The first day started out well. We made good time through a grunty bit of forest, up above the treeline and up a reasonably easy climb up to Jack Hall's Saddle. From here it looked like a quick but easy descent down to the hut, which was somewhere down below. But it wasn't so easy as that. The track leading down was steep and after the first hundred meters or so my legs turned to jelly. That in and of itself makes it a challenge, but it is much more challenging when walking down a steep ridge on a knife edge. As in a fall to either side would mean death. And it was windy, but only in gusts.
Sometimes what you think will be easy and straight-forward enough turns out to be way more challenging that you could have imagined. I don't like heights all that much. There were a few places on that way down where I thought, oh my god how can I do that? But the hut was down below, and that was where we needed to go. So I put one foot in front of the other, and concentrated entirely on moving slowly and keeping my balance. My right calf cramped up several times, even once when crossing a really exposed section of track, but I had to keep moving. And so I did. And the scary bits were soon behind me.
When we reached the bottom, surprise, there were two ridges to climb up and down between us and the hut. They weren't so high, maybe only 100m or so, but they were steep, and we'd been tramping for about 8 hours at that point. But there was nothing to do but go up, and down, and up, and finally down to the hut on my jelly legs.
The plan the next day was to carry on to another hut, which would involve climbing 400m and descending 400m twice, on even steeper and more exposed terrain. Though my legs were already wobbly and weak, we started out. Early on part of the climb was so steep and exposed, I may as well have been climbing up a dodgy ladder with a heavy pack on my back. I nearly panicked. I wanted to cry. I thought for sure I would fall. I couldn't stop, because I knew that if I did, I would never start again. I made it, with my husband's help (he came back down and took my pack), but even as the climb evened out a little bit, I knew my body couldn't make it. Not safely. I told the Moose I couldn't do it, and we agreed to reach a small saddle above us where it would be safe to stop, and there we would make our decision. Thankfully he was so supportive. He has been yearning for this tramp for years now, but he knew I couldn't do it safely, and he agreed that the best course of action was to return to the hut. And here he helped me again by taking my pack down the really steep bit (and yes, I did go down this section on my bum). We spent the rest of the day lounging about the hut, resting up for the long walk back the way we had come.
The pain in my legs was terrible. I could barely get up and down the steps outside the hut. I was worried I wouldn't be able to make it back out the way we came. In tramping, especially in this kind of terrain, it is as much a mind set as a physical thing. You have to be prepared mentally as well as physically. You think you see the end (end of a climb, flat where a hut should be, whatever your goal is), but you have to be ready for it to not be the end, for the end to be just a little bit farther every time you think you are there. You need to be able to look at a difficult section of track, maybe with a steep drop to one or both sides, or a scramble up or down a massive rock, and to know you can do it, to trust in your tired sore body. You need to be able to work, hard, for 8 or 9 or even more hours to get to your goal. Sort of like long distance running, it is a bit of a mind game. If you start thinking "are we there yet?" and you have only been walking for a few hours...well...you are in for a long day.
That was the kind of day we had walking out. We made it along those two ridges near the hut. We made it up the long steep climb to the saddle, again in the wind, along sharp horrible drops to the sides. My legs were still sore, but they were stronger. I found, however, that in retracing our steps, I had forgotten many of the harder, more tricky sections. There were many surprises, things that hadn't seemed difficult on the first day, were very tricky on the third. We found that even though we had just been this way, we couldn't remember simple things. Was the bridge closer to one end of the forest, or the other? Wasn't this sidle between the other hut and the forest shorter than this? The day seemed long, the car seemed so very far away when we were expecting it to be closer.
Despite the difficulty of the track, and the pain in my legs, the land we were hiking through was beautiful, and I enjoyed every bit of it. Even as I sit here, so exhausted, so sore, the memories of the scary parts, the difficult parts, the pain, are already starting to fade.
Tramping is much like any struggle in life. It is difficult, and frustrating, but rewarding. I am stronger for the journey.