Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

Day 75

November 15th, 2015

Nov 14 day 75 Mid Wairoa Hut to Porters Creek Hut 7:15-5:15 24 km


One of my “pointless” essays is about “surfaces,” something that insistently called my attention all day. It started with a very sharp up, which then dropped me back down on the banks of the left branch of the Wairoa River. Just like the Pelorus, the Wairoa is that indescribable pellucid blue/green, a color I really have not seen before. The whole morning stretch was waterfall after waterfall. I was hiking upstream, and they got more dramatic the further up I got. The walking was tough though, very narrow rock ledges over sheer drops which required a lot of concentration. I could see signs where people had slipped (not bodies or bones, just long skid marks). There were also about eight stream crossings. The water was not deep enough to be of concern, but it was very cold early in the morning, and of course I then had to spend the rest of the day hiking with wet feet. Along with the stream hiking and narrow rock ledges, there were excursions into the dense forest along the river banks. There the roots of old trees were densely matted with dirt and plants in the interstices, but in many places the actual subsoil had washed out, so I was walking on a thin layer of roots and dirt suspended over a void. Often my trekking poles would go through, fortunately not my feet. It did make an oddly hollow sound and was a springy way to walk. There was a hut upriver about ten kilometers, and there the trail left to river to ascend Mount Ellis and some of the surrounding peaks (around 1600 meters). Through that stretch which was above tree-line, I felt as though I was in a contractors supply yard. I’d hike over rocks the size of basketballs, then baseball size, then increasingly finer gravel. In the afternoon, the geology of the area changed as I moved into the “red hills” which are composed of mineral rich igneous rocks with a lot of iron (hence the red). They weather sharply and the large rocks are very difficult to walk over–definitely shoe killers. The afternoon continued with the strange surfaces– more red rocks on ridges that made me expect to see the Mars Rover come cruising by. The trail kept going up and over ridges, then back down to rivers, making it difficult to get a sense of where it all was going, though the trail proper was incredibly well-marked by tall orange snow poles. Often there were long scree traverses, and toward the end of the day, instead of gravel sized scree, it was more like sand which on steep banks moved under my feet. At several places the traverse would be within ten years of a cliff drop-off. One slip, and there would be no way to stop, which made those points even more nerve wracking than the morning’s narrow cliffs. Needless to say, I was happy when I saw in the distance of the bright orange painted Porters Creek Hut. Another very long strenuous day, early to bed in hopes that I make it to town tomorrow. I hear that the Nelson Lakes Motel has a big barbecue on Sundays, all the more reason to be sure I get across those rivers and into St. Arnaud.