Friday, June 30, 2006

Waste deep snow

This excellent news item originally said "Three trampers had to be airlifted from the Tararua Ranges after waste
deep snow concealed their path."

Sadly they spotted and fixed the typo, which makes for a far less amusing story.

It's good to see the cops remaining such good sports about the odd search and rescue, my blood runs cold at the thought of New Zild adopting systems that some other countries have such as no insurance: no rescue

Tramping in winter? "Bloody good fun"

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Lewis Pass Valleys

Another long overdue trip report from October 2005

Andrew flew in from Wellie
Barry has moved from orkland to Christchurch
Mark has moved from Melbourne to Rangiora

Friday morning and we're off to Lewis Pass, a stop in Culverden unearthed a cafe none of us had been to before, appalling service but excellent butter chicken pie thank you very much. Barry and Andrew discovered they've left plates, mugs and spoons behind, so do a quick recce and arrive back with 10 disposable plates and two Arcaroc mugs -nice- They only have time for a coffee and muffin and remain gutted about our menu choices for the rest of the day.

After leaving a car at the steerdalkers lodge we leave from Windy point and walking up the Hope River track. Much nicer than I remembered, there are obviously less cattle in here these days.

The weather turns out to be less than ideal, still the snow is light and dry. It's very cold, especially at night.

The team are incredulous at the weight of my pack. I explain that I'm grossly unfit, they're all on a training trip for Dragons Teeth in a couple of weekends time. However I'm always warm and find I have everything I need.

I can wear shoes 'cos i have a light load, and this proves to be a good tactic. Light and fast. Even though we have to ford two major rivers and cross two snow covered passes my feet are warm in wool socks as long as we're moving.

The walk up the Hope and then up to St Jacobs hut is uneventful apart from rain then snow for the last half hour or so. St Jacobs is a nice little hut and before long the primus cranked up and hot drinks all round got the conversation going again. My new Titanium spork made it's first appearance, much to the delight of the gear heads amongst us.

A chilly start to the next morning as we plod up the flats and then turn up Pussy Stream. The bottom of the track has been wiped out, but the way ahead is reasonably obvious. The snow got deeper as we neared the bushline, Lake Man bivvy was now only an hour or so away.

After lunch we set off down to the Doubtful River in steady rain. Three trampers toiling up in the other direction surprised us, one of my workmates amongst them. They purported to be intending to camp but the conditions weren't great for that sort of carry on.

The weather began to clear just as we reached the flats. Cloud lifted to reveal an even coating of snow above the bushline and a sprinkling down to 1000m or so. It was now a short hike up to Doubtless Hut, which is beginning to look and feel a little bit run down these days. I was delighted to see that my friend Chucky had been there doing kiwi surveys a year or two beforehand.

There is no route marked on my 1:50,000 map of Lewis Pass between Doubtful Hut and Devilskin Saddle. So it was a pleasant surprise to find not a thin route but a well marked track all the way to the bushline. Deep snow again slowed us down over the saddle and down to Devils Den. The bivvy's at Lewis Pass are really well sited and it's pleasure to loiter awhile.

A low blood sugar experience makes me resolve to more forcefully state my need to eat in future. I should know by now.

Down we plunge to the new Nina Hut with only one person in residence. The hut looks nice and warm but is proving to be pretty popular since it's installation. I might come back when Ngaire can walk a couple of hours at a time.

The Nina is always beautiful at any time of year.
I like to throttle back and just enjoy the last couple of hours of any multi day tramp. An easy well marked track means that watching the trail isn't so critical and your thoughts can roam at will.

Pause a while on the swing bridge and watch a couple of fat trout in the pool below
Breathe the leaf mould and fresh river smell
Stir up some leaves for the robins
Hear the sounds of wind and water

Monday, June 19, 2006

Retail therapy?

The issue with being a gear nut: a good sale is just too hard to resist.

When the outlaws turned up on Saturday to announce they'd just bought a new sleeping bag at the fairydown clearance sale, my interest was immediately captured. Matt bought a Fairydown Scorpion for only $350, which is a massive bargain.

Like some weird gravitational pull Hornby mall slowly and irresistibly exerted it's influence on me. By Sunday afternoon it was impossible to ignore.

My intimate knowledge of gear cattledogs enabled me to walk straight towards the sleeping bag bin.
As though in a trance I grabbed the item I was after, a Superlight Dryloft sleeping bag.
My God: only $318, full price is $700

I made sure I didn't look left or right, just high tailed it to the cash register and got out of there.

It was a close escape, out of the corner of my eye I could see a good looking down jacket, just right for these frigid times at 43 degrees south. But I made it to the door, steely resolve prevailed and I didn't look back.

