Maori Beach to Bungaree Hut

Maori Beach to Bungaree Hut

I woke up last night, not sure if by the rustling noise outside or my need to pee, but I woke up all the same. I thought someone must have shown up after I went to bed and set up their tent by mine. Needing to pee, I had no choice but get out of bed. As I crawled out, my light shining ahead, I saw the fat back end of a sea lion! It was rousting about in the bushes by my tent. As it waddled off I wasn’t sure if I was concerned or amused.

It was a lucky thing that I woke in the night because I was next roused awake around 5:30AM by the start of a downpour. Briefly followed by the start of some intense wind. I was able to sleep in until 9AM when there was a brief sunny spell. I packed up and briefly chatted with the family at the camp while I dried out my tent. I finished stuffing my tent into pack just as a new spell of rain began. It rained on and off the whole day.

Since the weather was relentless, I knew my agenda was to merely hike to Bungaree Hut. I tried to take my time. I stopped at Port William Hut and checked out the wharf. I hiked really slow, which wasn’t a challenge since the rain turned the trail into a massive slippery mud path. I have never felt more childlike than tiptoeing through a multi-kilometer mud puddle, trying not to get my feet wet or muddy. The inevitable eventually happened, and both feet were soaked in wet, sloshy mud. Then all bets were off and I had mud up my legs by the time I arrived to the hut. In all honesty, it was almost dangerous. The mud was so incredibly slippery. There are parts where the route takes you straight up a tree root series. In dry conditions that would mean about forty feet of climbing up through thick roots, making pseudo-steps up from dirt-filled crevice to dirt-filled crevice. In the rain it was more like a vertical slip-n-slide with mud and hard plant parts. The result of which was me grabbing desperately at roots to pull myself up, my feet slipping everywhere, and my knees in the muddy slope. The down sections were the scariest though. It is easy to get up a muddy surface, eventually. But safely down a muddy section is not as easy or sure-footed. Not enough to dissuade my excitement to be out hiking though!

Despite the muddy travel, I arrived around 2PM to Bungaree Hut. On my arrival a man walked out of the hut, excited to see me. No, we did not know each other. About halfway back on the trail he had dropped his bag of steak. I had picked it up and was carrying it in my hand as I walked up. He and his wife were delighted that I had saved their fancy meal. This is their 9th wedding anniversary hike on the North West Curcuit. I chatted with them awhile. They were very nice.

After I had eaten, rested, and dried off, I decided it was a good time to go wash up. I went out on the beach and washed my socks and shoes. I have never seen so much mud come out of my Altra shoes. With the rain still coming in patches I suspect my clothes will be wet still tomorrow.

The hut is full tonight. 16 bunk spaces. I am amazed by this posh hiking setup on Stewart Island. The trail system is set up so you can hike hut to hut. The distances between are anywhere from 8-16 km. I was told that the North West Curcuit isn’t maintained like the Rakiura Track, so the distances are short but harder. I thought the trail was fairly challenging to Bungaree, but I still arrived just under the faster end of the expected travel time. I will admit that compared to the hikers I saw, I am traveling incredibly light. The ranger woman saw my pack and thought I was a dayhiker. For traveling such short distances to sleep at a hut where clean rain water is available, I don’t know how I could have packed more. I am always amazed by how large of packs I see out hiking, but I was particularly surprised here. If I had realized how short my days were going to be, I would have booked further sites. C’est la vie!

Moving on, the huts are incredible. The two huts on the Rakiura are bigger and fancier and have a person stationed at them. Bungaree Hut is considered a standard hut, unmanned, 16 bunks, sink and kitchen counter, table and benches, drying lines, and picnic table outside. Then there are also hunter huts, which are supposed to be more basic. When I thought about what the huts would be like, I imagined barren wood huts similar to those I have seen on US trails. Usually drafty, likely rodent-inhabited, open-floor planned, vacant building for floor sleeping. These are not that. They are quite nice. I would genuinely leave my tent behind if I knew I could stay in a hut each night. Technically, you wouldn’t even need a ground mat. The bunks have mattresses. Though you might risk a night on the floor if you happen on a really full hut. The downside of course being that you are with people, so no privacy. It was pretty nice though. They even have fire stoves and open-sided sheds to dry wood for fires. A ranger at the DOC visitor center told me that all the Stewart Island huts are deep cleaned once a year. And people like Carol, the Port William attendant, travels between the first few huts on this side of the island to check on general hut conditions throughout the season.

