The following weekend was pleasantly passed on a classic winter Tararuas forest trip: tough, cold, and few views to speak of. I was craving the chance to exhaust myself and in doing so so empty my brain, so it was just what the doctor ordered. We walked from Poads Road to Te Matawai Hut via Gable End and then returned the following day via Waiopehu Hut. The tracks on the ascent were hilariously tough – varied obstacles at foot, knee and face height to keep us on our toes, sometimes literally. But the descent on Sunday was cruisey and provided a good opportunity to just walk.
Perhaps it was the endorphins still flowing through my veins that made me think it was a good idea to commit to a single day traverse of the Broken Axe Pinnacles the weekend after. A sensible medium route would be to walk in Friday night from Holdsworth to Atiwhakatu Hut, traverse the Pinnacles to Jumbo Hut on Saturday, then return from Jumbo via Holdsworth on Sunday. But we decided to do a weekend in a day from Wellington. It was the biggest single day of tramping I’ve ever done, and we were going to do it with only ten hours of daylight.
The day was so unimaginably long, I was constantly tickled and horrified by the thought of how far we still had to go. It started with two hours of easy flat walking, then an hour of rougher track after Atiwhakatu Hut. From the turn off we ascended to Baldy on a steep but well maintained track. Once on to the ridge it was a series of 100-200m ascents and descents for the rest of the day, sometimes on quite rough turf.
The Pinnacles themselves can be traversed directly on the ridge in fine weather. Ordinarily I apply Gary's Rule rigidly – it's always safer on the ridge – but with the steep grass and mud icy and wet I deemed it too risky for me. So we took the marked sidle detour which, being on the south side, also had its share of icy steep sections where care was required. My heart raced and palms sweated as I edged around slowly to sturdier ground.
Once beyond the Pinnacles the going was much easier for me though it is still exposed and narrow with steep drops to the side so some people would find this challenging. We stopped for second lunch looking down on McGregor Biv. We were on Jumbo Peak 30 minutes before sunset, and decided to go the long way round via Holdsworth instead of descending the Raingauge Spur to the valley floor. This was partly to push our limits but also because the popular wide track down from Powell Hut would be easier when we were tired. It was a slow ascent to Holdsworth, trying to keep on the route in the dark. But it was worth it, for we stood at the trig under clear skies watching the southern sky and the Milky Way shimmer. At Powell Hut we had third lunch, at 7pm, before descending to the car park as fast as my tired legs would let us.
And there it was – a mere 13.5 hr day, 28ish km, 1700m+ ascent – my first 'real' trip in the Tararuas. After 2.5 years of weekend trips and two months of full time hiking, I am finally strong enough to cover the distances and ascents needed to get deep into this wonderful, brutal forest in a weekend. I feel like I'm only just getting started in these hills; I am getting into my stride. But change is afoot so those ambitions will have to wait another day. New adventures and challenges await.
First stop: Sweden.