Usually, people go up

The Karpet members are getting older. I have a baby, Richard has gone and got himself a proper job, and Cam is doing his Masters thesis (which is, like us at so many road ends, overdue).

So while our enthusiasm for the Tararuas is undeminished, our availability is much-reduced. But we still try. Cam and I decided we could shoe-horn this quick overnighter in, and tick off a bucket-list item: Eastern Hutt Hut.

Avid readers of the Karpet Blog might recall that our last trip, to Jumbo, was also shoe-horned into a busy schedule with hopes of reaching a different bucket-list location, ‘the airplane wreck’.

That one failed too.

Eastern Hutt Hut is, as the name might suggest, a hut in the headwaters of the Eastern Hutt River. It is notable for not being notable.

It’s nestled away in the Greater Wellington Regional Council water collection area. Staying the night in the area is prohibited, except in emergencies, relegating the 1970s Forest Service hut in Eastern Hutt to a novelty of a place that you’re not allowed to stay unless you’re really buggered. It is, thus, largely unused and reportedly well-preserved.

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Eastern Hutt Hut doesn’t even get a proper name on the map.

The plan was to start on Saturday lunchtime from Waihone Campsite (nee Wall’s Whare), hop over to Cone for a snack, and crank up Baldy to be at Alpha Hut for dinner late Saturday.

And then on Sunday to come down the untracked Quoin Ridge, leaving it just after point 1308 to drop down to the hut, before walking out down the river and getting picked up at Kaitoke in time for tea.

Best laid plans and all that.

Saturday went well. We got away late, but shaved half an hour off the marked time to Cone Hut. The track to Cone from Waiohine is nice, kicking off with a sharp climb before levelling out to cruise over Cone Saddle and dropping down to Cone Hut. It’s very runable and we passed a woman doing just that.

Cone Hut has had a bit of work done since we were last there and now has a floor. Luxury. Still looks neat though, recalling tramping huts from when men were really men (ie, pre-Karpet).

In residence at Cone were a couple of young blokes and a dog. They said they were hunting but confessed they had no real intention of getting anything. They had plans to head up the Tauherenikau the next day. And an unlikely duo called Vinnie and Tony from Upper Hutt. More on them later.

After a brief stop and a chat Cam and I dropped down from Cone Hut straight to the river, to eye up a crossing. Neither of us had been up Baldy before and without checking assumed that the track took up directly over the river. (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t, it takes up about ten minutes South of Cone Hut).

The river was up, and we pissed around for a while trying to find a spot to get over. In the process we found the remnants, still marked, of a track on the True Left of the river, which I assume is what’s left of the old track down from Cone, before it was diverted via the Saddle. But I’m not sure.

Anyway, we decided we couldn’t cross, and thought the game was up and we’d be spending the night at Tutuwai. Until Vinnie and Tony said that there was a downed tree that allowed crossing just a ways down the track.

That might have been more credible if Vinnie and Tony hadn’t told us that it had taken them three hours to get to Cone from Tutuwai, and if they weren’t wearing jeans and sneakers and dangling their food in a Mad Butcher plastic bag off the outside of a schoolbag.

They were right though.

Just down the river, next to a chopper landing spot, is a fallen tree which allows straightforward access to the other side of the river and the track up Baldy.

Getting up Baldy is a grunt, with not much to commend it. No views, no respite, just good old fashioned Tararua hill climbing. Until you get to the top. The climb levels out while still in the bushline, and you get to stroll the last bit before bursting out onto some rocky outcrops which turn into rolling meadow. The views are fabulous. We got there just on sunset, so decided to eat tea and enjoy the view before carrying on to Alpha Hut.

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Dinner on Baldy, Wairarapa in background

After a more than satisfactory free dried curry we rolled on. Pretty knackered at this stage.

As we slowly carried on by torchlite we wondered about Vinnie and Tony. We had caught up with and overtaken them on the Baldy climb, they were struggling in inadequate footwear and clothes. One of them, for reasons unknown, had a 50 litre watercooler water bottle dangling empty from his pack. As we passed them, noting it was still quite a way to Alpha, they said that they had just realised that they’d left their frying pan at Cone. We never saw them again, so I hope they went back for it.

Tramping by head torch is slow going, so in the end we didn’t make it to Alpha until after 9. A bit of port (specifically, Porto Cruz Especial Reserve) and cheese was consumed chatting with those still awake in a nearly full hut.

Sunday dawned but Cam and I were a bit late getting going. In the end, after eating and chatting to a family with teenagers heading north on the Southern Crossing, we got away about 9.

It was a magnificent day. Sunny (it would reach over 30 degrees as the day wore on) and without a breath of wind.

