I’m currently sitting in a warm and cosy backpackers in the tiny alpine village of Arthur’s Pass.
Outside the wind is howling, angrily shaking trees and threatening to tear the roof off the backpackers while thick sheets of rain move down the road in waves.
Some 75mm of rain is forecast here today with wind gusts up to 100km per hour.
Further south and to the west, almost 500mm of rain has fallen, there are landslips, roads have been closed, rivers totally flooded, walkers evacuated from other trails.
All I can say is I’m glad I got off the trail early and I’m not stuck in a hut with mice and no internet signal. Or worse, in a tent.
I’d had two rest days in Boyle Village reviewing the weather forecasts.
It looked nasty.
This section of the Te Araroa trail was supposed to take me seven days. The rain was supposed to hit on day four and hang around for three or four days.
There were numerous rivers without bridges I had to cross. These would flood in heavy rain. I’d be likely stranded for days.
And I needed to be in Christchurch by February 7th to pick up the boyfriend from the airport.
Hmmmm, things looked tight.
A change of plan was called for.
Push through quicker with some bigger days and exit early to avoid the worst of the weather.
It was going to be a race against time. Touch and go. Would the forecast change? Would I make it? Was I physically up to it?
I set out with a ridiculously heavy pack laden with 10 days worth of food (for just in case).
The two early rivers I had to cross of were no concern despite the drizzle of yesterday. The sun shone and the going was good.
My legs, however, protested under the weight of the pack and over the distance I had to trudge. They weren’t happy even though I’d rested them for two days.
I got to the hut, stiff and in pain, concerned I’d bitten off more than I could chew.
But I woke relatively pain free and pushed on the next day through the river flats and through forest – walking mainly into a very blustery head wind.
The day after was a climb to Harper Pass, with views of mountains and the river valley.
The cloud was hazy in the sky. I could tell things were turning.
The steep descent was wet and muddy underfoot with some of the track already washed out.
I slipped a couple of times, my watch the latest casualty on the trail.
I didn’t enjoy it – and I wasn’t doing it in the rain.
I wouldn’t want to do it in the rain. I pitied the walkers a day behind me and hoped they would wait out the weather.
I powered through to Kiwi hut, three big days under my belt.
Just one more day with three rivers to cross was all that separated me from a hot shower and a decent coffee.
Would I get out? Or would it rain too much over night, filling the rivers to dangerous levels and leaving me stranded?
I woke to the gentle patter of rain on the tin roof.
Outside, it was grim.
Cloud hugged the trees and swathed the mountain tops. Consistent drizzle floated in the air; the type that’s small and whispy and looks harmless but stand in it for five minutes and you’re drenched through.
This was our one and only chance to get out, before the real rain hit.
But were we already too late?
Three of us set off, comfort in numbers, the idea being we’d walk to the crossing and make an assessment there.
The drizzle didn’t let up.
The crossing came into view, a 20ish metre stretch of flowing water.
It wasn’t in flood. This was doable.
A few minutes later, we were on the other side, shoes and calves wet but happy at the successful crossing.
One river down; two to go.
Not long after, we arrived at the second river.
This one was a bit more serious.
It flowed fast and deep but it wasn’t bad, we decided. We’d give it a go.
I felt the water lapping at my knees and then my thighs as I crab crawled across, the pull of the current wrapping itself around me.
The cold water reached the bottom of my shorts. The current tugged. One slip and I knew I’d be away.
I made it to the other side upright, in one piece and dry (just). But that was a dicey one. I wouldn’t have been able to handle much more.
Now it was a long trek over boulders down the river’s edge.
Trail markers were non-existent, landslips were common. Whole chunks of land had dissolved at the mercy of prior flood waters, huge trees uprooted and thrown about like feathers.
I marvelled at the power of nature, that it had the force to have such an effect on seemingly stable and solid objects.
As the rain continued to drive into us, it was enough of a reminder that we needed to rattle our dags (Kiwi slang for hurry up) and get out of this hazard zone.
A junction appeared.
Take the dodgy flood track or cross over the last river to the carpark.
We decided: check the river out. If crossable, let’s do it.
A four braided river skirting boulder islands presented itself.
It was fast but it didn’t seem too deep.
We crossed two braids, the third had waters twirling round my legs, trying to pull me with it.
Core strength engaged, I managed to stay upright and made it to the other side.
Braid number four was the easiest.
I whooped with delight on the other side. I’d done it. I’d made it out. I hadn’t been washed away. Relief flooded my body.
Now to get to civilisation and stay dry.