The trip began with a 4:00am wake up to pack the cars and begin the trek south. A 3 hour drive south of Dunedin, Te Anau was a quaint, quiet town (as most towns are at 7:30 in the morning on a Friday) as well as being the self-titled "Sausage Capital of New Zealand" as we were pleasantly informed by the town's only billboard. After a short scenic drive down a gravel road we reached the parking lot for the Waitutu tracks, the starting point for our 3 day journey.
It was here, just 5 minutes into unpacking the car and having a light breakfast, where we met a most unlikely guest who would eventually join us for the remainder of our 55km hike. Bounding out of a farm paddock that bordered the car park came a dog, who we assumed to be a farm dog for one of the many surrounding farms in the area. Like any soul-having human beings, we were overjoyed by our new visitor, feeding him some of our breakfast and showing him ample attention as we prepared for our trek. After finishing our breakfast we donned our backs and took the first of many steps that weekend. Fully expecting that the dog would run back home once we stopped giving him food and attention, we were all incredibly surprised when he lead the pack to the trailhead, then continued on down the track. A beautiful sunny day on the south tip of New Zealand, the nine of us were blissfully ignorant to what lay ahead of us.
|Greeting our newest hiking partner in the car park|
|The view atop Stag Point - Photo courtesy of Annie Westbury|
|Looking down the trail at the end of day one|
Alarms going off at 6:30, we awoke to the sounds of rain pelting the windows of the hut. With one look out the window and a resounding "Nope" from my friend Oliver, we all tucked back into our sleeping bags hoping the rain would blow over soon.
Well, it didn't. Packing up our stuff at 7:30 the wind still howled and the rain beat down on the roof of the hut, we stepped outside to brave what would eventually be the worst day of hiking I have ever experienced. Deciding we had come to far to not see the summit of the mountain, myself and 3 others took a slight detour up to the top of Hump Ridge. Sitting in the clouds, we couldn't see more than 30 yards in front of us, but knowing we had reached the top was an incredibly rewarding feeling. After a large clap of thunder however, we realized our time at the top was to be short lived. Heading back down the ridge to catch up with the others, little did we know that the day would just keep getting more and more interesting. The first surprise came right as we caught up with the others, as large white snowflakes began to fall from the sky, well, not really "fall" but more of a "blow sideways". Completely soaked through all of our layers not more than a few hours into the trip, we decided to take an early lunch break at the first emergency shelter we came upon on the trail. Nearly too cold to take out our food, we sat and quietly munched on trail mix and PB&Js as we watched the snow continue to fall.
After leaving the shelter, the snow soon turned to sleet, then rain yet again, caught in a personal identity crisis as we travelled across the ridge. Sanity was barely maintained through numerous games of "would you rather..." and sharing stories from back home in the states as we continued along the trail. It was also Dubya (the name we had given the dog, patriotically after our 43rd president) who kept smiles on our faces the entire trip. Playfully bounding through puddles that littered the trail and always leading the way, he kept morale just high enough for us all to keep going.
Finally reaching the descent into the valley, with the snow and rain starting to dissipate, we thought we were finally in the clear. What we didn't realize however, was when there is that much precipitation on top of the mountain, it all eventually goes somewhere... down. Reaching the bottom of the ridge we were greeted by the trail that would take us to hut number two. The problem was that there was no trail, but rather a long canal of water flowing along where the trail should have been.
What started as attempts to expertly avoid the water by jumping between the few dry parts of the trail soon turned into hiking straight through the makeshift creek, realizing that our boots could not get any more wet than they already were and a strong desire to make it to the next hut. Dubya remained to keep spirits high as he carelessly jumped through the puddles as the 9 of us grudgingly hiked through miles of ankle deep water.
Several hours and quite a few "river crossings" (poor drainage led to many large flood water rivers across the trail) later, we saw signage for the Port Craig hut, our safe haven for the night. Re-energized by the small glimmer of hope in such a dreary day, we carried on to complete the last 5km of the day.
|Port Craig DOC Hut|
|A thermal top, a pair of compression shorts, and a pair of stolen slippers, the only remaining clothes after day two|
Photo courtesy of Justin Dalaba
|Group photo on the morning of day three|
Photo courtesy of Morgan Toms
We were appreciative to be greeted by fair weather for our last day of hiking, knowing it was going to be a long 19km back to the car park. Split between sadness that the trip had to end and pure joy that it was finally coming to a finish, 9 hours later we ended up back at the car park. Walking back to the cars and taking off our packs after a long 9 hours, Dubya ran back into the field he had ran out of just 3 days prior, going to rejoin his real family after his short weekend vacation.
Finally we had reached the end of our journey. 3 days and 57km later, full of steep climbs, thunder snow storms, flooded trails, hut wine nights, and man's best friend with us the entire way, we had conquered the Hump Ridge track. Bruised, soaked, sore, and ready for a whole lot of fish n chips and a real bed, we packed up the cars and the car park slowly became a spec in the rear view mirror. A trip that will never be forgotten, Hump Ridge will ever be in my heart the simultaneously best and worst backpacking trip I have ever taken.
|A solid batch of fish n' chips to celebrate a successful tramp|