The Darrans (and in good weather no less!)

(Lydia)

It’s hard to believe that six months have elapsed since our last post, and this time a year ago we were furiously dehydrating food and acquiring new bits of kit for the traverse. High time one of us got around to finishing the blog I reckon!

Alexis’ last post had us (Alexis, Mark and myself) arriving at the Hollyford road end, met by my dad and Allan. Dad drove us to Homer Hut where we spent a few days making arrangements for the long Fiordland section ahead of us, and spending time with various parents.

Having struck the first fine weather for some months, the hut was crowded with energetic people who had been town-bound for too much of the summer. Being a bit weary from the trail at this stage, we didn’t share such stir-crazy energy and hastened to get back to the solitude of the hills. 

My parents had brought a food drop in to Homer Hut, and my dad hoped to join us for the next section during which we planned to run the Milford track in reverse and kayak the length of Lake Te Anau. But first we had to officially ‘get’ to Homer Hut, as we’d arrived from the Hollyford Road end by car. Dad spontaneously decided to join us for this section too, so in his trademark running shoes he took Allan’s place as we headed from the Hollyford Rd up Moraine Creek (Allan’s knees still playing up). In glorious Fiordland weather we approached Lake Adelaide, stopping at a smaller lake on the way for a swim - one of the few times we did this for enjoyment rather than to just get clean - and arrived at Gill’s Biv in late afternoon.

A pano taken from Gill's Biv overlooking Lake Adelaide

A pano taken from Gill's Biv overlooking Lake Adelaide

There are two rock bivs around Lake Adelaide, the other being Phil’s, and both are palatial. Phil’s biv even boasts a toilet and a tiered bunk system, while Gill’s gave us each separate sleeping platforms (though if I recall correctly, Alexis and Mark opted to share the 'Honeymoon Suite') and spectacular views of the lake and sunset. We spent the night in Gill's as it was closer to our route in the morning. The next day we headed up past Lake South America - named as such on account of its shape - and through Gifford’s Crack. This is the standard route taken by climbing parties as an access route to the northern side of Mts Sabre and Marian, but is in itself a reasonably perilous climb. The route certainly required care and though we didn’t use the bolts, we would have done so if the rock had been wet.

Alexis striking a natural pose at Phil's Biv. Our route in followed the left side of the lake.

Alexis striking a natural pose at Phil's Biv. Our route in followed the left side of the lake.

Sunset back at Gill's Biv

Sunset back at Gill's Biv

Gifford’s Crack tops out on Adelaide Saddle, and it’s just a short hop to the top of Barrier Knob from there. Rather than taking the ‘sui-sidle’ to the Gertrude Saddle we opted to climb the knob and descend the much less exposed way. The short snow-field offered a challenge to Dad, who was treading very cautiously with crampons on his running shoes (those who know him won’t be surprised by this madness!), but Alexis saved the day by cutting steps for him in old-school guide style and we were away. Descending from the Gertrude Saddle back to Homer Hut was a bizarre experience – being the first decent day for many weeks there were hundreds upon hundreds of people walking up to the saddle. Apparently the walk had been advertised on Lonely Planet as the best day walk in New Zealand and the news had spread. I was shooting out a continuous volley of "hi..hello...hi...hi...how's it going?...hi" as we headed down the valley. 

Assorted bums near the top of Gifford's Crack

Assorted bums near the top of Gifford's Crack

The view from Barrier Knob, looking down to Milford Sound

The view from Barrier Knob, looking down to Milford Sound

So here we were back at Homer Hut, having arrived properly this time. Alexis’ friend Jono came to to join us for a day or two, and wanting to make his drive down from Christchurch worthwhile we decided to have a crack at Mt Christina while the weather remained decent.

Alexis and Jono had been thwarted by Christina once before, having picked the wrong path through the labyrinth of bluffs that cut off the original route. Their knowledge of the mountain proved useful this time though, as they successfully zig-zagged through the maze and up on to the snow below the ridge. The guidebook beta for the route is perhaps deliberately vague, and didn’t note that the easiest route to the summit is via the North Peak. Thinking that surely the authors would have mentioned this, we decided to take a direct route to the ridge and ended up soloing some easy though worryingly loose rock rather than taking what we later realised would have been the easier route up the snow-field to the North Peak. At one point, a dishwasher sized boulder blew out from under Alexis’ feet and tumbled down the mountain, taking all the smaller surrounding rocks with it. With typical nimble grace, Alexis managed to jump away, and luckily the rest of us were spread out diagonally below, but it was unnerving to watch the boulder bounce all the way down almost to the highway leaving a trail of dust and the aroma of gunpowder.

Mt Christina as viewed from the road. Our route went from left to right through the tussock and zig-zagged through the bluffs to the snow-field which is just visible.

Mt Christina as viewed from the road. Our route went from left to right through the tussock and zig-zagged through the bluffs to the snow-field which is just visible.

Jenga-esque boulders near the top of the mountain.

Jenga-esque boulders near the top of the mountain.

From the summit, looking down to the Milford road and the infant Hollyford River far below. 

From the summit, looking down to the Milford road and the infant Hollyford River far below. 

With no further misadventures, we reached the summit and were treated to a spectacular view all the way down to the Eglinton, and across the peaks of Fiordland – Tutoko, Pembroke and the Lady of the Snows. The descent was straightforward thanks to the cairns that Jono had built on the way up to mark our route. We were sure to kick them over on the way down though, so as to preserve the purity of the mountain and not spoil the challenge for the next party.

Jono builds a cairn.

Jono builds a cairn.

Back to Homer Hut for a third time, we had run out of time (and the enthusiasm) to run the Milford Track, so opted to bike along the road crossing the divide one last time before reaching the beginning of the track to Dore Pass. This was (forgive me) the door to the head of Lake Te Anau where our kayaks and the beginnings of our watery journey awaited us.

Haast to Hollyford, Part 2

Matukituki to Hollyford

The following day was due to be fine, so we decided to console ourselves with one of the West Matukituki peaks. I had unfinished business with Rob Roy from early 2008 but Allan and Mark had already climbed it so Al decided to head out to Wanaka to sort of some trip admin for the Fiordland section for the night.

We snuck out of Aspiring Hut at 5am the following morning and made our way in the dark to Shovel Flat along the wheelchair-friendly track.

Our intended route was up the western flank of Rob Roy via an old blazed track that starts from the southern end of Shovel Flat on the true left of the river. The track was first cut by Logan Park High School outdoor education students back in 2002-2003, under the direction of John Crawford and Geoff Wyatt, of Mountain Recreation. I had been up the track in 2004 on a year 12 outdoor education trip with John Crawford, and we’d spent a memorable cold night sleeping in rock bivvies in a boulder field under the subsidiary ridge that runs down from Pnt 1971. I have fond memories of ding battle with frozen boots in the morning, and learning one of the elementary lessons of winter mountaineering.

I had no idea if the route still existed, though I knew of at least one party going up the western face since 2004. In the twilight of dawn we struck out into the bush roughly where I’d remembered the track starting and proceeded by instinct and faint memory until we stumbled across the first blazes a couple of hundred meters up. The blazes are an eclectic collection of pink tape, occasional permolat, electrical tape and the odd cut branch, and can be hard to follow, but the route follows a sort of animal logic so we found that we could generally regain it by following our noises. The route wends up between steep slabs in middle of three old slips that can seen from the valley floor, then picks its way through a short section of annoying subalpine scrub and acyphilla before levelling off and giving out onto open tussock tops.

Lydia tops out above the West Matukituki on the morning of our ascent of Rob Roy. Mts Tyndall and Ansted across the valley above the Pylon on the Cascade Saddle route.

Lydia tops out above the West Matukituki on the morning of our ascent of Rob Roy. Mts Tyndall and Ansted across the valley above the Pylon on the Cascade Saddle route.

We continued due west under the flanks of the ridge running off Pt 1971 where we crossed over through a pseudo saddle onto the glacier and sidled northward to the obvious broad gully that leads to the summit ridge. The snow conditions were perfect, but the day was warming quickly and already small rocks and icicles were skittering down the western faces. We made haste and reached the summit by 1pm. The westerly was well up now, and clouds were banking up to the west but we had unbroken views from Aspiring to the north through to Earnslaw to the southwest. We made good time on the descent, and were back in the valley floor by 6pm, and at the Aspiring hut an hour later; a little over 14hrs and 2500 vertical meters later.

Mark and Lydia on the west 'face' of Rob Roy, just before topping on onto the gentle summit ridge. The valley floor can be seen 2000m below.

Mark and Lydia on the west 'face' of Rob Roy, just before topping on onto the gentle summit ridge. The valley floor can be seen 2000m below.

Al showed up just after we returned to the hut, laden with ‘luxuries’ (aka vegetables and alcohol), which we gratefully fell upon. We were glad to see him, but instinctively bridled our enthusiasm about our day out as his regret at not having joined was palpable.

The next day was another day of rain, which we spent in the company of a couple of nice Wellingtonians in an otherwise deserted hut. They taight us how to play euchre and we exchanged stories while outside Matukituki rose to its banks as chords of rain fell. The rain continued beating down through the next night. The Olivines were well and truly out of contention, there was nothing for it but to make up for lost time and cross over Cascade saddle, follow Dart river and may be even run the Routeburn to the Hollyford.

The collective mood bounced restlessly between weary resignation and foolhardy wishfulness as we sought to ‘salvage’ something from nearly a month of following well-trodden ‘front-country’ tracks. We enjoyed a beautiful day crossing Cascade saddle, and our spirits couldn’t help but be buoyed by the landscape in it’s sunny-day glory, but try as we might we remained weary and frustrated over the following days.

On a sunny day, the Cascade Saddle route is one of the most spectacular places I've been to. It's so beautiful that it's hard to take a photo that isn't a cliche.

On a sunny day, the Cascade Saddle route is one of the most spectacular places I've been to. It's so beautiful that it's hard to take a photo that isn't a cliche.

We had hoped to climb Mt Lydia the next day, but the Dart river near the Whitbourne confluence was daunting in the colourless 5.30am twilight: a swift grey slurry that we’d have needed to rope up for. Getting across would have been touch and go. Getting back across in the afternoon, after a full day of melting with rain forecast for that evening could turn into a major ordeal. We returned to Dart Hut with weary and hang-dog and bumbled around for a few hours before glumly setting out for Cattle Flat hut.

Al in the upper Dart. A pile of erratics left behind by the retreating Dart glacier force the river braids into a single strand as they skirt around it. The Dart carries a huge suspended sediment load making it hard to cross as you can't see the bottom, and the gravel flats along the length of the valley are often treacherous minefields of sinking sands and dust devils on windy days. 

Al in the upper Dart. A pile of erratics left behind by the retreating Dart glacier force the river braids into a single strand as they skirt around it. The Dart carries a huge suspended sediment load making it hard to cross as you can't see the bottom, and the gravel flats along the length of the valley are often treacherous minefields of sinking sands and dust devils on windy days. 

