January 18th
Porters Creek Hut(1191.1)-St Arnaud(1208.6)
Mileage: 17.5mi/28.2km

Elevation chart courtesy of Guthook Hikes Te Araroa App.

Today was a town day! Even more exciting, it was a town day when heavy rain is on the way. It doesn’t get much better than that for motivation to get up and out in the morning. It was a great night of rare stillness camped outside last night. I woke forgetting I was even outside for a moment until I really woke up and remembered where I was. I packed up and was out at 6:25am. With dark clouds overhead, it was a darker morning, but I really liked the bluer morning colors and it was not cold out. There was a light drizzle on and off. I was able to put up the umbrella for the spurts and not worry about sweating in the rain jacket.

The trail itself was pretty rocky and brushy today, but I was in a zone and felt really fluid and rhythmic going over it. I should be tired after the past four days of pretty much constant hiking in challenging terrain, but my energy keeps going up and up the more I’m doing. I think that I’ve been so starved for this kind of hiking for so long that now I’m just feasting on it. I really liked the views today as the trail went over ridges, dropped into river valleys, then went back up a few times back to back.

One of my favorite shots this leg.

That was the pattern the first three hours of the day to the final hut, Red Hills hut. Each time, there was a drop to a valley, there was a stream or river to cross. Fortunately, the water levels were really low, so I was pretty proud that I was able to keep dry feet by rock hopping across all of them.

Looking back on the last crossing.

I was on a hiker’s high leaving the mountains. With the light pack and excitement of having made it through without a major weather incident. On the final climb, I took a moment to look back on the Richmond Range and savor this feeling I haven’t had in a long time of real hiking through mountainous terrain and feeling like I could fly. This kind of hiking really does fill me, and I’ve missed it.

Goodbye Richmond Range!

The final stretch to Red Hills Hut was through tussock and my luck with dry feet was demolished with a lot of spongy muddy terrain through the tussock. The lighting was great for tussock photos though. I do like seeing it blow in the wind when it’s windy. I realized the orange marker poles sometimes have a flat top to set the camera on for delayed shots, so I was able to get one hiking through the tussock.

The Red Hills hut is another great one with a table inside and a nice porch with great views looking back on the Richmond Range. That would be a good one to stay at to finish the range.

Immediately after the hut, it was a great gradual down for 5km on a four wheel drive road. It was perfect for running down with a light pack and had great views of the valley below. The winds were picking up and clouds were looking more threatening, so I was cruising down feeling the momentum to get to town sooner than later.

On the way down to the highway, I passed three hikers planning to hitch the 6mi/10km highway walk to town. When I got to the highway, Calvin (who I last saw on the Whanganui River section) was there attempting to hitch. We talked a bit and I headed on towards town. I now am in a bit of a bubble and seeing many hikers I last saw around the Whanganui River section or Taumarunui that hitched forward for various reasons that I figured I’d never see again. It’s so random how the chips fall and how close we all are even when it seems we are far apart. Felix and Ned are the two full thrus I know ahead of me a few days. They have teamed up and have been fun “rabbits” to chase, but I may never catch them with possible weather zeros and if I do side trips. You never know, and it’s fun to get to the logbooks at the huts and see if anyone I recognize is around. Most ahead of me, I’ve never met before.

The highway is apparently busier than it normally would be because it has become the main route since the earthquake hit a couple months ago. There was little shoulder in most places, and I just needed to step into the grass sometimes when a car was coming. It wasn’t super busy and I could often go a minute or few between cars. My legs felt amazing to stretch on the road for a couple hours and I loved the road walk to really cruise and feel free.

Halfway down the road, I got phone service for the first time in 36hrs. There are only two places to stay in St Arnaud other than a campground. With the rain, I knew it would be packed. It was noon, and the Alpine Lodge, where I sent my resupply box, was already full. I made it into one of the last available spots at the Traverse-Sabine Lodge, whew! I treated myself to a solo room really wanting space, and knowing it would be packed in the dorm room. I made it in just in time for check-in at 1pm and loved that I had the whole day to get my chores done. I immediately went down the road to grab my resupply box and eat an awesome burger at the service station. Really, the best burger I’ve had all trail. The milkshakes were terrible and I should have just gotten a chocolate milk. There was a slight reunion seeing hikers there as well and the rain started as I was eating. Just made it!

I wasn’t aware of how bad the forecast was. I saw heavy rain projected and didn’t look much more knowing I’d be in town. It turns out that overnight it will become a torrential rain and winds on the mountains will reach 150km/hr, which is major. The DOC was advising hikers not to go out this morning with intentions of waiting it out in the hut because they were worried this storm may wash out the trail or have many fallen trees over the trail that could block them in. They have to err on the side of caution, but even the TA Facebook page that rarely mentions weather warned about not going out today. That’s why it’s packed with hikers in town, and now we all will see how it goes overnight and if/when it’s good to head out for the next stretch. I’ll explain more in the next post, but it looks like this next leg may contain a zero in a hut for me. It looks like there is a short window to get a day or two in, and then another front will hit I may have to wait out before moving forward. This seems to happen to thrus a lot in this area, and it’s common to bring extra food to sit it out in the huts. Last year Why Not had to take two zeros in huts to time this upcoming section right with high passes and then water crossings down low.

After my errands and lunch, I returned to the lodge with now heavy rain falling. Last night, a solo gal from Switzerland named Kate was in the same hut as me. I realized she probably wouldn’t make it in time to get a room, and my room actually had three beds, so I told the desk to keep an eye out for her (I didn’t have her contact into) and let her know she could split my room with me. It turned out that Kate arrived a couple hours after me, and there were no vacancies. She was drenched and dejected to find that she would have to camp at the campground or hitch out to find lodging. She did have a box sent here and told the receptionist her name. Then the receptionist told her I was saving a spot for her, and she cried she was so shocked and thankful. Here’s Kate upon arrival. It was nice to be able to help someone out and give her such a surprise.

Like many, Kate is zeroing tomorrow after a tiring leg through the Richmond Range. My plan is to book it out of here as soon as the heavy rain lightens up and get as far as I can before the next front comes through. The first stretch is on cruisy trail that is safe in rain with bridges over streams, so it will be good to do tomorrow. The day after tomorrow should be clear and I can get over one of the two major passes and hopefully pull a really long day that day to see how far I can get. It’s the following day that rain may return hard again and I may take a zero or two in a hut waiting on water levels to go down for crossings. I’m in no hurry, and many around me will be doing the exact same thing gauging when to go. I will be careful and will mark where I am on my Where’s Wired tab. Know that this stretch probably doesn’t have cell reception, so it may be multiple days before I can post, but all is expected and you may see that I spend 24hrs or more in the same location. Just know it’s normal and I’m waiting out the possible front that may come through.

On that same topic, when I got reception today, I did get updates from Becky, Tom, and Christophe. They are taking a zero or two probably where I camped at Lower Waiora Hut (where the DOC guys were staying conveniently) to let the water levels go down before doing the day with the 8 river crossings. They sent me some photos, so here are a few. They are doing well and knew they’d hit this front, so they brought plenty of food to sit it out and zero in the hut.

Here is one of Becky with little Pelorus (who now has a home!).

Their summit of Mt Rintoul in fog.

Becky getting to finally have the fire she’s wanted all trail.

Well, that’s all the fun updates and excitement here. I am excited for this next section that I will hopefully see because it is the Nelson Lakes section and it should be quite scenic! Reminder, don’t worry if it’s awhile between posts. That is expected. Oh, and I’ve done my best to respond to comments. Know I read them all and am entertained:)

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