The key swap party S/F
Wednesday 30 March
Lyn and Janette were trapping, Tricia and Bill in the South Island, Jenny and John had a birthday celebration to attend and David was convalescing. The usual MF crew were missing in action, and I needed at least four to make my key swap party a reality. I scraped the bottom of the barrel, twisted some arms and eventually came up with four and a tag on who wanted to do a Papatahi Crossing via a Wairarapa there and back.
Mist swirled in our headlights as we rendezvoused at Hutt Park and gave instructions on unfamiliar cars. Driving over the Remutaka in the dark and the mist with a constant stream of commuter traffic and big trucks coming the other way was terrifying. Paul and I picked up Gerald in Featherston and continued to our road end, just past Devon Farm on Western Lake Road.
The track starts on farmland, following a very straight drainage ditch. We were in pretty beech forest but that soon deteriorated into scrabbly bush and we had a very long, dirty, shingle sidle. It had rained overnight and was still misty, so we were sodden.
We scrambled up Battery Stream before descending to Wharepapa Hut for morning tea. The route from the hut followed the Wharepapa Stream and then started scaling Papatahi’s flanks. This was a steep upward burst which saw us grabbing vegetation to hoist ourselves upwards and keeping an eye out for triangles. There were things to climb over and things to crawl under and a stiff 700 vertical metres to the top.
Two-thirds of the way up we heard voices and bumped into Marie and Mike, cheerfully flailing around looking for their next track marker. They’d hightailed in from the Catchpool, leaving in the dark, enjoying the moodiness of the mist-filled Ōrongorongo Valley and then summiting Papatahi at 11 a.m. Definitely the A-team. It would have been lovely to lunch with them, but we were precariously poised on a steep slope. The key swap scene was carefully posed for the camera. The lengths we go to for our visual storytellers.
Gerald turned around and took off down the hill with the A-team. We felt sorry for him, not summiting and having to return through the wet and less than beautiful country he’d just traversed. Little did we know, he had fun and games in store for Marie and Mike.
For the inglorious Team B, there was now more uphill scrabbling before reaching point 776. The gradient eased and a beautiful ridge walk ensued through gorgeous cloud forest. The dense moss and ferns on the ground were festooned with thousands of wet spiderwebs glittering in the sun. We reached Papatahi’s 902-metre summit and found a tiny circle of grass around the trig point to picnic on. Paul had done the descent before and warned of a sketchy section. This comprised steep, gravel with not much to hold onto and was briefly scary. We dropped into North Boulder Stream and then the upper Ōrongorongo.
By now it was late afternoon and gloriously still, sunny and peaceful. Meanwhile, Gerald had suggested to Team A that, to avoid our long sidle of the morning, they take a different route. The dotted line looked good on the map.
Mike’s text to me that evening read, ‘We found a way around the terrible traverse, but it was longer and harder. An extra adventure.’
I gather there was a fair bit of bush bashing.
Paul and I got to the Catchpool car park in just under ten hours. Gerald’s cunning detour gave the A-Team extra challenges and they took a bit longer.
- Party members
- Marie Henderson, Gerald Leather, Paul McCredie, Mike Wespel-Rose, Sarah White (leader and scribe).