Phew, it was freezing outside. My head cleared immediately and the drive home with a jet black sky behind calmed me, Pacific Heights on the CD player drilling out an urban bassline to herald the approaching winter squall.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Temple to Ahuriri - ANZAC weekend 2006

ANZaC weekend. 10 pm, Saturday.
Andrew is in from Wellington and we're at Mark's place in Rangiora.

The weather forecast for the entire South Island is crap.
What to do
Where to go

Up in the morning and check out the websites. Again no satisfactory results.
Kaikoura's are out
Arthurs Pass is out
Ohau can get passable weather when the rest of the Southern Alps are getting shite.
Okay settled, we're off

"Can we detour back into town and I'll pick up some maps?" says I
"It's okay, we'll buy a map in Twizel"
Little do we realise this statement is to set the tone for the entire trip.

Incredibly the hunting and fishing shop in Twizel is open. Unsurprisingly it does not have the map we need. No worries though, Andrew has done this trip only a few months beforehand.

As we turn off highway 8 into the Ohau road Andrew has a flash of recollection, "hey guys, I've just remembered it took us four days to do this trip last time. It's okay though, they were pretty cruisy days."

At this point we have two and a half days at our disposal.

Incredibly, we carry on. Up the familiar road, turn off at the Temple carpark, into our gear and off. The first river crossing is about 2 minutes after leaving the car. 1 hour 50 later the second river crossing is a stones throw from the hut. We're racing along, it feels good to be in the hills again.

After a meusli bar at South Temple Hut we're off again, up and sidling the gorge and then into the flats above the bushline. We camp under Mt Maitland by torchlight, Damn it's cold. The realisation that always hits me that those thousands of stars glittering above us are always there, that the light pollution and smog of Christchurch are hiding such treasure.

Barry's borrowed Olympus turns out to be a very old one, with a door at only one end. Owing to the lumpy nature of our campsite Mark ends up sleeping half out of the tent and I am curled around a large tussock all night. Note to self: encourage Barry to buy a new Olympus, they're significantly bigger.

Feeling vaguely refreshed we are up and away at 7.30. We rapidly climb up to the tarn just under Mt Maitland. The sun hits us and breakfast is a pleasure. I hate choking meusli down in the cold grey of pre dawn. A brew of coffee once again proves the worth of the titanium flamethrower.

As we stand on the col overlooking Watson stream Andrew announces "I'm pretty sure there's a short cut over that col over there"

Incredibly, we agree to check it out. Time is precious today, we have to make it to the campsite under Mt Huxley tonight if Andrew is to catch his plane on Monday night. The alternative would be unthinkable: we retrace our steps to make it out on time.

The col is merely a shortcut into the main tributary of Watson stream. No worries though, we can see another col that should overlook the Ahuriri. It's a long sidle, and it's lunchtime when we make it into the head basin of Watson stream. At my insistance we stop for lunch. After many occasions of running my blood sugar down and getting exhausted and grumpy I've learnt that I need to stop for lunch. What a beautiful place, I wish i could linger here for a day.

The col does indeed overlook the Ahuriri, and further sidling is blocked by a large gut. So it's down a thousand metres or so into the valley. We step out of the bush at the back door of Top Hut.

"I've just remembered something" says Andrew, "last time we were here we spoke to a guy who said he was going into Watson stream from behind the hut"
Nice to know we were in the right place. It started to rain about his point, which isn't too bad considering the forecast. We stormed off towards the head of the valley, darkness drawing near.

By 7.30 we're govelling around on very steep snowgrass, clearly off route. It's raining, very cold, and we only have two headlamps between three of us. With some releif we decide to call it quits and camp on the flat below. A sandy campsite warns of flooding, but we're too tuckered out to care. Mark's a trooper, cooking diner while andrew and I snooze in our sleeping bags. We're woken several times in the night by horrendous rockfalls on the slopes opposite us (presumably not called Chosspile Peaks for nothing). Despite there being no evidence of rockfall around our campsite it still sounds mighty close!

As we're packing up in the morning I notice a flash of orange
"hey, I haven't seen that sleeping bag before - is that new?"
That defensive tone is rising again "No, I've had it for ages"
"Since christmas, when I forgot to bring my sleeping bag down and had to buy a new one"
It's alright for some, think I'll make do with my 1981 Fairydown Lightweight for the time being.

Up and away at 7, it takes us half an hour to gain the campsite we were headed for last night. Andrew was right, it is a beautiful campsite, It doesn't matter much when it's dark when you hit the sack and dark when you leave again though. I resolve to return in fine weather with plenty of time to spare.

We race up to the col back into the South Temple and are on top by 9.

Now the pressure is really on Andrew. Visiblity is about 50m, horizontal freezing rain, there's 4 inches of snow on the ground.
Are we in the right place?
"Er, I think it's here" Says Andrew. Without a map the compass is useless. Over the edge we go.

