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.
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.
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 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...).
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.