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Confidence was high. We topped out on Alpha pretty quickly and turned south, bypassing the warning signs about the water catchment area and following the ridgeline.

It was scrubby going, with no formed track, and we both wished we’d packed proper gaiters. Cam had none, I had baby ones.

Confident of our direction we made steady progress to point 1308, and stopped for a snack. We could see where the spur we wanted carried on south as Quoin Ridge proper turned right, to the south-west, and continued to Quoin.

We started dropping down into the Eastern Hutt river headwaters, and the going got tougher. Leatherwood was everywhere, making it hard to stay on the ridge, so we made a zig-zag down the steep spur towards the bushline. There was the odd cairn, so we were confident we were heading in the right direction. So we carried on, and kept our eyes peeled for an entrance into the bush.

But we didn’t find one.

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Cam on point 1308 surveying Quoin Ridge with a bit of cloud sitting on it.

We boxed on, but started getting the uneasy sense that time was ticking away and we weren’t making enough progress to get to the road end for pickup.

I checked to see if I had a signal, and got a message out to Lindsey to say “hey, we are taking a lot longer than planned, all well but let’s flag pickup and I’ll call you when we’re out.”

Time elapsed, we made no progress. We poked around in the bush for a bit but could find nothing that suggested that this was ‘the way’. I was hungry, and frustrated, and had run out of water.

We sat down to eat, and assess our options.

Option 1: carry on down, bash through the bush, see what happens. This appealed on a number of fronts, but mostly because it was ‘not giving up’. Downsides: lack of water, lack of a clue how long it might take, lack of a path to follow, risk of ending up in tributary headwaters and getting very cold, tired, and lost.

Option 2: regain Quoin Ridge, turn left, follow ridge to road end. This option carried the most uncertainty. There was tarn water on Quoin, but we didn’t know what the forwards path on Quoin Ridge was like, and we ran the risk of ending up in the same situation much later in the day and with many fewer alternatives.

Option 3: retreat to Alpha Hut, exit via Marchant the next day. The prudent option. Safety first. This was the obvious answer, but with the frustrating downside of letting down my family, who were expecting me home.

“What,” I said to Cam, “if there was Option 4: get a chopper ride out?”

“Hmm, I dunno about that.” Cam replied, no doubt weighing up the indignity of a ‘rescue’, the possible cost, and the fact that he doesn’t much like heights.

“I just want to go home now.” I said. And I had a signal, so I sent a text message to the Kaitoke Park Ranger. In it I said where we were, that we weren’t lost, but that we had bitten off a good deal more than we could chew, and all forward options were both hard and time consuming.

“Are you in trouble? If so call the Police straight away.” He messaged back. I reassured him we were fine, just interested in his suggestions.

“Well I do have a machine on standby for fire duty today. Want me to see if he’ll come and get you?” DOC people call helicopters ‘machines’.

“That would be great,” I said. “Happy to pay.”

“I’ll let you know.”

And shortly thereafter he said his guy was happy to collect us, and at 3.30pm just south of point 1308 our ride home turned up (but not before surprising another party further down Quoin who had not called for a lift).

Pilot Jason had us back at Kaitoke about ten minutes later, reflecting on how rapidly things can change in the bush.

I felt like a bit of a dick getting lifted out. Jason was having none of it, saying he would much rather do easy pick ups like ours than chopper out bodies like he did when the poor blokes from Xero froze to death within cooee of Alpha last year. Point well made Jason, point well made.

In fact, Jason from Amalgamated Heli in Masterton was an all round champion. He made us feel like we had made a sensible, prudent, decision to take a ride rather than pushing ourselves on the basis that taking a lift was some kind of failure. I appeciated that from him. Also, to date, no bill has been received. I appreciate that too.

Chatting to Ranger Steve Edwards in his office he said of the route we were attempting “people usually go up, it’s not easy coming down.”

Quite. Wish we’d had that chat on Friday instead of Sunday.

Still, all’s well that ends well I guess. The first mission abort in the Karpet oeuvre. Not quite the bucket-list item we were hoping to tick off. Eastern Hutt Hut, like the plane wreck, will have to wait for another weekend.

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Typical Tararuas

Cam and I needed to recharge our souls.

For months we’d had some days set aside in December for the purpose, but with 10 week old baby Lucy at home I was only available for a short stretch. Rich couldn’t get away from work. So it was just the two of us.

Where to go?

We’d been chatting for some time about a loop from Atiwhakatu Hut up to Jumbo, around to Baldy and back down to Atiwhakatu. Seemed feasible in one night.

There was the additional allure of the mythical Shingle Slip Knob aircraft wreck. For 10 years we’d talked about getting to it. With a promising forecast, this was our chance!

