National Geographic : 1978 Jan
a place where people meet as strangers and part as friends." It is all good-natured and in nocent, like the summer camps of my child hood in the 1930's. And we campers respond with laughter and relief that at least the human side of the adventure is easy. Billeted at "The Cottage," we sit in candle light before an open fire and, just as Phil had said, we shortly begin a friendship with a party of total strangers-a family from Lin coln College near Christchurch. Patrick and Frances Fox are walking with their sons, Ken, age 15, Harry, 17, and Tony, 21. Putting finishing touches to a hunting cap she has sewn for Pat, Frances says: "The boys are growing up so fast. We wanted this time to gether before they go their separate ways." In the night I wake to rain, but it has a pleasing sound on the roof. So I drift into sleep again-undisturbed. Wild Creatures Lack Usual Wariness The morning appears bright in the Glade clearing, with the sun spotlighting the high mountains (pages 118-19). My backpack seems as light as my heart as I step across the swinging bridge over the Clinton River, spotting two of the brown trout that make it famous. Instantly we are back in the eternal twi light of the rain forest, walking to the un ceasing music of the river as it ripples over gray and white stones. Everything testifies to the bounty of abundant water: red, silver, black, and mountain beech-trees; gardens of ferns, many as tall as saplings; mosses and lichens in marvelous variety. We have ten miles to go this day, and each milepost shows us a picture of a different native bird. We spy friendly little fantails, constantly spreading and fluttering their white tail feathers. A flightless weka joins us, as curious about us as we about it. While we eat lunch at Six Mile Inn we feed a kea, the parrot that seems to think it is a hawk, flying and living at great heights, enduring storms, but almost tame, even cheeky, when with people (left). "It's like an Eden here," says guide Terry Inder. "With so few predators, the wildlife is accepting and trusting." For man, it is even better than Eden, since there are no venom ous snakes or, indeed, any dangerous animals. The trail begins to climb as the Clinton broadcasts with ever louder roar. Soon we are out of the rain forest and crossing a glacier-leveled flat that opens up an extraor dinary view. On either side the mountains vault to the sky. Their rock walls are spangled with waterfalls-wispy, silvery plumes that appear from the distance as fragile as feathers. One such fall, fed by a high creek that jumps off into space at the cliff top, created and refreshes Hidden Lake, where we stop only briefly, since the day has grown overcast and chill. Nearing Pompolona Huts, goal of our first day's walk, we encounter another, more dev astating result of moving water: a "river" of rocks, some as big as boxcars. They have poured down from the heights in a span as broad as a superhighway. "We call this a 'slip,'" says my walking companion from Christchurch, George Gates, demonstrating the New Zealand penchant for understatement. What might have caused it? Perhaps one of the region's violent rain storms; new storms continually add fresh stones and rearrange old ones. I am among the last to make it to Pompo lona Huts. I fall into bed immediately after dinner, troubled by the thought that my Washington, D. C., training for the track a daily swim-hasn't been half good enough. It begins to rain hard about midnight and continues through the night. Storm Gets a Head Start In the morning our timing is off. Pat is moving slowly and in some pain, having de veloped blisters. I am tired from the un accustomed exertion of the day before and a restless night. Bob is repacking his camera gear and film to protect them against the steady rain. And Jan is waiting for us. So we are the last to shove off from Pompo lona, a serious error since the longer we delay, the longer the rain has to make critical changes along the trail. Stepping off into the downpour, I recall a comment some wit has penned in Pompo lona's guest book: "Up periscope!" Immediately we see the handiwork of the nightlong rain. The stream alongside the hut - a mere trickle the day before-is now an angry river, and we move cautiously across its swinging bridge (page 116) before pushing, single file, up the narrow, rocky trail into the "Walk of a Lifetime"