We had decided to leave our tents with Al’s mum when we received news of the terrible forecast, figuring that we’d pretty much be hut bound. But in a classic example of Murphy’s Law, the weather turned out to be marginal but passable, so that we couldn’t help but gaze up at the Snowdrift and Barrier ranges to the West, and wonder if we’d made the ‘right’ decision. We were a quiet bunch over the next few days (at least by our standards) and often preferring to walk alone that to risk throwing ourselves back in the collective ‘stew’. I spent a lot of time ruminating on the value and pitfalls of ambition, and the sunk-cost fallacy. The weather never broke in earnest as we descended the Dart to the Rockburn confluence. Instead, the days were fittingly eerie and grey.

 Al peeled off at the Rockburn shelter to meet up with a friend at Lake Sylvan, and left with vague plans to catch up with us up the Rock Burn or meet us over in the Hollyford by running the Routeburn the next day (which is what he did). The rest of us made good time up the Rockburn, and our mood improved steedily as we struck out into more ‘interesting’ country. The Rockburn is one of my favourite valleys in the Southern Alps. The aptly named Theatre Flat reminds me of ‘Hell’ in ‘Tomorrow When the War Began’ with its unusual amphitheatric openness, and the parapet biv’ in the head of the valley is a great spot to spend a night. We once came across a dinosaur figurine and a block of Whittakers that someone kindly left under a rock there.

Our spirits sank as we approached the biv and spotted four human figures under it’s giant awning. I’m a little ashamed to admit how reclusive we’d become by this point. The group turned out to be a group of 70+ year old Australian fellas who come out the New Zealand to go tramping ever year. They were great “biv’ fellas”, and put our attempts at Gregorian monk chanting to shame with some wonderful renditions of Das Rheingold and other opera classics that I didn’t recognise.

Yet more plans were abandoned the next day as we decided to pop over to Hidden Falls and drop into the Hollyford instead of traversing the tops over to the enticingly remote Lake Hyslop. We were soon vindicated as the weather turned out to be worse than forecast. On Park Pass, we spotted a couple of trampers coming over from Hidden Falls, one of whose’ gait looked familiar. As we approached, I realised it was Jamie Gardner. Jamie and his friend Christopher Tipper were one their way back from an 8 day foray to the Olivine Ice Plateau. It was a little gutting to hear that the weather had been good enough for them to get to the plateau, but the route onto the plateau that we’d wanted to do, from the north, involves more tops travel and probably wouldn’t have ‘gone’ anyway. We chatted for 20min in gathering rain, before hastily making for the shelter of the bush on the Hidden Falls side.

A moment of magic before the curtains close in for good on the day. Looking down Hidden Falls from below Park Pass.

A moment of magic before the curtains close in for good on the day. Looking down Hidden Falls from below Park Pass.

Lydia’s father had spoken highly of Hidden Falls, and with good reason. The valley is overrun by deer, and looks a bit sad in places with flats as well mown as suburban lawns, but we had a lot of ground to cover in little time and were very grateful to deer for their excellent track cutting work. In spite of our concern over the time (we were due to meet Lydia’s dad by 9pm at the Hollyford road-end), we stopped for a cooked lunch of dahl, couscous and billy tea for well over an hour before suddenly remembering that we had places to be and hightailing it.

Whether by luck or skill we nailed the navigation out of the gorge at the end of the hanging valley, sidling out over easily ground and open bush on a terrace around the 320m contour. We were a bit premature when it came to descending and got bluffed out a couple of times before eventually resigning ourselves to climbing back to Pt 406 and traversing southward for a couple of hundred meters before descending. We were in full bush mode, soaked to the core and covered in mud and moss with branches hanging off our packs, hunched low to the ground in anticipation of rotten logs given way under foot, intently scanning the ground ahead for signs of deer trails. We struck a final obstacle 100m above the valley floor: a 30m cliff and a deeply incised river blocked our way. Fortunately we found a slippery lead down into the canyon after a period of reconnaissance, and were able to climb up roots on the other side.

We reached the Hollyford highway (it hardly needs an upgrade to be a RON) around 8.30pm and Olympic-walked the last 6km to the roadend. We arrived just as Lydia’s dad and Allan were pulling up, soaked and sore but pretty chuffed with the day’s effort. We’d made it to the Hollyford! After 76 days and 19 main divide crossings, the Southern Alps were behind us.

Haast to Hollyford, Part 1

Foreword

Over two months have elapsed since we reached the South Coast of Te Wahipounamu/the South Island. Bourne out to sea on the swift waters of the Waitutu River on a perfect sunny day, we were spat out into the surf in our packrafts. We whooped and hugged, and plunged into the brackish surf but I, for one, was unable to take it in; to give the moment it’s due.

Perhaps it was the giddying pace of river travel-which in comparison to walking felt like flying. And the enthralment as we watched keenly for upcoming rapids and fallen trees that might require a spell of manic paddling or an ungainly ejection and portage. Whatever it was, we were thrilled to reach the coast, but the last few hundred meters were bittersweet.

I had been alternating between paddling with single-minded intent to reach the coast, and letting the river carry me as I tried to commit these last moments to memory. We wanted to savour the moment, but it was too much fun, too absorbing, for reflection. And suddenly the trees over the banks were stunted and windswept, and, around the next bend the sea sprung up on us.

I think we were a bit overwhelmed by the experience, to take it that our 4 month journey was truly as it’s end, and that within a couple of days we would be back in ‘civilization’. Back in the world where it seems to me that life is so much more complex, and finding happiness and purpose requires pulling off a fine balancing act.

The need to finish the blog has been looming over me since we finished back in late February, and I’ve made a few brief and abortive attempts at writing it, but it already feels like it belongs to another world and as time passes the task becomes more daunting. So I’m going to keep it as blow by blow as I’m capable of as I bring the blog up to the end of the trip over the next couple of days...

Haast-MATUKITUKI

 After reaching State Highway 6 at Pleasant Flat in the Lower Haast on the afternoon of the 18th January, hours before the first of two ‘weather bombs’ that we’d been receiving concerned messages about was due to explode, we decided that there was nothing for it but to take a few days off. We scattered for a couple of days to catch up with respective family, friends and squeezes, and a bolstered team regrouped Wanaka a few days later. Mark was back on the team after 6 weeks out with a knee injury, and our friend Cade was joining us through to the Matukituki.

Al taking a break on the ride over Haast Pass.

Al taking a break on the ride over Haast Pass.

For the purpose of joining the dots Al’s dad, David Brent dropped Al, Lydia and I back at Pleasant Flat so we could bike over Haast Pass to Makarora. We set out in perfect early morning conditions: the road was dry but the bush was cool and wet from recent rain. The ride felt like a cakewalk after a few days’s rest and with memory of biking over Arthur’s Pass from Otira still fresh in our minds. And what joy to sail down the eastern side to Makarora with a tailwind most of the way.

Cade and Lydia setting out across the Makarora river under ominous skies. 

Cade and Lydia setting out across the Makarora river under ominous skies. 

We bid our fantastic support crew farewell on the windswept banks of the Makarora under a darkening sky and stripped down to our gruts for a crossing. The Makarora was running lower than expected it might be after all the rain, and the crossing was plain-wading but well over the nethers.

We beat the rain to Kerin Forks Hut, and were immediately back at our opportunistic ways as we scoured the place for abandoned food despite our full packs. We spent a pleasant evening in the company of an interesting American who spends half of the year living in the Alaskan wilderness for work, and who was in New Zealand for fly-fishing. He sure knew how to travel in style: he was pack-rafting out to Makarora the next day.

Mark at Top Forks Hut with the South Wilkin valley in the background.  

Mark at Top Forks Hut with the South Wilkin valley in the background.

 

Next day onwards to Top Forks Hut before sitting out another spell of driving rain. We spent a productive couple of days at Top Forks, beating cabin fever by cutting and chopping a large windblown mountain beech with blunt axe and bow saw. Lydia, Cade and I played some high-pressure games of bananagrams and we read and played cards the rest of the time to distract ourselves from boredom eating.

The Goons and The Pioneer: the 'boys' proudly posing in front of the fruits of their labour (the two somewhat pathetic stacks behind them). There was another larger stack at the back of the hut, too, but cutting wood is hard work with blunt tools. 

The Goons and The Pioneer: the 'boys' proudly posing in front of the fruits of their labour (the two somewhat pathetic stacks behind them). There was another larger stack at the back of the hut, too, but cutting wood is hard work with blunt tools. 

Deteriorating forecasts had been a constant feature of our traverse to date, and so they were to prove on this section too. The length of the trip helped keep our morale up over the first two months as we reasoned that we had time on our side and that even if we only managed a fraction of our smorgasbord of ambitions, the trip would be worth 10 years of weekend and holiday missions. We remained ever hopeful that the weather would improve-not because we felt it was our due but because it seemed to statistically improbable that our rotten luck would continue indefinitely (and so it proved eventually, though we still had another 3 weeks of cats and dogs and a howling Huey before us).

As the months wore on the weather did gradually sap our morale as we had to forgo a string of summit attempts and exciting routes in favour of ho hum alternatives. We became progressively more desperate, and as we neared our last two chances to get high: the Aspiring massif and the Olivine Ice Plateau, our frustration reached a pitch. I took to periodically yelling obscenities at Huey on high (the curmudgeonly god of weather) and the others would make a show of trying to restrain me, lest I bring on more bad luck.

A wishful plan to make a dash for a Volta-Therma traverse was downgraded to a Volta foray and eventually abandoned in favour of crossing over Rabbit Pass as the Anna Brent gave us updates of the forecast on the InReach. But in Top Forks hut she gave wind of a three day break the following week. We leaped and howled for joy and hugged and pretty much lost the plot for a good 10 minutes on hearing this: we were going to get a chance to cross the Olivines. We should have known better than to give in to our hopes: the forecast break was still a week away and the summer’s weather patterns had been had eluded the forecasters time and again, but such was our yearning for good news.

In the meantime, the forecast gave us something to look forward to and we were able to enjoy a stretch of easy travel through familiar but awesome (in the old sense) country. The route from Top Forks to Rabbit Pass goes through scenery of otherworldly dimensions and beauty. Dramatic swathes of cloud raced overhead, parting here and there to offer glimpses of fresh snow on high tussock flanks, glaciers and peaks and the fearsome banded cliffs that form the eastern aspects of the peaks thrust up by the Moonlight Fault-all lit up in electrifying light.

Cade beneath the Waterfall face in the upper South Wilkin. The two dark spots on the tussock below the slabs are Lydia and Al. The route climbs through the slabs on the far right of the photo and traverses back to the skyline ridge about 1/3 of the way between the waterfall and the upper-right corner of the photo.

Cade beneath the Waterfall face in the upper South Wilkin. The two dark spots on the tussock below the slabs are Lydia and Al. The route climbs through the slabs on the far right of the photo and traverses back to the skyline ridge about 1/3 of the way between the waterfall and the upper-right corner of the photo.

The Waterfall face was still a bit wet, so we took extra care with our footing and handholds, especially when the wind picked up and whipped about as we neared the top-out into the hanging valley head. The valley head boasts a wealth of good campsites but with so much choice nothing was quite right so we continued on to the head of the valley where the ground drops away suddenly to the East Matukituki flats 800m below. We enjoyed a rare clear evening on the tops, admiring the triangle of rock above the precarious hanging glacier on Pickelhaube and its unclimbed east face.

The East Matukituki from our campsite. Pt 2127 and Dragonfly Peak from left to right in the distance. The lower section of Ruth Ridge, which leads up to the Volta Glacier, bisects the valley from the right. 

