We woke in heavy mist. Or cloud. Or fog. Or whatever you call the wet grey stuff that often makes the top of mountains kind of spooky.
Apparently it rained in the night. I didn't hear it and assumed the water all over the place was condensation.
We left Anna in the hut readying herself for a trip into Nelson. It was possible that we wouldn't see her again until she arrived at our place in Palmerston North on the North Island leg of her run. But then again she'd literally run into us plenty of times already in the most unlikely places - so all bets were off.
As we walked around the side of the mountain and away from the hut we instantly lost our sense of direction.
We walked up, down, around. We walked through more forest of stunted Mountain Beech and over more rocky knobs.
Eventually we came to a bluff that overlooked Starveall Hut. As we did so the mist cleared. The mountains around us appeared and we could see Tasman Bay.
We could also see the reason for all of the wilding pines we were coming across. Large blocks of commercial pine plantations made their way into the Forest Park like dark green fingers,
It was a steep drop to the hut and our first lunch. Anna had passed us a while back so it was a relatively quiet affair. Our first lunch alone for a few days. It was kind of sad - we could feel the emptiness of the Richmonds closing in around us.
As we ate we looked at an amazing elevation diagram of our journey through the Richmonds that Whiona had carried with her - either to scare us or comfort us - I'm not too sure. It was an intimidating graph of almost vertical ups and downs dotted with huts that seemed to sit on the sides of impossible mountains.
The steepest drop on the graph was today's. 900 metres. For the mathematically challenged that's nearly a kilometre.
Looking at it made our knees hurt.
The night before we'd all christened the day Hump Day. Not just because it was on the middle (ish) day of the Richmonds, but because it involved an enormous hump. Luckily we were going down it.
On our way from Starveall to Hackett Hut we bumped into Brian and Evan.
Brian was a local out for a spin in his towering backyard. He was interested in our gear, especially our Aarn packs, as he was about to head off to the Himalayas.
His mate for the day was Evan, a Canadian Sobo and Sectioneer. Could HE be our last Te Araroan of the 2014-15 season?
He'd been doing his sections out of order and had already done the Nelson Lakes section.
He'd got sick just after Blue Lake and spent a week with gastro problems. The dead rats in the water tank had struck again.
The rest of the 900 meter drop was uneventful except for the massive swathe of windfall trees we walked through. Brian had described it as two kilometres long...a pretty good guess.
We'd never seen anything like it. We'd also never seen a chainsaw cleanup like it either. A hard job.
Lunch number two - at Hackett - was a celebration of the end of Hump Day. Our knees were sore, but we'd done it.
I've always been a bit skeptical about letting BIG business into the bush. And I'm not too keen on letting its marketers loose on the DoC (our) estate either - but I also really like a nice, clean and freshly painted hut.
The Richmonds stretch of TeA is full of them. Some have been traditionally renovated in Rescue Orange and some just have nice bright face lifts.
Hackett Hut, where we had lunch number two, was the freshest one we'd ever come across. So fresh it had a notice up saying the floor had just been polyurethaned and wouldn't be ready for walking on until 5.00 - so we ate out...with the wasps.
The hut also had a plastic plaque screwed on the wall announcing the partnership between DoC and Taubmans (or was it Resene...or British Paints?) that has seen a whole lot of back country huts all over the country given a tart up.
Looking across the beautiful, polished, Rimu floor of Hackett Hut my skepticism faded. It looked good and I'm struggling to see what harm this commercial love-fest can do.
Having said that...I'm open to suggestions.
As if to hammer home the point, Brownings Hut, our final destination for the day, also had a lovely new coat of paint. It was the brightest, whitest hut we'd ever been in. It's lovely new fire box was a monster and the wood shed was chocka with freshly cut Manuka. We tried to assure our Quebecois hut mates for the night that this level of luxury wasn't a normal feature of New Zealand's backcountry, but our unnecessarily negative words fell on deaf ears.
They were so impressed I reckon they'll be going home with tins of Resene paint in their carry-on luggage.
Note: I watched with astonishment as a recently qualified mechanical engineer (from a Canadian university) spent 20 minutes producing little more than smoulder from a large mound of artfully, but hopelessly, placed paper and kindling.
Was his failure to ignite, the result of his age? His education...or lack thereof? His country of birth?
Or am I just an old fogey who should learn to stand back and let the younger generation learn from their failures.
Whatever the answer, I got to play he-man that night when the young buck eventually gave up on his quest for fire. I had been waiting patiently to pounce on the smokey iron box and planned my takeover well. With some carefully placed strips of Manuka bark and old bicycle inner tube I had the fire roaring within seconds of taking control. It was a proud moment for me and a great moment for Nouvelle Zelande/Quebec relations.
I can still hear the French accented gasps of approval echoing in the empty cavern known as my ego as I sit here at my keyboard. It is a story I will be telling my children's children's children for years to come...