Day 59: Dracophyllum Hut to Nichols Hut

Distance travelled today: 5 km

Total TA distance covered: 1568 km

Gale wind and torrential rains.

It rained overnight. We knew it would and had a good grasp on the forecast. The day was to start with winds around 30km quickly rising to gales around noon and severe gales in the vacinity of 140km/hr in the afternoon on exposed alpine peaks; a drizzle of rain in the morning and expectng up to 80mm by midnight; before clearing tomorrow morning.  There was absolutely no chance of even dreaming of crossing the high ridges of Mount Crawford today. We would have to wait until the rain stopped and the wind died down.

But Dracophyllum Hut was no place to linger. A tiny two bunk hut with very little room to move. A day holed up in there and we would go stir crazy. Besides staying here there for the day would add additional distance onto the alpine crossing making for a massive day when we did get a chance to cross. So we made the decision to travel onwards to Nichols Hut, 5 km away.

The wind was up but nothing, near gale. Still strong enough. Perhaps 30km and hour. Under the trees it wasn’t too bad and by the time we were on the move the rain had all but ceased. Rain drops fell think from the tree canopy knocked down by the wind.

For the most part the four hour walk from hut to hut was in amongst the trees. A tangled mess of beech, thickly coated in moss from ground level, up trunk and covering every limb. I have never seen so much moss. A huge variety of types covering everything on the ground. Thick mats sprawled over rocks, root and fallen trees. This is the forest setting for all childhood fairytales. Dark but fascinating all the same.

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The trail stayed true to the major ridgelines, dropping down into saddles and ascending but up again. We were making good time which was great as today was no day to linger. While the forecast showed 50mm of rain by 3pm this was the total up until 3pm and it was bound to start sooner or later. As we walked the wind increased. You could gear it pick up and it funnelled up gullies from the west, sending streams of clouds bolting between the trees in front of us.

We had one open section of ground to cover enroute to Nichols Hut, across Kelleher Hill, where the trail left the shelter of the trees and crosses an exposed alpine peak. It was here we first really felt the wind. Exiting the trees it belted into us like a freight train from the side. It was nasty business and had both Sarah and I scrambling to stay upright. We knew it was only a short section before diving back into the trees and pushed on every so carefully trying to keep both feet on the ground and not be knocks off the top. Exhilarating stuff to be sure.

Back into the relative safety of the trees for the next 3km. I say relative safety as we were half expecting the trees to start uprooting as the canopies were buffeted by the now extremely high winds, threatening to tear the shallow rooted trees from their sentry posts. We’d walked through quite a bit of wind fall yesterday. I’d estimate the winds now 60km plus, doubled from this morning. Walking over a coule of rooty sectioms you could feel the ground move under foot.

As we neared Nichols Hutt with less than 1/2 a kilometre to go the rain started. Easy at first but by the time we left the trees for the final push to the hut we were well out in the open. No tree over. The rain came in side ways thick and fast. Painful as it hit the hands and face, pummelled in on the gale winds. Immediately drenched from head to toe, wet weather gear made no difference. Too late now to even contemplate putting on water proof pants. To stop now and open a pack was to invite a flooding and drenching of anything left exposed. We couldn’t stop and had to charge the hut. Fighting the wind to stay upright with every step over the last hill top. It was easier for me to see without my glasses on as the rain spattered glass and fogged lenses clouded my vision, and I can’t see shit without them normally. Shouting over the wind, Sarah spied the roof of the hut a short distance away. By this stage the track had turned into a river.

We reached the shelter of the hut to find 6 other TAers bunkered down – Jurgen, McKalya, Shania, Steffen, Emily and Simon. Aiming to keep the inside of the hut dry we had no option but turn our backs to each other outside the hut door and strip to the bone to change into warm, dry clothes.

Reachng the hut was well timed. We spent maybe 15 minutes in full rain and wind. I would not want to experience the upper reaches of this range in such condition. To do so would be putting your life at risk. On entering the comfort and safety of the hut, the wind and rain increased to crazy levels. Rain smashing down sideways into the hut and at times the wind rocking the hut sideways, easily felt through the floor boards and walls, threatening to send it off its foundations. Quite a few times during the afternoon all 8 of us would simultaneous say “Whoo!” as the wind buffered the hut from all flanks, half expecting some of the roof to lift or windows be blown inwards.

Nothing to but but get comfortable and sit it out. So the rest of the day was spent killing time; catching up the other guys to see how their adventures had been going, reading and writing. A long half day in a crowded hut, on a wet day, trying to make the time go by is no easy feat.

3 thoughts on “Day 59: Dracophyllum Hut to Nichols Hut

  1. Quite hair raising reading – but a calculated risk which paid off. The weather was nasty in Levin that day so we knew it would be terrible on the tops. We were imagining you hunkered down in a hut so didn’t worry. At least you were not drenched for too long. You can imagine how people way less informed than you come to grief. Congrats to you guys for handling the tricky NZ weather so well.

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