The East Matukituki from our campsite. Pt 2127 and Dragonfly Peak from left to right in the distance. The lower section of Ruth Ridge, which leads up to the Volta Glacier, bisects the valley from the right. 

The next day was a pleasant day’s travel down the Matuk’, featuring a fine swimming hole and a fire cooked lunch at Ruth Flat under Fortress Fastness. We were tempted to stop the night under the ‘Mountain Tree’ (named after an eponymous poem by pioneering mountaineer Paul Powell) at Junction Flat but the westerly was already getting stroppy, and we wanted to make ground to maximize our chances of capitalizing on the promised ‘weather window’ but getting to Liverpool Hut the next night.

We spend the night in the Tititea Wilderness Education Center- the old Aspiring Station homestead until 1969- where there was a working bee weekend was under way. We had arrived unbidden, though Allan’s mother had some connection with someone in the trust that runs the center, and it took a while for the manager to warm to us but we ended up having a great evening and helping out with wood chopping and stacking for a few hours the next morning to earn our keep. The old hats were in awe of Lydia’s tractor driving skills (she’d recently driven an old Ferguson tractor down the country for her work with the Antarctic Heritage Trust), and were all very taken with her.

Lydzo trudges up the Matukituki road in the rain.

Lydzo trudges up the Matukituki road in the rain.

We met up with Anna Brent  (Al’s mum) and Al- who’d gone ahead to meet her while we worked-at the Matukituki road and here our hopes were dashed. The proffered weather window that had made us so gay the last few days had shrunk to a single day of passable weather. Our planned route to the Olivines via the Arawhata and over Camp Oven Dome required at least three days of decent weather.

We bid Cade farewell in driving rain, and, turning into the rain, trudged up the road to Raspberry Flat.

Godley to Mt Cook - the high point of the traverse

Lydia:

Being typically behind on the blog writing, our last update had us at Godley Hut, after a (mis)adventure filled week coming through the Gardens, down the Perth and over Sealy Pass.

Having spent 14 hours of Christmas Day on the move, we were glad to have Boxing Day at Godley Hut, feasting on trifle and pan forte that our awesome supporters had brought in. We waited out a brief dump of rain for half a day and hit the ‘old dusty’ again, crossing the Godley at a very easy crossing spot just in front of Eade Memorial Hut.

This is a doozy of a hut – a three-bunker that has seen a lot of love, and came complete with crocheted blankets, solar lighting, and complimentary beer! 

We set off early for the Classen Glacier, scrambling around the edge of the terminal lake on relatively steep, loose ground. After taking considerably longer to reach the head of the lake than we had estimated, we checked our location and discovered that the lake had extended a further 1.5km up the valley than the map (published in 2012) indicated. Our shock at the extent of the glacial recession in Mt Cook National Park was to become a recurring theme for the week.

Heading up the Classen. It was a warm climb.

Heading up the Classen. It was a warm climb.

In beautiful weather, we scrambled up the moraine of the Classen, and up a snow slope that headed to the saddle. Allan and Alexis took turns in the ‘Hurt Box’, plugging steps in the knee-deep slush while I staggered along behind. We were met by a sharp wind on the saddle, so paused for a quick lunch in a wind scoop before heading down towards Murchison Hut.

Alexis successfully led the way through a series of crevasses on the descent into the Murchison Glacier, and we made it to the hut in time to have a relaxed afternoon eating copious amounts of food that had been left in the hut.

The next day we headed for Tasman Saddle in murky weather. The Murchison side of the saddle only just went, and we had a lengthy zig-zag ascent to get past some pesky slots. The view from the top was familiar, looking strikingly similar to that of the all the other clagged-in saddles we had crossed.

Tasman Saddle. Or something.

Tasman Saddle. Or something.

We followed a compass bearing down to Tasman Saddle Hut, hoping but not believing that the bluebird forecast for the following day would eventuate. Alas, in the afternoon the sky cleared and the sun came out – a promising prospect for an ascent of Elie de Beaumont the next day.

Beaut weather at Tasman Saddle Hut. Mt Cook (under cloud), Tasman and Minarets in the background.

Beaut weather at Tasman Saddle Hut. Mt Cook (under cloud), Tasman and Minarets in the background.

With a freezing level above 3000m, an alpine start was in order. We set off at 5am headed for the Anna Glacier. A series of large schrunds almost barred our way, but we managed to find a path through the labyrinth via a snow bridge. Unable to ascend via the saddle between Elie and Walter we took a more direct route up the face.

Our progress was slowed as we decided to pitch some of the steeper sections – a conservative decision, but feeling a little out of practice on steep terrain, we thought we'd play it safe. On top, were treated to a spectacular panorama of the Mt Cook region, looking all the way back up towards the Gardens, where we had been a week before. This was my first 3000m peak, and I was struck by the extent of the view, all through country we were very familiar with now.

A little apprehensive about some large overhanging icicles hanging precariously over our route up, we tried slightly different route down. This proved a good lesson for us, to be absolutely sure of the descent route if it’s different to the way we came up. We ended up mucking around preparing an anchor for a rappel over an overhang that may or may not go. It didn’t. So we climbed back up again, traversed a couple of hundred metres and descended by our original route.

Mt Elie de Beaumont. Our route went up the face to the saddle in the centre of the photo. 

Mt Elie de Beaumont. Our route went up the face to the saddle in the centre of the photo. 

As usual, we were carrying our GPS tracker, which was sending out our location every hour. People at home were looking at our dot paused on the side of the mountain for a few more hours than expected. The tracker really is a blessing and a curse – it’s great for people to be able to follow our progress, but at times like these I think it caused a bit of unnecessary anxiety.  

Following our footsteps back through the labyrinth on the Anna glacier, we raced the sunset back towards the hut, reaching it just on nightfall. After a 17 hour day, we gratefully crashed into bed, totally unconscious as the new year clocked over.

We spent New Years day in the hut, waiting out a storm and eating the freshies that the guided group who flew out that day had left for us (cheers!). After a good rest, we were ready to take on the Tasman glacier and get to Mt Cook Village to see friends and family and eat some good food.

The bash down the glacier was pretty straightforward. We had an easy wander down to Darwin’s corner with virtually no plugging required, before walking through endless valleys and crests of ever-changing moraine. Though loose at times, we didn’t find it to be as apocalyptically bad as it had been made out to be. We eventually scrambled up Garbage Gully, our route out of the moraine just near Ball Shelter.

We had a sleepless night in the shelter, being constantly bombarded by a pair of kea, who thought it would be fun to steal everything that we didn’t bring inside. Three pairs of stinky boots in a 3 bed biv doesn’t make for great air quality. I ran outside in the middle of the night to find one of them taking off with a walking pole, dragging it by the strap towards the drop onto the moraine below.

We met Allan’s mum Anna for a cuppa at the Tasman Valley roadend. I think she was a little shocked at how gaunt we had all become, and set about remedying that with plenty of Christmas goodies. She took our packs in her car, and we donned our running shoes (or crocs in Alexis’ case) for the final leg into Mt Cook village. Running along the road felt like flying, and we quickly covered the ground into the village.

Must. Get. To. Buffet.

Must. Get. To. Buffet.

We had timed it perfectly, arriving just as the Hermitage buffet was opening. They seated us in the corner, as far away from the respectable tourists as they could get us. The last shower any of had had was two weeks (and a lot of sweat) ago. We got our money’s worth, each eating multiple plates of fresh food, and of course we had to try every dessert option.

This was our half way point, so we took a few days off to catch up with friends and family over the holidays before we set off south again.

 

 

The Perth Odyssey, Part 2

From Alexis:

Sorry about the long cliff-hanger. You probably thought the show had been decommissioned or gone bust.

When we left you were under the headwalls of the Perth valley in the wee hours of December 22nd, huddling behind a rock with wind howling over our heads, wet and chilled, sipping on lukewarm milo because we’d lost the cooker’s wind-shield to a squall, and another had snuffed out the flame before the water reached the boil.

We’d made a staged retreat from our shredded shelter; rushing around our campsite (which now had a rivulet running through it), picking up armfuls of gear that had been haphazardly thrown under the vestibules, and dumping them in the lee of our sheltering rock.

After the brew, I scratched around in search of a better shelter, moving quickly and instinctively among jumbled boulders. My eyes pried into the dark for larger boulders and dark patches that might indicate a hollow that we could crawl into.  My search soon turned up a damp little grotto formed by two rocks leaning against each other.  Crawling in, I was glad to see a pile of tahr droppings: it would do.

We spent the remainder of the night in this cramped cavern, sitting up in our packliners, Lydia and I side by side with Allan leaning back against our legs. We were too cold to sleep, but not dangerously so. We chatted and joked occasionally, and shivered the night away. 

At the first grainy grey light of dawn we’d had enough and jumped into action. We packed away our waterlogged gear in clumsy haste, stuffing our packs ad hoc, doing our best to tighten our laces with number fingers and shovelling back fistfuls of peanuts.

We were a haggard and miserable-looking bunch: bleared-eyed, tousled and a touch maniacal.

Black-backed gulls soared overhead among chords of rain, looking at once weirdly at home and perfectly out of place. We envied them their waterproof plumage and the ability to fly off to warm and dry climes whenever they fancy. Gazing up, Lydia nearly backed onto one of their nests with three spotted eggs in it.

Birds of the Apocalypse, Lydia calls them. Gulls are common in the mountains in bad weather. They fly inland for shelter from wild weather at sea. Sometimes there are flocks of hundreds of them in river flats. I saw one such gathering in the Young valley once. I like to think of them as conferences or summits that are held to discuss important and urgent matters of concern seabirds of Zealandia and its ocean environs.

The Canterbury-Westland Alps guidebook warns that the going can be “slow and scrubby at times” in the Perth, and gives a range of 7 to 10 hours from the head of the valley to Scone Hut. 7 when the river is low and travel is practicable along the river’s edge, 10 when it is running high.

It took us about 17hrs over the course of two days.  The river was high and wild for the first day, and we wasted a couple of hours doing battle with mixed scrub in a slippery boulder-field when a easier route exists higher-up, but I think it was mostly down to exhaustion that we were so slow. Bush-bashing (or whacking as the Aussies call it) requires feistiness and we were too drained to fight with much verve.

We heard Tarn Creek long before we reached it. Not that we were far from it, but we were doing 500m an hour when the going was good, and the bush was particularly fiendish before the junction. When we did finally see the ‘creek’, it was 5m away down a tangled and sheer bank, and it was more cataract than creek; foaming and roaring as it plunged over big boulders and spewed out into the Perth.  

None of us fancied chancing a crossing, so there was nothing for it but to wait. The rain had mercifully stopped and the sun was intermittently breaking through but there was no open ground nearby so we lay about in the dappled light, removing as many wet clothes as we could without getting too cold and hanging them up all over the surrounding trees. Lydia spent about an hour bent forward, hugging a bush that was partially in the sun. Allan dozed and read in his sunny posse by the river. I was suffering from debilitating chaffage you-know-where, and lay perfectly still with my knees bent up to avoid aggravating the situation. I admit to having pondered the possibility of calling a chopper if my problem got much worse, but rejected the idea partly on the basis that I would never live it down.

