“The wind blow, I’ll lean into the wind
My Anger grows, I’ll use it to win”
-”Defy you” by The Offspring
I can’t help but remember the above lyrics as I go chasing my hat down the road, trying to catch it before the wind carries it off the edge of the cliff. I finally catch it half a meter from the edge of the drop-off, before the brutal winds carry it off the half-kilometer drop. (Ed Note: Sorry, Ben’s been in New Zealand too long, he’s using Metric now) I’ve been walking for barely an hour, yet this wind makes it feel like I’m at the end of a marathon, and the upward grade of the trail doesn’t help – Mount Hutt is 2190 meters high; 7185 feet. Yes, that is nearly 900 feet higher that Mt Washington, which towers over the Presidential range back in New Hampshire at 6288 feet high.
The trail that I’m taking is an access road for the ski fields up near the top of the mountain. Its graded gravel and boring, but the upside to it is that everywhere has amazing views. Seriously, there is not a single bend in the path that doesn’t hand me a perfect view either of the towering peaks around me, or the green lowlands that I drove through not two hours before. I love it – there’s no roots to trip over, no boulders to slide out from underfoot, and so I’m able to let my eyes wander around and take in the views surrounding me.
It’s tiring though… very quickly. The road is only 9km long, and it ascends nearly 2km – giving a hiking grade of nearly 20%. Not bad in the short term, and kind of nice because its pretty consistent, but its akin to hiking up some of the steeper mountains back home. Not something I’m used to, having spent most of the last few months rock climbing and playing Capoeira instead of doing serious mountaineering. However, Strength and perseverance (and the help of some bread and apples and cheese) have treated me well, and by the time I find myself chasing after my flying hat I’ve only been treking for an hour, but have burnt up nearly three Kilometers of the nine.
But that pace didn’t hold true, unfortunately. It took me nearly five more hours before I was up at the last campsite before the main mountain, looking at the intimidating peak – no grass or scrub brush, just bare rock and loose dirt. Setting up camp in the shadow of the mountain was excellent, and cooking dinner was even better. I made myself a dinner of instant three-cheese pasta with four servings of canned BBQ chicken and a quarter pound of cheese sliced into it. Yep… an irrefutably amazing meal if ever I’ve eaten one… made doubly so by the pineapple juice that I had brought as a drink.
I finished cooking at the perfect time though, because right after I packed in my stove and sat down in the tent to eat the wind picked up to a screaming howl, and it started raining. Thankfully my tent is amazingly warm and dry, and so I wasn’t too worried about the wind or rain… at least I wasn’t until the spine of the tent started bowing out to the side from the wind. It held fine though, and I tucked myself into my sleeping bag for a cozy yet early night of sleep, dozing off before the clock even struck 10:30.
I woke up with a strange feeling of Deja Vu. “I’ve been here before, I know it! But whats am I remembering, and whats reminding me of it?” Well… it turns out I was remembering my trip with my buddy Big T a few years back, when we roadtripped down to Virginia and got snowed into our tent. As to what was reminding me – the quiet insulated space of my tent was a dead ringer. The wind was muffled to the point that it didn’t seem to exist, and my tent was warm but with that clammy feeling of condensation just out of reach.
Yep… the “rain” I had heard pattering against the tent walls the night before had switched over to snow sometime during the night, and I had a pretty 10cm (~4in) of fluffy powder to greet me when I stepped outside. The air was crisp and biting cold, I would later learn that it was just about -2C out, or 28 F. Not too cold, but far enough below freezing that the snow wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Instead of packing up my gear and heading upwards, I decided to leave the bulk of my gear in the tent, and let it dry out a bit in the sun while I walked up the last kilometer or two towards the summit. When I left my camp I was hopeful that I’d still be able to summit, but when I got the first view of Mt Hutt peaking around the corner, I knew in my heart that I wasn’t gaining the summit today. In place of the rock and dirt mountain of the previous evening, I was faced with a peak straight out of the North Face videos – an imposing knife of white snow and black rock tearing into the low hanging clouds.
I continued upwards though, set on at least gaining the ski resort, if not attempting the peak itself. I did make it, and spent almost an hour exploring around the closed up ski lodge and the surrounding areas. The clouds and snow had started moving back in though, and so I started my way back to the camp when I lost sight of most of the main peak.
The walk back down the trail was slightly painful, thanks to the steep grade tearing into my knee, but the difference in scenery was impressive thanks to the snows. I took my time walking down, making sure to take a good number of breaks so as to keep some energy in reserve for playing Capoeira later on in the evening after I got home… but even with the slow pace I found myself looking at the car from one of the switchbacks, barely two kilometers away, at 13:00, barely three hours after I finished packing up camp. In told, the whole walk back took less than half the time that the walk up took, though I admit that I was sweating something fierce by the time I sat down to start the drive back to Christchurch.
On the way back I made a few stops – primarily searching for views and information. The views I found off a small bridge over one of the many gorges that I drove over, and the information I tried to find at the official Mount Hutt lodge. For the views I parked the car at the head of the bridge and clambered my way down to the riverbed below, finding a rather neat little river-height booth and some neat views of the mountains (Ed Note: that seems to be a theme here, doesn’t it?). The trip to the Mt Hutt Lodge was less successful though, unfortunately, since they didn’t have any useful information and their menu consisted entirely of $20 + items… with the main meals being nearly $40 each.
After the failure at the Lodge, the rest of the ride went quite quickly – I relaxed, listened to the radio, and thought about plans for what I’m going to do next.