Miriam was waiting in a pink Hyundai. She hadn't been there for the first part of the walk, still working out notice from the job she'd quit, but she was here now and acting as support. She'd come around to Mesopotamia, and farewelled me at Forest Creek.

I told her then I hoped to break out on Lilybank Road, right on the junction with the Tekapo Skifield Road. We laid out the map and found the place. I figured I might do the tramp in two days, but they'd be full days and I wouldn't be out until late. Wait there until dusk on the second day, I'd suggested. If I hadn't showed by then, she shouldn't worry. It was an unmarked route, I had no clear idea of the terrain, it might take me longer, and if not in two days then I'd be out on the third.

In my own mind though, I was determined to make it through in two days. I came over Midway Pass, pleased with my timing. I'd easily get through the range and down to Tekapo Lake by dusk. I was pleased with myself generally - from here it all sloped downward and Lekis out, I leaped with goatish speed down all the big broken rocks that lay on the far side of the pass. When I got down to smooth rock, to moss and tussock again I was practically skipping.

The valley was bending east. I couldn't believe that it would do that. I spread the map and took out my GPS. I'd come over a ridge where four valleys intersected. Up there the head of one valley was separated from its neighbour by mere metres. I'd dropped into the wrong valley.

I plugged back up, diminished. I stared at the grey scree, and noticed how water runoff had sorted it with as much skill as any human agency into long curving paths of perfectly graded material so that the hill was veined and patterned. Wow, magnificent. Wow, big deal. I summited a second time, I saw a hydro lake to the south, and I dropped down towards it, into the Coal River Valley. I'd lost close to an hour.

Metal Hills

Coal River

The wind began to buffet me in giant gusts that suddenly came, and as suddenly died. The mountains beside me sometimes gave off an almost sub-aural rumble, though whether that was the resonance of some distant jet, or the bass notes from Coal River somehow sorted and amplified by these vast shingle slopes, or maybe just the wind in the crags, I was unsure.

I lost altitude steadily, then came round a bend in the river and a different landscape opened up. High stepped terraces, steep hills milled by the ice to regular gradients, and everything covered by yellow tussock. In the distance , between the hills, was a perfect V of turquoise lakewater. That was my destination and between me and it, the matagouri now compounded, the wind turned to a gale, the sun disappeared into luminous shafts, and then came the rain, sweeping across the valley.

Out by dusk. I cut across tussock towards my linkup with the skifield road. The hillside was exposed and lashed now by something close to sleet. I put on my gloves. I powered through chest high tussock with the Lekis out and working, and dropped into a huge hole. I felt my leg twist under me with a sickening pull of ligaments.

I was up to my neck, but I fought upward and out of the hole without missing a beat, without pausing even to check if the knee was in fact damaged. Without witnesses, still I was embarrassed and instinctively anxious not to linger in comic disarray. Shocked, I brushed at myself and went on but more slowly, no longer trusting the land. The light was beginning to fade but I saw a skifield hut, hiked across to it and turned down the skifield road.

Outlook over Tekapo

Five kilometres to go.

My leg hurt, and one foot was sore. I took off the right boot. The little toenail was pulled and bleeding. I dressed it with Second Skin, a gelatinous treatment that relieves pressure, and went on, but I'd begun to hobble.

I came out on a high bluff. I could see the lake. I could see a pink car down at the water's edge. The mobile hadn't been a lot of use on the trail so far, and I'd left it behind. A shame that. Miriam had her own mobile, and if I'd thought about it, it was plain that here, across a lake and within sight of Tekapo, there'd be reception.

The light was beginning to fade. How to tell her? I stood on the bluff. I took out my Maglite and waved the light in the direction of the car. Pretty hopeless that, but maybe as it got darker, the light would be more use.

I unscrewed the top of my Maglite so that the bulb was naked, unsurrounded by reflectors or glass. This is a Maglite trick you can use in a hut for 360° light and I figured that, rather than any directional beam as I came on, Miriam was more likely to spot this steadily moving lamp.

The lad with the lamp moved slowly down the hill. Rays of the deepening night began to converge upon his shining bulb. He moved onto the flats, no more than three kilometres from the lake now, and in the darkness beyond the lamp he suddenly saw a woman's form - Miriam waiting at the roadside ahead, silent. She'd walked in to meet him. The mutual excitement of the impending meeting was palpable, yet his woman showed real self-control as he dragged himself toward her. She simply stood silent, waiting. This happened more than once. Again and again she waited at the roadside, and again and again the self control she showed was the utter self control, as it turned out, of a small tree, a standing stone, a fence-post, a stump.

Still, she'd be there. It was 9 pm - way past dusk, but if you looked to the west you could make out the very last streak of twilight. I finally came up to the junction.

She wasn't there! Right. I switched smoothly to martyr mode. I jiggled furiously at the door of a grader that was parked at the road junction. This cabin with the big windows looking out over the lake that would keep you warm and dry and where you could bend yourself around the gear lever to sleep. Locked - of course it was bloody locked. Right. I'd walk to Tekapo, it was only 20 kilometres, I'd be there by 2 am. I'd rap at the cabin door and raise my finger as the door opened, an embodiment of accusation - the sort of thing that comes at you when you've seriously morally erred, from beyond the grave.

And I set off. The night was clear again and pricked by a thousand stars. But then in that darker scribble of mountains at the base of the sky, lightning flickered, and huge fingers of clag came streaming out of the Godley Valley. The first big gusts of a familiar wind hit. Storm coming. It was time, now that I'd cooled down, to camp but for a long minute I could do nothing but hold the tent horizontal and flapping in my hand.

Finally I got the thing up and crawled in. Cold winds battered the tent. The rain again pelted down. I awoke later with a start. A huge voice had just yelled "HUT!" It was code for safety of some sort. "Yes ! Hut!" I yelled in response before waking fully and feeling foolish.