Another early night to bed.

Begin the foot travel!

Begin the foot travel: Oban to Maori Beach

So my whole plan was to bike from Christchurch to Stewart Island, then hike the Rakiura Track (a Great Walk trail), then ride my bike back to Christchurch. That was as far as my logistics were planned. It turns out that Stewart Island is a holiday hot spot, literally and figuratively. Starting tonight, most lodging is booked through the 5th of January. This was all completely unknown to me. So I am improvising. I left the hostel this morning planning to grab a map at the DOC (Dept of Conservation) Visitor Center, then hit the trail. While at the DOC it was brought to my attention that all tent camping and hut use require permits on Stewart Island. The Rakiura sites specifically need booked and the rest need permits for a first come basis. Good thing I didn’t skip the map. Or maybe bad thing, as now my trip is more complicated. The Rakiura is even more popular than Oban. Besides Maori Beach campsite having spots for tonight and tomorrow, all Rakiura campsites and hut spots are booked through the 9th of January. So I talked over options with one of the ranger people, he told me what areas would be poor with the incoming weather, and I decided an out and back trip on the North West Circuit Track heading off from the Rakiura would be the tramp for me. For my first night I chose the closer of the two neighboring campsites because the guy said it was nicer. By then I had already killed most of my morning, too, so I thought it couldn’t hurt to shorten the day.

After getting everything squared away, I set out at 11:30AM. The Rakiura is recommended as a three day “tramp,” with the segment I hiked today being the shortest. With this in mind, I made sure to add every possible side route. Instead of walking 5 km of paved road to Lee Bay, I took the Horseshoe Point coastal trail, doubling the road distance. It was stunning. Dead Man Beach is by far the best looking beach I have seen in a long time. I then took a long lunch at Horseshoe Bay, pondering my future ambition to gain sailing experience so I can sail around the Caribbean. Then I took Garden Mound track to Little River Track, the hilled trail alternative to the flat coast road. After about 10 miles of hiking, I was already at Maori Beach by 3PM. I set up my tent and put on my suit. It was still pretty chilly from misting rain all day, so I walked the beach end to end. Then I went to explore the historical site where an old Maori sawmill once was. A few parts remain in place today, including the horizontal tube boiler and twin cylinder steam engine. Pretty neat. After all that excitement it was 4PM and I felt like I should have been hiking still. Were the weather warm and sunny I would just add beach time in, but I am not really interested in laying by the beach wrapped in all the clothes I am carrying.

Toward evening the sun finally came out. I sat out watching the bay for a couple hours while eating supper and rubbing out my legs. I am not the only person at camp tonight. There is a couple with their teenage son. They stayed at their tent the whole time, so I know almost nothing nothing about them. A few people have come through also, either heading through to the neighboring camp or heading back to town.

End of the trail (mile 2650.4-2658.9)

Day Ten
6 September 2016
Mile 2650.4-2658.9
Day total 8.6
Tally 197.4 miles
Total up/down: +1570/-1875ft
Camp: resort lodge floor and bus to Vancouver
LL: 49.062823, -120.782672

The end of the trail.

I don’t know what that entirely means to me yet. It is hard to put into one sentence the experience of 2658.9 miles and four months of hiking across two summers. These emotions are made more complicated by the suddenness of the trail ending last summer due to forest fires. I am sure I did a better job of conveying those emotions last summer when I was fresh from the trail. This reflection is more about feeling closure with the trail.

I can remember individual days with astounding accuracy from last summer, but I probably cannot tell you what I was doing or who I talked with three weeks ago. But then I feel like in general I can recall details from my other adventures with a higher level of accuracy than I could for the non-adventuring days. To some degree I suspect that relates to my journal-keeping habits for trips that I do not practice in between. But there is also something deeper. I think it has to do with my level of presence during adventures, and the lack there of during the day-to-day rat race. Some might call this mindfulness.

