Mar 26 2014

THE DREADED DEMON TRAIL – a private trip.

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On Tuesday March 25th Judy Knox and two friends of long-standing, Jan and Brian, set off for the Hollyford Valley.  After a night at Te Anau we were at the road-end by midday on Wednesday, and had a leisurely  three-hour walk to Hidden Falls Hut.  Next morning Brian discovered he had left his heart pills in the car, so did a quick return for them, and we proceeded to Alabaster Hut, extending the day’s tramping, for him , to almost nine hours.

Still feeling fit, we covered the next, longer, leg, from Alabaster to Demon Falls Hut, in eight hours – a bit over the suggested time, but we always take regular (hourly) rests, and our pace is steady but not fast, considering heavyish packs.  The track from the road-end to Alabaster is great – wide and well-formed, with gentle gradients.   However, from here on it becomes seriously rough, and very up and down, making pretty hard going.

Now the fun begins.  It’s Friday morning.  We get an early start (first light) and set off in good heart.  But Jan rapidly develops a pain in her right knee and gets slower and slower.  We take numerous rests, lighten her pack, and watch anxiously.  The ups and downs are endless, the three-wire bridges a real problem for her, and the map gives no indication of how far it is to the next hut – Hokuri, supposedly about eight hours from Demon Trail Hut.

Daylight fades.  We scramble on, now having to haul Jan over numerous obstacles.  We have a look at her leg.  The knee is badly swollen and barely takes her weight.  Darkness falls.  After thirteen hours tramping we call it a day, scramble off the waterfall of a track to a dry spot in the bush, and set up a fly camp. Lots of things to be thankful for.  It’s fine and warm, and I am carrying my new poncho, which is large enough to open out into a fly, which we rig over a log and attach to our walking poles with bootlaces.

The bivvy camp (Judy pic and caption)

The bivvy camp (Judy pic and caption)

And we are carrying a locator beacon. Hot soup, and we settle for the night.  Surprisingly we all sleep relatively well, in spite of the odd buzz of a mosquito and some light rain just before daylight.   Hopefully the rest will help Jan’s knee and we can get to the hut in the morning.

No such luck.  When she rolls out of her sleeping bag she can barely stand.  We debate the options.  Nothing for it but to set off the beacon, albeit reluctantly.  We eat muesli and drink milo, then pack up and wait.  Two hours later we hear the chopper approaching.  It spirals down, and Brian and I frantically wave yellow pack liners until visual contact is made.

Looking up at the chopper (Judy pic and caption)

Looking up at the chopper (Judy pic and caption)

There is just a small window of sky visible, but the medic is winched safely down and makes a quick assessment.

Jan is strapped into a harness, her face rather ghostly white, and I don’t envy her as she spins wildly up …

Jan up

Jan spirals upward (Judy pic and caption)

… through the trees and into the chopper.  The medic follows with her pack,


Followed by the Medic with her pack (Judy pic and caption)

and suddenly we are alone again.

It’s only 45 minutes to Hokuri, but we agree Jan could never have made it.  We spend a quiet afternoon at the hut recovering, before setting off next morning (Sunday) for Martins Bay, reached uneventfully in six reasonable hours.

It’s a beautiful place. Please, no roads around here!  Next day we catch the jet boat up the lake, as previously arranged, and anxious to be reunited with Jan, walk the six hours from Alabaster Landing to the road end and the car, a welcome sight.  We find her comfortably ensconced at the camping ground, using crutches to get around.  It seems a ligament ‘blew up’, causing all the trouble.

In retrospect, we feel we handled the situation well.  Maybe ‘oldies’ like us should not have tackled such a tough track in the first place, but by finishing the trip, Brian and I felt exonerated.   We were lucky with the weather – rain would have made things a lot more difficult – but we were well-equipped and never felt in any serious danger.

High praise for the helicopter crew, and the fast efficient way in which they responded and carried out the rescue. – Judy

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