Hidee-Ho, there, faithful readers! Today we’re going to talk about tramping!
Haha, okay, so maybe I left my mind behind on the Rees-Dart track which I walked last week! It was amazing and although I’ve uploaded a million (okay, 105) photos onto fb, I thought I would share the full story of Team Awesome (that’d be me, bf, and my co-worker Mary) on the Rees-Dart track.
So, you might recall a wee while back that I listed a few tramps that I wanted to do this summer. The Hollyford was at the top of the list. The criteria was because it was not a Great Walk (the 10 most popular tramps in NZ are referred to as Great Walks and must be booked in advance. They are also more expensive) and it was reasonably close to Dunedin (~4 hr drive). However, after doing some more thorough research, I realized that if you wanted to do the Hollyford in 4-5 days, you need to be dropped into 1 end via plane or helicopter. So, it was actually not that affordable. The Gillespie pass was another option, however according to the DOC website:
The Young Valley Catchment still poses a risk to trampers
The landslip dam that formed in the North Branch of the Young Valley in September 2007 poses a potential risk to trampers. It is recommended that the Young Valley is avoided during periods of heavy rain.
This sounded a bit dodgy so the Gillespie was ruled out and we settled on the Dart-Rees:
Spectacular mountain scenery, forest and alpine vegetation, rivers and the Dart Glacier are all significant features of the walk.
Dart Rees is described by my tramping book as “moderate” (Milford, by comparison is Easy and Welcome Hut is easy-moderate). We started on Wed after staying at the Glenorchy campground. Not recommended. Talk about basic and not exactly squeaky clean. Oh, and we checked in Tuesday night after hours. I noticed that the woman running the place was missing her front teeth. Mary thought she was drunk. We both noted the stench of chain-smoking emanating from the house.
Right, the start of the track (if you hike it as the suggested DOC route, starting in the Rees Valley and ending with the Dart) is at Muddy creek. Aptly named. There are quite a few creek and stream crossings on this track, which is why my boss was rather concerned about our safety. Muddy creek was simply the first of what was probably hundreds of creek crossings. I kid you not.
Day one consisted of many hours of walking through a bog. I blame this bog for the subsequent foot and sock stench that I endured for the rest of the track. We also crossed the only major stream crossing we had: 25 mile creek. We had other streams, but this one you actually had to wade across, it was knee deep in the middle, and the current was very strong. Oh, and it was freezing of course. BF said his ankle bones felt like they would shatter with the cold. Apparently I have a higher tolerance for having my feet in freezing water. Who knew?
Day one was also the longest day. Track estimate was 6-8 hours, and it took us the full 8 hours to get to the hut. Admittedly, our packs were pretty heavy (bf and I were carrying a tent and our exceptional REI sleeping mats because we were aware the huts can get overly full). I also think I was dehydrated, and I had a headache. It was the second longest day of tramping I’ve ever endured (Welcome hut on the west coast still takes the cake for longest and most difficult day).
However, as soon as you see the hut you get a burst of energy, and all was well! I didn’t get an amazing sleep that night because it rained and I was paranoid our belongings would get wet (silly me. I really need to learn to have complete faith in our amazing wee macpac apollo).
Day 2: I suspected this would be a difficult day as I knew we would have 600m of climbing to do. What I didn’t consider was the subsequent 600m of descent. You think going uphill sucks and going downhill is excellent but actually, I have fully decided that climbing is easier. Much much easier. Perhaps it takes a bit more cardio, but descending takes a lot more balance. Especially if you are climbing over boulders and huge rocks. We’re not talking a nice gradual path. I can’t quite describe how difficult it was, and I didn’t take any photos because I was too bloody tired. Just hours of downhill trudge, carefully picking your footing (not carefully enough at times, as I tripped once, and Mary tripped and fell 4 times! We’re alright, just a few scratches and scrapes to the old knees)… It didn’t make us feel too fabulous when 2 Israelis ran past us. Literally, just ran down – like there were no huge rocks at all with the potential to break your feet. When we finally reached the bottom, my legs actually felt like Jell-o. Shaking. Stiff. Don’t really work. We finally made it to the hut again after about 6.5 hours (track estimate 4-6). The Dart hut sleeps 33, but it was so full that almost no one who was at Shelter rock hut with us had a bed (there were 55 people in the hut that night, and 12 camping). Needless to say, we tented again. At least we got the primo tenting spot! Mary even tented as well, borrowing a tent off of these 3 ladies from Christchurch.
We cooked our gourmet backcountry cuisines out in the sunshine, and chatted a bit with the Chch ladies, who have actually done nearly every tramp in NZ. Mary and I were totally in awe. This was actually the second time they had done the Dart-Rees, and prior to doing this track, they had just done the Kepler (with only 1 day of rest inbetween)! It was fabulous talking to them. Stewart Island is an extremely difficult track, obviously. Gertrude’s saddle, and surprisingly the Hollyford were others that were not favorites. Only 1 of the 3 had done the Hollyford, and she didn’t recommend it because the entire track was through the bush, whereas she preferred more variation in scenery (semi-alpine, etc.).
