The alarm sounded at 4.55am. The wind was beating into the side of the hut. There was rain but not much, just the few drops from the fast moving clouds. We were four when we set off, the light just bright enough to see.
The trail was muddy, sometimes shin deep and the wind cut through our warm layers as if we were hiking naked. We climbed towards the mountain peaks following a long horseshoe shaped ridge. But our views were obsured by the clouds. Not just any clouds but a fast moving tempest of wind and water.
We climbed the ridgelines. Often they were exposed with steep drops on either sides. After an hour of scrambling we reached the top of our first mountain peak. It was 500 meters higher than the safety of the hut behind us. The wind was gale force, maybe 50-60km/h which came in sudden gusts. Any stronger and hiking would not have been possible.
I tried to take photos and videos but my fingers lost their ability to work properly. The cold causing loss of feeling. But still I tried. My gloves were now wet and useless. We could do nothing but keep moving.
Low cloud would come and go but the wind was persistent. While hiking along the horse shoe shaped ridge we would occasionally spy our old hut. Our warm, dry hut that we chose to leave to hike on this morning. After 3 hours of slogging through rain, wind and mud we ended up at the small 2 person shelter called Dracophyllum Hut. It had a bunk bed for two people, a small stainless steel bench and some hooks to hang wet clothes. Outside was a small long drop toilet. The hut and toilet were secured to the ground by heavy duty wires. Extra security for the extreme weather that frequents this area. This bivvy sized hut was built to save people from the worst of the Tararua mountains weather, much worse than we faced.
10am photo below
Inside the hut a Czech girl, Karla was resting. She wasn’t sure about leaving in such bad weather. Five of us crammed into the hut to load up on calories in preparation for another hike to a larger, safer hut a couple of hours away. By 10am there were five of us hiking the trail.
The next 3 hours went quickly. We were less exposed to the worst of the wind but at times we were exposed to steeper terrain. If we fell a rescue would prove difficult. For the most part the trail aimed for the mud and deep green forest.
We all arrived safely at the small 6 bed Nicols Hut, although I’m sure as many as 12 could comfortably fit. The 12km took 7 hours, it was not fast hiking by anyone’s standard. But the trail was technical and slow.
It wasn’t long before I had the fire going and we were warm and dry. With such nasty weather I wasn’t keen to keep moving and neither was Karla. Paul, Kathy and Jean set off into the tempest trying to reach the lower altitude and safety of a larger hut. The weather was forecast to get worse when they left.
I snoozed in the warm dry hut for an hour. When I woke the fire died down and we heard voices. We looked outside. Paul, Kathy and Jean had returned. The wind was so strong they could not cross the next high pass. They huddled among the wet grass hoping for the wind to die down. But it did not. Six of us were stuck in the hut and the weather forecast for tomorrow is looking bad. Will we get out of the mountains for Christmas.