Baby Shirley’s first overnight hike

posted in: Mini Adventures | 0

​Back in June when Lorelei was fairly pregnant we thought, “we want to be cool adventurous parents, we should book one of those huts in the Orongorongos (Rimutaka Forest Park) where we can get a place to ourselves and the bubs can scream all she likes. The huts are only 2 or so hours’ walk in anyway. Yes we can definitely do a tramp with the baby a bit after birth”. With a due date of October 23, we both thought mid-November sounded good. At that stage Lorelei was oddly unconcerned about the prospect of child birth. However, the more we thought/learnt about it, the more we realised the birth might well be late and that Lorelei might actually need a little time to recover. We decided we would be ready by Dec 9 (our baby would be ~6 weeks old) and booked the smallest of the huts in the Rimutaka Forest Park, about an hour out of Wellington.

Our daughter Shirley was born on October 26, 2016 (an adventurous process worthy of its own post). Before we could go tramping we were going to Australia for an Adventure Gang wedding for Caroline and Jens (we now live in New Zealand). So we organised a baby passport and took little Shirley to Australia at just 4 weeks of age and it was perfect training. There were some tough times, especially when we got colds and poor Shirley had a sore throat (we think) and kept screaming, but overall we did it and it went real well! Shirley loved all of the new people around. Plus the wedding and catch-ups were awesome for us.

Catching up with Jim & Louise at the wedding. Shirley loved all of the attention.
Lorelei and Shazza practising with a day hike in ‘Straya

An overnight tramp was going to have some more unique challenges. We would be isolated from society, what if we forgot something? We would also have to carry everything we’d need, including Shirley, for relatively long distances. Furthermore our Shirley-carriers press her close up against us, generating lots of heat; and the weather forecast included some high temperatures on Friday. Eek. We don’t want to roast the little lady.

With the knowledge that it can take forever to leave the house with Shirley, how much stuff needed packing, and that we didn’t want to walk at night with our 6.5 week-old delicate infant, Jacob cleverly worked a half day on Friday. This was also a good move as the weather forecast was best for the Friday we were starting the tramp.

After many hours of preparation, including eating by all parties involved, and long deliberation about the appropriate nappy strategy, Jake returned from work, we finished packing and set off. It was warm. Lorelei was anxious. We were both becoming increasingly convinced that we were idiots. To increase our anxiety levels Shirley awoke from a car induced coma at the trailhead carpark in a rage. Schmitts are notoriously bad at waking up from naps and, true to her surname, she woke in a rampant screaming fit. It was so hot we tried desperately to get her in the shade. With increasing certainty that we were making a huge mistake, we got moving to at least find a nice cool creek to sit by and feed her. We soon found a creekside spot and had our first break after about 8 minutes of walking. Oh dear. This may take a while.

Setting off from the carpark. I can assure you the person in the carrier was not smiling

Shortly after Shirley’s feed we returned to the trail and came to a junction. At this ‘fork in the road’ we could go the probably-smart way, around 2.5 hours along a well graded and easy track to the Orongorongo River, then just another 15 minutes or so to the hut. Or we could take the more challenging route: 1 hour up the “stiff” Butcher Track to a lookout, then a couple more hours along Cattle Ridge, then dropping down to the Orongorongo River, probably about a 3.5 hour stint by normal standards but extra with at least one feed stop. The latter would be longer and much more challenging, probably not the best choice with our infant and all her nappies, clothes, blankets, and even a bassinet strapped to the outside of Jake’s pack. But…we love doing stupid challenges on hikes and we also love loops. Jake put the decision in Lorelei’s hands…who inexplicably chose the hard route. Her love of loops and the potential for views was overwhelming any reasonable judgement.

Lorelei carried Shirley along with a full pack up the steep Butcher Track because she is much less of a furnace than Jake and we really didn’t want to ‘cook’ our daughter. But it was a stiff climb even for a normal tramper. On a hot day, for a gal with a baby, pack, and excessive pregnancy weight the Butcher Track was brutal. Lorelei mused about whether the trail was so named because it butchers you. It was seriously hard work, but she endured. Luckily we walked mostly above a creek with beautiful Nikau Palms and other pretty bush. It was great to be hiker trash again.

Jungle vibe and so close to Wellington

After the big climb we walked just a bit out of the way to a lookout with a view of Wellington harbour. The lookout was a bit overgrown with gorse and views were tough to glimpse but we got a few. Then we proceeded along the Cattle Ridge track which was at first generally quite overgrown with spikey gorse. This wasn’t ideal because we were looking for a place to stop and sit down and feed Shirley while, more importantly, getting her out of the carrier for a cool down.

A hot (temperature-wise) lady and a mediocre lookout

In the last few weeks Shirley has become much more aware of the world around her looking all around and smiling heaps. It has been awesome. We eventually found a little spot of podocarp forest to stop in. Shirley can’t see much from the carrier we were using, not to mention she was sleeping most of the way, so when we took her out of the carrier she was in awe of the beautiful ferny forest around her.

Baby Shirley scoping out the forest wonderland around her

Shortly after Shirley’s feed we came across an improved viewpoint, which offered uninterrupted views of the Rimutaka Range and even the glorious Kaikouras.