I am definitely guilty of multitasking to the detriment of whatever activity or whosever company I am trying to “enjoy.” I will be the first to admit that I revel in staying busy. That is where I feel most efficient. And anyone who has spent much time with me, even while traveling, will tell you that I have a skill at finding tasks to check off a list. That is just who I am; a list maker. My brain is a chaotic maze of thoughts bursting simultaneously like rice crispies poured onto milk. If I don’t scoop them up right away they become soggy with disinterest and sink to the bottom. This is not to say I am a compulsive person. In fact I tend to think through my actions with exhausting precision. That is how I have found myself feeling in somewhat frozen in motion from having not finished the PCT in 2015.

When I set out from the Mexican border to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, I knew I would not stop until I reached Canada. I knew that with such intensity and focus that it never crossed my mind to question its validity. For 2461.6 miles, that goal was my reality. What I did not anticipate was a fire season so bad that several brave firefighters would lose their lives and almost 200 miles of trail would be closed. So on 21 August 2015, my hike was over. I went to Monument 78 at the northern terminus with my hiking companions at the time. I needed that moment to see what I had been pushing for all summer. I also knew that I would not be satisfied if I did not go back to finish.

That closure finally came yesterday, when I arrived at the monument again, about one year later, but this time on foot via the trail. And now it’s all over again. My emotions not yet organized. I feel incredible relief to be done with sadness that it is over, unexplainable gratitude to all the people who helped me along the way, deep love for this amazing trail and the people now in my life from it, humility for accepting my accomplishments while seeing the greater deeds done by others far more generous and adventurous than me, and growing joy that I have more adventures to come.

This trail is over. I hope to someday hike it again, but that will be a new trail. The trail is constantly changing as nature changes, but I too am constantly changing. This experience will always be mine, and from it I will see every future experience in a different light. The best gift is that I know I have accomplished what I set out to do, and now I can move forward, back into motion.

Day nine (mile 2625.3-2650.4)

Day Nine
5 September 2016
Mile 2625.3-2650.4
Day total 25.1
Tally 188.8 miles
Total up/down: +4270/-6530ft
Camp: Castle Creek passed Monument 78
LL: 49.000288, -120.802120

Today we reached Monument 78, the official US-Canadian border marker.  At the border, the rainy clouds in Washington stopped right at the peak along the clear cut marking the border. Canada was sunny and warm compared to the cold, wet and windy Washington we left behind. The moment was surreal. The old monument has been sealed closed since last year, and the trail register was simply sitting out in a dry bag. We have no idea why it was sealed. Though we also found a grocery bag filled with weed, and that reminded us that last year there was also a lot of weed stashed in the monument with the completion register. I can easily imagine the monument being sealed to prevent the storage of illegal drugs. Technically weed is legal in both Washington and BC, Canada. However it is not legal to cross the border with it. Regardless, it feels really strange to officially be here, to have completed the trail on foot as I intended last summer. It is a strange thing to actually be finished now.

Today we met a woman named Cougar. She started the PCT last year too. She caught back up to us at the northern terminus and we all shared the moment of being partial PCT 2015’ers and 2016’ers. Cougar had a longer distance than us this year, but I can still understand having the end of the trail looming over like dark cloud until this glorious moment of true completion. Something really incredible about our encounter with Cougar is that she had a copy of Seawolf by Jack London that she picked up in White Pass. Last summer we were all reading Seawolf together on trail and had found it in book form at White Pass. It could be the same one!

Overall today was a relatively easy last day, despite the abundance of downhill miles. It was also a beautiful day! And we saw numerous falcons soaring the valleys. After our terminus party part two, we walked to the camp 3/10 mile further. We found a guy named Brandon with a big fire and a friendly dog named Maya. Brandon was an interesting guy, but it was the first night in a while where I went to bed completely dry and warm!

I am thoroughly exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep.

Day eight (mile 2598.4-2625.3)

Day Eight
4 September 2016
Mile 2598.4-2625.3
Day total 26.9
Tally 163.7 miles
Total up/down: +5159/-4882ft
Camp: below Tamarack Peak
LL: 48.776890, -120.721379

We had trail magic today!! A PCT’er from this year, Walking Home, or Richard, had to get off in Northern California for an injury. He is from around here, so brought the best foods to deal out a little magic. I ate hot split pea soup, two turkey and salad wraps, strawberries, and marionberry jam on bread. The most welcome of surprises! And our last opportunity for trail magic.

