I had a wonderful time in the Nelson Lakes Park last year, but sadly the weather was pretty crap so I didn’t get to see much. Given Papa Scout and I had got out of the Richmond Range well ahead of schedule, we decided to continue on and do a variant of the Travers Sabine circuit which is spectacular in good weather.
Day 0 – St Arnaud to Lakehead Hut 10km/ 2 hours
After scoffing our burgers and cake to celebrate completing the Richmond Range, Manu and I realised we were already done with being in town and around other people by 4pm, so we decided to head out and stay in a hut rather than the backpackers. Lakehead Hut is a delightful flat stroll around Lake Rotoiti…. even more delightful when your legs are toast after four days of non stop up and down. We shared the 24 bed hut that evening with four other french people and a lovely kiwi mum and daughter who were out tramping. The frenchies did make quite a bit of noise playing cards, but like always, when the clock hit 9.30pm, everyone was in bed.
Day 1 – Lakehead Hut to West Sabine Hut 30 km/ 7.5 hours
We kicked off the day strolling up the Travers river valley with the songs from the Lion King running through my head….. it was easy to imagine lions running around in the long grass, and it was a fantastic morning with the sun bleeding through the mountains. Eventually we started a gentle ascent up to the top of the Travers saddle…. We paused briefly at John Tait Hut to take off a layer and then continued up the hill to Travers Hut for lunch at 1300m.
Our hiking rhythm is now pretty well established. We wake up with the sun, we get up at 6.15am (any earlier than that is a bit rude to fellow hut users), and we are out and walking no later than 6.45am. Papa Scout sets a cracking pace and doesn’t require any sustenance apart from a few peanuts around lunchtime.
I require quite a bit more food, but given neither of us like taking breaks, I shove food in my face as we go, while making sure I keep concentrating on my feet so I don’t fall over. We do normally stop for a lunch break, which never lasts more than 30 minutes, and typically will not stop hiking until 4pm or later….. I like it, but I don’t think it is for everyone.After lunch, we climbed up to the saddle and were not blessed with a view. The wind was freezing, it was below zero, and visibility was down to about 50 metres at the top.
After that it was a rough and tough slippery descent down a neverending steep hill to the Sabine River. I remember the descent being tough last year, but it turns out the diverted the path to minimise the risk of avalanche and now the path is even more ridiculously steep, muddy and it goes straight down the hill. I fell over six times, adding to the already numerous bruises on my butt. I clapped loudly when Papa Scout fell over – his first fall of the trip. He told me that this descent was the worst he has ever done in his many years of hiking and running – not a surprise. The trees were barely hanging on to the mountain, so it was no surprise we were sliding down. The descent was interminable, but we were blessed at the bottom with a gorgeous view of the Sabine gorge, and then another 3-4km through the bush before we got to West Sabine Hut. The hut was reasonably full with a mix of nationalities. We were delighted when the Swiss Lion turned up unexpectedly – he was pushing to use the one day of good weather to get through the Waiau pass. It was a lovely quiet night in the hut with surprisingly only one snorer – sadly for Papa Scout she was next to him.
Day 2 – West Sabine Hut to Lake Constance and then back to Sabine Hut 34km/8 hours
We were up and off at 6.45 to head up to the legendary blue lake/Rotomairewhenua – the lake with the clearest water ever measured in the world. It was a rocky rooty ascent up to Blue lake, but much better than when I came up last year and had to go through numerous stream crossings up to my thigh. Blue lake was magical!
We then continued up to the pass to sit in the sun and enjoy the view of lake constance! It was a glorious day to be alive!!!
After that, time to head back down to West Sabine to pick up our gear. Unsurprisingly, after several hours with no falls, I took a major fall in a stream on the way back to the hut. Not quite sure how, but I managed to fall on my throat on a big boulder that I slipped on in a stream. It took me a while to get out of the stream as I wasn’t sure I could breathe, and I sure as hell couldn’t speak. My usual responses kicked in of ‘can I breathe?, do I have all my teeth?, can I get out of the water? can I put one foot in front of the other?’. I was pretty sure I couldn’t speak or swallow as my throat was in agony, but I could breathe and I could walk. So I got my butt up and started walking. I realised about 15 minutes later I was shaking with cold, so I put all the gear I had with me on (my main pack was in the hut) and kept walking. I eventually made it to the hut an hour later, where Papa Scout was just about to send out a search party. I had a cup of tea, figured out swallowing was possible if painful, and managed to get a few painful words out. I decided we may as well keep walking to the next hut, where I could get a water taxi out if needed, as I was pretty sure I wasn’t broken enough to need a helicopter (which I could have also sorted out as hubby has me well equipped with a delorme).
Needless to say, it was not a fun 15km walk. Papa Scout kept an eye on me, and although my legs were more or less ok, my throat was not. After thirty minutes I put my headphones on, put my head down and just kept putting one foot in front of the other. When we arrived at the last sign before the hut, saying we had 30 minutes left, I started running! I was smelling the barn big time. I got there, had a quick wash in the lake, ate some food and then took two ibuprofen and an anti inflammatory and was asleep by 7pm with instructions for Papa Scout to cut my oesophagus open with a knife if I stopped breathing in the night. Thankfully I did not!!!
Day 3 – Sabine Hut to St Arnaud 23km/ 4.5 hours
Still alive the next day, and the throat, while sore, is in much better condition. So it was time to see what else was a bit bust – I have a spectacular bruise on my left arm and a huge one on my right knee. oh well, never mind. The upside, I feel much better today than yesterday.
We had planned to walk up the ridge today to see the view from Angeles before returning to St Arnaud, but the weather was not our friend. So instead we took the low path through the forest via Speargrass hut to Roberts Range. It was Papa Scout’s turn to be grumpy today, and there were repeated calls of ‘f@ck’ or ‘putain’ from up ahead, typically when he was required to go up a steep rooty hill, or go through a stream, or go through some mud. Kiwis are used to having perpetually wet feet, but French people are clearly not. I left him alone most of the morning.
I enjoyed the walk through the forest as I love the green of the moss and the ferns, and the way the sun dapples through the trees, and we busted out our 23k pretty quickly to hit the carpark by 11.20am. In true kiwi form, I walked around the carpark looking for someone driving the 6km to town and found a nice Czech guy to give us a lift. Straight to the burger shop!!! And then it was time for my first shower in eight days!!!!, amazing! next stop – the Motatapu Track.
February 12, 2017; St Arnaud