The creek did eventually drop enough for us to cross it. I stupidly dropped by pole climbing up the bank on the far side, and it was promptly gobbled by the torrent. Allan left his foldable Ray-Bans hanging on a tree at our rest spot.

We spent another two and a half hours sidling up to a terrace above Teichelmann Creek over an interminable series of side-creeks. It was in one of these side-creeks that we decided to check our position on Lydia’s iPhone and she discovered that all her electronics had drowned during the storm. The list of gear sacrificed to the Perth was growing long and expensive…A tent, an iPhone, a kindle, a powerbank, a trekking pole, Ray-Bans, a Nalgene, a hand-crafted wooden spoon, a windshield, a bunch of tent pegs.  Huey, the Guardians of the Perth, or whatever other foul-tempered gods it we were dealing with were not easily appeased…

When we did finally reach the terrace we were delighted to find some open travel and a network of well-worn deer tracks. We might have been travelling at 2-3km/hr but we felt like we were flying. Alas, the plateau ended and we plunged back into the thick bush down to Teichelmann Creek, which we reached after a short hour-long thrash. It was 8pm and we were still nearly 4km of rough travel to the hut, so we decided to call it a day. There wasn’t any rain forecast till midday the following day, so we pitched our battered tent, patched it up with pack-liners, and, after an uncommonly delicious dehy meal, crawled gratefully into our sodden pits.

We slept like the dead that night, emerging 9 hrs later on the other end of deep sleep with no sense of any time having passed. No stirrings, no dreams: nothing but the pitch-black blankness of perfect sleep.

The river had dropped significantly overnight, so that we could now wend our way over boulders along the bank.  We made good ground this way, occasionally wading in the shallows, ducking behind and under huge boulders, and shooting up into the bush where the riverbank was impassable. There were even a couple of river flats that we gratefully shambled over.

When at last the three-wire reared into view, we were almost taken aback by the sight of it. After days of perfect wilderness, the first sight of ‘civilization’ is always a bit startling. But of course we were also elated that we would soon be at the hut after a rough couple of days.

Scone Hut at last! The hut even had a bottle of pancake mix and 'maple flavoured' syrup. What more could you ask for?

Scone Hut at last! The hut even had a bottle of pancake mix and 'maple flavoured' syrup. What more could you ask for?

I must say I’ve never been happier to see at hut than Scone Hut. We ‘cha-hooed’ like a pack of excited baboons (which is basically what the ‘human animal’ is, when you get down to it) when at last we saw the hut.

Gear exploded out of packs, raining down in a 20m radius. Bodies slumped happily to the ground. We’d reached our home for the next two nights.

Scone Hut is situated immediately downstream of the Scone Creek confluence, in a clearing 50m away from the Perth. A small path leads down through lush grass to a sandy beach on the river’s edge. It’s a delightful place on a sunny day, and you’d never know that only 500m upstream the valley narrows dramatically, the gentle river assumes a menacing character and the bush turns to dense jungle.

Lydia looking glam in the sun by the Perth River. The braces are just for effect. After losing her kindle, she read Antics  and an old New Zealand Geographic cover to cover. Thanks OUTCers! 

Lydia looking glam in the sun by the Perth River. The braces are just for effect. After losing her kindle, she read Antics  and an old New Zealand Geographic cover to cover. Thanks OUTCers! 

We enjoyed a couple of night’s of R&R a Scone Hut before setting back out up the Scone early on Christmas day. A track goes as far as where the old swingbridge was. We’d read that it had been taken out by a storm. When we reached some recently slipped bluffs, and descended over a slurry of rock and trees splintered like matches to cross to the true right we weren’t sure if we were in the right place until we looked back across the river to see the mangled remains of the swingbridge hanging off the bluffs. This is why some old hats call this part of the Southern Alps ‘tiger country’. Everything is big; nothing is stable.

The mangled remains of the bridge over the Scone. Al and Lyd looking unimpressed. 

The mangled remains of the bridge over the Scone. Al and Lyd looking unimpressed. 

We stopped briefly by a beautiful icy tarn below Sealy Pass. Mist swirled around eerily and rocks spooked us as they crashed down off McKinnon Peak and echoed across the lake. The going looked easier on the true left, and I made start that way, but soon scurried back to the others after rockfall boomed out of the cloud above. The true right it was!

Our first glimpse of the upper Scone through parting clouds. McKinnon Peak in the top right. 

Our first glimpse of the upper Scone through parting clouds. McKinnon Peak in the top right. 

True to the theme of most passes on our traverse, Sealy Pass was shrouded in thick cloud, but this broke up as we descended towards the Neish Icefall and we caught glimpses of the Neish peaks now and them. We made short work of the descent to the lower Neish Glacier down a ramp Geoff Spearpoint had told Allan about. It’s an excellent route that links a series of snow patches under broken bluffs. The last section is a little delicate, involving either down-climbing a few meters of weetbix or the grovelling down a gully of loose scree.

Lydia beneath the Neish Icefall.

Lydia beneath the Neish Icefall.

Eating our lunch on a moraine hill where the Godley and Neish glaciers join, we were stunned to see that the Godley no longer calves into the terminal lake but is now about a kilometre away. The lake now has a braided delta of surprisingly fine sand that would make for good camping as long as it didn’t rain!

The day ended with a 700m climb up to the tops to the south-east of the Godley Lake to get past a short sections of cliffs and straight back down to Godley Hut.

We were amazed to come across a small fringe of lateral moraine that ran along the mountain side near the 1600m contour: this must have been the height of the glaciers during the last glacial maximum (14000-23000 years ago). The place must have looked like Patagonia, with vast glaciers studded with pinnacles of rock.

Godley Hut is a stunner of a hut. Built in 1934 and spruced up in 1955, it is packed charm and character and history. And it is, aptly for us, a Christmas green. We spent much of the next day lounging about on mattresses outside, watching high clouds scud past in the nor’west jet stream and drinking too much tea.

Godley Hut.

Godley Hut.

We set off down valley late in the afternoon to meet Lydia’s folks and brother, who were bringing in the food drop for the Godley to Mt Cook section, near Separation Stream. Allan and Lydia were particularly delighted to find that Ingrid and Michael-who had recently had knee surgery and was now limping along with the help of a single crutch had come too.  Another section had come to an end, and we were now a ‘short hop’ (6 days) from Mt Cook village…

But we’ll save that for the next post.  For now, it’s time for us to set off down the Waiau River to Lake Manapouri to kick off the final leg of our trip. One last two-week ‘hop’ through Fiordland and we’ll have completed the traverse. At least that’s the hope. See you in a couple of weeks!

A big shout out to Go Orange, who have provided us with awesome sea-kayaks for the Fiordland lakes. They are truly great folks. 

Mt Cook to Makarora

(photos to come)

Allan:

A week after arriving at a run to the Hermitage buffet, we found ourselves on the move at the village again.  

The weekend had passed for Lyds and I at Wyn Irwin Hut, the CMC's fabulous village base, with friends Michael, Ingrid, Ben, Imy and my dad Dave.  

The initial plan had been to head into the Landsborough, regarded in small circles (importantly including our circle) as New Zealand's Ganges.  But a crossing from Mount Cook to the upper "Landy" is an involved affair.  Attempted seldom and completed less, the crossing over Scissors Peak is exacting, exposed, and requires perfect weather. We didn't have that.

In a decision nicely unfolding over three days and with the independent judgment of all three of us, we heeded another terrible forecast, considered our recent Pearth experience of west coast weather, and also historical experiences in the nearby Karangarua including the much-fabled "Cassel Flat Debacle".  The Landy, our Ganges, would still be there in future, and so it would have to wait.

We therefore timed our departure for a fine day on the Sealy Range behind Mount Cook Village, and a further plan to keep east of the divide in the Dobson and Hopkins valleys initially.  Conveniently, this allowed a lot of sleeping in and faffing around. 

So with a touch a malaise began the steep 1500m climb of Sebastopol Spur.  We began in the weak sun, and completed the climb in howling wind and rain on a very wet and occasionally exposed snowslope.  A sheltered camp gave us a comfortable night, and a high start to the day on the Sealy Range.  Coming was the one 'fine day' forecast over the next 10 days, but by 10 am strong westerly was in, the skies were gun-metal grey, the sun weak, and cloud shredded on the grater that was the Divide in the Scissors/Spence area.  Good decisions made!

A climb of Mt Darby afforded wonderful views of the Cook District north and Dobson valley south.  The view of the Dobson went the whole way out to Lake Ohau: our next few days. We could also see back to Elie de Beaumont.  That was quite literally (if not also figuratively) our trip's high point, an already-cherished recent memory.  The Landsborough peaks also made an appearance not too high out of the west coast clag: these are the subject of (at least some) of my dreams.  

So a summit often is. A place where past and future, memory and ambition, come together. If the climbing is at all interesting, the deliberateness required of each movement and in each moment requires the utmost attention. Acutely, there is no time like the present. 

For me it's hard to think of other types of place that can gather time around them like that. And so in a summer of such rare fine weather, there seemed to be an urgent need to really let these moments soak in. Whereas before the trip and its future-opportunities had felt boundless, it suddenly didn't. It was becoming apparent that with a sense of boundlessness comes a danger of wastefulness. This of course is a non-profound theme that is everywhere these days, and was merely experienced in a new way. 

But on Darby, looking for the first time at my home of Otago, the Island took on finite character. March is close. We've walked past a lot of Capital C Country. It would be waste to do anything but savour these moments.  

Coming off and down on to the Sladden Glacier, the route to Barron Saddle was much easier than we anticipated, but the heavy packs were showing us the ins-and-outs of our fatigue. Soon a short day ended with one of those classic staggers up a slope to an Alpine hut, the kind of small memory everyone who's headed hill-ward knows. 

In such a stagger, searing breath gives way to a pack clattering on a rocky outcrop, a few dazed moments, then one's boots coming immediately off amongst an immensity examined closely for the first time since you last weren't buggered. The angle on the Country will inevitably be different, you'll get to name some stuff you couldn't before, or look upon some of the same things re-sculpted by one's changed relativity to them. There will probably be some dry banter in which a small number of words are loaded to breaking point with meaning (usually satirical), but one's companion will inevitably get it.  Or so one thinks.  A cup of tea is the only thing next, sanctuary is Here, the day's travel is done.

From Barron Saddle, one can say that the travel got less interesting.  Of course, just as in general life when we commonly say we "aren't up to much", this is both true and a rubbish take on life.  The paragraph preceding could be repeated 100-fold: that gooseberry session, those turns on the wind out over the river. Sunset on Hopkins (so much to say there). Rata in flower, clouds about the Solution, that conversation about the hypothetical television show "Pass Punishers". It goes on, but this blog isn't the place.  

Suffice to say here that after Barron Saddle, we got down into the Dobson (a bit of vaunted route) very wet but without incident.  We then walked a very long way, perhaps about 50 kms all up, in the Dobson, Hopkins, and Huxley valleys, passing nights and storms at Kennedy, Le Crens, Elcho and Broderick Huts.  We then skipped up the 600 metre spur to Broderick Hut in cracking time and moderate weather, and then slid down the precipitous 1200 metre valley/spur bash into the Landy at Creswick Flat. We arrived at the New "Bazza's" Hut (formerly Fraser Hut) in under 5 hours from Broddo. Lingering here for a day, perhaps ill-advisedly given the forecast, we ate and read a lot, and also talked a lot about various ethical issues around food production and consumption.  Next day (mostly raining), we smashed out the long haul to the Haast road over Harper and Strutt Bluffs in a single push.  