Today has been our longest day; not by much, but true nonetheless. It was a formidable day as well. We climbed six different passes: Methow, Glacier, Grasshopper, Harts, Buffalo, and Windy Passes. About 3500 feet of the 5200 total feet all before lunch. All morning we hiked along a narrow patch of sun with visible rain to either side of us. Leaving lunch we had cold rainy spittle that turned into freezing grapple for the last three miles to Harts Pass. Walking Home was positioned at Harts Pass. I am so thankful for his kindness! My legs were definitely tired today. But mostly I think it was the cold that wore me out. I will sleep well tonight.

Tonight will be just as cold as last night. Icy tents by morning. We are all huddled in our fart sacks. Endless reading another Jack London short. Tomorrow we will arrive at the monument. Everything is coming to a close so quickly.

Day seven (mile 2574.3-2598.4)

Day Seven
3 September 2016
Mile 2574.3-2598.4
Day total 24.1
Tally 136.8 miles
Total up/down: +6815/-2674ft
Camp: camp below Methow Pass
LL: 48.585618, -120.720115

Today we crushed the trail. Last night was the first really cold night so I woke up to pee several times. But I felt good. My feet are feeling the beating of being weighed down with a pack (even light as it is) and my back is finally rubbing raw from my pack, but my legs feel great. I would say we averaged 3 miles per hour all day. Granted it was cold all morning and rained on us for 5 miles up a 2000 foot climb after lunch, so we weren’t dilly dallying around or anything. And we scored a local Washington IPL beer from some trail magic! Tami and I split it at lunch, where we stopped at the Rainy Pass trailhead. The sun came out and it was glorious. Two PCTA people were fixing a sign and two Forest Service people were checking the trailhead garbage and bathrooms. All of them were incredibly friendly and encouraging. The permit register showed eight Canada goers through this morning, and at least six from yesterday. We may run into a bubble for the end. We ran into Easy several times, and I hope we see him at the monument. He is hilarious. Anyways, we arrived to our campsite just after 5PM, despite the weather and 6800 feet of climbing, including two passes. The sun was finally out temporarily as we put up tents and the temperature dropped to freezing. Tonight is extremely cold!

Day six (mile 2564.3-2574.3)

Day Six
2 September 2016
Mile 2564.3-2574.3
Day total 10
Tally 112.7 miles
Total up/down: +1950/-2056ft
Camp: Bridge Creek Camp
LL: 48.429472, -120.868353

A couple days ago we were told by a thru-hiker that there is this town named Stehekin before the border that has the best bakery. This is the sort of thing that eats away at me as a now section hiker. Of course we know about Stehekin, the last town stop before finishing the trail. I asked him if he had been there, thinking he would know if there would be cookies, my favorite food group. He response was that he has not been there before. Who gives former PCT thru hikers such ridiculous advice as if we wouldn’t know just as much as a current hiker? He was treating us like weekenders, as if we were strangers to the PCT thru world. It was saddening. Today we had a quick 5 miles into Stehekin from High Bridge Ranger Station, mile 2569.4. The advice from that hiker unneeded, all of us sent our packages to Stehekin.

Stehekin is great! There is a bus that picks up people from High Bridge Ranger Station and takes them to town. A bonus perk is that the bus stops at the bakery halfway between. The bus driver gives you about ten minutes to quickly buy baked goods. This is an amazing perk to the $7 ride, except this is actually a mental game. You walk in, smell the tantalizing baked goods, see that they offer everything from quiche and pizza to sticky buns to cookies to coffee to ice cream. They have the bus stops down to a tee, quickly grabbing items and cashing you out with a well-practiced efficiency. I frantically told them a few items then saw the day olds by the check out and bought about $20 worth of their delectable sugar and fat options. We spent the majority of the day in Stehekin. There was about an hour of torrential downpour followed by consistent drizzle the rest of the afternoon. We hiked out in drizzle and arrived to the campsite in quiet, post rain cold.

