Day 60: We got some coffee so I could wake up in the morning, then walked to the I-site in Nelson for wifi and to finalize our route through the South Island, and there were a shitload of people passing through on their way to Abel Tasman National Park and its gold sand beaches. The weather was supposed to turn foul over the next couple days, but the radar showed that some of the inner mountain ranges might stay dry, so we set our sights on St Arnaud, a place I had researched thoroughly while back in the states while trying to map out some off trail traverses on the South Island, though our goal would not be quite as ambitious. There were many nice flower gardens all around town as we walked out the the highway, and the water was so clear as it flowed into the ocean, every detail of a cormorant’s hunt could be followed while watching from a bridge 20 feet up. While trying to hitch out of town, there were a few people that would start hitching just up the road from us, attempting to get a ride first, but we chose our spots wisely, not to mention we had a guitar and a hula hoop, so getting picked up was never too hard, barring bad weather, but it was only the first time we were one in a line of hitchhikers on the main highways. We got many rides between Nelson and St Arnaud, including a dude who worked as a fisherman, making a bunch of money after a few weeks at sea, who drove us to the turn off from the highway in his beater. We jammed on the shoulder of the rural road for a bit, then got a ride from an older dude in a pickup, talking about the earthquake that just hit the west coast a couple months ago, passing bigger and bigger mountains with pastoral farmland in the valleys. When we got to St Arnaud, we passed the campground, and hung out by the lake for a minute before stealth camping off the trail towards Parachute Rocks.
Day 61: We made our way up the trail to Parachute Rocks, first through a dark wood with granite boulders strewn about, thin and wide mossy patches with the clearest water flowing in a thousand small channels on the forest floor, then up the steep piney banks on rocky, rooty ground with gradual switchbacks, until the final climb near the treeline which goes straight up the shallow channels of caked mud, tussock, and talus to the ridgeline. Being in big mountains again gave me an irresistible urge to run, and with Xena’s encouragement I did at times, but at this point in our adventure we were a team, and the pleasure of seeing the grand view at the summit is in doing so together, so I never strayed too far. At the treeline, Parachute Rocks jutted out over the short, stunted alpine trees, views of giant tussock balds and the long, winding talus chutes came into view, framed by a grand vista of Lake Rotoiti its surrounding peaks. We scrambled up the worn knobs of stone and met a couple of ladies sitting at the top, chatted with them for a few minutes, had a snack, and climbed up and up and up, steep the whole way among the alpine flowers and tussock, on very worn ruts in the earth and loose rock in zig-zagging criss-crossing paths from all the different ways people climb up to the ridge. A small sign at the top gave no congratulations, but the exposed rocky ridgeline facing south, deeper into the range, and the slightly higher, grassy, scree-sided ridge to the north were a very rewarding sight to behold. We hid behind the outcropping at the top to stay warm, out of the band of wind whipping over the summit, admiring the view for a moment before walking the knife’s edge to the south. Our pace was slow, battered by wind, and faced with precarious rock steps, and as our daylight hours were running short, we made the safe call to turn around and go back down to a scree chute and descend there to a tarn at the bottom of the cirque. Shoe surfing on scree is always a good time, but walking through the tussock grass is challenging to say the least. We loosely followed the drainages down to the tarn, alternately rock hopping and taking the big, wobbly steps into the tussock below. By the time we made it to the bottom of where one of the drainages met the water flowing out of the tarn, crossed the shallow and crystal clear braided streamlets, and hiked up the gentle, open, rocky hill to the edge of the tarn, it was nearly dark. Finding flat ground was a challenge, as was staking out the tarp, but we found a spot that would do and hoped that our tarp would hold out. I am so proud of Xena today. This is the tallest mountain she has ever climbed, by about a thousand feet, and also her first time hiking cross-country in the mountains. The trail up to the summit is comparable to climbing Mt Katahdin on the AT, but with our added knife edge hike and the off trail descent, she really kicked ass, and still had enough energy to jam and stargaze as we went to bed.
Day 62: The tarp didn’t stay up all night, my cheap stakes breaking and bending, and I had to get up a few times to fix it. In the morning, had a good breakfast, jammed some, then explored the cirque and the surrounding area, which really came in handy later when searching for a good LNT pooping spot. It was windy the whole time we were up there and it changed directions often. We stayed up late to watch the gallery of shooting stars go by one right after the other, entertained like a campfire by the milky way.
Day 63: Oatmeal for breakfast, cooked in the depression between two clumps of tussock, protected by the tin windscreen. Packing up was cold and damp, and Xena led the charge back up towards the ridge. I caught up with her near the steepest part of the drainage, where the main ridge met a perpendicular hill that came out of it. The shifty rocks were easier going up than going down, but it was hard going, and going slow only subjected us to the cold wind, so we pushed on. Finally we got to the top and over the other side, and it was sunny and warm, so we took a break just below treeline to warm up, have a snack, and chug some water. We were able to keep a pretty good pace on the way down, and got to see everything with a new perspective on the way back, noticing details we had missed in the excitement of the climb. When we got to the bottom, we hung out on the lake, went for a quick dip in the frigid water, and did some acroyoga on the beach. We got a site at the crowded campground this time, where we could take showers and have a flat place to camp for the night, still setting up in a nook of trees for some privacy. After dark, we had a long talk about us, the reality dawning on me that we only had 2 more weeks of adventure before we went back to the US, and that the nature of our relationship beyond our adventure here was not yet clear. In short, we were decidedly very much in love with each other, but being both rational adults, recognized that things may feel different when we get back to the states, but we agreed that we were compatible and make a great team and that we would try it out. I think we both had a pretty good feeling about it though. 🙂