Monday, June 1, 2020

Have packraft, make a loop!

There are so many tracks in NZ, but they don't often form a loop. Add a packraft and that annoying body of water in the way is a whole new adventure. And so it was when I inflated my raft at the Lake Monowai carpark, strapped the backpack onto the bow and paddled off under a cloudless sky with a slight tailwind.

In this day of apps and widgets, a tramper and pack rafter with time on her hands can plan her paddling mission up a lake to coincide with calm windless waters and fine weather. What normally takes 6-8 hours to tramp on a muddy swampy track, took a mere 2.5 hours on Lola to paddle to Rodgers Inlet Huts. It's a tidy little place looking out into the inlet, so I had a lazy afternoon collecting firewood and chilling inside the hut, because, sandflies!!

Next morning I continued up the lake, again sunny with not even a breeze breaking the reflections of the lush fiordland greenery. I crossed to Eel Creek Hut, with it's sun drenched stony beach, where I ate lunch but didn't linger long because of, yep, sandflies!!

One more hour of paddling got me to Monowai Hut, at the head of the lake and unfortunately in shade all day long at this time of year. The hut was brutally cold and poorly insulated, with very little dry wood to be found, so the fire had no hope of warming up the hut. I was joined that evening by a couple who I had  met at the Lake carpark, who had walked via Green Lake and were planning on walking to Rodger Inlet Hut via an unmarked route over the tops. Their route takes 8-10 hours, my paddle took 3 and a half!

They left early the next morning, Autumn daylight hours being quite short. I had a more leisurely start, and since I had didymo cleaned the packraft the previous afternoon it was a relatively straightforward pack. Then it was a steady climb up the valley to Clarke A Frame Hut, perched on the edge of a swampy clearing. Although a basic bivy, it was basking in sun and quite warm. 

I had lunch then walked straight over the swamp, avoiding the matagouri, to check out the historic Clark Hut. This hut has loads more character, and a fireplace, but I opted to return to the A Frame, where I'd left my pack, and stay overnight there. Even without a fire and minimal insulation, this simple tin bivy was drier and warmer than my night at Monowai Hut. My only complaint was that the resident rodent chewed a number of holes in my silicon bowl!

The track skirts the clearing then climbs alongside a gurgling stream, before crossing another clearing and climbing further to Island Lake. Not long after leaving the hut I heard a huge noise high up the hill which sounded terrifyingly like a landslide. I didn't know exactly where above me it was so had no way of determining which way to run, so I waited. Soon I could see the culprit: a massive tree was careening down the steep hillside, so I began running back the way I had come as fast as possible to get out of its way. Thankfully, it came to rest about 30m above the track. Heart in mouth, I walked on...

From Island Lake, the track skirts another clearing and then the steepest climb of the day brings you out above Green Lake, which you descend to and walk around the lake shore to reach the hut. I shared the hut with a French couple and enjoyed a warm hut, great company, an amazing sunset and a spectacular clear night to revel in the Milky Way.

I decided to have a rest day at Green Lake. Not because I needed a rest, but because I wanted to paddle around the Lake and the walk out was too long to do both in one day. It was now a long weekend, and I expected that the hut would get busy, but since I already had a bunk space I could enjoy a leisurely paddle to the other side of the lake, where I filled up my backpack and the raft with as much dry wood as I could. It's not a big lake, but it's a rare treat to have a water craft that lets you explore just a bit more terrain than the average tramper.

Quite quickly the hut filled up. A group of 11 from Te Anau tramping club turned up, many of whom had tents, but the half capacity rules of Level 2 were not adhered to that night, as more and more trampers arrived. Despite being a warm sunny day, they started the fire almost immediately, quickly churning through all that wood I had collected. In fact the hut was too warm with all the people and the pyromaniacs combined.

I headed off fairly early the next morning, walking along the lake edge on what is the most technical section of the track. Once it leaves the lake the track ascends to a saddle where there were empty powelliphanta snail shells, then it's a long gentle descent all the way back to Lake Monowai. The rich green fiordland bush is a joy to walk through and my trail shoes  remained super comfortable and definitely proved themselves as being up to the task of tramping with a heavier than usual backpack. I think I'm a convert!!

Next time, no packraft, and no boots either. That's next!

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