Dates: 2nd – 4th March, 2007
Location: Ruahine Forest Park
Huts visited: Sentry Box Hut (1 night), Parks Peak Hut (0 nights), Upper Makaroro Hut (1 night).
Huts seen: Kylie Biv (from the opposite ridge).
We arrived quite late on Friday night, for a 10 minute walk into Sentry Box Hut, where there were already a couple of people. There was limited space, so Craig and Sam went outside under Craig’s tent fly, whilst everyone else found space indoors. (I think there were about three people on the floor.)
With breakfast out of the way on Saturday morning, we began our ascent towards Parks Peak. This was very steep at first, and went on for quite some time. The weather was very calm, but we were climbing into some low cloud so there wasn’t much of a view for a while. We reached Parks Peak Hut at about 10.45, and there was time to stop for some snacking, as well as for me to take some thermals off which I’d naively put on that morning… I was getting very hot with the climbing.
The next track junction was within 10 minutes of the hut, and we began descending the track through the trees down the side of the ridge towards that day’s destination. Upper Makaroro Hut came into view shortly before 1pm, and we had to get our feet wet for the first time that day, about a minute from the hut. We settled down for lunch and dropped our things, then started looking at some maps for ideas of what to do that afternoon.
Rona decided to stay behind and guard the hut, but everyone else was keen to keep walking for a bit. Michael, Austen, Michelle and I decided the most obvious thing to do was to continue along the track up the neighbouring ridge, for a look at Kylie Biv, situated near the top. Craig and Sam, however, being very fit, wanted something a bit more challenging, and resolved to bash their own route up a spur located some way down the river. If all went well, we’d meet at the top, and Craig and Sam would complete a loop by coming back down to the hut with us.
So the four of us (finally) made it up to the tree line, but by the time we finally reached it, we began to get concerned about how long it’d take for the rest of the trip. Although we couldn’t see the bivvy itself due to some inconveniently placed cloud, we could see the shape of the ridges we’d have to walk around to get to it. Austen and I did some scouting up the hill a little further for 15 minutes, but we didn’t discover anything that gave us confidence we’d be able to reach it within a reasonable time. It was by now approaching 4pm, and the cloud was moving in even more. Feeling slightly disappointed, we turned around and began to walk back down the hill to Upper Makaroro.
Sam and Craig hadn’t arrived back yet, so we began to think about dinner. Michael, as the valiant trip leader, resolved that we should wait as long as we could wait before cooking dinner, for the other two to arrive. “As long as we could wait” turned out to be about ten minutes, and Rona got started in cutting up vegetables. Actually, Rona did pretty much all the cooking, and it was very tasty.
There was still no sign of Sam and Craig, and we were beginning to get a little concerned as to how long they were taking. It was beginning to get dark outside. After a hand or two of 500, we began thinking quite seriously about what situation they might be in, and if it could be appropriate to develop some kind of rescue plan. It was close to a Full Moon outside and the weather was very calm, and we also knew that Sam and Craig were very experienced trampers and would most likely survive a night in the open without too many issues. We also knew it was possible that they could have simply decided it was getting too late, and elected to spend the night at Kylie Biv. Still, the lack of complete certainty that they weren’t in trouble caused us to develop a contingency plan, so we’d all know what to do the next morning if they hadn’t turned up.
Rona would remain in the hut to keep an eye on things, in case they came back. Meanwhile, Austen and Michelle would return up the main track to the ridge we’d been to earlier that day, to check if they’d made it to the top and were in any kind of trouble. (If they’d been stuck on the spur in the other part of the loop, it still would have been a problem, but hopefully that wasn’t the case.) Meanwhile, Michael and I would have to leave most of our things at the hut, and make a dash for Parks Peak Hut up the top of the ridge we’d come down on the way here. Another club group were scheduled to be at the hut overnight and to wait for us (as we were supposed to swap van keys), and we could hopefully get some help. It would also be an opportunity to search for some cellphone reception, so we’d be able to report an overdue or missing party.