We had received tidings of a "weather bomb" (that most unintelligent and ridiculous modern term), and so it was with glee that we found a perfectly and recently maintained trapping-track between Golden Point and Harper Flat, bookended with amusing signs that we used it "at our own risk" (greatly amusing the New Zealand lawyer in me). Expecting a serious battle, this track had us between the north side of Harper Bluff and Creswick in well under 4 hours despite short sections of slippery riverbed travel.  We were also over the bluff in perhaps 30 mins on a perfect route. Parties thinking of heading through to the Landy should get into this. Even the Strutt Bluff route, marked and cut around ten years ago, presented few real route-finding difficulties. 

Following all of that, as many will be familiar with, an interminable road of old Landsborough Station days leads the ~12 kms across interminable flats. But it's not so bad when a burger and beer await - let's be honest.  Soon, and in a rare moment of sunshine, dad and Grant appeared.  Chris and dog Roy were back at the car, 1500 metres away at Pleasant Flat.  Still more kind help for our ridiculous endeavour (another thanks to all). We milled about the smoked cheese, got in the car once that was done, and then the rain came down again.  Burgers and beers at Wanaka duly followed.

We'll get back in there once the bomb-threat is defused, perhaps on Monday or Tuesday 23 or 24 January.  

Thanks again to everyone for all of your interest and support.  The interest gives us great heart, and the support has proved essential in the highly practical sense that the whole deal would be impossible without it.  Hoping that the above gives you some idea of wha't going on, or is moderately enjoyable reading anyway.  We'll keep a) on, and b) you posted when possible.   

On behalf of the team

Bests

Gardens/Perth River Epic Part 1

I'm writing on the eve of our return into the whelm of the Southern Alps after a much needed week of R & R. In my case, this consisted in getting clambered on by three adorable niblings, doting over the 4th and most recent arrival, spending alot of ime either reclined, on my arse or close to the ground and eating like 15 year old going through a growth spurt. I found myself mooching around the kitchen less than quarter of an hour after a holiday-season-sized meal , inhaling toast, drinking stone fruit or hoovering weetbix.

It's not as if we've been going hungry on our trip. If anything we've over-catered (helped in part by the temporary loss of the 4th party member). But I weighed myself when I got out and was surprised to find I'd lost 6 kgs over the two months of travel so far. Those who know me well can vouch that I don't carry much of a spare tyre, nor can I boast much of what Lyd's calls a doughnut (try bunching your stomach pudge around your navel with both hands), in everyday life- so I don't know where I kept this spare trammel. But I'd noticed Lydia and Allan thinning out gradually and acquiring the wiry lope and gaunt leather faces of alpine animals and Mark commentED I how lean I looked when he joined us. Lydia's doughnut test has proved a useful yardstick of mass-loss ; we are now down to pretzel-size.

Flippant observations aside, we were interested to observe the weight-loss in spite of our generous rations. It suggests that averaging c. 1000 vertical meters per day and 8hrs of walking is clearly something that our bodies have a hard time sustaining. We've been burning up our fat reserves and converting some surplus muscle mass into energy. After a challenging week between the Rakaia and the Godley valleys, we all started observing a decline in the maximum power output of our muscles. No doubt there is a corresponding increase in our muscular endurance. It is interesting to discover the limitations of our bodies as they adapt and optmise to the rigours of transalpine tramping.

After the short unplanned break in Christchurch in mid-December, we set off back up the Rakaia late afternoon on December 18th. The weather was almost as stroppy as when we'd half-walked, half been blown out of the valley a few days earlier. After leaning into a wall of wind for a couple of hours, admiring the scudding clouds and patches of golden evening light, we put up at Thompsons Hut at Washbourne Creek (the hut is private and belongs to Lake Heron station). On Monday we picked up our food-drop at Reischek and further whittled it down : the initial drop was for 12 days travel to Godley Hut for 4 people, we were now 3 and had a passable forecast that should allow us to complete the section in under 8 days. Reischek hut now boasts a literal bucket-load of food for future stranded/gluttonous parties. Don't get to excited, its mostly dehy and peanuts.

Departing the Rakaia from Glenfalloch Station. Wind speed indicated by Alexis`hair.

Departing the Rakaia from Glenfalloch Station. Wind speed indicated by Alexis`hair.

Lydia re-sprained her ankle on the godawful descent off Mein's Knob to the head of the valley. I felt a surge of dread when I looked back to see her lying face-down for what seemed like a minute before picking herself up, but she soldiered on to Lyell hut with typical pluck. After knocking back some painkillers and taping herself up that evening, she declared herself good to continue.

Approaching Lyell Hut

Approaching Lyell Hut

The following day-December 20th- was an absolute blue-bird day. Rejoicing to find our gaiters stiff from an overnight frost, we struck out at 6am for the head of the valley.We wandered up into the gathering day, gazing up at Ramsay face of Whitcombe, basking pink then golden, at Malcolm lording over the head of the valley and at our intended route-a high traverse from McCoy Col to Rangitata Col under Mt Nicholson. We were uncharacteristically quiet, away with our thoughts, excited and a little apprehensive to have finally reached the first major alpine crossings of the trip. If all went well, we'd be camping above the Garden of Allah that night...

A little parenthesis here. For those who don't inhabit my particular bubble of backblock tramping, there are some places in New Zealand's backcountry that have a mythical and magical aura surrounding them. These are remote places of otherwordly beauty. They excite almost religious passion in a particular breed of tramper. Tales of jouneying to them have overtones of pilgrimages, and reaching them of baptisms of fire and ice. The Olivine ice-plateau is such a place, as is the head of the Landsborough river, and the Garden of Eden and the Garden of Allah ice plateaus. Clearly Pascoe recognised this when he named these places).

We raced up easy snow slopes to McCoy Col. I was nearly out of breath by the time we reached the the top but there was no going any slower with the posopects that lay ahead. We lunched above McCoy Col, gazing down with content at our footprints in the snow below and looking across at our route towards Rangitata Col. 50 meters north of us a small cornice barred the way to easier snow slopes under Mt Nicholson. We whacked in a stake to pitch up a few meters, then were surprised to find ourselves on easy ground that led to the Rangitata Glacier. More easy ground led up to the ridge north of Rangitata Col, which we crossed near the 2200m contour before descending nearly due north towards Malcolm Col. On the way up we paused for a breather between two rock buttresses above Rangitata Col and were greeted by a sucker punch view across the Gardens. And beyond the expanses the ice : jagged row upon ragged row of mountains, receding to a smokey haze, and our first sight of the Cook district peaks.

Lunch on McCoy Col. Cornice on the left and Rangitata Col in the background.

Lunch on McCoy Col. Cornice on the left and Rangitata Col in the background.

The westerly was well up on the forecast 30kph breeze and orographic clouds were pouring over Lambert Col when we reached the Frances firn below the col. The guidebook warns that camp sites we had hoped to reach on the western side of the col are exposed to the westerly, so we waited a while to see if the winds would drop. They didn't. By 7pm our toes were getting cold so we dug out a platform, pitched the tent and wolfed some tuna spud dust. The winds continued through the night, and, though they can't have exceed 50 kph, Allan's Hubba Hubba flapped and buckled enough to keep me awake for most of the night.

Putting up the ill-fated tent on the Frances Glacier

Putting up the ill-fated tent on the Frances Glacier

Wednesday 22nd dawned clear. We fluffled about delaying the discomfort of cold boots, then digging out frozen tent anchors, and didn't get away till 8.30am. After short climb up firm snow we reached Lambert Col. A nippy morning nor'wester greeted us. Beneath us to the west lay the unwordly expanse of the upper Lambert Glacier leading up towards Snowy Peak,Mount Tyndall and Newton Peak. We had intended to climb Newton Peak before dropping to the original Icefall Lookout (Pnt 1634) to sit out a front for a day or two but soon after we reached the Lambert Glacier we were enveloped in cloud and this, the stronger than forecast winds , and the apparent frailty of the Hubba Hubba, called for a change of plans. We needed to get off the heights into the relative shelter of a valley, and the quickest way that still took us across both Gardens was to descend Eve's Rib to the Perth. And as you'll see, subsequent events vindicated our decision.

Our route looking over Lambert Col onto the glacier. Some of the last decent weather we were to see for a while...

Our route looking over Lambert Col onto the glacier. Some of the last decent weather we were to see for a while...

The clouds parted briefly in the upper Lambert, but only briefly. The cloud thickened, the skies above darkened, and by stealth the damp cloud turned to soaking drizzle. We stopped near Icefall Lookout for a short soggy lunch. Rocks and crags loomed out of the cloud as our field of view expanded and contracted again. A moderate snow slope with a short tenuous neck a week away from being cut off led up to Adams Col. The exposure on the col caught usoff guard. Allan stopped to throw an extra layer on but suddenly he was cussing as he wrestled with his gloves. Seeing that he was clearly at risk of exposure, I doubled the pace as we made for Eve's Rib, little more than a kilometer away now.

One of the clearest moments on the Gardens

One of the clearest moments on the Gardens

We made for the northeast of Pnt 2007 but the route down was cut off by a continuous shrund that extended northward. In other circumstances we might have downclimbed or abseiled but we felt we were better off moving so made for Pnt 2007 in the hope of finding a route directly down the ridge. From the top we were relieved to find an easy route down to easy snow slopes below through deep soft snow. By the time we reached the bottom of the snow leads, we'd warmed a bit and the party's spirits were accordlingly on the up.

This upward trend was not to last. The terrain suddenly dropped off at the snow's end and gave way to alternating spurs and gullies of wet weetbix. After two hours of probing, tentative traverses and dashing between 'stable' rocks, we finally reached the garbage filled valley floor. The upper Perth is a forbidding place. Opposite our precipitous descent route, 1000m cliffs rise sheer out of the valley floor. There is no established vegetation, just a sea of loose rubble and a white ribbon of river.

At 9pm we found a small terrace and pitched the tent. The site was far from ideal but with the light fading fast it would have to do. I willed myself to ignore the fingers of dry creeks running off the scree towards our tent site.

As we hungrily chowed a meal of rehydrated mince and bulghur wheat (yum) in our pits a violent squall ripped out a couple of pegs. I jumped out of the pit and ran around making the guy-ropes 'storm ready'. We then turned in for the night, happy to be snug in our sleeping bags after a testing day.

The wind and the rain picked up and shook our little husk with violent gusts. We lay awake, listening for the low hiss of approaching gusts until around 2am Lydia and I found ourselves getting rained on after a particularly strong gust. ''Shit ! The wind must have ripped up the pegs'' Lyd shouted over the din as she sprung up to check the situation. I gripped the tent to support it against the pressure of the wind and gazed up to see a gaping hole in the tent fly. Bugger ! A pole had snapped and had already torn a gash half a meter long. The rain was coming down so hard that it was like being under a shower head. We had no choice but to bail. Al and I stuffed handfuls of gear into the nearest dry bags while Lyd held up the tent outside. I'd taken shelter behind a large boulder to brush my teeth earlier and it was to the lee of this rock that we now made a staged retreat. We took turns to pull on our now damp layers of clothing and rainwear. All was done in a manic rush of adrenaline fuelled efficiency. Afterwards we reflected that it was like bailing from a sinking ship.