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And so on a sunny Tuesday morning at 6.30am I picked Cam up and we headed North towards cloudless ranges.

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View of the Southern Crossing from Cam’s place in Kelburn

The great triumph of the trip at this early stage was my effort at packing all my overnight needs (including luxury items including port, a hammock, and my Kindle) into a paltry 40 litres.

“Going smaller” has long been an aim of mine. By pulling back everything and starting from scratch fitting into 40 was a bit of a squeeze but entirely achievable.

A brief stop in Greytown for hut tickets and supplies, and a yarn with the ranger at the Holdsworth Road-end later we were on our way.

Fearful of crowds we decided to take the less-used East Holdsworth approach track to the tops. It’s a bit of a track to nowhere, used mostly for those wanting to do a Holdsworth loop without any Jumbo.

East Holdsworth is a super little track. Varied in steepness and vegetation and lacking in other people. On a glorious summer’s day in the school holidays we encountered just one other tramper. Bliss.

She told us there was a man staying in the 2-man McGregor Biv. That ruled that out. I like Cam, but not enough to spoon.

Over about 6 hours we plodded our way up on to the tops and North to Jumbo Hut. We stopped at the bushline for lunch. Cam casually announced that he hadn’t had any breakfast and had put in a 4 hour uphill effort on the back of a small flat white.

The weather was as good as it can ever be in the Tararuas. It was clear, and windless. Yes, windless. I’ve never seen anything like it. I longed for a hat and bathed in sunscreen at every opportunity.

The views on track and from Jumbo Hut as the sun went down were spectacular. Soul recharge in progress.

At Jumbo Hut we encountered a lovely family out for a Holdsworth Jumbo loop. We played cards (Monopoly, and game called Carcasonne which was interesting) and shared our port with them (luxury item alert).

But mostly we chilled out.

Bad news ahoy, the forecast had worsened. We resolved to get up reasonably sharply and assess our options.

We awoke to gale-force northerlies buffeting the Hut.

Given the state of (a) the weather and (b) my legs we decided that the full Jumbo-Baldy loop was a big ask. But we couldn’t resist a lightweight attempt at the Aircraft Wreck. So we set off about 7 with minimal equipment to see if we could hussle over the Shingle Slip Knob and back by lunchtime.

 

Windy is an understatement. It was blow-you-off-your-feet insanity. There was a front holding up on the Western side of the main range, and we were walking straight into it. It was slow going and after two hours we hadn’t yet reached Angle Knob.

We boxed on. Out of the mists came striding a chap in a lime-green jacket. Wind behind him, he looked as casual as you like. This was the man from McGregor Biv.

“Bit windy” I opened, “what’s it like up there?” I nodded in the direction of Shingle Slip Knob, entirely obscured by the North-Westerly front. “Not too bad,” said Biv-man. “This next bit is the worst, the wind comes over the saddle. After that it’s better.” The wall of cloud clawing angrily at the Main Range didn’t really agree with him. Neither did I. “Looks a bit clagged in?” I offered. “Just typical Tararuas.” He said, and loped off into the distance.

Typical Tararuas! My ass.

At times, it felt slightly dicey. For the first time in my long (if sporadic) tramping career I thought briefly about those at home: Linds and Jords and Lucy. My margin for error needed to be bigger now. Kick for touch.

So we did. We boxed on for a bit to see if green-jacket’s assertion of improvement was correct. It wasn’t. At Angle Knob we turned back. The Aircraft Wreck will be there next time.

With the wind at our backs the going was much easier, and we were back at Jumbo for an early lunch and by mid-afternoon we’d descended the painfully-steep Raingauge Spur, had a snack at the new Atiwhakatu Hut (very nice), and walked the 6 or so kms out on well-cut track to the road-end.

Time in motion: 12 hours or so over 2 days.
Underratedness: moderate. East Holdsworth highly underrated. The rest rated pretty fairly.
Typicality: atypical. Amazing weather one day. Gales the next. No crowds on busy tracks.

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Mountain Heezie

This was supposed to be a day trip to Powell Hut but stink weather conspired against us and it ended up being a leisurely stroll up the Gentle Annie to Mountain House and then down to Atiwhakatu Stream and back to the carpark.

The Gentle Annie track to Mountain House is a highway. Mountain HeezieIt was packed. A lot of people coming down from Powell having spent the long weekend there.

Note to self: stay out of Holdsworth area on long weekends.

Stuff we learned on this trip: 

Walking poles are ace: Rich had a couple and they are pretty choice.

Lightweight is king: walking with no weight is so much more fun than carrying epic packs.

Richidity is key: make sure you stay clenched through the buttocks and core, but not too clenched. Keep your Richidity under control!

Rocky Lookout View The view from Rocky Lookout is pretty sweet – back down to the road end and out to Masterton.