Day 3 was a day trip up to the Dart Glacier. We could have gone to the Cascade Saddle (which is supposed to be an amazing view) but because Mary and I woke up and couldn’t move our legs, we thought an easy 4 hour walk to stretch the legs might be more our style. The 3 of us took turns carrying bf’s pack with our day gear in it (waterproof jackets, snacks, waterbottles). The walk up to the Dart Glacier was pretty stunning, and the weather again was amazing. Sun sun and more sun. There is also an option to do a day trip to the Whitbourn glacier, however the bridge was damaged so this was actually not an option for us.
BF and I slept in the tent again. It was actually fantastic as there was a westerly blowing so our tent was completely dry in the morning for packing up (providence!).
Day 4: We got up early to get a good start to the next hut, as the hut warden warned of the forecast of heavy incoming rain for the next day or so – which he said might mean we would have to stay an extra night at the last hut if the side streams were too high to get across safely. Many people decided to hike out completely – as in do 2 days in once – for fear of being stranded an extra day. The track estimate was 5-7 hours, with most of it beech forest and grassy hills. My legs were still sore from day 2, and blisters were beginning to really add up! However, I did have an amazing experience with a nearly tame NZ Robin that was determined there were tasty seeds in my gaiters at my boot. It was SO CUTE! Just sitting on my boot and trying to retrieve the seeds. Bf and I hung out and watched it for ages. Poor Mary who was ahead thought that something had happened!
The last hour and a half of the day was incredibly difficult – there was at least an hour trail that was pure rocks – it left me thinking “If I ever see another rock again it will be too soon!” Then the rain came (quite lightly). Then came sections of washed out track. There was evidence of earlier season flooding along the Dart, but meters of bank swept away! It was incredible. Again, I should have taken photos, but I was too tired. I especially liked one part where the track washed away, so we had to climb over this huge boulder (think 12 feet high) and then down the other side – and it was raining so it was all slippery – and the other side ended at the bank – so if you slipped coming down this boulder, you’d go straight over the high bank and fall into the river. Very safe. But we eventually made it to Daley’s flat hut and it took us about 7 hours.
That night we actually slept in the hut because most of the people carried on to the very end of the track. There is no way the 3 of us could have done it – we were stuffed after 7 hours. Instead we hung out in the nice warm hut and listened to the rain. The river didn’t rise at all during the night, the rain stopped in the morning, and we had no qualms about leaving the next day.
Day 5: Up bright and early to make our 2pm shuttle back to Glenorchy. Track estimate was 3.5-5.5 hours. Thank goodness this day was easy! Nice flat and wide track most of the way. It took us 5 hours. The whole time we were thinking how thankful we were that we didn’t try to hike out the day before! All those people would have been so stuffed… And they panicked for no reason! We made it to the end shelter and had hot drinks and snacks and it was fantastic.
Tramping is really amazing. All 3 of us went in thinking we were pretty physically fit. Bf and I just did that overnight tramp with full packs a few weeks ago as training. But honestly, that 2nd day and downhill… I don’t remember the last time I was that sore. Ever. My legs… I clearly need more quad muscles. I also think I need a pole (this can help with balance and stability). I’ve never really thought of walking poles as being critical equipment. But I’m definitely getting one for our next tramp. And more balance. Mary and I were asking the 3 Chch ladies – who were very experienced and way more fit than us – what to do to gain fitness for tramping. Clearly it’s a different type of fitness. I think just more tramping, day walks, etc. is needed before a big tramp. We felt like we were the least fit people on the track! However, I just read this blog and feel much better (2nd day took them 11 hours! And she didn’t carry her pack the whole way).
I should also mention the weather. We had 5 days of essentially beautiful weather. Only 1 hour of walking in the rain. For New Zealand, this is truly amazing. Any tramp you do, you need to be prepared that it will rain at least 1 day. You also need to plan in case you are stranded (at least 1 extra day worth of food). And in the future, if we do another non Great Walk more than about 3 days, I think we will consider carrying a beacon. Not sure if beacons exist in the USA (could have saved the guy in 127 hrs his arm, perhaps)? Anyone know?
We also must be getting better at planning as we had the perfect amount of food. Just enough so that if we were stranded another day or even two, we would have been okay.
Anyways, the Rees-Dart was awesome and highly recommended. As my longest tramp ever to date, I’m feeling pretty proud (and really not too sore at all today. In fact, I’m even hitting the gym in a wee bit!). However, I must also suggest a lot of fitness training beforehand!
I’m already looking up ideas for future tramps to do…