It's steep, very steep. The snow appears to be making the slabby scree a bit less poxy than it otherwise would have been. Because we can't see more than 50m everything seems fearsome. We traverse for a while and then a sudden break in the mist reveals a clear route to the bottom of the valley. Phew brilliant

There is still a ways to go, it's about a 7 km walk down to South Temple Hut, but we've cracked it. A leasurely lunch including soup and coffee at the hut and the final 1 hour 50 to the carpark round off what -incredibly- turns out to be the perfect trip.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Griffin Creek Hut

(originally published at Fuelfools, 28 February 2006)

Away in the hills at last

At last I've got away into the hills.Away at the crack of 8am Barry and I did the now familiar trip across the great gravelly plain of the Waimakariri. We met Mark in Springfield, left his car at Claire and Jim's house and continued on to a layby through a rickety gate next to the Taipo.

A short roadbash of a couple of km's and then up Harrington Creek for the 800m grunt up to the scrubline. The track was thin in places but that set the standard for the enire trip.

There's a drought going on right now on the West Coast, all weekend we crunched rata leaves underfoot. A curious sound for west Coast trips. Nearing the top we surprised ourselves by catching up to a couple also sweating their way up the hill. They seemed particularly interested in how far we were from the top.

Barry's GPS didn't seem to want to talk to more than one satellite, I have no time for the things myself. I go to the hills to rely on my skill and instinct, not to depend on the trappings of technology that pervade my life, my profession makes sure of that. I assured them they were nearly at the top, but strangely we never saw them again.

If you weren't paying attention it would be easy to miss the turn off to Griffin Creek, maybe they got waylaid on the tops. The turn off is right on the scrubline so a quick detour is in order to get a view from a nearby knob. Ah, the view down the Taramakau is grand. The ocean looks inviting as there's no water up here to drink, unless you count the scoty old water barrel at the turn off.

As we started down a karearea Falco novaeseelandiae silently assumed position on a dead spar above us. And then a plunge down to the cool clear sparkling Griffin creek. Water, the best beveridge of all.

Pohangina Pete takes a way better Whio photo than I ever could, so we were content to just sit and watch a pair of them glide through the rapids. A little further up the river and this time three whio hopped up on a rock and watched us. Five in one trip is not a bad talley at all.

"I thought" Mark said "that blue ducks were supposed to be rare. How come we see them every time we go tramping?""Ah that's because we go places that other people rarely visit" I replied.

Griffin Creek hut is an easy boulder hop upstream, a standard four bunk forest service hut that has been adopted, strangely, by hippies at some point recently. Dream catchers hang by the window, an inflatable kiwi (!) sits on the bench and various hippy musings fill the hut book.Sadly the hut book is only a couple of years old, a victim of that curious DoC policy of removing old hut books from their home of origin. I believe that their own hut is the best archive of all. The last visitors were three months ago.

The new Titanium gas stove ran like a dream. It's a 9000 BTU flamethrower i got from Bryan Dudley and it's a doozy. Because of my gross lack of fitness (pathetically) attributable to selling houses and owning a small child, I've adopted a lightweight tramping regime to be able to get away with it. My base pack weight is down to about 4.5 kg, with a weekend worth of food that's still way below the 10kg+ I'd usually carry. And what a differance it makes! Shoes instead of boots, a daybag size instead of a large sac. Many breaks I wouldn't bother to take my pack off, it's weight seems insignificant.

Mark had a bottle of Brew Moon lager, chilled in the Creek it made a superb apertif before a big feed of pasta and an early night.

Up and away at the crack of 9 the next day, so much for going to Scotty's biv (my orginal intention) and back down the track to the turn off to Rocky Creek. Again a thin trail, but not to hard to follow all the same. We seemed to fairly skip down to Rocky Creek Hut, and then we lunched in the river bed just downstream. Follow the river down till multiple permolats on two trees signal the start of the track and then away and out to the Taipo again. Cross the Taipo and up to the car, easy.

Soon we're gliding along at 100km/h, effortlessly climbing the Otira gorge to Arthur's Pass for an ice cream. After another perfect weekend in the hills, the smell of a hot day fills the air at springfield. Lactic legs, a head full of green, birds and rushing water.

Making a break for it

To dissociate myself completely from "The Firm" and provide a more focussed outlet I've decided to go it alone at 43° South.

So long pardners, and thanks for all the fish.

To kick start things at 43° South I'll copy a few posts from FuelFools.

Next there will be some template work and a long overdue post about the Anzac weekend tramp at Ohau that could very nearly have been a complete fiasco but turned out brilliantly.

Stay tuned, I promise to post at least weekly from now on.
Thanks for coming