Sat/Sun 21/22 March, 2020.
Maropea Forks Hut, Ruahine Ranges, Map: BK36
We were unaware, as we set off on Saturday morning for our overnight tramp to Maropea Forks Hut, that this would be the last club organised tramp for the foreseeable future. The club has temporarily ceased activities to reduce physical contact with each other and eliminate unnecessary travel – all in accordance with restrictions imposed by Covid-19.
Our tramp was from Sunrise car park to Maropea Forks via Sunrise Hut, Armstrong Saddle, Top Maropea Hut, and down the western branch of the Maropea River. It was filled with adventure. Juliet sas the only one in the group who had been to Maropea Forks Hut and she had entered from a different direction, so this was a new adventure for us all. Navigation was never going to be a problem with six smart people armed with a map in their head and on their device.
The weather for Saturday’s inward journey was perfect. Not too hot for the climb to Sunrise and not cold for the walk across the tops. We had good views from Armstrong Saddle and beyond before we re-entered the bush for the descent to Top Maropea Hut. The final drop into the river was, as we were expecting, very steep. The last 10 metres was an uncontrolled slide for me.The river walk was three and a half hours of rock-hopping. We startled two deer and sign was very evident. Total tramp time including breaks was eight hours.
The Maropea Hut is recently reconstructed, very clean and tidy. A recent poison drop ensured we were free of pesky rats and mice. Two out of the six elected to sleep in tents, since the weather was warm and dry.
We were up tramping at daybreak (7.30) for a long day heading back the way we came. Highlights in the river were seeing a blue duck and a trout. With fresh legs, we made fast travel up the river and were half an hour faster than our trip down the previous day. Fiona B slipped and fell on slippery rocks. Her ankle was lacerated and bruised and on the other leg she suffered a bulging knee bruise. With strapping and a short rest to get control of the pain (and without complaint), she was on her feet again.
We all coped with the clamber out of the river. Hands and arms were put to work as much as the legs to pull ourselves up the hill. By this time, the wind was picking up and we were very aware of the next challenge: crossing the tops and the notorious Armstrong Saddle.Anyone who pokes their head above that ridge behind Sunrise Hut knows how inhospitable and treacherous the wind can be on the exposed saddle. Well, it had turned into one of those days by the time we emerged from the protection of the bush from Top Maropea. At times, we could not stand against the wind. Some of us spent many minutes stuck, unable to stand or even crawl. As I was laying on the ground flat, I was pushed and sliding towards the scree drop-off.
The sign on the ridge pointing the way back to Top Maropea had been obliterated. It was a low structure held with 4in posts and 2in rail bolted together. It had been intact the day before. I have to say, this was the most frightening experience I have had while tramping. The wind was so strong, it was difficult to take a breath at times. The rain felt like needles on our legs. We crawled and stumbled into the refuge of Sunrise Hut, saturated and shivering – and in my case, with some delayed shock. Mark boiled us water for soup and hot drinks.Our walk down was a much-needed meander back to safety and a calmer environment.
I would not have missed this adventure for anything, but it fades into insignificance now as the way we live turns upside down. Our weekend experience is not likely to be repeated for any of us in the immediate future. As I write this, we learn that the entire country is shutting down.
Thanks to Juliet for organising and leading a very successful tramping weekend.
Trampers: Fiona Bryant, Fiona Chiverrell, Lynette Morgan, Mark Jenkins, Juliet Gillick and author Bruce Hodgson