Brighter conditions, in fact there wasn’t a cloud in the sky first up. Venus shone brightly.

During the day clouds did roll in, but it was much drier conditions. No drizzle at all for the day.

Strangely I was first away. The school kids have plenty of mucking around and unproductivity to start.

The first hour and a bit was climbing 300 m, often with lots of the giant Dracophyllum leaves on the ground, bright orange in contrast with the violent green moss.

I peeled off to Porters Lookout, up at 1000 m by this stage, and there was a decent view from Farewell Spit in the north, D’Urville Island at the north of the Marlborough Sounds, Nelson, the Waimea Plains, and nothing much distinguishable immediately in front. I sat there for three quarters of an hour hoping the clouds would lift off the Richmond Range, munching my lunch, but it was not to be.

By the time I was back at the track junction where I’d left my pack, the first student tranche had arrived. They had overtaken the slow group who had set out sometime before the them, and were off to the lookout after a bite to eat.

With most of the climbing done by that stage it became easier underfoot. It’s really pleasant walking along the rounded ridge top, in quite a mix of forest: red and silver beech, Southern rata, Dracophyllum in various types, and patches of mountain cedar. Distant views are replaced by those of the close surroundings.

Birdlife was way less plentiful than I had imagined. Project Janzoon, the private venture which has installed 2600 traps to eliminate rats and stoats, has been operational for three years now, but the bird numbers are building up from a low base. Still, now and again I could hear short burst from a Yellow-crowned parakeet (kākāriki).

The last 5 km was winding my way through windfall, substantially overgrown with bracken, which I attacked, and red beech, which I did not, realising how springy those twigs are.

I was first to Awapoto Hut around 4 30 pm so cranked up the fire. It was looking as if it might be a cool night with little cloud cover.

There has been a series of high winds around the hut in past years which has decimated the forest. That meant there was heaps of firewood around. The beautiful mountain cabbage trees have also been damaged, or had their leaves entirely removed, which has killed many.

Eventually a solitary Kiwi woman walked in, followed by a Czech couple, and later a Kiwi father and son team.

No sign of the school group.

Half an hour after pitch dark the advance party arrived, dumped packs, grabbed as many extra headlights as they could find and the blokes headed back to render assistance. I lent my head torch to the tent direction party. Seems the slow party had moved past the faster group without leaving a message. The fast ones waited, then moved on to Moa Park shelter. The teacher meanwhile went back to look, ending up returning all the way to Castle Rock Hut, then had to return. The others had found each other again and all that took at least a couple of hours. Some grim moments when the team leader eventually caught up.

With my group contribution done, wood chopping and fire lighting, and being well fed and watered I slid into my sleeping bag on the mattress I dragged outside.

Yes, I was very cozy when the bedraggled final bunch staggered in.

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