'Tramping' In New Zealand travel blog

Early morning at the Ski Hut

The Angel of Nelson Lakes

Steep and wet going downhill

Getting closer...

The river crossing

I had to rummage for my earplugs in the middle of the night due to various snorers, but apart from that I slept quite well. For breakfast we had porridge and watched the clouds nestling in the valley and swirling up around the hut. We set off at about 8:45 back up the scree slope to the ridge line and started with a fairly easy uphill climb. After an hour or so the views were stunning, right across the Southern Alps and out to the Tasman Sea. The terrain started to get really rocky so when we stopped for a break I had to put one pole away (no more Nordic walking for me.....) so I could scramble over rocks with the other hand. I walked quite a lot on my own in the middle of the pack close to Cockney Billy and Mendi from DC, who seemed to have a similar pace to me. The others raced off with Amanda (aka the Mountain Goat or MG). It was cold, windy, rocky, slippery on the scree and at times a bit scary, but we plodded on until eventually we could see the blue-green lake behind Angelus Hut.

We dropped down to the lake for our lunch stop and Gwyneth got out the camping stove and wok so we could cook our lunch - tuna melt wraps which we'd made up in the hut at breakfast. Is there no end to this woman's talents?! Unfortunately I had chosen the tuna in sun-dried tomato and olive oil and my wrap had collapsed in transit so I had to eat it cold. We left Angelus Hut just after 2pm with an expectation that we would get to Lakehead Hut for about 6 "depending on how fast people go down the mountain" (quote MG). As we set off alongside a small stream it was no worse than the Lakes or the Peaks but then suddenly the slope got steeper and more rocky. We spread out again and at one stage I went headlong (overbalanced by my heavy pack) into an icy cold mountain stream - no major injuries but I have a lovely bruised bottom to show for it! Luckily nobody witnessed it.

We stopped at a footbridge for half an hour or so and then headed into the beech forest. I was expecting it to be easier going but not only were there rocks to contend with but tree roots underfoot and low hanging branches above. As the slope began to flatten out there were some lovely stretches of river and so many waterfalls I lost count. After about 4pm it became clear that we weren't going to be at the hut for 6 so a few people started to lose their spirits. One member of the group (Karen, a 'slightly older lady') had been really struggling so was quite a long way back with Gwyneth. We stopped by a swing bridge at one point and MG ran back to fetch Karen's pack, so not only was she carrying her own pack but that one as well.

The endless walking through trees had started to make my eyes strain so I was relieved when we eventually came out into open meadow and at last we could see Lakehead Hut in the distance. It was about 7.30 but this time so still light. Slight catch was that here was no bridge over the river to Lakehead Hut and the hut on our side wasn't big enough for all of us, so we knew we would have to wade through the river at some stage. We walked on and eventually Karen and Gwyneth caught us up just at the point where we were planning to cross. Amanda went to check the river and said it was flowing too fast so we had to walk on for about another 20 minutes or so, climbing through forest as the river banks got narrower. Amanda checked the river again and said it was too deep so we had to turn round and head back towards the original crossing spot. Eventually we found a place where the river split so they decided this was the best place to go across.

It was about 9pm by this time so the light was fading and we were all absolutely exhausted. One by one we stepped into the freezing water and waded across the first section, which was about knee height and 3 metres across. Easy peasy, we thought....and then we saw the next section of river. It looked shallow enough, but it was about 15 metres wide and flowing quite quickly. Amanda divided us into two groups and told us to undo our hip and chest straps on our packs. We linked arms and waded in, crossing diagonally downstream. It was icy cold and when we got to the other side we whooped and 'yeah'ed while the second group got ready to go. Vikki changed back into her dry boots after crossing in sandals and we set off the last half mile or so to the hut. About 200 yards on and someone at the front shouted "Another river crossing" so we all groaned, especially Vikki!

After crossing number 3 I suddenly realised what I could hear in the distance between us and the hut - the unmistakable sound of bullfrogs. That could only mean one thing - more water to cross! After three or four more crossing we eventually got to the hut but as we staggered up the wooden steps we realised we had company as there were already several pairs of wet boots lined up in the porch. Inside the hut was warm but pitch dark (no electricity) so we rummaged around for clean dry clothes by the light of our head torches. Unlike the ski hut the bunks in this place were just one long row of mattresses laid out over two levels. Gwyneth made pasta and veg in pesto sauce by candlelight and we ate in silence before crawling into our sleeping bags. I was aching so much it took me about half an hour to get into a comfortable sleeping position. As I reflected on the day's hike it had been such a long day that it felt like 2 or 3 days rolled into one.

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