jen yu: new zealand 2004 - day 7

new zealand 2004 - day 7

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caples track, upper caples
december 1, 2004
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I woke to heavy rain pounding on the tarp at 5 am and fell back to sleep. By 7 am, it had stopped and the air was warm. We chatted briefly with Pete and Mareesa (sp?) and learned they had been trekking for 7 weeks in Nepal prior to New Zealand. So it wasn't just that they both had really long legs (she had to have been almost 6 feet tall)! They asked about the Caples Track, which was the route we were taking back. They had originally planned on the Greenstone Track which parallels the Caples but on a mellower and longer track, and ends at the same point, but thought they wanted to hike out a day earlier with us since the shuttle would be there. We noted that the Caples climbs a saddle, but other than that, we didn't think it would be that bad.

We packed up and hiked to a small footbridge where we filtered water with some difficulty, only to hike another 100 meters to find a much better place to have filtered water (go figure). The trail contoured steep hillsides and we were mostly enveloped in clouds. Occasionally a sucker hole (small hole of blue sky) would open in the distance with a glimpse of snowy mountain peaks. We were astonished by the abundance of waterfalls streaming down the rock walls.

As we approached Howden Hut (our turn off from the Routeburn Track), the clouds lifted and we arrived at a clearing. I dropped my pack and ran off to use the flush toilets (!) and then we sat down for a snack. More people arrived, apparently a large group of young people who had been at Mackenzie hut the night before who were hiking out that day. The sun came out and it was almost a party atmosphere. We talked to Mareesa about their travels and how they were going to be in Patagonia for Christmas. Very cool. I think I'd miss Kaweah too much to be gone for so long.

We now took the Greenstone track for about a mile along pretty forest/valley terrain to our junction in a meadow with the Caples track. It looked inviting enough. We should have realized something was up when the trail began to squish and that black mud bubbled underfoot. Once in the trees, we were in a swamp, and crossing the bog was only a taste of what we had in store for us. Your timing becomes impeccable in these situations, and so we would submerge our legs just long enough before water seeped into our gaiters and boots. We hopped the bog for what seemed an eternity until the trail thankfully began to climb out of the valley and up the side.

The trail was steep, like Rockburn steep. In fact, I mistook parts of the trail for long, thin waterfalls on occasion. We clambered up mud, rock, roots, waterfalls - sometimes smacking our heads straight into tree trunks as we hoisted ourselves up the trail (twice), sometimes being thrown backwards as your pack catches on a branch that you thought was 6 feet overhead (it was!). Pete and Mareesa paused when they caught up to us - breathing heavily. Mareesa asked how we navigated the swamp. "I walk through it," I replied. She gave me a polite smile and a "this trail sucks, but isn't New Zealand great?" look. I smiled because I felt the same way. It was a great workout in deep-knee bends.

When we finally reached bushline, it was not long before we topped out onto the saddle to peer back down at the very steep valley we had come from. "The Greenstone track was nice," Jeremy commented. Yeah, we must be idiots. On the saddle, there was an incredible wooden footbridge across the ENTIRE swampy grassland - almost like an apology for the crappy trail leading up there. We relished it and came upon our friends taking a break for hot food further on. We asked them to take a picture of us and found that Pete had the exact same camera as I do. We talked shop and before I knew it, I was chilled. We forged ahead and said we'd see them on the trail shortly.

The descent took forever and a day. It was steep at first, then it just went on through the forest alongside the river, crossing here and there. P&M passed us and remarked that they hoped it would only be another hour. It was 2 hours more, but I did take the time to photograph some waterfalls - there were dozens. Upper Caples hut was in a clearing and it was obviously not a Great Walk hut. Some hutters were there from the other direction. Black flies were abundant and ow! they bite! P&M were eating dinner next to their tent in the field. We found a small site at the edge of the woods. We ate dinner, threw on the fly but opted against the tarp, and went to bed. It had been another 15-mile day.

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