At about 10pm or so we were sitting up in the hut discussing the final points of our plan, when someone exclaimed that Sam was actually at the window. They’d just arrived, and we later found that Sam had been hoping to just sit outside and listen for a while. Sam and Craig had made it to Kylie Biv, completed their circuit over the tops, and returned down quite a steep track. Even more impressively, they’d done the later part in the dark, and only had one torch between them. They were having a great time talking about their little side-trip — it turns out that pack buoyancy in rivers doesn’t work if you don’t have a sleeping bag, and also, Kylie Biv has a really impressive toilet. So impressive, in fact, that it’s basically a hole in the ground and doesn’t actually have any walls around it. Sam and Craig were keen to scoff down the dinner we’d saved for them, and then we retired for a well anticipated sleep.
The next day was a fairly straightforward walk back to Parks Peak hut first, to meet the other club group and exchange keys. During this walk up to the ridge, I caught my first glimpse of Kylie Biv after Sam pointed it out. I couldn’t see it at first, but pointed my camera in the general direction, took a few photos, then zoomed around the photos on my display to locate it. I’ve been told by a few people that it doesn’t count if you try to bag a hut from a parallel ridge, however. The other group were having a great time, and were in no rush to get moving. They had a particularly good story about having run into the two chaps who’d spent the Friday night with us in Sentry Box Hut, who’d come running up the hill towards them, apparently in a hurry, and basically vaulted over a whole lot of scroggen that someone had laid out on the track.
Having retrieved the key for the van that we were due to collect at the other end of the track, we began our slow descent. Walking along the tops in the sunshine on Sunday morning, above the cloud, was a lot of fun. We gradually descended into the clouds, however, and the views disappeared.
The most significant event on this leg of the trip, at about midday, might have been when the four people at the front of the group took a wrong turn and almost walked ahead on the wrong track. I approached from the back, just as Sam was getting Craig’s attention to ask for an option as to whether those up front had actually gone the correct way. Craig then had his first chance ever to blow the whistle attached to his sternum strap, and get people’s attention. It turned out that the most obvious track was actually nothing official at all. At the corner at which we were standing, it was actually turning off on an unofficial route towards Barlow Hut — a waypoint that would most likely have added four or five hours of trouncing along a river to the walk out to the road-end. The main track, in real life, was represented by an obscured turn-off, hence how we almost missed it.
The official exit from the Ruahines, just before the road-end to which we were walking, was quite amusing. For a reason unbeknownst to me, DOC had placed several vertical poles that looked as if they were designed to allow passage for all people except those who happened to be carrying large tramping rucksacks. I managed to get through after a lot of struggling and removing my pack, and looking back was like watching a slapstick comedy. (Well, not really, to be fair.)
There was still a walk for 30 minutes or so along an unsealed road towards the river at the official road-end. During this, a couple of army guys drove up in a Unimog. Craig and I, who were walking up the front, and about 100 metres ahead of the others, moved to either side of the road to make space for it, but it slowed down as they leaned out the window. The driver was on my side, and he gave me a big grin. Meanwhile, Craig was apparently getting some kind of lecture on the other side of the road from a chap with a lot of funny looking facepaint. Supposedly, according to that guy, the area had been closed off for army exercises and we weren’t supposed to be there, although Craig was arguing that it was rubbish.
We realised in hindsight that they’d actually been talking about an area that was private property down the road somewhere, and that these two army guys were actually in the wrong place. It hadn’t stopped them placing a big red sign at the end of the road, however, which we reached about 5 minutes later. Hopefully nobody in the Ruahines got shot by the army during exercises that day, but whatever.
Anyway, we reached our van, dried out a little, and began the drive back home. We stopped at Norsewood on the way back, meeting up with the other club group, and exchanging stories. All in all, it was a fun weekend.