After the Queen Charlotte Track, Mac and I tackle the Richmond Range with its chin scraping ascents and knee pulverizing descents in 4.5 days.
The Te Araroa map-notes warn, “The Richmond Alpine Track is rugged and, though well marked, is unformed in places. The summits are consistently above 1,500 metres and the track has many steep, exposed sections and stream crossings. It’s only suitable for fit, experienced, and well-equipped trampers.. [who] should prepare for at least a nine day tramp.”
There was no way I was going to carry nine days worth of food. Besides, we’d have to cover only 140 km (87 miles), and it’s within our capabilities to do 32 km (20 miles) a day at least. But after two weeks off in the Marlborough Sounds, I entered the Richmond Range somewhat apprehensively.
“You’re too cocky” Mac says to me when I’m tuckered, have lost the power of thought, muscles writhing. I start to cry.
“I like that about you but the Te Araroa can kill you!” he says earnestly.
Am I cocky? I think to myself for a moment. “I’m not!” I snap. “I just hope to get through each day, almost every kilometer is a struggle for me.” He’s satisfied by this display of vulnerability, it is not often he gets to see this side of me.
I battle the tread everyday. It is almost always uneven consisting of tree roots, rocks, scree, or tussock, and the descents are usually very steep which require a lot of concentration and momentum control. Walking 1 mph happens a lot. Kiwi trampers laugh in the face of the well maintained gentle grades of American hiking trails. Think you’re good at walking after completing the Pacific Crest Trail? HA!
On Day 4 we walk 20 miles (32 km) over 6,500 ft (1,800 m) but it feels like a 37 mile day. I walk alone most of the day, Mac tends to be 15-30 minutes ahead. I enjoy the solitude, but really I’ve had no chance to be lonely because I’ve had to concentrate hard all day where I step. The views are stunning but I’ve been too tired to truly enjoy them.
I round a bend and at the bottom of a steep descent to a creek I see Mac sitting against a boulder. I wave to him. He smiles back at me. The image of him makes me happy and I quicken my pace over a track that’s nearly eroded. But when I get down, he’s not there. I hallucinated him. Spirit broken, I begin the next climb before dropping down to Porter’s Hut where Mac should be.
When I reach the ridge I can see the hut about a 1 km in the distance. I follow some footprints down a steep scree slope to the creek, cross it, and look for the track. But I can’t find it and it’s getting dark. I bushwhack up a hill and descend back down to the creek and bushwhack back up the hill and back down to the creek. I walk up the creek. Adrenaline courses through my body and I’m running up and down and around until finally 5 minutes before dark I run back up the steep scree slope and see where I made my mistake. The one time the TA didn’t go straight down a rough slope, I find it gently traversing to the left.
I arrive at the hut just before 10 pm and Mac’s anxiously waiting for me outside. The image of him makes me happy.