It’s a forest reminiscent of 1940’s Europe: the ground is churned mud, pocked with thousands of holes. The culprit is not mortars but a different entrenched enemy, pigs. We’re heading up the less traveled Carrington Ridge to join the popular Holdsworth Track and it’s a place more hunters should really come and do their thing.
Our trio sets off at 10am. We’re a Meetup party one short of a full complement – the first time a Meetup trip hasn’t been fully booked! We are Y from the Kapakapanui adventure, T a Brit new to NZ (missing baked potatoes already) and myself.
We start by attempting to find a carpark near Carrington Creek along the Mangatarere Valley road. Assuming there’d be a carpark or DOC sign, we overshoot and reach a swift-flowing ford. A Ford is no place for a Honda, so we back track and park in the gravel next to a private driveway/ford (no. 996). We keep our boots dry a moment crossing a brilliant unofficial bridge made of a fallen pine, skirt across the base of the driveway and then we’re on an old access road along the northern edge of Carrington Creek.
It is not long before the track unceremoniously dumps us into the creek. With a weeks worth of rain it’s running well but no trouble, save for wet boots. We venture up keeping track of side streams, but it’s not really necessary; the larger tributary on the north is fairly large if you keep an eye out.
We venture into the muddy wallow-fields at the base of Carrington Ridge – mud, mud and more mud. We see the imprint of a boot or two here and there, but markers such as they have been (bourbon cans on twigs) are few and far between. We’ve probably overshot the track, so decide to just climb and find it on the ridge instead. It’s a messy start with supplejack dragging on our packs and rocks sliding underfoot, but there are ground trails aplenty, probably borne more of pig than man. Fortunately we cross some marking tape before a huge expanse of supplejack, and from here we just climb the ridge. It’s lightly, so lightly marked; rare be the moment all foot traffic share the same route. But it’s beautiful, in the patches unspoiled by swine.
Further up the trail gets more defined, and we reach a small intersection marking the route to the Gentle Annie Saddle and old track that way (1:45hrs in). The supplejack claimed one of Y’s jandals; we leave the other here to assist marking the intersection.
The combined tracks now make for easy following; we climb the last 100 metres and join the Gentle Annie Track 20 metres or so east of the Totara Creek intersection (3:15hrs). We have a quick hui; our original plan had been to reach Totara Flats today via High Ridge, but the Carrington Ridge going was slower than anticipated; we can’t do that today. We decide the snow and a night in soon-to-be-replaced Powell Hut is worth the long day tomorrow, so climb on to Powell Hut, in the snow at 1200metres.
We pass a chap with his wee dog – I’m sure it’s the same guy from last time I came up here. Higher up, I see little paw prints in the snow – poor little nugget, it’s freezing up here.
Arriving at Powell (5hrs from road) it’s quite clear we won’t be able to walk High Ridge tomorrow; the snow is too deep and we are ill-prepared to climb any higher. I check with T whether they’d like to head down to Totara Flats or not – ‘well, you’re done aren’t you?’ is his reply as he discards wet gear. It’s true I was much slower than them climbing, but to be told ‘you’re tired’ vexes me – pace and longevity are not the same thing, and I have plenty left. But staying is a good call – the snow is a novelty and the hut is full of characters tonight.
We gather about the fire. There’s a young solo chap from Nelson motoring through a 5kg tome from the Wellington City Library, two separate and lovely Belgians, a pair of girlfriends and our three. The small groups and the fire draw us together and we have a good yarn way past trampers bedtime. Some excitement is provided by the plastic bags rustling in the bunkroom; there’s a tiny mouse scurrying to and fro. ‘Give me your jandal!’ yells Y, ready to take care of the grisly task. I hesitate and the mouse seizes his moment, leaping from my pack and charging at me, eliciting a masculine squeal.
The girlfriends are close, and lean on each other and such as close girlfriends do. It smacks me in the face, the realisation I haven’t had anything like that for ages – it’s a cruel quirk of ‘masculinity’ that ensures a single man will never have any touch or intimacy at all. Boo hoo.
I rise early to find myself a fool. I have failed to keep water for the morning and the hut tap is now frozen. I chip snow off the banister and put a coffee and porridge together. We have a long day today, 7.5hrs or so; I am keen to get rolling but didn’t communicate that to the party last night, so idle about until we depart at 8:30. Y discovers his museli bars have been enjoyed by others during the night.