But now its to get going again. The hills don't exactly beckon as the forecast is of the now familiar brand of s**t, but as we've come to say multiple times per day ''there's nothing for it''.

So we'll leave you with a cliff hanger. To be continued in about 2 weeks...

 

In Christchurch Briefly

On Wednesday, 14 December, the team crossed the Rakaia between Lauper Biv and Raischeck Hut.  Mark's sore knee, an embarrassing omission of snow stakes at Arthur's Pass, and days of bad weather resulted in a decision to head out to Glenfalloch.  

The previous ten days or so saw us head up a warm Waimakariri after a fantastic gathering of friends and family at Bealy Spur.  Summer Hess and Matt Jones joined us for an slog-ascent of Mt Murchison out of Carrington Hut, and then the team stuck out alone over the Browning/Whitehorn route.  

Wet days in an impressive Wilberforce were followed by a passage of Hokitika Saddle, and we eventually reached the un-paralleled Mungo Hut in bright sunshine.  

Giving penance to the Mungo was as good as any West Coast river bash can be, sandwiched as we were on car sized boulders between a raging river and impenetrable bush.  A slog took us to the aptly named Bluff Hut, which sits alongside the Upper Hokitika Gorge, a fearsome gulch of several hundred metres disappearing up into the clouds. 

The following days took us over Frew Saddle and into the fabled Whitcombe catchment.  Highlights included meeting Dave Elcock, a possumer of 'the four rivers out back of Hoki', who had earlier helped Lyds' dad drop us food at Frew Hut.  Coming to Cave Camp, we weren't really prepared for the sight of Evans rearing up thousands of feet shear from the valley, even if we had already seen the photographs.  The place was worthy of terms used to describe it various passages of mountain lit.  

A half-pie forecast had us on Whicombe Pass and planning to camp on Erewhon Col (atop a high glacier) for a go at Mount Whitcombe.  In the event, we climbed the nearby, slightly lower and more easterly Lauper Peak in a deteriorating NW storm, and were forced to retreat from the Ice.  

We reached the North/Left bank of the Rakaia after a massive evening doing battle with a wet and interminable Lauper Stream, and crossed that river of reputation the next day. I had intended to reproduce diary entries of those days, but certain mothers may not have enjoyed the reading (but seriously, it's all good). 

Today we will go back up to Glenfalloch and have a forecast for the rather Holy Grail Country of the Gardens of Eden and Allah. We can't wait, even if town was getting comfy.  

We go without Mark, a great disappointment for us all, but especially for him.  Mark has made the difficult and commendable decision to get a bad knee right.  Given that ambition is such a huge part of mountaineering, but that those on the outside rarely understand that there are no prizes for getting up stuff, Mark's decision is particularly epic.  Looking forward to his rejoining at Mount Cook.

An administrative note: we have received some worried communications when our InReach tracking does not 'move'.  The first thing to say there is: "thanks". The second is that while we turn the device on daily, it does not always successfully send the signals required for the tracking function.  This is particularly so when there are large hills to our nor'-west.  This will happen a lot in the next while, so while we appreciate it, we ask that no one gets too worried about these things. We are in good hands!

Looking forward to getting back into it, and to catching up from Mount Cook around New Years. In the meantime, a happy and safe Christmas to one and all.  

On behalf of the team, take it easy. ADWB.

A long overdue update

Lydia:

I’m writing this from Christchurch – all is well but we’ve taken an unplanned interlude over the weekend, brought about due to forgotten snow stakes, an injured knee and a terrible forecast. On the bright side, it gives us a chance to feast on salad (and drink lots of beer) before we strike out on a 12-day section between the Rakaia and Godley Valleys.  It also lets us catch up on the neglected blog...

It seems like many moons ago now, but the week between Murchison and Lewis Pass was a real highlight of the traverse so far. Finally ‘Huey on High’ heard our cries for sunshine and delivered a big fat high pressure system over Nelson Lakes National Park. Allan’s mum Anna kindly brought our bikes to Murchison, which made the slog up the Matakitaki Valley into a pleasant cruise. With heavy packs laden with a week’s worth of food, we waved Anna goodbye and set off on foot up to Mole Hut in the Ella Range. We had an excellent traverse along the top of the Ella range, enjoying the novel sensation of sunshine upon our pallid skin. Mt Watson, the high point in the range offers excellent views all the way to Tasman Bay, and put into perspective how far we had walked at that stage.

From the Ella tops, we struck down into a steep bush bash towards the D’Urville Valley floor. After a night in D’Urville Hut, we headed straight up to Moss Pass on the opposite side of the valley, surprising ourselves at the pace at which we can ‘smash out the metres’ these days. Descending from Moss Pass, we rounded a spur and were met with astonishing views of Blue Lake, shining from the valley below with hues of bright sapphire.

Slurping up some of the world's clearest freshwater

Slurping up some of the world's clearest freshwater

After a night at Blue Lake, we set out for a big day crossing three passes - Waiau, Thompson and D’Urville – before descending into the East Matakitaki. It was good to get off the beaten track a bit more, and to get a taste of some of the vertical gain that will become par for the course in the coming sections.

Lake Constance

Lake Constance

We had a ‘rest day’ in the East Matakitaki, meaning we sat around for much of the day, ate lots of food, then set out for an 800m climb to set up camp above bushline ready for a go at Mt Una the following morning. The term 'rest day' is relative...

We had a successful climb of Una, which is the high point of the Spenser Range. The views were once again, exceptional. From there, we headed down, down, down to the St James Walkway, which delivered us to our next food drop (and news catch up) at Lewis Pass.

Thanks very much to Laura and Ingrid for meeting us there and bringing along a few treats (craft beer, smoked salmon and fresh greens!). It was great to have Laura’s company for a night as well as we headed up the Hope River.

The team with Laura at Hope Halfway Shelter, modelling our 'Dorkus' hats

The team with Laura at Hope Halfway Shelter, modelling our 'Dorkus' hats

The section between Lewis and Arthurs Pass was rather wet. All attempts at getting out onto the tops were thwarted, first by rain and then by snow, so we ended up taking a route that stuck to the valleys. On the bright side, this allowed us to have a good soak in hot pools, and get plenty of reading done as we waited for the weather to clear (it didn’t...). 

Hurunui hot pools. A great place to be during a hail storm

Hurunui hot pools. A great place to be during a hail storm

After a few days in town, seeing friends, eating, doing life admin, and in Allan’s case attending a wedding in the North Island, we headed back up to Arthurs Pass, this time with our fourth team member Mark. Lots of friends joined us at Bealy Spur for a final feast before we headed out of civilisation once again up the Waimakariri Valley.

The girls (Summer and Lydia) approaching the summit of Mt Murchison

The girls (Summer and Lydia) approaching the summit of Mt Murchison

Friends Matt and Summer joined us for a climb of Mt Murchison before we bade them farewell – the rule is that you have to keep waving until they’re out of sight...quite a difficult ask in a rocky river flat – and we headed towards Harman and Whitehorn Passes. Crossing the Main Divide twice in one day, we descended into the head of the Wilberforce River and set ourselves up to wait out a heavy rain storm in Urquhart’s Hut. The dirt floor, cedar beams, open fire and stretched canvas bunks gave this hut a real cosy rustic charm – a good place to have a rest day.

Harman Pass

Harman Pass

Crossing the divide once again, we climbed up Hokitika Saddle, and during the descent on the other side we were welcomed into the Tiger Country of the West Coast by huge river boulders, rushing rapids, thick scrub and 100m high washouts. The beautifully renovated Mungo Hut was a well-earned haven from the gnarly rivers. The celebration resulting from the discovery of three cans of Lion Brown in the hut could be heard echoing off the surrounding hills! We’ve been giving each hut we visit a rating out of 10, taking various factors into account, and Mungo has now taken #1 place of the 40+ huts we've visited so far. (i.e. go check it out - it's a beaut!).

The slog up to Hokitika Saddle

The slog up to Hokitika Saddle

Mungo Hut

Mungo Hut

The Mungo River is an impressive torrent that carries a huge volume of water despite its short distance from the divide. Where the Hokitika River meets the Mungo, the thundering foaming water thrashes through the gorge. We found it an impressive sight, even in the relatively dry weather we’d experienced in the area - to see it in flood would be terrifying. We climbed parallel to the Hokitika Gorge, up up up to Bluff Hut, and then over Frew Saddle and down to Frew Hut on the Whitcombe River.

The Mungo

The Mungo

We were glad to find the food drop that my dad had put there a over month ago was still intact, and we had a feast on the leftover rations from the last section (much to Mark’s delight). We were stoked to meet Dave the Possum Trapper at Frew Hut - a man as rugged as the valleys in which he lives, Dave helped Dad get the food up to Frew Hut, and had become a person of legend in our minds after Dad had told us about him. We think Dave probably lives off possum stew and spud dust, so he was mystified as to why we would carry things such as olives, anchovies and Harissa paste in our packs. 

Between Frew and Reischek Huts, we were hoping to take a couple of detours to climb some classic peaks (ie. Evans), and we’d allowed ourselves an extra 8 days of food for such excursions. Alas, the weather was not playing ball, however we did manage to get up Louper Peak just as the clag rolled in. With tails between our legs, we descended the Sale Glacier the way we’d come up. We’d been hoping to get over to Erewhon Col, and have a look at Mt Whitcombe, but at the very least, we’re compiling a great list of places to revisit on future trips! So we bailed down Lauper Stream, and were pleased to get across the Rakaia River before the rain hit. I have to say thanks to the guys for their patience as they helped me make the painfully slow crossing.

Mt Evans as viewed from Cave Camp. Next time...

Mt Evans as viewed from Cave Camp. Next time...

We arrived at Reischek ecstatic at having crossed the river and reached the next food drop. Somewhere along the lines, we realised that we’d left our snow stakes behind, and would have to meet someone at the roadend to get them. With a terrible weather forecast for the coming days, we decided to make the most of the situation and spend a couple of days in town, procuring fresh food and replacing broken gear.

The Reischek food drop. Chaaahoo! (We won't look so happy lugging it up the glacier next week)

The Reischek food drop. Chaaahoo! (We won't look so happy lugging it up the glacier next week)

Today, we head back out there. The final weeks of 2016 will see us head from the Rakaia River to the Godley and on to Mt Cook. If Huey the weatherman is on our side, we’ll go via the Gardens of Allah and Eden, and have a look at more classic mountains as we head down the Tasman Glacier. The superstitious among our group have been scorning Alexis for having the nerve to yell profanities at Huey – we’d like to have him on our side for the next few weeks! Here's hoping. 

A midway message from the Team

On Tuesday, three traversers (Lydia, Allan, and Alexis) arrived in Arthur's Pass to be met by Michael and ferried back to Christchurch. On Sunday,  four traversers (Lydia, Allan, and Alexis, joined at long last by Mark) returned to Arthur's Pass to head into the mountains again.

