580m summit at start of Raetea forest (km140.5)-Apple Dam Campsite (km174.5)
Today was the day that the the forest got real. Mostly it was due to the mud but the steep climbs and overhanging vines were significant players. To start, the sunrise from my mountain top camp was really beautiful.
About 20 minutes into the hike, I begin thinking of my tactics in terms of the popular TV show American Ninja Warrior. Usually one of the beginning obstacles involves a scramble across unstable stepping stones or a rolling log. Much of the forest today was this obstacle, except that the penalty for getting it wrong was a plunge into the mud rather than a clear pool of water. I almost lost my shoe several times in the deep mud, so I made my best efforts to step from one root to another, where I could find them. But roots are very slippery, especially when the bottoms of your shoes are caked with mud. It required a lot of acrobatics and constant attention to where I was placing my trekking poles and feet. My fear was that I might lose my balance and fall backwards onto my back, becoming coated with the mud. Fortunately, the worst that happened was slipping down a hill and softly landing on my butt, where at least the trail wasn’t too muddy. I also spent a fair amount of time wrestling free of vines. They had an uncanny ability to snag anything and everything. They particularly liked grabbing my umbrella, which I normally store in the side pocket of my pack and it sticks up a bit. I had to rig it in front of me just so that I could clear the brush. In the picture below you can see a typical mud wallow with all the vines like snares, ready to get the next hiker unlucky enough to come along.
And more mud.
And more yet still.
It was fun for the first half but then it just got old. The mud was relentless. If the track were half the distance, it would be ok. But 15km/9miles seems like an eternity in those conditions. It’s a sign I’m not enjoying things or getting tired when I begin to check my GPS constantly. And I was shocked to keep finding that I had only traveled 2km or less an hour. Finally I made it out around 1:30 pm, which was a good effort. It takes some people a whole day or more to get through this section. I was so happy to break out into open fields leading away from the track and bush.
The trail emptied out right through a man’s driveway, which was also full of barking dogs. The man came out quickly, shushed the dogs, and offered me water from his garden hose. I was so grateful. This was the first water I had come by since filling up my bottles the day before. It’s amazing there is so much mud and yet not a drop to drink in that forest.
It was a relief to walk on gravel roads then another 6km walk on State Highway 1. I came to the ideally situated Mangamuka dairy (a small convenience store that also sells milk and ice cream) where I had an egg and bacon sandwich, a passion fruit ice cream cone, and coke. This dairy store is the reward for making it through Raetea.
I reluctantly left the dairy to finish a 12km gravel road walk to my planned campsite. I passed the time walking with Frodo. I have the entire Lord of the Ring series on audiobook and it has been a great companion thus far. Very inspirational for a fellow walker. Once at the campsite, I was able to rinse the mud off my legs and shoes. It was such a relief to be done with this section but I’m very glad I did it. It’s a right of passage on the TA.