Hiking Mount Holdsworth: My First (but not last!) Overnight Hike

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When I was a kid, I went camping with my Girl Scout troop. We spent a weekend in cabins, making crafts and reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (that drawing of a woman with a half-skeletal face still haunts me). I remember it rained most of the weekend and the food was bad; it didn’t do much to encourage anyone’s love for the Great Outdoors. My only other camping experience until recently was a few nights my sister and I spent in a tent in the backyard–or, when the weather was bad, in a tent in the living room. Camping was never something I was specifically not interested in, but it wasn’t something I went out of my way to do until recently either. Why sleep in a sleeping bag if you could sleep in a bed?

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Living in the Pacific Northwest, I came to enjoy and look forward to camping. We camped in Tofino on Vancouver Island, in Olympic National Park, in Levenworth, WA, and in Banff. Camping was a chance to enjoy the beauty of nature close-up, as well as saving heaps of money on accomodations. Naturally, when Steve and I took our road trip camping became second nature, although we usually slept in our van rather than in a tent.
Still, as much camping and hiking as I’ve done the past few years, there was still one experience I’d yet to have until this past weekend: an overnight hike. In the USA and Canada, overnight hikes almost always mean backcountry camping, and the idea of bringing pack, tent, food, and everything standing between me and a bad time was daunting to me.

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However, in New Zealand, the popular hiking trails often have huts along the way, making an overnight hike a little less intimidating. The huts are designed to keep out the wind and rain (to an extent), provide toilets and potable water for your journey, and some even have cooking facilities in the form of gas burners so you don’t have to bring your camp stove and canisters.
A few friends are spending a number of days on the Milford Track in a few weeks, so in preparation for them and in anticipation for us of wanting to do an extended hike in the future, we spend the Wellington Anniversary weekend at Mount Holdsworth in the Tararua range. Twelve of us set off in total, with only a few having done an overnight hike before (although one member of our group had walked the entirety of the South Island, so she was well-experienced in this sort of excursion).

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I packed up my trusty North Face backpack with two extra pairs of yoga pants, two spare shirts, clean underwear and socks, pajamas, a sleeping bag, a raincoat, a warm jacket, two water bottles, cutlery and a cool collapsing bowl, food (including plenty of snacks), wipes, paper towels, and plenty of sunscreen.
We aimed for an early start, leaving Wellington just after 9am and beginning the hike around noon. The hike up to Powell hut took about four and a half hours including breaks, ascending some 1200 metres through the bush and up the mountain.

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When we reached the hut, we joined 15+ others (the 28-person hut was completely booked due to it being a holiday weekend, and there were even a few people who had to kip on the kitchen floor) in stashing our bags next to the bunks, which were outfitted with “mattresses” resembling gymnastics tumbling mats.
Fearing that the weather would be bad and the visibility low on our return hike the next day, a few of us decided to head to the summit a few kilometres further beyond the hut. High winds pushed against us and tried to knock us off course, but we made it to the top… and then almost immediately turned back because seriously, those winds were no joke.

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Sleeping in the hut was pretty much like sleeping in a hostel: folks bumbling around, turning on lights, generally being inconsiderate. Luckily, after eight kilometres of hiking with 10-15kg packs weighing us down, we were all pretty exhausted and ready to sleep anyway.
The next morning our group woke at various times between 5:30am and 7am, and we were packed up and ready to go by 9. This was important because our second day of hiking was much longer than the first; around 18 kilometres, so at least twice as long as Day One. However, the views made up for it with the first few hours of the day a trek back up to the summit and then along the ridgeline, above the trees and nearly level with the clouds.

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Unfortunately, one member of our party hurt her ankle, and she and her partner took a shorter route down the mountain, leaving us as a group of ten to follow the Jumbo route. After following the ridges, this path took us back into the bush and into a forest that was straight out of Lord of the Rings.

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Unlike the trail up to the Powell hut, which featured a number of overly large stairs but which was otherwise fairly easy to traverse, the Jumbo path was much more wild and we had to make our way carefully over a mess of tree roots and uneven ground, descending a steep slope for several hours until we finally reached the riverbed. Soaking our feet in the icy cold water at the bottom was a welcome relief.

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We reached the parking lot at 6pm, nine hours after we left the Powell hut. We had hiked some 24km, changed 3000m worth of elevation, and had completed our first (for most of us) overnight hike!

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Finishing the Mount Holdsworth trail definitely makes me want to do more overnight treks while I’m here in New Zealand and in the future. However, here are a few things that I learned for next time:
– I’ll need a bigger backpack if I want to go for longer hikes in the future. My North Face bag is only sized as a daypack, so I had to attach my sleeping bag to the outside and I couldn’t carry much more than a weekend’s worth of food. If I plan to go for longer, I’ll probably invest in a bigger Osprey bag.

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– Speaking of food, I brought a can of Mexican-style beans and some rice for dinner, and next time I’d probably pack food that doesn’t come in a tin. It saves space and it’s easier to carry the rubbish afterward if it’s a bag or packet that can be crumpled up. I’d also bring a few sweet snacks like M&Ms or other candies; they’re a great treat after a long day.
– Bring a tripod. Steve gave me a nice tripod for my camera for my birthday last week, and I haven’t got a chance to learn how to use it yet, but next time I go hiking I think it’ll definitely be worth the extra weight to lug along. The landscapes up on Mount Holdsworth were amazing and moments like the sunset could’ve been captured better with a steadier camera. Plus, a tripod is great for group photos (although friendly hikers and selfie skills did the trick this weekend).

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– Make a checklist. I’ve never been the sort of person to worry too much about packing. I have a pretty good idea of what I need, and if I forget something it’s not the end of the world. Of course, when you’re camping you can’t exactly just pop out to the shop to pick something up. Most of us forgot something that would’ve made our trip easier or better; having a list will help prevent that next time.
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2 Replies to “Hiking Mount Holdsworth: My First (but not last!) Overnight Hike”

  1. I’ve never done an overnight hike before because they seem daunting to me, haha. But your story and tips are helpful and make them seem more accessible in New Zealand! And it seems like a lot of fun!

    1. Yeah, I was definitely wary too haha, but having the hut rather than needing to camp out made such a difference in feeling comfortable with it. And it was indeed a lot of fun! 🙂

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