Day 18 – Nelson Lakes – Blue Lake Hut to Waiau Hut

Blue Lake Hut to Waiau Hut – 15kms

Total – 303kms

The hut was full last night but nobody was heading the same direction as me today. Everyone else had only come up to Blue Lake and were returning again down the Sabine River which meant I was doing a solo mission over the Waiau Pass. I started out with a quick climb up to Lake Constance. I lost the trail for a while after crossing a large slip about 30 meters across and a few hundred meters high. I went down instead of up because I could not see a marker pole but I did see a cairn someone had constructed below. These are common navigational aids on remote parts of the trail when marker poles are far apart. I checked my map and realised the track was high above me so I spent a bit of time cutting my own track up some steep terrain that was rocky and thick with tussock. It was a relief to see the orange marker again. The terrain was rough and rocky and very steep in places when descending back down to the lake.

I continued up the valley to what looked like a dead-end. This is the Waiau Pass. There is no way around it and you have to climb a 500m high scree slope to get over it. The photos don’t do it justice but imagine the sky tower next to it which is 328m. I stood at the bottom for a while looking up and I must admit I was feeling a wee bit scared of it. I had to pump myself up for it and thought about the other challenging sections I have done before. I had a good feed of trail mix then started the ascent. I would have stopped about a dozen times on the way up to catch my breath. My legs were tired from the big day yesterday which didn’t help. About half way up, the track goes sideways across the scree slope before ascending straight up again to the top of the pass. I took some photos looking back down at Lake Constance before it was out of view. The final climb was slow and I took it one marker pole at a time. They are only about 20 meters apart at that point. It was an amazing feeling reaching the top and I felt a huge sense of achievement. A whole new set of mountains came into view. I sat down and had a rest and soaked it all in before going down the other side. The weather was perfect. It was a very long and slow descent to the valley floor. The initial descent was straight down and involved putting my sticks away and climbing down rock faces. There were plenty of hand and foot holds so it was easy enough but tiring again on the knees and quads.

I stopped for lunch next to the Waiau river and had a swim. The water was ice-cold but so good! I needed a good wash too. I took my time knowing I only had four hours to Waiau Hut. I rinsed out some clothes too and they dried quick, laid out over rocks in the sun.

The track followed the Waiau river down to the hut. There were several rock and boulder fields to cross from big slips off the side of the mountains  before the terrain flattened out on to the valley floor. I met two men who had come up on their motor cross bikes and were having a break at an old decommissioned hut. They had come up as far as they could. Tomorrow there is the St James Ultra event further down the valley where a few guys are running 100 miles non stop. There is also a 100km run and a 60km mountain bike ride event. The guys on the bike are part of the safety support crew.

I had not seen anyone the whole day until that point. It was amazing doing the Waiau Pass and having it all to myself.

I arrived at the hut just after 4pm. Curtis was waiting outside the hut to welcome me. As I shook his hand he handed me a packet of Mi Goreng noodles out of his pocket! Curtis has a friend Janet who has joined him for this section.

This hut has 6 bunk beds. It was just us three until about 8pm when a man arrived who had come from further down the valley. There was lots of thunder and lightning this afternoon and it rained heavily for an hour or so. There was even hail. Not the weather I was expecting but it should be fine tomorrow again. Greatful to be in a hut tonight.

Another day of amazing mountains and landscape. The next two days will be easy walking down the valley, mostly flat and open terrain until I come out at Boyle. Tomorrow I will walk with Curtis and Janet to Anne Hut. It is 26kms but should only take 6-7 hours. Its another 8-10 hours out from there to Boyle. We are going to try for a sleep in and get away about 9am.

The dead end – Waiau Pass
The way over
On the way up looking back at Lake Constance
Half way up
Final climb
Top of the pass
The way down
Where I lost the trail
Lake constance and the Waiau Pass
Top of the pass

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