Day 4: Page 4
The wind is coming through here at around 35-40 knots and gusting higher. I freeze, and it is only partly due to the icy winds. Carol heads across, and Miranda follows.
If I want dinner cooked for me, there's only one way I'm going to get it.
The construction is similar to the main Heaphy bridges, which is reassuring, but it seems a lot narrower, and I have to figure what to do with my hiking poles so they won't catch on the side-netting. But the wind is the chief factor. Miranda takes a long time to make the crossing, stopping whenever the gusts become too strong.
I start counting steps. I notice the mesh is coming loose along the bottom in a few places. So much for not looking down. I perfect, on the spot, a technique for defocussing my eyes so they see only the next step, with everything else a greeny-grey blur.
Made it! 85 steps. The Heaphy River bridge took 142 last year but I wasn't nearly as scared then.
The bridge, which until now has been the main concern, coughs you up onto a 300mm wide track with a more or less vertical drop of about 5-8 metres to the ground below, and cliff rising sheer above. There is a cable anchored to the cliff which we hang onto while we negotiate our way to safer ground. It stops a metre or two short of where I reckon it should. I toss a hiking pole to Miranda and she opens it up and passes it back, and I manage the last bit.
Carol is fine, but Miranda and I are a little unsteady for a few minutes. We pick up the trail and continue. Carol, having seen us safely across the Henry is now hut bound and strides off into the distance. We continue more sedately.
We pass small groups of cattle along the way, and the bulls pay us no attention. Good.
The track leaves the river and begins to climb up onto the terraces above.
The track rejoins the 4WD road which has come along the far bank and forded the river not far from here. Would we want to ford the Henry? Not right now. Not without a bit of training. It has taken lives before now, and experienced trampers at that.
From here on it's pretty straightforward. There is another bridge to cross to get to the Anne Huts, though.
Up the Henry Valley, the clouds are beginning to gather, and they're much greyer than anything we've seen so far.
We are now veering around towards the left into the Anne Valley.
We've made excellent time, but I'm definitely walking to get there at this stage. A hot cup of tea is starting to sound pretty good.
We head into another patch of matagouri and ragwort, but this time heading slightly downhill.
Not far now...
and this is me discovering that the last bridge is not a suspension bridge.
However, especially since the Henry bridge, even I can now smell me from a distance, and I look speculatively at the river as I cross towards the hut.
I toss my pack, grab my lavalava, a billy, a couple of large chux cloths, and some detergent, and head for the river. There is a discreet spot not far away where male genitals can be bared without offense. I stand in the river and sluice icy water all over. I am still hot enough for this to be relatively pleasurable. Thank God for that. A quick clamber out onto the bank, some detergent for a thorough rub down, then up the bank a distance from the river with billyfuls of water to rinse it all off. I am starting to feel decidedly Scandinavian, not to say goose-pimply.
I wrap my lavalava round me and head back to the hut where Miranda and Ray are getting a fire going. I give my shirt and shorts a good wash as well, and park them on the line, finishing them beside the fire later on.
Dinner is on the way and Miranda takes some time out for a little sudoku.
Eartly to bed. We've done 14 km today, and tomorrow is 18 km with the Anne Saddle thrown in.
Postscript: Just along from the Henry Bridge is a small cairn which I noticed in passing but paid no further attention to, until, after the trip was over, I was surfing the net and found the following account and photo by Geoff Chapple, which I think is worth reproducing here for those yet to make the trip: Geoff, if there are copyright concerns, please let me know.
In 2000, Noel Sandford was in charge of Te Araroa's Waikato River trail construction. He'd joined the gang late, after another supervisor pulled out with pneumonia, and on the day he joined, we worked three hours then sat down for smoko. We talked rivers and tramping and I told the story of an American I'd met who'd tried to cross Shiels Creek in Westland when it was running, lost his footing, his pack, his jacket, a fair amount of flesh off his legs and was hospitalised four days at Greymouth Hospital.
I looked at him. It wasn't quite the coda for a story where the tramper survived, but the gang recognised a solemn wisdom and everyone nodded agreement.
I crossed the Henry River on a suspension bridge. The track followed along upriver, and then I came to a stream and a small cairn with the inscription:
On January 4 1994, Noel and Diana tramped through to this point. It was snowing on Jervois Peak out to the east. The stream was in flood. Should they go upstream to cross? The two went up for a look, but decided the existing ford was best. They linked to each other's pack straps and began to feel their way across.
The water began suddenly to rise further, and the two abandoned the crossing. They edged back. The stream was pulsing, a flash flood phenomenon, and the stream-bed shifted beneath their boots. Noel saw a pressure wave, and pitched forward onto it, hoping for, and finding, the big rock beneath. He was then the anchorman, the two remained linked, Diana using her husband's supporting arm and shoulder to edge back to the bank. The water ran fast there, but shallow, just over boot height. That was his clear image. She was safe. He let go.
"I'm slipping," said Diana and fell backwards.
A handsbreadth away.
Run to the river. Noel Sandford had one last sight of his wife, apparently packfloating, caught briefly by an eddy in the Henry. She was smiling. One of the Sandford daughters, a doctor, took particular notice of this description and told her father later: The reason she was smiling - you shouldn't worry that anything more could have been done - Mum was already dead of coldwater shock.
A sign near the cairn said: This bridge was donated by N. Sandford in April 1994 with the permission of the station owners, and the help and encouragement of DOC Hanmer and RNZAF No 3 Squadron.
A piece of dressed timber was lodged in rocks just down from the ford, and I went down and retrieved it, sliding it into a jumbled pile of timber on the far bank. Noel, a skilled carpenter, had come back and bridged the stream. He'd bought two hard-wood stringers weighing 1.5 tonnes, and the same Iroquois that had searched for his wife in the Henry River dropped them on-site.
He prefabricated the bridge superstructure, brought it up by 4WD to the far side of the river, floated it all across, then bolted and coach-screwed everything together.
Then came the death plunge, in 1995, of 13 polytechnic students and a DOC field centre manager on an observation deck at Cave Creek. The Department ordered engineering reports on all its structures. It set out new construction standards for the New Zealand back country.
Minimum deck-widths would be 800 mm, the bridge deck-width was 750 mm. Deck slats would be 40 mm thick, the bridge slats were 25 mm. No structural support timber would be notched. The hand-rail uprights were notched into the hardwood stringers. Safe, but incorrect. DOC demolished the bridge.
Just a bridge. Just a cairn, but eloquent with love and mourning. I knelt there briefly, shut my eyes and told someone I didn't know that from what I'd been told her three daughters were doing very well in their chosen careers.