And between Tuesday and Sunday? Details of the next phase of the trip were ironed out, and the pleasures of civilized society were enjoyed. Gear repaired, maps procured, friends visited, beers consumed, tales recounted...you get the idea.

Action shot: socializing. (photo credit: Summer Hess)

Action shot: socializing. (photo credit: Summer Hess)

In all that logisticking and socializing, there wasn't time to post a complete update to this blog. There was, however, time for a quick message from each team member. So without further ado, here are a few (very few. Apologies in advance for the brevity.) words from the South Island Traverse Team:

Mark is ready for the coming adventure. "I'm looking forward to joining the team."

Lydia tells it like it is. "Morale is high. We've had good weather, we've had bad weather." 

Alexis elaborates. "The trip so far has featured a lot of reading, a lot of hut time. In the next phase, we're looking forward to getting the chance to get up some big country, to (as Allan would say), 'climb some shit.'"

And Allan rounds it off. "Let's rock n roll, bitches."

Lydia, Allan, Alexis, and Mark, ready to head into the mountains again. (photo credit: Summer Hess)

Lydia, Allan, Alexis, and Mark, ready to head into the mountains again. (photo credit: Summer Hess)

And with that, Lydia, Allan, Alexis, and Mark are off for the next stage of their journey.


PS: As usual, this is a story both of the traversers and the team supporting them. For the first few days of this stage, a few supporters were able to come along and join in summiting Murchison...or at least wish them well on their way.

Summer, Lydia, Allan, Alexis, Mark, Matt, and Alicia braving the sandflies for a company shot. (photo credit: Eliza Oldach)

Summer, Lydia, Allan, Alexis, Mark, Matt, and Alicia braving the sandflies for a company shot. (photo credit: Eliza Oldach)

A bedtime story

Lydia:

We've arrived at Arthurs Pass! We'll share a rundown of the past couple of weeks in the coming days, but in the meantime, we wanted to share this story - it was presented to us as a handwritten letter in the Murchison food drop. Our supporters are truly amazing people who have gone well out of their way to help us out...even if that means running into a few problems from time to time. For context, Ingrid drove us up to Golden Bay for the beginning of the trip and joined us for the first few days before heading back to the car.

***

A bedtime story - by Ingrid Hannan

Once upon a time, a young explorer set off on her own. She had just said goodbye to some dear friends, waving and blowing kisses out of the window. Her kind drivers took her about two hours down a long, bumpy road. She silently thanked the heavens she hadn't tried to hitchhike or even bike out of the Cobb - it was that long and far away. Luckily, the sweet and wise Queen Pringle [Karen Pringle who is Alexis and Lydia's first primary school teacher who now lives in Golden Bay] offered her a place to stay the night, seeing as she had no tent and it was well past dark upon arriving into the little hamlet of Takaka. Upon arising after a deep night's beauty rest, our hero enjoyed a great breakfast and was again very kindly offered a ride in the chariot of Queen Pringle to Bainham. It rained and rained. Our hero counted the cars on the road to see if hitching would have been a viable option that Monday morning. Nay. She once again thanked the heavens for the ride. After being dropped near the farm, the explorer thrust those wet boots back on and trudged up the hill to the car. She put the bikes on the back and chucked her sodden gear in the boot, and was ready to hit the road. 

But wait! What's this? She could hardly believe it. The car battery was utterly dead. Not a single dashboard light came on. And for those of you, dear readers, who are skeptical - it was not a problem with the immobilizer - our hero checked out multiple potential solutions here. She said, "Damn. F*ck. Well...damn." And she sat and ate a cookie and thought. There was another car at the trail head, but the owners clearly left days ago, She searched for jumper cables anyway. No luck. 'Okay" she sighed, "I guess I can pop her into neutral and roll down the hill to the farmhouse and ask for a jump." So she took off the handbrake and heaved and pushed and strained. That truck did not want to move. So she got out and looked to see if something was blocking the wheels and lo! she couldn't believe her eyes.

A flat tire.

Like, a really flat tire.

The rim was touching the ground.

"F*ck! Oh seriously!? F*ck f*ck f*ck!" A dead battery and a flat tire on a trail head far from town on a rainy Monday morning. Perfect. She did the only reasonable thing she could do: ate another cookie. She then got out her 1990s-era dumb phone and called the AA. She was two menu options into the digital operator when she heard the ominous beep. That's right, dear readers, her phone died too. She had Prince Allan's phone also! Alas, also totally dead. Her path was becoming increasingly narrow. She thrust those wet boots on again, downed some ibuprofen and cookies, and walked back down the hill.

She knocked on the first farmhouse door. No one home. A bull made threatening noises. She walked on. On the drive she had seen some people planting trees! They were gone. She walked on. A knock on another farmhouse door - no one home. On and on she walked. Once again utterly soaked. Finally, she came upon a man digging a hole (he was near the Bainham town hall) and she asked to use a phone. She went into the farmhouse and was finally able to call the AA. " Why don't you have a spare tire?" the woman on the phone asked. Our hero sighed, remembering it being put aside for the bike rack and loads of gear. "You'll have to buy a new tire. There's a mechanic in Nelson..." The young explorer knew there had to be a tire closer than that! "Plus what would you like me to do?" she asked, trying to keep the tone of exasperation out of her voice, "...buy one and walk with it to my car?" Finally it was agreed that a tow truck should be sent. The young explorer waited with the kind home owners (who turned out to be Americans originally, and they all laughed about how unlikely it would be for Trump to become president...but that's another sad, sad story...).

The tow truck driver arrived! Hooray! He drove her to the Benetron-mobile, gave it a jump, and then struggled to get the big tow truck positioned correctly on that narrow dirt road. He backed the trailer up a hill. The angle was a little too steep. It broke one of his tow truck's tail lights! She silently said "f*ck" a few times. But eventually, finally, the car was loaded and they drove to Takaka and laughed about how unlikely it would be for Trump to become president and the tire was patched and our hero finally hit the road at 6.15pm. She blasted some good tunes, smashed a coffee, marvelled at a totally stunning sunset and drove drove drove until she made it back to her castle and lived happily ever after.

The end.

Off to a good (albeit damp and shaky) start

The team atop The Needle with #1 supporter Ingrid.

The team atop The Needle with #1 supporter Ingrid.

Alexis:

I'm writing from my phone, which is getting on and is increasingly sclerotic and boneheaded, so I'll keep it brief. 

Writing from Murchison, where we spent the night after biking down the Matiri Valley yesterday afternoon in the first fine weather in a week. On wheels with the wind in our backs, we felt like we were flying. More biking today to get us to the Matakitaki road end, but uphill for a for part and in rain and stroppy wind, so it'll be a bit less of a Swiss sound of music idyll. 

The trip is going great so far. Spirits are high, the mood is generally silly, and we are taking real pleasure despite the less than ideal wtx we've been dished up so far. But we checked the wtx maps last night and Lo! It looks like we'll get a few days of sun down around the Spenser range. Before then, some snow down to 1000m and a shiversome s'thly. That's the way that it goes...

The Kahurangi NP is a real treasure. It is the largest continuous area that has been 1080ed since the beginning of the programme in 2007 and the bush and birdlife are among the healthiest I've seen. It is also the most biodiverse NP in the country. Highlights included powelliphanta (the giant carnivorous native snail), Dr Seuss' truffula tree look alike maroon dracophyllum with paper bark (with leaves like a pine apple if you missed the ref), and some majestic ancient matai, rimu and red beech. And don't get me started on the geology....such a cool area. I daresay I've been raving at my companions. 

The Karamea and Matiri valleys follow the fault line that ruptured in the 1929 Murchison earthquake. There are huge slips and lakes that formed as a result of rockfall all along the two valleys. The Matiri in particular is choked with sediment from the quake, and there are standing dead trees scattered all along the valley, drowned in sediment and in the lakes that formed post-quake. 


So earthquakes were very much on our minds as we travelled through landscapes that everywhere bore the scars of that near century old cataclysm. I calculated that we faced around a 1 in 400 chance of the Alpine fault going off during our trip, based on recent papers that calculate a 50% chance of a rupture in the next 50 years. 

So it was more than a little uncanny when we were roused by our rocking bunks a little after midnight on Monday morning. We were in Hurricane hut (a rheumatic old dog box with mildewed mattress and a fire that puts out plenty of smoke but no heat), in the head of the Matiri Valley, c.150km northwest of the epicentre, so the shaking was not particularly violent but we knew from the duration of the shaking that it was a Big One. We were all a bit unnerved. Could it be the Alpine Fault? Wellington? I lay awake and could not banish anxious thoughts of my family and friends in Wellington (particularly my niece for some reason), so we texted Mark on the InReach around 1am to check if all was well. Earthquakes in the bush are uniquely chilling. We are cut off from all news of the outside world, both good and bad (and there's been a bit of news over the last couple of weeks...). But earthquakes send a pulse of energy out in all directions, that reaches even those who have otherwise escaped from the clutch of Big Data. So you lie there, darkness literal and metaphoric, with only the knowledge that somewhere people's lives have been turned upside down and inside out, that scores of people might have died in the moments before the pulse, now dampened to a gentle roll, reached you. 

What a relief to find that the human toll wasn't worse. Material damage is not immaterial, but it is infinitely more replaceable than lives. But how minuscule and transient, and how powerless, we all are. Mere farts, popping and winking in the mortal bath as Fry and Laurie put it in one of their sketches. 

But back to more mundane matters. 

Some stats from the trip this far: 14 days in; circa 200km travelled; 85 hours of walking; 10,000m of vertical gain; and 21 huts, including Lonely Lake, Fenella, Chaffey, Balloon, Stone and McConchies huts which deserve special mention. Lonely Lake is one of Geoff Spearpoint's adoptions and is proudly painted in Otago gold and blue. The tiny interior is immaculate, with simple but thoughtful finishings. There is even a picnic table outside, with a view to reckoned with down Baggoo valley. Fenella hut is named after Fenella Bruce, who died along with two others in 1975 (or 76?), when Three Johns hut was blown off Barron Saddle is a northwest storm. Chaffeys is a hand hewn and milled beaut', first established in 1957 by a local looking for some peace away from the maddening crowds. I could go on...

We had a rare fine day when we were on the Tablelands peneplain above the Cobb and made a daytrip up Mt Arthur. The day dawned clear and cold, and Arthur and the splendorous Twins looked beautiful with a dusting of snow in the steel blue light of the morn. The view over Tasman Bay from the flanks of the mountain are breathtakingly grand and sweeping. A must for all Tasman district residents. 

Reaching the summit of Mt Arthur

Reaching the summit of Mt Arthur

Descending the ridge on Mt Arthur. Tasman Bay in the background.

Descending the ridge on Mt Arthur. Tasman Bay in the background.

The Karamea is a majestic river. It runs deep and tannic brown over pale granite boulders, with countless swimming holes that would have been more inviting had it not been for the rain, which never left us. We had a strange evening in Crow Hut with a guided grump of fly fishers. We had already grown accustomed to having huts to ourselves, and, though we enjoyed it, we were all left exhausted and slightly ruffled by the experience of socialising with people from another world (one of whom was a staunch republican, and this was the eve of the US election). 

