Rocks Hut(1143.2)-Slaty Hut(1158.5)
Campsite Elevation: 4582ft/1397m
It was a great night of sleep in Rocks Hut. It was quite fortunate that with 13 people in the hut, it was amazingly quiet. Since I hadn’t slept much the night before, I slept pretty hard last night and didn’t get all my blogging done. I finished it up this morning and headed out a bit later at 7:10am. There was a fog that was lifting, and I expected it to be quite cold since it was really cold before I went to sleep last night. I layered up and went outside to find out that it was already warm and humid. That was a shocker. I was in shorts and a t-shirt within 30mins of setting off.
Like many of the sections on the South Island, the Richmond Range is known for having high and exposed areas that should be done in fair weather. I am fortunate that there is a good string of days with clear weather. It is quite warm, and it got quite windy the second half of the day, but it wasn’t rainy, so I was thankful. It wasn’t long into the day that I got my first stretch out of tree line and through a tussock field. It was great to see actual mountains around me!
After that, there was some steep downhill and the trail changed to the Richmond Alpine Track. Up until then, the path had been smoother going. My pacing almost immediately slowed as the track became more of a route and quite a bit more rugged. It started off with many crossings of Hacket Creek. Luckily, there has been little rain, so the creek was low enough to keep dry feet with effort. I could see how it could become quite swollen quickly after rain, which is warned in the trail notes and signage on the trail itself as well. I ended up just giving in on the rock hopping and getting my feet wet to save time and energy. It was so hot out that it felt good and I knew my shoes would dry on the upcoming climb pretty quickly.
Right after that was the very steep and draining climb up to Starveall Hut. I am pacing my days based off of my friend Why Not who hiked the TA last year. She blazed through the Richmond Range, and that lets me know it’s possible with the right weather. I’m so thankful to her for blogging because I know we keep the same pace and that whatever she did would be right at the pace that I could do as long as the weather cooperates. Have I mentioned Why Not was 63yrs old last year when she kicked this range’s ass!? To anyone using this journal to pace, know that I’ve now stepped it up a notch, so my pacing is faster than it’s been. What I’m planning through the Richmond Range, is 50-100% faster than what most are doing out here. I don’t say this to brag, but to warn people that I’m hoping to do in 5-6 days what most take 7-9 days to do, so plan for what you know your pacing is compared to mine and bring plenty of food.
The climb up to Starveall Hut was really draining. It was steep and rugged and I was dripping sweat more than I have in ages. There was no lack of roots! Thankfully, there were plenty of streams along the climb, so I drank a ton and had lunch by one of the streams as well.
I’m feeling better than yesterday, and knew I just needed to give it time. Being out here, and meeting the other hikers, I’m seeing the paces they all are doing. It is a really good reminder of what I like to do and how my pace would have differed greatly in this kind of terrain had I stayed with the group. Partway up the climb, I saw my first other person today at 2pm. He was a young guy just starting out on the South Island of the TA. He underestimated the food he’d need to get through the range, and was hiking backwards to get out and resupply again. Oh man, he did that killer climb and was a day further when he decided he had to turn around. Good for him for realizing it, but it would kill me to have to do that climb twice if he chooses to start over again.
After what felt like forever, I made it up most of the climb to Starveall Hut and broke out of tree line. I was wondering when the views would come, but had been thankful for the shade of the trees on such a hot day.
As soon as I walked up to the hut, I recognized a couple that was there. It was a couple, Jeff and Lynn, that I ran into twice while doing the Great Divide Trail a year and a half ago. What a small world! They emailed me awhile back to say they were doing most of the South Island on the TA and we might see each other. Both of us forgot about that and were surprised to be overlapping again. I love it when that kind of stuff happens.Back when I first met them on the GDT, Jeff had recognized me as a Gossamer Gear ambassador as he uses their gear and gets their newsletters. They had all new gear this summer, and both have the newest Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack like me. We all have a lot of the same exact gear, and it was fun to see it all so similar to mine on another person. Even more of a coincidence is that Jeff just recently retired from being a professor at the college I went to, the University of Illinois. Both he and Lynn are botanists and seriously love looking at all the plant life and birds too. All of us were considering hiking on past the next hut, Slaty Hut, and tenting in an area another 4km past it that is marked as exposed, but flat on the Guthook app. I had asked the hiker I met earlier going the other way about tenting up there, and he warned that it was quite windy. I didn’t know how seriously to take his assessment as everyone has their own meter for things. Well, he was right! As we headed up the exposed ridge to Slaty Hut, the wind was the strongest I’ve been in all trail.
It was a great reminder of how tough this range would be in foul weather and why people have to bring enough food to be able to sit out a day or two if needed in a hut if a front came through. It would have been near impassible if it was raining in this wind with how exposed it was.
I got service, and realized I could post yesterday’s blog post. I had a bit of service this morning, but it wasn’t enough to post. I realized there was no way I was going to tent, and that I was going to need to settle with Slaty Hut, so I found a sheltered spot and sat down to load the blog and do some things online. Slay Hut is still the pacing Why Not did to do the range in 5 days, do I’m happy to be on that pace. It’s supposed to rain on my 5th day if the forecast stays the same, so I was trying to make it a bit further each day, but I’m totally happy to be in a hut in this wind!
When I arrived at the hut at 5pm, I knew it only had four bunks, and I was worried when I saw three tents pitched outside. It turned out that three women who also just started their sections of the TA’s South Island were here taking a short day off. They went ahead and voluntarily set up their tents so the thru-hikers could have the hut. It was so nice of them considering how windy it is outside! I’m typing this in the middle of the night, as the wind gusts outside and it’s pretty cold out there. They all have really solid tents for wind, but I hope they are able to sleep with how much it is gusting.
The six of us in the hut are all TA hikers. There’s Jeff and Lynn doing the South Island, a French couple, and a guy from right next to where I live in Oregon. All are doing a different pace than me, so I won’t see them again after tonight, but I may overlap with them again as there are still road sections people hitch on the South Island.
Well, that’s about it. I’m really grateful for these huts that also have water tanks and toilets. I may not like communal sleeping and being around so many people at camp, but everyone is really nice and the hut is super comfy! Most TA hikers buy a 6 month hut pass for about $90NZ/$67US. Normally, most of these are $5NZ/$4US per night. I had doubted that I’d use a hut enough times to add up to what I paid for it, but it seems like I may. I’ve lost count, and may go back to know the exact number at the end of the hike, but bet I do end up staying in a hut about 20 nights at this rate. Regardless, I’m happy to give the money to the DOC who maintains them. This one even has firewood, so one of the hikers warmed the hut using the furnace before bed, and that was nice.
It was good to get to the hut early at 5pm and get more rest. I’m actually wide awake now at 2am. Someone was snoring and I went out in the cold to use the bathroom, so that all woke me up pretty good. I had hoped to watch a show, but ended up using the time to sew up the mesh on my shoes even more. They are wearing through much faster than anticipated and I realized today that the grip on the bottom is already worn. It has been just over a month and 500mi/800km, which is exactly how long shoes should last, but a chunk of that was in the Whanganui River and I didn’t hike it. I was hoping to stretch them another 300mi/500km, but I don’t know if it will happen. I totally misjudged that one. I think my others lasted longer on the North Island because of all the road walking. Well, that’s about it from the Richmond Range. The snorer is still going strong, so I’m off to put on my white noise!