From the June 2012 issue of biv/mail, issue 28.
It’s not easy trying to make sense of ‘normality’. After a month spent hiking and climbing in remote corners of the Southern Alps, things like flushing toilets, endless food choices, clean clothes and armpits, and so much space indoors all feel rather overwhelming.
The Backyard and Beyond team of Jamie Vinton-Boot, Shelley Hersey, Troy Mattingley and myself spent January biking, trekking and climbing from Christchurch to just north of Haast. This was part of a plan to seek and promote outdoor adventure in New Zealand. And now, settled back into our daily routines again in Christchurch, we have time to reflect on the epic journey.
Starting on 27th December, we biked nearly 200 km in three days from Christchurch, across the Canterbury Plains, to Erewhon Station near the head of the Rangitata River. From there we started hiking up the Havelock Valley and managed to locate an exciting version of Twilight Col in a whiteout. There appears to be a discrepancy on different maps as to the actual location of the Col, but our version worked out fine thanks to Jamie’s route-finding ability.
After dropping into the Godley Valley, we climbed again above Godley Glacier, camping near Trident Tarn for an attempt on Mt D’Archiac that didn’t happen. We hardly even saw the summit. Deteriorating weather chased us back downvalley and up over Armadillo Saddle into the Murchison Valley. Traversing a terrace on the western side of the Liebig Range proved challenging in the rain, but we still squeezed in a first ascent of Mt Conrad’s West Face in a five hour weather window.
12 days after leaving Erewhon Station we reached Mount Cook Village, just before the worst storm of summer hit. Half a metre of snow fell on our proposed route over the Mt Scissors slabs into the head of the Landsborough Valley.
After waiting for six long days at the New Zealand Alpine Club’s Unwin Hut (thanks heaps to wardens Chas and Katrina for putting up with our morose pacing) we changed plans and plugged over a snowed-up Jamieson Saddle into the Dobson Valley. Usually a doddle, new snow meant the Jamieson required two attempts to cross. Not wanting to repeat the drama, we avoided Tragedy Col, instead walking around 35 km in a day down the long, long Dobson, and then round into the start of the Hopkins Valley. By now, the weather window had squeezed shut, with gale force northwest winds buffeting us during travel up to Huxley Forks Hut, and then heavy rain and rising river levels before Brodrick Hut. Our satellite phone had died days earlier, meaning the end to weather forecasts.
Yet the following day we still managed to push over Brodrick Pass and into the Landsborough Valley. Smiles returned as we felt the journey was, finally, back on track. The smiles widened after crossing the Landsborough River and discovering our food stash (thanks heaps to Becky and DOC) just above Pass Creek. We celebrated by taking a rest day and eating as much as we could. It rained again.
Reaching the Upper Otoko Pass proved considerably more challenging than expected, due to a 70 degree rock gut with the stability of kitty litter, and to look over into the head of the Otoko Valley was a huge relief. After another rest day, Jamie and Shelley set out to climb the steep and rather loose rock band of Mt Hooker’s North Face, linking up with the North East Ridge route a few hundred metres from the summit. Due to the length of the face and the amount of time it would take, only two of the team were able to attempt the face.
This was a significant ascent, being how the face had seen a number of previous attempts, and Jamie said it was ‘some of the hardest and worst climbing of my life’. Jamie and Shelley described simul-climbing the crux because there were no suitable belay points. After hearing the two of them talk of loose rock and no protection, Troy and I were secretly relieved not to have gone also.
That night the rain set in again, and followed us down through the thick forest of the Otoko Valley. Yet, surprisingly, the last day was possibly the best weather of the trip and, 12 days after leaving Mount Cook Village, we arrived at Paringa on the West Coast (thanks heaps to Cornelia for picking us up and Alice for meeting us at Franz Josef).
During the 32 day journey, the weather was never settled for very long. In hindsight, we were probably pretty lucky to complete the traverse, not to mention climbing two first ascents. But, we would agree that the experience was so much more than the climbing. The skills of each member made us that much stronger as a team. And the varied environment we travelled through—especially Trident Tarn in the head of the Godley, the Landsborough and the Otoko—were absolute highlights. These are remote gems tucked away in the expansive Southern Alps, and we felt privileged to be able to explore them.
Now we are in the process of making a short documentary of our experience, and hope to be able to screen it later in the year.
Backyard and Beyond would like to thank Sport New Zealand, Bivouac Outdoor, Cactus Equipment, The Roxx Climbing Centre and The New Zealand Alpine Club. Without their assistance, we couldn’t have completed the trip. [Ed: a pile of photos below]
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