We woke after a good and mouse-free sleep.
I made breakfast in the dry under the trees, while Whiona rinsed out the heavily condensated tent. As I brewed the coffee a Robin pecked at its reflection in my sunglasses that lay beside our "kitchen".
The weather was perfect for what can be a tricky alpine crossing over the Waiau Pass. It was cool, cloudy and still.
We ate, packed, then started up the trail again. After an hour and a half of walking we came across a beautiful campsite beside the Waiau River. It would have been good to stay there the night but we just hadn't had the gas to get there. If you're walking north and have the energy and daylight, this little campsite is heaven compared to the grimy old Caroline.
As we sat down for a drink we noticed that someone had left their fancy, Proud to be Made in the U, S of A, toilet spade beside a log...if it's yours, drop us a line and we'll send it to you when we get home. It looks like the Rolls Royce (or should that be Cadillac) of toilet spades, so we don't reckon it was cheap.
We walked on a bit then stopped for a breather and a bite before our climb.
The photos I've taken don't really give an accurate impression of the size and steepness of the mountains we crossed. This was BIG country.
We'd been told we would be using our hands to climb and as we got nearer the top our hands became quite...handy. A couple of times we found ourselves off the track and ended up rock climbing up fissures and nearly vertical faces. Our heavy Italian mountain boots became really useful tools and probably enjoyed the fact that they were finally doing what they were designed to do.
As we approached the most difficult part of the climb a couple of figures came into view above us. They were traveling old-school style. Heavy old-fashioned packs made their Te Araroa experience look pretty difficult. Eleanor was ahead of Bethany who was struggling with sore knees.
We have decided that there are three types of trail walker. The Middle-of-the-Roaders, who carry a combination of light and heavy gear in an attempt to get the right balance of comfort into their daily lives. We sit firmly in this camp. We are the vanilla trekkers...
Then there are the Ultra Lighters. On the surface, these guys are all about speed. They have a job to do and need to do it fast. They often cover astounding distances in a day. They also seem to live the lives of monks when they're on the trail. Aesthetes living harsh and uncomfortable lives for some sort of spiritual or macho goal. Their masochistic lives impress us.
We used to be in awe of Ultra Lighters.
Until we met the Hardcore Trekkers.
These people don't give a shit about weight, or speed. If they want to carry a dozen eggs and condiments...they're gonna carry them...and more.
Laptops, massive cameras and their lenses, pyjamas, hot water bottles and real books - with pages that are essentially made of wood. These people are our new heroes.
We didn't stop to ask Eleanor and Bethany what they were carrying, but as they cautiously made their way down the steep mountain track with their bulging packs we watched on impressed...awestruck...
Note: Eleanor's blog post for this day describes Caroline Biv as "a disgusting and slightly creepy little hut". Creepy! That's it...the word for Caroline that I'd struggled for and couldn't find yesterday.
The pass was windy, as passes often are, so we didn't stick around long. The descent to Lake Constance was fast, steep and long. Again, our boots were perfect for the descent, letting us run and slide down the steep schisty drops.
Unfortunately, when you run down a schist slope, things happen quickly and the ease of our travel was over all-to-soon...in seconds actually. The rest of the 700metre or so descent was a careful and painful negotiation between large unstable rocks, precariously placed plants, and tired minds and feet. The walk around the beautiful Constance was long and tiring - over the huge slip that forms the lake and down to Blue Lake where a nice, big and warm hut waited.
Jana, a young woman from the Czech Republic was inside.
As we stripped off our gear we apologised for the stench.
TeA walkers often smell - it's an occupational hazard. But this day we smelled particularly bad. Embarassed, we apologised again to Jana who tried her best to make us feel better about our lack of hygiene.
"I think it's the water that smells," she said.
As we made a coffee and soaked our dehydrated salad her claim started to ring true.
The smell, at least most of the smell, wasn't coming from us, it was coming from the sink.
DoC huts (but ironically not Blue Lake Hut) often have signs in them telling trampers and hunters that the water should be safe to drink, but boiling it is an option just to make sure.
We've always laughed at this and assumed it was just governmental arse covering. More of the Cave Creek syndrome (see the Boyle Village story).
We've drunk barrels of hut water over the years and never had a bad reaction.
But before our stay at Blue Lake we'd never come across water that smelled.
But we still weren't sure. Perhaps we were imagining it.
Luckily there was a ladder beside the tank. (This in itself was weird...there are never ladders at DoC huts!)
I climbed to the top, unscrewed the lid and looked in.
Sure enough, there was the culprit. A dead rat. Floating. Swollen. Festering.
The downpipe from the roof had no covering, so the hole into the tank was an inviting drop for curious, rodent-sized animals.
I got down, asked Whiona to hold the ladder, then went back up with my walking stick and my hand inside a plastic bag.
I scooped out the soggy critter.
With our trapping work we spend a lot of time with dead rats and stoats. Our weekends are often spent with bloated, bloody and maggot-infested corpses...we aren't squeamish. In fact I've become quite blasé about cleaning up afterwards.
But a rat in our drinking water was something quite different. It was kind of personal. We'd drunk it and felt a little bit invaded.
We'd met a walker at Arthur's Pass who'd had to take time off the trail because he'd caught what he'd assumed was Giardia at...Blue Lake Hut. He thought he'd got it from another walker he'd stayed with in the hut who had it worse than him.
That was two weeks ago.
Which begged the question.
How many rats were there in the tank?
The one I'd scooped out was sort of "fresh". I don't watch much CSI, but the corpse was relatively intact and the maggots floating on the surface of the water were large...fully formed...juicy. Was this a two-week-old-floater?
The three of us decided to drain the tank and stick warning notices all over the place.
We planned to let DoC know when we got to Saint Arnaud...in three days.
We've walked over a thousand kilometres and drunk from streams, ditches, tanks and lakes the whole way. We've even drunk from heavily Didymo infested rivers and the occasional puddle.
It's just a little ironic that the only trouble with water that we've had was at Blue Lake...a lake with the purest water in the world.