Signposted times are pretty generous. We did the whole loop in 3.5 hours including stops.

 

Kapakapanui

A bloody awesome one-nighter just inland from Waikanae. Highly under-rated*.

Walking it clockwise the first day is a slosh through the upper reaches of the Waikanae River (about five crossings, some knee deep) followed by a sharp climb up 700m through dense beech. There are still scars from the 1936 cyclone.

Kapakapanui track map

The track flattens out after a couple of hours and another hour or so later Kapakapanui Hut is nestled in the trees.

Walking times roughly marry up to signposted times. Approx 3 hours to the hut.

Kapakapanui Hut

 

Port Report

This trip’s Port Report is CHEEKY QUAIL BLACK CURRANT PORT by Ruahine Ports.

Yep, seriously, Cheeky Quail. How flippin’ awesome is that!

The Quail is an awesome fruity drop. Very rich and dark. Kirk hit the nail on the head with this one and cemented his Karpet position in one easy pour.

Highly recommend.

The next day it’s a fairly easy hour long walk up to the top of Kapakapanui. Only about 20 minutes uphill from the hut you break the treeline and the view are amazing.

From the top it’s a sharp and pretty much constant descent down to the river again. Tough on the legs with a heavy pack. 4 hours or so from the top to the car. Again, roughly what the signs say.

Kapakapanui Summit

Things we learned on this trip:

1. Kirk is a good bugger: new addition to the Karpet, Kirk, was excellent company on his first outing, including top notch food contributions.

2. Shithead: a new card game (for me). Objective is to lose all your cards, like Arsehole.

DEALING: From a standard, shuffled deck of 52 cards, each player is dealt three ‘face down cards’ in a row. Players are not allowed to see or change these cards. On top of the ‘face down cards’, they are dealt the same number of ‘face up cards’. Three cards are again dealt to each player (face down), and this becomes the player’s ‘hand’. Players are then allowed to switch the cards in their ‘hand’ with their ‘face up cards’ in an attempt to produce a strong set of ‘face up cards’ for later in the game.

PLAY: After the cards have been dealt, players lay cards in turn onto the pick up pile, starting with the first player to lay a three. If nobody has a three, then the holder of a four must lay and so-on. If two players hold a four, the first player with a four after the dealer begins the game. Play will then continue in a clockwise direction until the cards dictate otherwise.

WILDCARDS: 

2 – Playing this wildcard allows the next player to play any card in his or her hand.
10 – Laying a 10 burns the pile and removes it from the game. The player who laid the 10 may then lay another card before play continues.
Additional wildcards: 
3 – This wildcard has two roles: it changes the direction of play until a 3 is played again and it also “mirrors” the previous card. For example if a player lays an Ace, and the player to their left lays a 3, then play returns to the player who played an Ace and they must then lay an Ace or a wildcard.
5 – A 5 is effectively a ‘see through’ card. The game continues based on the card below.
7 – Laying a 7 means that the next player must match or go lower than a 7 or play a 10. Subsequent play returns to the standard order.
8 – Laying an 8 means that the next player misses their turn. (Laying a 3 on an 8 also results in the next player missing their turn).
Four-of-a-kind – Any four of a kind acts as a wild card as well. For example, if a player lays two Kings, and the following player has two more, they can play them, and this burns the pile.

3. Contact: Another excellent new game we learned from a slightly intense hut companion.

PLAY: One player must think of a word, and reveal the initial letter. The object is for the other players to work out what the word is. To do so, they can only ask questions where the answer is a word with the same starting letter. 

Say the creator’s word is “apple.”  The creator says his word starts with the letter “a.”  The guessers try to think of words that also start with the letter “a.”  One of the guessers thinks of the word “apathy” and gives the group a clue, say “This is a symptom of depression.”

If the word creator can come up with a word that fits the clue, say “apathy” or “anhedonia,” they say “It’s not apathy” or “It’s not anhedonia,” and the guessers have to think of another clue.

If the word creator cannot think of a word, but one of the other guessers can, the other guesser says “Contact” and the guessers say the word together after counting down from 3.  If they both say the same word, the creator has to give them the next letter.  If they say different words, or if none of the other guessers knows what the clue means, then the guessers have to think of another clue.

Once you have two or more letters, the guessers can only use words that start with those letters.  For instance, once the creator gives the letters “ap,” the guessers can only use words like “application,” “aptitude,” or “apoptosis.”  After three or four letters it usually becomes obvious what the word is, and players can start guessing the word.

4. I pack far too much shit. After this trip I’m going ultralight!!!

 

*We rate it – heaps. Not sure who under-rates it. Apparently everyone. But not us. Honestly. It’s choice.