There were sandflies everywhere!
Lake Monowai - with some snowy mountains in the distance
It was obvious to us that no one had been on the route to the bushline in quite some time. The giveaway was downed trees along the route that were supposed to mark the track, but looked like they had been down for a while, and the track markers hadn't been replaced on different trees. At one point, the trail disappeared abruptly and we spent a considerable amount of time fanning out trying to find the next tree on the trail with the orange marker. Our maps told us that, basically, we just had to head up the mountain and that we did; eventually, finding the trail again.
The crew checking the maps. Lake Monowai in the background.
The trees gave way to a breathtaking view. At this point, it got much easier to navigate. It didn't get any easier to climb, however!
Photo credit Chris Niebuhr
But, my God, the effort was worth it! The views at the top were spectacular!
I don't care that it's cold, snowy, and windy, or that the climbs can be long and grueling... I love being in the mountains!
Photo credit Daniel Bilson
Photo credit Daniel Bilson
Eventually, we needed to walk down to the lake and end up at Monowai Hut on the far right side (can't be seen in this photo above). The original plan involved walking along this mountain in the picture below (sort of like a tramper's highway) and then cutting down to the hut. We were expecting this to be (very) roughly a 20+k day (over 12 miles).
But, the plan changed and we went a different way. Cutting diagonally became the new plan. This proved to be more challenging than originally expected. The mountain range is clearly very steep. What we couldn't foresee was the number of fallen trees we had to climb over or under or go around... or the number of times we'd get stuck in the given space between two trees or a fallen tree and the ground because we'd forget we're a wider load with packs on... or the number of streams we'd have to cross (balancing across logs requires greater concentration when one's legs have turned to jelly after so much walking).
We tried following streams down to the lake twice to speed up the process of getting to the lake. The second time was a vain attempt to get to the hut before the sun went down.
I made a few poor decisions that made the day more challenging: choosing not to wear a raincoat or waterproof pants, deliberately walking through the stream, and not pulling the rain guard over my pack. So, I was starting to get cold from my drenched boots and the water that my shirt and pants had absorbed from rain knocked off of trees that I grabbed to catch my falls. Plus, I was starting to struggle with the added weight to my pack from absorbed water from shaken trees. On top of that, I had used a lot of upper body strength to pull myself up some of the steep sections of terrain that we crossed earlier in the day.
My body ached all over in no time.
We held out hope that we'd make it to the hut (which meant we'd have a dry place to warm up, make dinner and go to sleep). But, we were losing daylight and so the decision was made to find a place to pitch the tents.
But... we were stuck.
The stream turned into a waterfall that we couldn't go down and we had jumped from a higher point to get to where we stood. Going back the way we came from seemed impossible because the banks surrounding us were wet and too steep to climb up and the plants growing along the banks couldn't hold our weight plus the weight of the packs.
And then I started shivering... just a little at first... I was only a wee bit chilly... but, eventually it got to the point where I was visibly shaking and my thoughts were slowing down. Hello, hypothermia.
Chris managed to push Daniel back up to the point that we had jumped down from and then we handed our packs up to Daniel. Next, poor Chris had to push and poor Daniel had to pull each of us gals up. Then, we got Chris up. The boys left to go find a spot to pitch the tents. Johanna helped me pull the wet clothes off and put dry clothes on. What a relief! Almost instantly I was getting warmer!
The boys found a spot to put the tents and so we trudged up to the campsite. Chris carried my pack for me because I was exhausted.
After the tents got set up, I crawled into my sleeping bag to speed up reheating my body. Chris headed back to the river to get more water while Daniel used what we had to make hot drinks. Yay!
I recovered and assumed sleep would come easy. I was wrong. The tents were pitched on a slight slope. So, we'd push against the tent bottom with our feet to stretch the legs for a bit and then slid to the bottom of the tent to rest uncomfortably in the fetal position.
My knees ached so bad from being bent! My toenails throbbed from being in boots all day! All I wanted to do was SLEEP!
The next morning we woke up and tried to wrap our minds around how epic our trip had been - and it wasn't over yet! We still had two days of walking ahead of us!
After some coffee, we packed up camp. The group had a renewed drive to reach Monowai Hut and we were hellbent on getting there before lunchtime. So, once again we were on our merry way.