Last weekend was a lazy one, which while long due made me itching to get back into the fresh air. I am not the only one to have had my interest piqued by the article in a recent issue of the (slightly dubious) Wilderness magazine entitled 50 Best Tramping Peaks. This is a list of NZ peaks which you can summit without mountaineering equipment. Sadly about half of them will require crampons and ice axes any time of year – something I am not ready to tackle – and many of the rest will need them in winter.
The dawning realisation then is that I have only a few weeks left to try to bag as many as I can from the list, before Autumn really kicks in. Latest stats are… one out of 50 (Avalanche Peak). There are four in the Tararuas, a range close to Wellington, of which one ‘requires a cool head for heights’, another takes a full day to get there across the range, and the other sounded a bit tree-dominated for my liking (i.e. no views.
So that left Mt Hector, which at 1529m is higher than Ben Nevis (1344m). I have been much higher than this on previous tramps but this was the first time I had actually ascended more than the height of Britain’s tallest offering (as Mt Hector begins at 100m above sea level).
We left work on Friday lunchtime and drove 90 minutes to get to the trail end at Otaki Forks. The walk up on Friday was hot and hard. It was steepish, and just generally knackering carrying a fullish pack, having not warmed up before the ascent began, probably not having eaten the right food and being a bit distracted by the morning at work. But it only took us 2hrs 10 to get to to Field Hut, which at 860m (760m ascent) was a pretty good speed (even though I was much slower than the others).
The hut is on the site of one of the original Tararua huts, and is a cute double story affair. Less cute are the mice which inhabit it when there are no trampers staying (and also when they are, as we discovered when they tried to break into our food during the night). The sun set beautifully over the trees and took a long time to fade to a starry, clear and cool night.
In the morning we didn’t make it out at 7am as planned but still a reasonably respectable 7.50am. From the hut we were above the tree line the whole way, meaning amazing views all morning, satisfying my thirst for vistas. We could see Taranaki and Ruapehu to the North (280km away), and a South Island range (maybe Richmond or Nelson Lakes, 200km away) to the South. It took two hours to get up to Kime Hut, where we stopped for a decent break and a cuppa on the camping gas stove. We ditched a few heavy items from our packs (sleeping bags mainly) and took lighter bags up to the summit (45 minutes).
Lunch on the way down was a happy sun-fuelled affair, out of the wind at the top and a lot warmer. The descent was steady and not too challenging but looooong. I have bought a cheap walking pole to experiment with whether this makes me any faster. They are supposed to be to take the weight off the knees but blatantly I am just using it for balance… Is that cheating?
As we descended we met about 20 trampers coming in the opposite direction. The huts on regular routes are first come first served, so people you meet on the way up have a kind of nervous anticipation about whether they will get a bed, particularly as the day wears on. We counted them up and were pretty sure no-one would be sleeping on the floor. Unless anyone was joining the track from the opposite direction, that is.
On the Sunday my legs were still functioning. But by Monday my calves are like brittle sticks and I am walking like a broken puppet. So sore!
Otaki Forks – Field Hut – Kime – Mt Hector return = 24km (ish)
50 Best Tramping Peaks: 2/50