-3.5° C first thing, inside the hut, but at least my boots aren’t frozen.
Why am I doing this again?
I cast my mind back to my endless riding my bike across Australia a few years ago, day after perfect day of 25° C, for months on end, up in the north of the continent, warm mornings a certainty. Back then I was remembering the cold New Zealand winters and now I’m living them. The thing is I grew up in the chill, the 1970s were colder and wetter than now, heating and insulation in houses less common.
I deal with it by not letting myself get too cold, always plenty of clothes. At the moment, 7 23 am, I have a short-sleeved woollen T-shirt, a long-sleeved version, a long-sleeved thin wool jersey, my hoody, with the hood up, over a thin wool beanie, and my soft shell jacket all zipped up over the top.
I slept in all that, less the beanie and with the hood down, in my old sleeping bag with a silk liner. Sometimes it feels like being in a straight jacket, not good if you get leg cramps as I did on the first few nights.
Oh, I wear old lycra bicycle shorts and polypropylene trackie daks for the undercarriage.
And I have my warm muesli/porridge mix in a pot sitting on my legs, sipping coffee.
Life doesn’t feel so bad.
My mind is concentrated on my immediate surroundings, it’s quiet enough, few birds tweeting so I can hear the flow of the river 30 m away. My breath is visible but I’m not complaining, after all I chose this particular way to spend my life.
Days certainly feel long, if you stop to notice the moments, I guess because I have a routine for this lifestyle: get up after the 7 am news and weather, make coffee and breakfast, pack up. Stop often to identify plants, that’s my excuse, have lunch shortly after 12 pm, plod on. At the hut there are firewood and water to be procured, dinner to be cooked and eaten, blog notes to be made. Sleep. Then repeat.
But the views are always changing and during the day various challenges come up.
This morning it’s the river crossing to start with then straight into a 900 m unrelenting climb to the top of, umm, Bushy Top. In the afternoon all that elevation gain will be lost as I drop into the Wairoa River.
Minor obstacles, nothing most adults couldn’t achieve with sufficient motivation.
My body might be in an ageing state, but its limitations are overcome by my mind’s ambitions.
Cold? Sure, but I recognise these are great days, I appreciate what I have, the freedom, the slight uncertainty. It’s great to be out here.
Surprise!! That big Goulter River was fanned out and the water at the top of a small rapid was ankle-deep. Let’s give a run through a try. Just as well, there was crystal ice in the kanuka and on the ground.
Splash, splash, splash.
That worked, no water inside my boots, my tight fitting gaiters helped. Except there’s a second channel that is deep and not quite jumpable.
Maybe? I wander the short way downstream and find a suitably shallow section, it only four or five steps and I’m through and standing in bright sunlight with more or less dry boots.
I can confirm the climb to Bushy Top does go on. The first part to get up onto the main ridge gets you up quickly, ie, it’s steep, but there are two locations to get a view. Firstly, up the valley, then a broader vista, the hut way down there, still a very white shadow hanging around.
Then it was just a continual climb, some bluffs to skirt under, almost frozen snow from about 1000 m. On the flat Bushy Top was some cell phone reception, I alerted base that I was still alive, with still another six days before I returned to civilisation. It turned out it was an 1100 m climb, when you include a few ups and downs.
Then there was the drop to the Wairoa River, almost as far down. Man, it was almost dark when I reached the hut, just on 6 pm. Considering I’d left Lower Goulter before 9 am that was a decent day’s effort, even when you take out my hour up on Bushy Top connecting with the outside world.
Other than the joy with the ease of crossing the river, the moment of the day was spotting the Rescue Orange glint of the Top Wairoa Hut in the sunlight right up the river. Plenty of snow up behind on the Red Hills.