Around the Mountain Ruapehu – Day 2
We woke early to a cloudy morning on a day which turned out to be the worst day’s tramping I’ve ever done.
The day started well enough, with a good breakfast, and that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you put your warm socks and shoes on. They had dried out nicely by the fire overnight. We left Mangaturuturu hut at 7.30am but within 15 minutes were wet again as we crossed the first river of the day.
Mangaturuturu hut to Mangaheuheu hut
The river crossings hadn’t been too bad on the trail so far. The water had been up to about knee height and not too swift, even after all the recent rain.
This morning’s crossing was decidedly chilly, and a persistent drizzle was falling. After the crossing we donned our gloves and waterproofs.
The trail soon led us to a scramble up the left side of a magnificent rocky waterfall known as ‘The Cascades’.
I was glad to be climbing up it and not down, as it was really slippery.
Even though the mountain wasn’t out, the immediate views of the valley and waterfalls were beautiful.
At the top of the waterfall we crossed the river and walked across a flatter section, until we met the Ohakune Mountain Road. From here it was approx 3Km road walk downhill.
The sun came out and we enjoyed the warmth. We turned off into a lovely beech forest interspersed with tussocked sections and boardwalk. The ups and downs continued and took us over several rivers which were thankfully bridged.
Shortly before Mangaheuheu hut the weather came in again and it began to hail. We were glad to reach the hut at 11.30am and get a hot soup and some lunch inside us.
I checked the weather report and the temperature was 7 degrees Celsius, with wind chill down to 3 degrees. To be honest I was feeling pretty tired from yesterday’s exertions. This was my first multiday hike after 2 months of doing very little exercise!
My legs were really tired and doubts were beginning to creep in about attempting such a big hike in bad weather. One of us suggested that we could stay at the hut. Just think… we could light a fire and get warm! But my pride wouldn’t let me stop hiking after only 4 hours. After an hour’s rest we donned an extra warm layer, then our wet socks, shoes and waterproofs, and continued on.
Mangaheuheu hut to the Wahianoa river gorge
After an hour all the layers came off again. It was that kind of day. It went from freezing, to too hot when the sun made a brief appearance.
The trail continued through more beech forest and boardwalk sections, then we found ourselves in more rocky terrain again. Some of the downhills were loose rock and although we took as much care as we could, we took a few falls. Our frustration grew with each fall, with the weather, and with the constant ups and downs.
I had been warned about the Wahianoa river gorge, and had looked at it on the map beforehand. Blair had walked the trail before, so he knew what to expect.
When we were upon it I took a breath. It looked big enough on the map, but I hadn’t visualised it in my mind to be quite such a long section or deep valley. My heart sank a little, as I was already so tired. At this late stage there was no going back as we were probably less than 3 Kms from Rangipo hut as the crow flies.
We carefully sidled our way down the marked trail into the valley. It was a while before I could actually make out the swing bridge at the bottom. When we got to it, it was swaying like mad, the wind had got up and was pulling it in all directions.
We crossed the swinging bridge and paused for a moment to admire the mountain as the occasional break in the cloud permitted.
We slowly began the trudge up the steep gorge. As we approached the top the wind got stronger and stronger. Just as we got to the top a huge gust caught Blair’s waterproof pack cover, ripped it off, threw it high into the air and had it sailing down across the valley in a second. After a futile attempt at a chase, he gave up… someone will no doubt find it floating down into Ohakune village.
On to Rangipo hut
I tried to up my pace after the valley. However a combination of exhaustion and an increasing inability to walk forwards (or even stand) in the now gale force winds made my progress very slow indeed. We only had a couple of Kms to go.
I could see my Blair in front of me. Every few minutes he would do the same as me, and completely stop, jab his walking poles in the ground, bend double and brace himself against huge gust after huge gust. In between the major gusts we attempted to walk in a straight line to the next trail marker. Thank goodness it wasn’t raining and visibility wasn’t too bad.
I had a very brief wobbly lip moment, as I trudged up and down the rocky trail, and considered the stupidity of walking around a huge volcano in this kind of weather… what on earth was I doing here??!! I quickly gave myself a stern talking to, reminded myself that actually this was my idea of ‘fun’, thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t sitting at a desk at work somewhere, and got on with it.
That last 2Kms took us an age to walk. Being shunted sideways three steps with each step forward, made it very slow going. Blair disappeared around a corner about 200m ahead of me and I stopped (still very huffy… if I’m honest..) to check the map. Relief washed over me as I released that Rangipo hut was literally just around the corner.
Just then, the sky opened and it began to sleet horizontally, or was it the snow being blown off the mountain from further above? In any case, it stung every surface it hit, especially my exposed face.
We arrived somewhat shell shocked, at Rangipo hut at 5pm. As you can imagine we wanted nothing more than to relax, make a cup of something hot, and de-brief the day.
The 20 bed hut was packed with teenage girls. A couple of school groups doing their Duke of Edinburgh awards had, quite rightly, decided not to progress in the terrible weather. I can’t even begin to describe the noise and energy that around 15 teenage girls make. Blair summed it up perfectly as he whispered to me “I’m in my own personal hell right now…”
But the log fire was roaring and we were warm and dry. The rain stopped and a beautiful rainbow appeared right in front of the hut.
We ate, retreated to our top bunks, and tried to get some sleep in the mayhem of slamming doors and screaming.