I surface every now and then and listen to the driving rain on the tin roof. Inside the hut our breath blew billows of fog the evening before – this sleeping area, even with the stove on would be only three or four degrees. But I am snug in my sleeping bag and hope everyone else is warm as well. There is nothing worse than being cold at night – it disrupts sleep and makes getting started the next day so much harder. We get organized under the light of so many headlamps and pretty much in complete silence since David and his partner (she whose name I cannot remember, but hailed from Dunedin of all places) were planning on sleeping in. I enjoyed watching the lights floating about in the darkness and was impressed with how well organised everyone was for their first morning on the track. Some still have to sort out a routine that does not require them to completely empty the pack each day and repack it each morning. That is a matter of pack design but also some track experience.
We were ready in a little over an hour and stepped out into the cold. The wind was down and the rain had backed off to a light shower, even stopping altogether as we stepped away from the hut. She who cannot be named had regaled us with horror stories of the nature of the track (to the point where some of our team wished she would shut up!) but there did not seem to be any dodgy ,soggy, muddy track to speak of. Well, no more than I was expecting. However it has been raining hard and we soon found ourselves on track submerged by water running off the hill on our left as we headed up to Du Cane gap. As we lifted up to the gap we came out of the forest into our first moor. Open and exposed, the wind drove across it and lashed us, our first experience of this kind of treatment. We can expect more by the time we get up onto the high country around Cradle Mountain.
The track runs pretty much due north to Bert Nicholls Hut and is flat, making its way through more of that beech country with moss and ferns and soft carpets of soggy leaves and fungus. We make the hut for a lunch break by 1130. We stop for 45 minutes. So far the rain has let us off light but seems to be stepping up. I take the opportunity to repack my sleeping back more water proof – my ill fitting pack cover is going to let me down if it rains too heavily. We take a hot drink, laugh at the temerity and ingenuity of Bert Nicholls (bushman after whom the hut is named and push off .
Castle Crag looms out of the misty rain as we move through Du Cane Gap while I catch a glimpse of the rising rock of The Gatepost on my right gives good clues that the gap is on us. From a misreading of the guidebook I expect a higher and more dramatic climb but when I check the map discover the profile yields something more gentle. I should have checked the map first. Never mind. This section of the track takes us through very dense rainforest, and along the bank of the Mersey river which rushes and thunders below us, an effect that takes me back to Nepal – though the Mersey is a mere trickle compared to the Kali Gandaki. Along here the rain really sets in and we carefully negotiate a very boggy track. Off on our right is ‘The Never Never” and as the track swings northwest it comes under the looming Mt Cathedral which just seems to make it a gloomier and more sinister place. Jim is way out front somewhere but I am okay with that. That lead gives some of the walkers a chance to check the various Mersey waterfalls on our way while the rest of us catch up. Down here I came across a sole trekker who seemed pretty pleased with himself having visited a number of waterfalls and making his way slowly down the track. From Eastern Europe. And then, from Hobart a very chirpy and cheery group of school girls who happily stood in the rain and told me how much fun they were having, eyes shining and check ruddy with the cold. Their chaperones just grinned – perhaps they were not so exuberant about the conditions. After stopping and chatting to so many I have fallen behind but enjoy the opportunity to stretch out the pace and soon catch the tail enders plugging away through the bog and across mossy rocks and logs. We eventually all catch up at Du Cane Hut, a slab timbered emergency shelter three kilometers from our destination.
By now those in the front of the walk have cooled down way too much while waiting for the tail enders. I agree with Jim that the more agile half of the group should now just press on into Kia Ora. I would follow up and otherwise hunt the tail enders along as best I could. As we tab along I look up and catch a glimpse of the sheer bluff of Castle Crag we have just skirted. Normally hidden from view by cloud, the wind above us has ripped the cloud away and I can see the rain being hammered horizontally across the face of the rock, wave after shimmering wave. In the shelter of the forest not a leaf stirs. We shake our heads in wonder and turn our attention back to the track. By now Jim has led the front members in and comes back to check on the tail end who are tabbing away at their own pace. It’s good leadership and I appreciate it for it can only encourage those who are finding the pace bit of a struggle.
There are a couple of lads at Kia Ora, who have been camped there a number of days. However they tell us one of them has been struggling with some sort of gastro bug and they are clearing out the next morning before it gets worse. It’s not good to hear that there has been a gastro problem. But its nice to be welcomed into a warm hut and to get out of the rain. I promptly throw a bucket of coal on the fire (much to their consternation) and soon the stove is glowing orange and we are drying clothes very quickly. I think we all enjoyed this hut above all the others. I certainly found it to be cosy and once again I lay my head down to the sound of thunderous rain and buffeting wind but happy that I am dry and warm. Everyone seems in good spirits and there are no injuries. We have now walked an 18km day and a 17km day and done it in very respectable times when I consider the range of skills and fitness in the group. I have no reason to complain and indeed, the reverse is true – I am very pleased with the effort everyone has put in. Above all I appreciate the positive outlook and good humour everyone is keeping. This, after all, is not a physical challenge – the weather ensures it is a mental game above anything else.
Someone reflected that Kia Ora seems familiar. I told them it’s Maori for hello or g’day. Why this hut is so named is well and truly beyond me.
Day 5 Click here
Day 3 Click here
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