woods. It was a ways off, but I know what I saw so I presumed this was the bathroom. Sophie had told us that the Department of Conservation had added facilities, a "long-drop" which really meant nothing to me, near our site so I figured "long-drop" was the Kiwi term for portable loos. Um, no. What it actually turned out to mean is that our toilet was a wooden box with a proper plastic toilet seat and lid attached, no walls or doors or roof, perched over a hole in the middle of a clearing in the woods, down a little path off the main path. Huh. Well, I've been in worse so why not? Since the trees were the walls which meant there was virtually zero privacy if someone were waiting on the path, we developed a system whereupon the toilet paper roll was left on a central big rock at our campsite if no one was "in the bathroom". I appear to have hallucinated the original green portable toilet I know I saw. I told you this hiking trip is intense!

It's pasta with red pesto sauce (are we having pesto-flavoured museli for breakfast again?) and vegetables for dinner with your choice of hot drink: Milo, tea, coffee for Sophie, or hot milk powder if that's your game. Soon we're roasting pink and white marshmallows on the blazing bonfire that Sean built, trying to teach each other our specific roasting techniques which range from methodical, slow tanning to shoving the hapless marshmallow into the roaring flames and consuming it in one charred gulp after extinguishing the blaze of burning sugar it becomes. One last trip in the dark down the path to the long drop, then it's time to put out the fire and turn in early. We're getting up at 4am to go hiking tomorrow.....

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