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reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

Day 77

November 19th, 2015

Nov 16 day 77 St Arnaud to Upper Travers Hut 9:00-5:30 30 km


Water. The most beautiful story Hemingway wrote was “Big Two-Hearted River” where Nick Adams, the protagonist, is recovering from the metal anguish of World War I, so he goes fishing in Northern Michigan. At one point he leans over a bridge rail and sees big trout holding steady in the river’s current. I woke early at the backpacker hostel of the Nelson Lakes Motel. Dave, a hiking guide was in the kitchen working up breakfast for his crew from Spain. I made coffee (several cups), talked with him then packed up and headed out– not to the trail just yet. In keeping with my TA resolution not to eat food from my pack when there is a restaurant nearby, I wandered down to the St. Arnaud Cafe for the big breakfast and more coffee. A very cold morning, I sat at the picnic tables outside waiting for the cafe to open and catching up on Internet work on the free Spark wifi. After breakfast and an ice cream bar for dessert (you can eat anything you want if you hike all day), I headed down the trail which first was an easy, flat walk around Lake Rotoiti. At the end, a river valley opened up and the trail followed Travers River, as it turns out, its entire length. In the lower parts it as fairly wide and flat, but perfectly clear and the most unimaginable blue green color. I think if there were a contest to chose the most beautiful color in the world, the water of Travers river would win. It was a long hike to Upper Travers Hut (30 km), but it took me from the mouth to the headwaters, so I got to see the river’s life unfold across the day, from the staid maturity of the mouth to the rollicking turbulence of its youth (yes, the water really does rollick over the rocks). The trail would wind through the woods and rocks, then return to the waters edge, giving a whole new perspective and understanding. Yesterday the water was mountaintop snow so tasting was ice and as intoxicating. No, the opposite as there were no toxins anywhere near it. I stopped once to look into a deep pool though it is very difficult to judge depth when you can see through it so clearly. As I stared at the bottom– perfect round blue-gray stones– a trout caught my eye. Large, brown, at least 22 inches long, the fish held steady in the current and I then understood Hemingway’s story. The Travers River is rushing fast, it is plunging down the mountain to the lake below, waterfall after waterfall. Even slack water is anything but a slacker. That fish holding motionless was swimming fast. Holding steady is hard work. Although smaller streams had been joining the river all day, toward later afternoon, they came rushing in harder and louder. The trail became steeper and wound around and through them, and the surrounding mountains started to loom, casting dark shadows. Then I saw, dropping straight off a mountain top, fully half of the water making up the Travers river at that point. It as as if someone had just taken half the river and leaned it against a very tall mountain, then let it fall. Rushing vertically for hundreds of meters– no words. The day was winding down as I finally made my way to the hut which, much to my surprise, had smoke coming from the chimney. On entering I was met by a hiking party, two Kiwi guides from Picton and four fascinating women from Australia. Rather than my usual solitary evening in a quiet hut, I was treated with food, wine, even a little whiskey, but best was lively conversation. A remarkably pleasant evening capping a day of learning about the life of a river.