Day 23: SOAKED THROUGH THE GORE-TEX
We awoke at 6am. Although it had rained all last night, the day actually had a promising start. Even though the cloud cover remained, there was at least some sliver of sun penetrating into the valley and painting some of the cliffs a sliver of orange and yellow.
Once again, we had hot breakfast and prepared our sandwiches. We didn’t come close to touching the veggemites this time. And like blokes on a mission, we were out the door by 7:20am.
Amidst the gradually brightening skies, we could still see plenty of waterfalls lining the valley walls. About 20 minutes into the hike, we saw the signed St Quintin Falls and its thin 115m three-tiered drop.
The rest of this morning stretch of the track was flat and pretty much the same scenery of dense foliage towered over by ephemeral waterfalls and steep cliffs. The rain started to come down again when we approached the Mintaro Hut at 8:30am. Julie took this opportunity for a break while I walked to the end of a helicopter landing pad (for emergencies only) that protruded right into Lake Mintaro.
Now, the track started to climb. At first, it went up a smaller slope with fewer switchbacks called the Practice Hill. But soon thereafter, the track went up at least 13 switchbacks on its way to Mackinnon Pass.
A few of the switchbacks were bypassed due to a previous landslide. It was a steep scramble up the landslide that was very reminiscent of the lava flow ascent to the Mangatepopo Saddle on the Tongariro Crossing.
After a brief interlude of rain, the sun started to penetrate through some of the waterlogged clouds – creating interesting god beams into the Clinton Valley. Unfortunately, it was short-lived as the weather worsened once again as we continued to make our ascent.
There was plenty of waterfalls sitting in a bowl-shaped depression at the head of the Clinton Valley called the Nicholas Cirque. It was intriguing to say the least, but I wondered how much better the view would be had the clouds not obscured the highest peaks.
So we huffed and puffed our way up the switchbacks in the already worsened weather. I has hoping against hope that we might still see both the Arthur and Clinton Valleys from above at the pass, but Mother Nature refused to cooperate.
Finally at 10am, we made it to the top of the switchbacks and could see the Mackinnon memorial up ahead. There was also some commotion past the memorial as Cory was handing out hot drinks amidst a large company of keas and trampers who had already made it up here.
The weather continued to act foul. The views were obscured so Arthur Valley was nothing but fog and Clinton Valley was draped in a haze of rain. My hands were numb from the icy rain and frigid cold. The opportunistic keas were all around us looking to steal food and didn’t seem to mind the weather.
I knew this region was one of the rainiest in the world and they sure weren’t kidding!
It seemed like forever to go from the Mackinnon memorial to the Pass Hut Shelter. Even the sight of the shelter sitting alone amidst a dense layer of menacing clouds was welcoming.
The Pass Hut Shelter had two rooms. One was for independents and the other was for MTGW. The independent trampers weren’t allowed inside the MTGW room. Needless to say we eagerly went into the MTGW room not even bothering to see what the independent room was like. While inside, the Japanese guide was serving hot drinks. Never before had I felt a warm hot cholocate drink and soup make its journey down my esophagus and into my stomach. It sure was the right beverage and food for the moment.
Other trampers were also recovering from the cold drenching of the morning hike. One even had to remove his wet clothing in search of a dry one as he was shivering uncontrollably.
And so Julie and I had a lunch and a brief respite from the hostile weather outside. But we were back into the elements at 11:20am.
Now the track started to descend along a steep and rocky track. Ahead of us, we could see heaps of waterfalls falling beneath the snow-covered mountains. The tops of the mountains up ahead couldn’t be seen due to the low clouds.
The rain continued to pour and we were passing by mostly independent trampers who seemed to have a miserable time.
Finally at 12:20pm, we crossed a bridge over the Roaring Burn and soon the track led to a wooden platform looking directly at one of the Anderson Cascades. It was the first permanent waterfall we had seen since St Quintin Falls earlier in the morning and was a welcome diversion.
Now, the trail descended down stairs with metal steps and wooden handrails. The metal steps were actually quite slippery. One of the independent trampers in front of me slipped and did a scary somersault tumble head over heels before landing with a thud on his pack at the bottom of the stairs. Not long afterwards, my feet slipped out from under me but fortunately I held on to the hand rails long enough to only fall on my butt.
While I was busy taking photos of the cascades, Julie went way ahead of me. As I tried not to take any bad spills on the slippery staircases, I managed to take more photos of some scenic cascades along the Roaring Burn. There was even one that looked like it had a waterwheel on it.
This scenic stretch of cascades ended when the track went across a very large avalanche zone traversed by a swing bridge. Beyond this, the track continued to descend rocky switchbacks. As the rain continued to pour, we could hear thunder rocking the skies above.
This was pretty wicked weather!
By now, I was so thoroughly soaked that it was almost as if the provided Gore-Tex jacket wasn’t there. Even my camera and accessories were getting wet through the camera bag. I sure wished I had kept my ponchos and made use of them because everything was soaked through the Gore-Tex.
Just after 1pm, the monotony of the wet tramp was broken by a sign that said Dudleigh Falls. This was a nice punchbowl-type waterfall that appeared to be part of the Roaring Burn. Not long afterwards, another sign said Lindsay Falls. Unfortunately, this waterfall could only be seen from the top and I wasn’t in the mood to scramble to find a better view of it at its base.
There was actually a drying room in this facility so Julie was already making use of it. I was still dying to do the 90-minute side hike to Sutherland Falls. Julie was exhausted from the strenuous day of hiking and did not want to do the additional walk. So I was on my own again…
As I left the Quintin Lodge at 1:50pm with just the camera and hiking sticks, I was greeted by a sign that broke down Sutherland Falls’ three tiers and their heights. They were cumulatively 580m, but apparently wasn’t the tallest if you count Browne Falls in the mix.
The historical Beech Hut was not far from the sign so I checked it out. At the time, I didn’t know its significance as the first tourist hut set up by Donald Sutherland himself. So, I basically didn’t spend much time here and continued back on the Sutherland Falls track to the falls itself.
The track was mostly uphill. Given the rain, I could see mini-streams of water rushing down the track. Finally by about 2:30pm, I could finally see Sutherland Falls before me.
The towering three-tiered waterfall dwarfed the French hikers before me. Fortunately, the clouds weren’t low enough to obscure even the top parts of this majestic waterfall.
As I got closer to the base of the falls, I could feel a very strong wind with mist blown in every direction. Looking back down the valley, I could see a nice contour of a classic steep-walled valley. Of course, the valley walls still had waterfalls on them.
After having my fill of this waterfall, I returned to the Quintin Lodge at about 3pm. I had heard one of the trampers actually went behind the base of the waterfall! I wasn’t sure how he was able to do it because it sure looked a bit dangerous when I was there.
And so I finally got my long awaited hot shower and eagerly put my clothes into the drying room. That drying room was packed with other peoples’ gear as well so I wasn’t sure how effective it would be. The room also wreaked of that foul odor you get when you have this much moisture combined with sweat, bug repellant, and, dare I say, fungus.
Once again, dinner was at 6pm and we had yet another hearty and lovely gourmet meal. The subsequent slide show was now presented by Suze, another one of the MTGW guides. So she broke down what we would see on the fourth day of the tramp and also broke the news that the forecast was for much of the same weather… Great…
Even though tomorrow’s day of tramping was mostly flat, it was also considerably longer – about 14 miles total. So it wasn’t like it was a walk in the park.
We slept at around 10pm. I didn’t recall nearly as many keas this time around so we certainly slept better than yesterday…