A rainy second day in the Tararua Range brought me to the tiny Dracophyllum Hut to escape the rain.
I woke up a bit after six, then went back to sleep for a short while before finally getting up. I was pretty lethargic this morning, alternating between leaving, and staying put because of the weather forecast. It was almost 9 am when I finally left Te Matawai Hut; I really should have left an hour earlier, at least.
When I left, the clouds were still above me, but it didn’t take very long climbing up towards Pukematawai to hike into the fog. For the rest of the day, I had no views.
The first milestone today was Dracophyllum Hut, 7.5 km away. My intended destination was Nichols Hut, 5 km further. Both are 4-5 hour sections. If I was lucky, I’d make it to Nichols by 5 pm.
After about 20 minutes, I passed a sign saying it was 4 hours to Dracophyllum Hut, and somewhat implausibly, 6 to Nichols Hut. Someone scratched out the time estimate for Nichols.
An hour after I started, cold rain started to fall, and, for once, I had the sense to put on my rain jacket immediately, rather than after my shirt soaked through. (Not that it really helped. My shirt, and all the rest of my clothes, still soaked through, but at least it helped keep me warm.)
Another hour after that, I’d reached the end of the steep climb from Te Matawai, and another sign said 3-4 hours to Dracophyllum, suggesting I was going the expected pace. That wasn’t easy. The rain made everything a little slippery, when the trail wasn’t outright a creek. The wind accompanying the rain was worse. it never quite got to a level where I was having trouble walking, but my eyes didn’t really take kindly to having rain blown sideways into them. (Sunglasses were right out; they’d have kept the rain off my eyes, but would have fogged up in the process)
For most of the day, I was on the ridge, which was usually not very wide. Often, the trail was protected to one side or the other; being just below the ridge, but not always. The clouds and fog (and rain) helped focus my attention to the trail, keeping my mind off the occasionally precarious position I was in.
As the grasses along the trail became wetter, they had a tendency to lie down; not only were they doing an excellent job of soaking my shoes and socks (as if the rain wasn’t already), but they became trip hazards as well.
At some point, I slipped and fell, thanks to the overgrown grasses getting in my way. Fortunately, the grasses were somewhat tougher than they looked, and they, a dead bush, and my trekking poles kept me from rolling off the trail. (It probably was less dramatic than it felt, and I probably couldn’t have gone far, but I was worried momentarily about rolling down the hill, which was a bit unnerving.)
When I got up, I discovered my water bottle had once again escaped from its pocket. I looked, but did not find it nearby. Probably it had fallen out some time before; there were plenty of places where I’d stumbled or had to make jerky steps, and in the rain, that could easily have caused my pack to lose its grip on the bottle. Fortunately, it was cool out, so I wasn’t drinking much water; I probably still had close to my 2 liter capacity in my pack bladder, so I wasn’t immediately concerned with losing a third of my carried water.
I made the decision to consider staying at Dracophyllum. It was reported to not have water (but probably would with today’s rain), and only sleeps two people. But if there was water and no one else was there, it would be a nice cosy stopping point. If there was no water, then I’d have no choice but to go to Nichols.
After four hours, the trail finally reentered a very nice forest, which somewhat mediated the wind and rain, at the expense of numerous mud puddles. For some reason, I still tried to avoid walking through them, even though my shoes and socks were already thoroughly soaked.
An hour later, just under five hours from leaving Te Matawai, I reached Dracophyllum Hut. No one else was there, and the water tank (fed by the hut’s gutters) had water. This was a viable stopping point.
Inside, as I cooled down from stopping hiking, I did the mental math and decided that I didn’t want to hike further today. Even if it took the predicted four hours to Nichols (and it would very likely take longer with the wind and rain and trip hazards), I’d get there at 6:30 at the very earliest, and probably later. And it would be very uncomfortable the whole time.
I changed into dry clothes; this was enough for the day. The plan for tomorrow is to go to Nichols, and if the weather is good, go up and over Mt. Crawford, and down to Waitewaewae Hut (also a 4-5 hour section). The original plan was to end tomorrow at Parawai Lodge, 4-6 hours further, but that seems unlikely at this point.
Fortunately, I had cell reception (just barely) at the hut, and was able to inform CareFree about my delay. She relayed a weather forecast; it should be much better tomorrow. Only time will tell, though.
After eating some snacks, I took a short nap — I was more tired than I thought.
Around 5:15, when I was standing at the door to the hut, which is the only place inside I could get cell reception, I was surprised to see someone else arrive! Robert, from Dunedin (on the South Island), made it here from the trailhead I started at yesterday! (He planned to go all the way to Waitewaewae, but the weather got the better of him.) Running the trail, with a support crew following in a van, he expects to take a total of 10-11 weeks to run the TA, doing about 50 km per day.
Robert also confirmed that he saw my water bottle, just after the steep climb, but didn’t stop to pick it up because he was (understandably) in a bit of a hurry.
We commiserated on the inconsistent state of the trail, which I assumed was pretty challenging for him wanting to do very long days.
The rest of the evening passed without incident; no one else arrived. Late in the evening, the rain slowly tapered off a bit.
Hopefully, the weather tomorrow will be a lot better!