Our favourite weather app, the Norwegian YR.no, (or Yeah Nah as the New Zealand outdoor community calls it) had told us we were in for some crap weather at Nichols Hut.
Yes, you read that right, the Norwegian weather service and its forty supercomputers supply weather forecasts for most of New Zealand’s 900 backcountry huts for free. Hooray for the Scandinavian’s legendary tax system! We’ve had plenty of reasons to trust the Norwegians previously so used their wisdom to take a Zero Day. Sweet.
We hadn’t travelled the previous day’s track before but had spent time at Nichols where we’d met our first TA section walker four years earlier. Julia, a seventy-two-year-old photographer from Aro Valley, had already walked most of the trail alone or with a friend by the time we bumped into her. She was a total inspiration.
Another person we became familiar with at the hut way back then was Peter Gordon Jenkins. Another long distance hiker, he walked across America in the mid-seventies. His story featured in a 1977 National Geographic that sat in the usual pile of FMC Bulletins and hunting mags that lay in the corner of the hut. Peter is/was a great storyteller and photographer and I reckon that edition of Nat Geo is a trail-walking classic.
Amazingly, the magazine was still in the hut when we got there this time too. An appropriate thing because Nichols Hut now plays host to many ex-Appalachian Trail hikers like Peter. Hikers who may have even been inspired by him and his dog.
I spent the cold damp day writing between bouts of helping Fiona shuffle clothes between inside and outside lines.
Tip: clothes don’t dry in cloud.
We also cleaned out the wood stack and gathered a couple of night’s worth of firewood. The only fuel around was dead and wet Leatherwood but fortunately the wood in the shelter was dry enough to get a fire going in the evening.
As we dried our clothes and I de-misted my camera, Joel turned up.
And whaddaya know…we already ‘knew’ him. He’d walked with a Swedish sobo hiker called Magnus who we’d met while burying a food cache at Sunrise Hut in the Ruahine Range a few weeks before starting this trek. We recognised him because he was carrying the same home made maps that Magnus was using. Maps that were almost the inverse of ours. Like us Joel was an ‘Alt. TA’ hiker – a person who makes their own trail around the framework of Te Araroa. Magnus’ maps were Joel’s maps. Legend.
Joel is taking a big break from contract work with DoC. He’s the first TA walker we’ve met with a rifle…an interesting looking, legally modified ultralight Thompson Contender 30-30 Cal with red dot sight and suppressor. His tally so far is 20 deer and three pigs. He shoots for food AND conservation.
We sat and talked for hours swapping ultralight tips and track conditions. Many of the routes he’d taken were routes we would be taking and so his advice was invaluable.
He’d even met a crew from our conservation group, the Ruahine Whio Protectors, who were out installing A24 traps in the Pohangina River as he passed through. He saw two pairs of Whio and a single male on his trip down the valley. A good tally.
As the Norwegian weather forecast came true outside, we ate our pitiful meals and talked into the night. Have I already mentioned that it’s a small world out here in the backcountry?