(photos to come)
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