The snow of yesterday is now teacherous ice; we slip and slide the 50/100metres back down to the bushline. A quick strip-off at Mountain House and we’re at the Totara Creek intersection in an hour 15 minutes; a far cry from the 2:30hrs mentioned on the DOC signpost!
In tramping a dry root is what you want; we don’t get it dropping toward Totara Creek. It’s a slippery mess, somehow rooty, muddy and rocky all at once. The track is basically a stream. But lower down, maybe after it heads south after branching off the old Totara Creek track, the route is a beautiful gem. Surrounded by ferns, big expanses of quiet forest, it’s lovely. T and Y disappear ahead for long periods enjoying the muscle burning exercise this easy track makes seductive and I drop down to my solo pace, enjoying scenes and light the camera just can’t capture.
The Totara Creek bridge has been replaced recently, after the old fell away.
‘Caution: this bridge sways a lot in high winds’ warns the sign next to the bridge to Totara Flats over the Waiohine river. Fortunately it is not windy and I enjoy the view in the middle. Suddenly the bridge bucks and sways with gusto beneath me. Fuck! I think, dropping myself lower. It’s then I look behind – T is jumping on the other end, getting a great kick out of scaring the shit out of me. ‘It’s one person at a time!’ I shout, venting my fear – but I settle down on the other side. It’s a good lark and I must not turn into a crotchety old man!
We reach Totara Flats hut for lunch at 12:20, 4hrs and 1000 vertical metres down from Powell. It’s surprisingly tidy, with only some axe marks around the ranger quarters’ door lock to indicate any wildness down these parts. I sun my feet over lunch – it almost feels like summer.
We decide not to cross the Waiohine river which is sizable, though I think it’s doable with some respect given. Instead we return over the bridge and skirt about the north-eastern bank south to Sayers Hut. I figured there would be a route over here but we don’t find one; we scamper along the rocks a bit, then into the bush a bit, find that hideous going, and drop back to the rocks once past the deep bend. Cutty grass on the banks makes things unpleasant – Y leads with howls of pain as his shins are slashed. It’s slower going than I budgeted; we take an hour 45 to reach Sayers hut.
Popping by Sayers has been on my do-list since forever, so it is a joy to finally visit. It’s a real character, one of the oldest in the ranges. But we’re fortunate to just be visiting; Jimm stayed last night and he’s written ‘Lots of rats in here at the moment. I wouldn’t suggest staying until it’s sorted out’.
The familiar orange track markers take a while to join the track alongside Sayers creek, but fortunately they do, because we’re not much in the mood for evening bush bashing. I am a bit muddled and think it’s 4hrs from Sayers to the road rather than from Totara Flats to the road, so am staring down the barrel of a 9, maybe even 10hr day with a night finish and wondering how I got the timing so wrong. Y motors ahead as I plod up the 570metre climb, T behind me probably just to stop me dropping to my solo/rear-end dawdle pace. It’s a muddy steep switch back at times, with a tonne of tree fall – and you know it’s steep if it’s a switch back.
Y’s pocket leaves us breadcrumbs of museli bar wrappers, no less than six; if we all had pockets like that we’d be walking in a rubbish dump!
At the crest of the climb, we pass an intersection with a weak track leading toward point 810 south of the main track; another route to explore another day.
Once upon the top, T and Y disappear ahead and I do my thing. There’s a nice view spot I deviate to, finding the clouds have lifted and great views of the snowy mountains and our route today. I shout for the others, just incase they’re within earshot and missed it in their haste – Y did but T didn’t.
From here we just drop down the ridge. The bush changes as we go, and it gets hellova muddy lower down. My knees begin to mutter, getting close to having dropped 1500metres today, but all good. We cross the creek once to join an old road, reaching the Mangatarere Valley Road at 4:45pm (3hrs from Sayers) and blasting along the road to make the car at 5:10pm. A 8:30hr day all up, and finishing in daylight.
A Greytown pie and coke keeps us flying in the dusk as we return to Wellington, wary and sated. A fine trip with variety, views, history and good company. But with wet boots from the get-go my feet are tired and sore; I weigh them at home and find one set to be 2kg. That’s 4kg just on my feet – I’m replacing these boots.