We just completed a 7-day stretch through the Richmond Ranges, and apart from spending one full day in Browning Hut to sit out cyclone Gita, we had impeccable weather and bluebird skies for the entire stretch.
The Richmond Ranges are said to be one of the most challenging and beautiful sections, and I can attest to both the beauty and difficulty, with Will saying that the section along the Wairoa River was at times “terrifying”, mainly because you’re tramping high above the river’s edge on a track consisting of slick wet stone requiring death grips on any available roots or rocks that will stop you from sliding.
The highest summit of the section is Rintoul Mountain at 1731 m, and we got up before sunrise that morning for a mammoth day hiking from Slaty Hut, past Old Man Hut, up Little Rintoul and Rintoul Summit, and then down past Rintoul Hut to Tarn Hut, which Tom, Will and I had to ourselves. We came across a number of TA hikers during the section, but because our bags were half the size of the others, we were able to do larger days and only shared a hut with them once.
Speaking of lighter bags, I’m really learning to live with less during this thru-hike. Both Will and I have been pushed out of our comfort zones after our pack shake downs, and I have to say it’s so liberating to learn that I can still survive without carrying all the weight that I used to. I was scared I was going to run out of food during this section when we got stuck in the hut, and after barely eating anything that day I still ended the section with 3 extra tuna packets, couscous, mash potato, and a plethora of bars. I’m so used to finishing a section with at least two days of food left that I panic if I get any lower than that.
Some of you are probably thinking it’s good and safe to have enough food and extra gear with you, but we all live in such fear of being uncomfortable in life that we often overcompensate or sometimes don’t do things at all. I have barely ever been pushed so far out of my comfort zone that I’ve really suffered, and I think the mere thought of it has had me living a very regimented and controlled lifestyle. Everyone has a different comfort level, and certain comforts that are a must, and the biggest one I’ve had to let go of on this trip is a hot shower, laundered clothes and a comfortable bed after each section.
At the start of the trip I stayed at a holiday park after each stretch, and even though I stayed in my tent, I still showered and cleaned my clothes and had a dry place to organise my pack for the next section. On the PCT I stayed in a motel room in almost every town and had a warm bath and a cosy bed after each section. But because the boys are on a much tighter budget than me, I’ve adapted to washing in streams, using soap on my body and clothes only in public toilets, and rolling in and out of towns on the same day.
Yesterday we stopped in St Arnaud for a few hours because we’d booked into the Alpine Lodge’s famous Sunday BBQ. We used my left over wet wipes as a shower, and after one of our most civilised meals, a glass of red wine and even dessert, we left the lodge in the dark and made our way clumsily along the trail to camp in the forest by Lake Rotoiti.
Though the trail feels more like a holiday than a gruelling tramp in the company of the boys, I’m still being pushed out of my comfort zone in new ways, and if there’s one thing I hope to bring back with me to the civilised world, it’s the willingness to suffer a little more. In some ways being willing to suffer is actually working in my favour on this trip, because my body is suffering less from all the weight I used to carry. In the real world I hope it translates to me being more spontaneous, carrying less with me every time I leave the house and trying things I might not be good at. It could also mean setting out on a new career path and taking more risks when it comes to earning money… but for now I’m just going to enjoy the liberation of being filthy and carrying a lighter pack.