Last night we increased to five, with the addition of Juban, a PCT thru-hiker whom S+M inticed to our company. Tonight we are down to three. Juban stayed in Stehekin and S+M has headed home. She was feeling ill and yesterday dealt with a knee problem. With all the exciting things coming up in her near future, she had to think about what her priorities are right now. We have just over 100 miles together now, and about 80 to go. I am sad she left, but extremely happy we spent the last six days together. I cannot wait to continue reuniting with her for future adventures!

Day five (mile 2540.7-2564.3)

Day Five
1 September 2016
Mile 2540.7-2564.3
Day total 23.6
Tally 102.7 miles
Total up/down: +4947/-5553ft
Camp: site at large creek with foot log
LL: 48.344311, -120.902712

Today was cold and rainy. I didn’t actually bring a rain jacket. I don’t really know why. This is Washington. It rains here. That is what Washington is all about. It hasn’t been a problem, but the rest of the trail is supposed to be rainy and cold. It might be miserable, but there are only a few more days. I am pumped to walk across that border and bring an official close to this trail.

We arrived at camp super early and I am cold and wet. We met a really nice 63 year old man. He is a PCT hiker named Easy. He hiked on because he didn’t see the water trickling in the stream about a half mile back. He is from Indiana, has a distinct gentlemanly accent, and has the the sense of humor. I hope we run into him again.

Day four (mile 2518.8-2540.7)

Day Four
31 August 2016
Mile 2518.8-2540.7
Day total 21.9
Tally 79.1 miles
Total up/down: +5765/-8114ft
Camp: near Image Lake Trail
LL: 48.196496, -121.044992

Despite feeling completely at home out here, there are subtle things that feel weird. When we meet people we are section hikers, not thru hikers. Today a girl said she knew we were thru hikers because of my “hello kitty backpack,” referring to my ultralight setup. It felt really good, but also felt weird. This class is not my class. I do not feel apart of their summer. I feel like a normal hiker just passing through while these other hikers are coming to the end of their journeys. I too am coming to the end of my journey, but it is one for completion and not the close of a killer hike. It is a strange feeling.

One thing I have particularly been happy about is the warm nights. Mornings have been brisk, but I am super toasty at night. I am reminded how much I don’t like to put my tent up. As one of the few daily chores I have, I remember why I prefer to cowboy camp. But this is Washington, so it is not smart to risk falling asleep without cover…though we did cowboy two nights ago.

Day three (mile 2495.7 – 2518.8)

Day Three
30 August 2016
Mile 2495.7-2518.8
Day total 23.1
Tally 57.2 miles
Total up/down: +6856/-6671ft
Camp: 1/2 mile past Mica Lake
LL: 48.167563, -121.155024

My body is screaming. I have not worked out in months. I have been eating junk food, drinking coffee, and steadily gaining weight as my scrawny muscles turn to mush. Now my weak baby feet are getting blisters, my thighs are bloody from chafing, my shoulders and knees are tight and bruised, and my low back sometimes siezes in pain. I feel like a poser trying to claim this PCT finale, as I shuffle into camp as a bundle of aches. Every time I stand up after a break I have to shake the life back into my legs. I am definitely not in thru-hiker condition right now. But I love this. I wake up each day excited to get on trail, ready for the beating. I cannot imagine a better way to spend my short break from school.

We have decided to stick with 20-25 mile days so we don’t keel over in piles of misery. Endless of course is fine, having 3000+ miles under his feet this summer. For the rest of us, we have been plushly living in our off-trail lives. We are strategically headed to Stehekin, to catch the bus times just right to get in and out in the same day. S+M has a stricter finish then the rest of us, so we are trying to travel the appropriate distances to get her back in time.

One thing I have been thinking about the last few days is a special hiker dress. I need to have people donate old running tech shirts so I have enough material. I hiked most of the PCT in a lively Target clearance special. It was made of rayon and stayed surprisingly classy. At least until it started to disintegrate with my whole backside exposed and my deteriorating unders on full display, despite my nightly efforts to patch the tears. I retired that dress to my growing pile of clothes for another memory quilt, and replaced it with a new dress. I am hiking now with that same dress. I have only positive things to say about hiking in dresses. Anyways, I want to design a dress based on my favorite features from all those dress experiences.