We’re not in the High Sierras anymore, so we take what we can get!

After feeding, Jacob took Shirley the rest of the way along and down the ridge. Shirley’s grandparents will be pleased to read that we opted against a potential shortcut down to our hut. Jake, being part of Team Responsible, reasoned that the track is likely less used and it would be a bit too steep/rugged for carrying little Shirley in a front pack. So we took the longer route to ensure Shirley’s safety. Lorelei can get a little clumsy once tired so it was also good to have Jake carrying Shirley.

Steady Jacob with baby Shirley

As the day wore on and Cattle Ridge became increasingly steep and treacherous as we descended, we felt that oh so familiar concern…would we make it to the hut before dark? We thought we had allowed heaps of time, plus it was December with some of the longest days of the year. With all the stops and slower pace induced by carrying an infant, we still managed to spend the last 40 or so minutes of hiking freaking out that we were going to end up walking in the dark. How typical of us. On the upside this meant that after we descended the ridge and meandered downstream back and forth across the Orongorongo River, the light was glorious and we felt that hiking bliss when you think to yourself, “why am I not doing more of this?”

A nice little pool close to the hut which came in handy for a quick post-hike wash

Just a few minutes later we made it to the hut. The hut was great, especially because it was bookable and so we had it all to ourselves. Shirley enjoyed kicking her legs heaps with the new found freedom she had after getting out of the front carrier. We had river dips, dinner, fed Shirley and then very easily settled Shirley to bed.

Our new home, “Boar Inn” hut.

The weather forecast for Saturday was for rain in the morning, clearing in the afternoon. In the morning the weather was just cloudy. We lazed about the hut feeding Shirley, playing cards, reading and writing. We were sure that the rain was just about to start so we shouldn’t go anywhere with Shirley. Shirley seemed exhausted from the previous day’s hike and just seemed to want to nap all day, which is a bit unusual for her. We would wake her for feeds and she would just fall right back asleep no matter what we did to try and keep her awake.

All Shirley wanted to do on Saturday was rest in the snoozy hut. Next to her is the portable bassinet Jacob carried in where she slept at night
There was a lot of this on Saturday

Around midday the rain started and then it rained the whole rest of the day until almost dark. “Guess we won’t be leaving the hut then.” Even the toilet seemed too far to walk to with its muddy path necessitating putting on wet boots (from river crossing the day before). So we did something that puts the trash in hiker trash. I don’t even know why we are documenting this on a public blogpost. We both peed in a pot and dumped it outside in the rain. Oh no. Oh yes. I promise we never did that from our tent on the PCT – not even in a snow storm. I can also assure you we cleaned the pot well even though pee is sterile(izer!). Lucky for her Shirley just wears her toilet (diapers) so the rain was no problem for her. Eventually Lorelei decided a fire was in order so got that rolling in the fireplace. It offered ambience but not much warmth. When the rain eased off late in the day she went and gathered and cut more firewood to replace what we had burned. We also went and checked out the river to see if we could go kiwi spotting and saw that it was really quite swollen. When Jake checked a couple of hours later the rain further up the catchment had made it down to the river valley, so it was even higher than what is pictured below. We hoped the level would drop before we had to cross it the next morning now that it finally stopped raining.

The river pretty darn swollen, but Jake saw it much higher!

Well about that. Around 4am that night it started raining again (“that wasn’t supposed to happen!” Never trust the NZ meteorologists). We had both gotten up to pee (out of the hut this time!) and then Lorelei fed Shirley. As the rain continued and strengthened neither of us could get back to sleep. “What does this mean for the river flooding? Are we going to be stuck here? But we need to get Steph her car back by 2pm so that she can bring her elderly friend shopping. We don’t have reception to tell her we are stuck.” Finally Lorelei climbed up to Jacob’s bunk to tell him her worries only to discover he had been lying there freaking out too; we had eaten most of our food! Jake was already making survival plans and Lorelei was envisioning cannibalism akin to the book/movie Alive.

So Lorelei put on her wet boots and walked two minutes to the river to check it out. It was down much lower than when we had first seen it swollen the night before, we could cross it now, but the rain might trickle down and it could flood again. She ran back to the hut and said, “I think we should go now!” And so at 6:30am we threw everything in our bags as quickly as possible, wolfed down a few granola bars, skipped breakfast coffee and ran out.

The river was higher than when we had crossed it on Friday, making for some nervous crossings. Luckily we employed the official ‘safety crossing/arms bound’ thing a few times and were both happy to have our poles for added balance. It is one thing being swept down the river yourself but Shirley can’t swim. We made it safely across the river the few times necessary and chose to walk out the most efficient way. It was actually raining for the entire walk back until we reached the car but Jake managed to keep Shirley dry by wrapping his rain coat around her carrier.

Excuse me sir, are you trying to smuggle something out of the forest in your jacket? Why yes, I found a baby fast asleep at Boar Inn this morning.

So we made it. We hiked with our 6 week old infant and, despite a few anxious moments, we enjoyed it more than enough to do it again!