Hitchhiker’s guide to the Greenstone/Caples track

Somewhere along the line I had this grand idea to attempt pack running between huts. Last week’s heavy pack with 10 days’ worth of food had convinced me to try this plan sooner rather than later.

The rough plan? Hitch from Te Anau to The Divide. Run to Mid-Caples Hut. Sleep. Run to McKellar Hut via Greenstone Hut if I had the legs. Sleep. Run back to The Divide and hitch back to Te Anau. Take the lightest bag without compromising safety. This meant I would be out for 2 nights (all going well) or 3 (if running with a pack was a little beyond me). I hadn’t actually looked up the distances, but figured they wouldn’t be anything stupid.

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Why the Greenstone-Caples loop? It was nearby, I’d done the Caples before so I knew what half the track looked like, there was a road at both ends, wardens at the huts and sufficient people on the trails (but not too too many) should I get into strife. Plus, it was a safe trail if the weather closed in.

The execution? I hadn’t rushed out of bed nor was pack finalisation a quick endeavour so it was at the late hour of 11am that I set out to run through Te Anau to the Milford Rd in the hope of a hitch. I always marvel at what does and what does not affect my head space. Running unknown distances between huts with no idea if my bag was too heavy for such a plan? No issues there. Standing alone on the roadside with my thumb out and worrying that I’d left it too late to catch tourists heading north for the day? Hell! I almost gave up and thought about going back and booking a bus for the next day. Then I looked at my watch, realised that I’d only been waiting for 10 minutes (LOL) and told myself to calm down. It was not very long afterwards that a lovely Singaporean couple stopped to give me a ride. Yay!

We got on like a house on fire and before I knew it we were 85 km down the road at The Divide and parting ways. They did a triple take when they learnt I was going to do the Greenstone-Caples track, which they knew was a 4 day tramp, as my bag didn’t look anywhere near big enough. They asked if I *really* had a sleeping bag in there. I laughed and said no – I just had a sleeping bag liner. I’d never left my sleeping bag at home before! Fingers crossed!

And I was off – wheee. The first bit was runnable but then I walked up the hill to the Key Summit turn off. I figured I had the time for this quick out and back and was rewarded with some reasonable views of the surrounding peaks. I ran back down to my pack – and can definitely say that it was wicked to be trail running with mountains poking over crests and some snow-capped.

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It wasn’t long before I was at Howden Hut and making use of the flushing toilets (!) – the Great Walks Huts do have good services.

On I ran through lovely, runnable forest before reaching the flats at Lake McKellar. Here I got my walking mojo on and ticked off the switchbacks up to McKellar Saddle. I’d done this leg two years ago in the rain so it was great to have views at the top.

This saddle is also one of my favourites – flat and wide at the top and lots of nicely shaped mountains around.

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Now it was all pretty much downhill to Mid-Caples Hut. Lots of birdlife, lovely views whenever a landslide had opened up the forest or I entered the flats. The track was well-graded and maintained – perfect and easy to run. I was actually happy to be running and not walking it.

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I did have rather tired legs when I arrived at the hut – just over 25km and 800 vertical metres of climbing. I was pretty happy with how well I’d been able to run with my pack.

Dinner was a packet of salt and vinegar shapes and two pre-made steak sandwiches. Yum, just so yum. I was not jealous of everyone around me eating Backcountry.

Everyone retired at 9pm for bed so I did too. It was rather warm in the common area and also my bunk room. I was curious to find out how warm I’d be in my sleeping bag liner!

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Day 2

I’d only woken up a little chilly the once – stupidly I’d left my buff and gloves on the shelf and was too lazy to go and get them, which meant I was less comfortable than I could have been. Regardless I did manage a very decent 10 hours sleep :D Next time I would make sure I had every warm layer within reach while sleeping.

I had a banana and some oat biscuits for brekky before heading out at the leisurely time of 10am. Most people had already left the hut and were on their way to McKellar Hut via the saddle. I took off in the other direction but with the same destination in mind. My legs were feeling pretty damn tired. Guess I shouldn’t have gone for an 18km run the day before yesterday … maybe I should have stretched more in the hut too instead of chatting …

I crossed above a gorge and then I was off.

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This part of the Caples track was less wide, graded path and more undulated single track through the forest. Again good weather, lots of birds around and no people.

It didn’t take me too long to reach the swing bridge and head towards the Greenstone Valley. The trail was lovely here and there was a very, very beautiful and green swimming hole.

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I thought there wouldn’t be much running up the Greenstone Valley, but the slope was runnable more often than not.

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I passed lovely mossy waterfalls, a number of groups and heard lots of wildlife.

After a couple of hours I did the small side trip out to Greenstone Hut where I ate my lunch and topped up my water supplies.

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I chatted away to a kiwi for awhile who was training to get back into larger tramps after a few years off. Now my sights were on McKeller Hut.

This section has forest sections, mud sections (but nothing(!) compared to The Dusky) and flats, and I loved it. It was nice not to be on a well graded path anymore and to actually be in and see the valley.

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At some point I came across a French guy who was clearly struggling. He’d started from the Greenstone car park that morning and gotten to the first hut so quickly that he decided to keep going; although he was now looking like he regretted that decision. I checked he was still coherent, gave him some advice and pushed on.

I’d had a fantastic day, but I can honestly say I was excited to see my destination 38km after setting out that morning!

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There were quite a number of people in the hut and two separate sleeping quarters. My natural nature couldn’t help itself – I chose the emptier room and would come to regret this a few hours later.

I found my new friends I’d made the previous night and we all chatted away about our adventures that day.

Dinner tonight was a packet of light & tangy shapes and 2 cheese and relish sangas. Thankfully the French guy showed up and I was shocked when he pulled a few kilos of bananas and 2 wheels of brie out of his bag. That was all the food he was carrying for 4 days! I gave him some chocolate and hoped he took my advice and traded some bananas for other food.

Getting into bed I made sure I had all my warm layers accessible and collapsed into sleep, I was exhausted!

Many times during the night I woke up. The temperature had certainly plummeted and there were not enough bodies in my room to warm the air. I spent most of the night in the foetal position – so tired I’d fall back asleep and then so cold I’d wake up. Repeat. At some point I gave up and climbed inside my pack liner! Why had I not slept in the other room? Why had I not carried my sleeping bag? Hah!

All was revealed in the morning when I saw fresh snow up on the peaks – I hadn’t expected the night to get quite *that* cold. Oh well, just an uncomfortable night’s sleep – I wasn’t in any real danger inside the hut.

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It was a very pleasant walk / attempt at a run around the lake but my goodness my legs were tired!

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I passed Howden Hut once more and then decided to drop my pack and run up and around Key Summit again since the weather was so much better today than on my first day.

Arriving back at The Divide I had to wait a little bit for a hitch. Once again a lovely couple gave me a ride and we talked about food all the way back to Te Anau.

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I then sorted out my pizza craving!

_what_a_ripper_of_an_adventure_

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