After sitting out some particularly bad weather which turned out to be not nearly as bad a forecast (a pattern so far) at Trevor Carter Hut, and making a short hop over Biggs Tops to Stone Hut on the Wangapeka, we made for the Matiri Tops on the only day all week with a forecast that wasn't utterly foreboding (partly cloudy it said: we had sun for about 15mins, and patchy rain, misty tops and cold winds for most of the day). The cloud base did lift in the afternoon so we caught some most impressive views of these remote and often unsung mountains under a brooding and broiling sky. 

The long heralded biblical rains finally came when we were cosily ensconced in McConchies hut. We walked out alongside and in a raging foaming roaring brown torrent that filled the valley wall to wall in many places. We waded more than walked, but we were thrilled by the power of the river and spirits were high as the sun shine upon us for the first time in a week. 

The route down the Matiri Valley required sections of ad lib-ing as the track was under water much of the time.

The route down the Matiri Valley required sections of ad lib-ing as the track was under water much of the time.

And now it's high time we high tailed it. South! 

Catch you all in a couple of weeks! 

Guest Post: Musings from an Enthusiastic Supporter

(Post written by Ingrid Hannan)

Imagine: The wind is blowing so hard you are almost knocked over, the rain has completely soaked every layer of clothing, and you are ever so slightly off course and have to turn around and scramble back up the ridge you just came down. It will be hours before you reach a place to get warm and dry.
Now picture this: There is a warm cup of tea in your hands, the fire is crackling, and the view of mountains and lakes is laid before you. You are in excellent company and the banter is flowing. You can smell food cooking and you are far away from things like traffic, phone calls, and utility bills.

Our excursions in the mountains generally flow between these two types of moments. There are often hours of toil, stress, fatigue, fear. And equally memorable are hours of joy, serenity, inner quiet, laughter, belonging.

Having just emerged from the first few days of the south island traverse with the team, and having experienced with them both of the aforementioned moments, I can tell you: there is no group of humans I know more suited to this lifestyle, this epic journey, this inner and outer challenge.

The team surveys the terrain.

The team surveys the terrain.

Lydia, Allan, and Alexis are completely and utterly in their element. It is a beautiful thing to witness. They skitter across rugged terrain with the surefootedness of goats. They pore over maps, absorbing the names of peaks and rivers and tarns. They joyfully face physical challenge with enthusiasm and grit. In moments of uncertainty, there is not a hint of anxiety or irritation to their conversation. And just as importantly, in times of calm and beauty, they are there, totally present and attentive to the moment.

Three little goats.

Three little goats.

I think it's safe to say that it took a few days for the reality of the enormity of the adventure to really sink in. Up to this point, there was a feeling that it could just be any other weekend excursion. The depth of the undertaking began to emerge in a handful of ways: turning on the satellite communication for the first time and getting a weather report; first baths in mountain lakes and with fire-heated water; receiving the first food drop at Cobb reservoir and exchanging one set of maps for the next.

The first day was a mostly symbolic launch- stepping foot on the northernmost point of the island. The crew was excited and eager for the next day- the real beginning, the start of the march southward. With a short biking section to the Boulder lake trailhead, and about six hours of solid tramping, we made it to the very first hut of the journey. The next day graced us with some sunny weather and a scramble to the top of the poorly named “Needle” just before arriving to the "cozy" (read: tiny dog box) Adelaide tarn hut. Alas, this is where the good weather left us. The next day's clouds and precipitation kept us from the anticipated ridgeline of the dragon's teeth, but we found plenty of adventure in the wet and lush greenery before hopping back up to the much admired Lonely Lake hut. My final day with the gang was our longest and involved lots of cold, wet walking, interrupted by an excellent hot lunch at Fenella hut and a lot of investigating the variety of huts along the Cobb river valley.

The last good glimpse of the dragon's teeth before the rains came...

The last good glimpse of the dragon's teeth before the rains came...

Leaving these fearless adventurers was hard to do. They are such excellent company to be amongst. Quick witted, thoughtful, curious, and kind. They are exactly the kind of folks you'd want around a fire, at a dinner table, on a long tramp in the hills, or by your side when the going gets tough in the alpine landscape. I think they will do a great job supporting and encouraging each other through the literal and figurative ups and downs of this venture. Based on the conversations I was observing and taking part in, I can guess with some confidence that their hearts and minds are in the right place to enable all of them to get the most growth and learning possible out of a journey of this kind. Chat ranged from logistics to food to gear talk. And of course much joking, including a use of abbreviations that is veering towards a new language altogether. But one theme came up quite a bit in these first days- and that is an attempt to fully understand how much their community has given to support them and why.

Many of us have contributed to this undertaking in the form of time, energy, money, interest, gear donations, physical training, and emotional support. The range and depth of assistance is nearly immeasurable. And while there are obviously a whole host of reasons to go with each person's contributions, I've been reflecting on what I think is behind the beauty of these gifts. It's about all of us being inspired by their pursuit of big dreams. It's about all of us reaching in to help these members of our community achieve their highest aims in life. It's about being a part of something bigger than our normal day to day existence. It's about many hands coming together in generosity for Allan, Lydia, Alexis, and Mark, who have each, in their own ways, been kind and supportive and generous to us. It's about taking part in the fun and excitement, cheering on our well-loved explorers.

I'm sure many of us would like to be out there with them in some way or another. I hope that their audacity to make this traverse a reality inspires each of us to tackle our own adventures. Or, at the very least, provide us with a good dose of perspective: when those long multi-day stretches of rain torrent the hills, may we think of them out in the elements, and more deeply appreciate the joyful accessibility of things like wine, music, cozy beds and hot showers.

Back to the basics: evening activities include cooking dinner, making a fire, and reading or writing or talking.

Back to the basics: evening activities include cooking dinner, making a fire, and reading or writing or talking.

I'm grateful for the bit that I've been able to participate in this. I am sure I am not alone in saying, “Good luck, team! Go safely and happily. We'll miss you this summer but look forward to hearing all the tales of adventure. We are all here, ready to offer support and cheer you on.”

Allan, Alexis, and Lydia happily exploring features of the forest.

Allan, Alexis, and Lydia happily exploring features of the forest.

Farewell from Cape Farewell

Alexis:  D-day has arrived! I am writing this from the back seat of the car as we drive over the Takaka hills towards the tip of Golden Bay, our point of departure for our four-month journey.

 We are a day and a half behind our scheduled departure date but given how much we managed to achieve in the last 3-4 days it feels like a feat that we aren’t further behind schedule.

Thanks heaps to Earth Sea Sky for helping us out with clothing. It will never be this pristine again!

Thanks heaps to Earth Sea Sky for helping us out with clothing. It will never be this pristine again!

Today marks the end of the long slow preparation and the beginning of the long, slow womble. The seed was sown in early January, when I caught up with Mark and Allan at Lake Aviemore. I had just returned from a challenging year living abroad and needed something exciting to sink my teeth into. The idea of doing a Southern Alps traverse had been floating around since early days at uni; inspired, for me, by tales from the 1978 traverse that friends of my father had done (he injured himself training for it and sadly could not participate). 

As we lounged about on the shores of the Aviemore, I pitched the idea to the two of them. As it turned out, Allan had been thinking along the same lines, and Mark was immediately on board.

 We decided early that we wanted a fourth member, and ideally a woman, to balance out the team. Neither Allan nor I had done much tramping with Lydia before the start of the year, but after a couple of great trips in the first half of the year, we knew we had an ideal candidate.  She was dead keen, in her typical nonchalant way. So we had a team.

 That was May. Then followed many months of planning. We decided early on that we wanted to walk the whole length of the island, from the NW extremity to Puysegur Point at the bottom. The magnitude of the undertaking started to sink in as we poured over guide books to plan our routes, and started compiling it all together: we reckoned we’d need around 4 months to pull it off.

 Until a couple of months ago we continued living our everyday lives, deferring making a start on the mountain (forgive me) of work we needed to get through before leaving. As November drew closer, I started experiencing moments of panic with increasing frequency.

A portion of the four months' worth of food we've prepared.

A portion of the four months' worth of food we've prepared.

Supporter Michael helping to prepare muesli in a 90 litre tub

Supporter Michael helping to prepare muesli in a 90 litre tub

Enjoying some final luxuries. Thanks to supporter Ingrid (#) who has been amazingly helpful over the past few weeks of preparation.

Enjoying some final luxuries. Thanks to supporter Ingrid (#) who has been amazingly helpful over the past few weeks of preparation.

And this is only three quarters of it!

And this is only three quarters of it!

Celebrating the $1k food shop. (Note: the plastic water bottle in Alexis' hand was soon to become a useful oil-carrying vessel)

Celebrating the $1k food shop. (Note: the plastic water bottle in Alexis' hand was soon to become a useful oil-carrying vessel)

 

[Allan here now, taking over as the others catch a quick cup of tea with an old teacher in Golden Bay.]

 Here we were.  At Golden Bay.  It was nine months on.  And a dream was just becoming reality. 

 As we crossed the T-Hill into the Bay, the worries started to drop away as they always do there.  A “cha-hoo” inducing to bike ride to Upper Takaka followed, and then came that most special of drives bearing due north towards an open horizon.  Today it was spring, a time I’ve never seen the place, but the familiar and clearly-maritime clouds filled out the skies.  As ever, my thought was that those can only be over the Bay.  The bay at the other end of the Island I will always call my home.  The experience of flopping down this road has always seemed to me like the Island’s way of bidding a long slow goodbye to those, and particularly those lovers of our Island, who venture out into the world.  Talking heads was our soundtrack.  Cape Farewell was coming.  We had a plan, but I guess in reality we’d make it up from there.  Here we were at Golden Bay.

Small bike sections save us many hours of walking along the road.

Small bike sections save us many hours of walking along the road.

 In other forums and in due course we’ll record our prep in detail.  Here for me it’s enough to say that it was as involved as enjoyable.  It’s now been about a fortnight of five or six hour sleeps at the outside.  We organised eleven or so drops of material in meticulous Belton style, we placed two of the drops up serious valleys.  We each did about half a year’s life admin – probably – although doubtless the odd phone call has gone missing.  And we hosted several killer social evenings at HQ in Christchurch. 

 One interesting dimension of the exercise that stood out has been balancing thoroughness and drawing a line at which to say ‘whatever’. There’s little doubt that sound prep will minimise issues in the field, but there’s equally no doubt that we’ll be in for a serious humbling at the hands of the Hills, come what may.  This has got to imply a limit in the utility of fastidious prep, and I’m looking forward to discovering something about those limits.

 It’s a privilege to be here.  Not only for the opportunity to get to know the landscapes we’ll soon be getting into.  Not for a host of other reasons.  Those things matter, but the biggest of our very big privileges is in having ‘been allowed’ to check-out from the noise and clutter of a normal life with the blessing of those close to us, beholden as we are in entirely reasonable ways to them. 

 That others want a good experience for us and express that in their actions is, to me, almost everything.  Those people know who they are, and here again it’s time to say “Thanks”.  You’ll be walking with me, at least.

In matters less existential, the next few days will take us to Boulder Lake, the Dragons’ Teeth, Drunken Sailor and on to the Cobb.  But for today, we touched the Tasman Sea at Cape Farewell, biked to Bainham, and hit the Mussel Inn.  Here we were at the other end of the Island we love.  Here we were at Golden Bay.

It's all downhill from here, right?

It's all downhill from here, right?