Sunday, November 30, 2008

Taramakau to Hawdon

It was 5 o'clock on a Friday. Sitting on the couch I was thinking about heading to the Wobbly for a beer. From the couch I could just see the false summit of Mt Cassidy, paste on the pastel blue sky. I was too tired from too many late nights, but geez I didn't want to be one of those outdoor instructors who lost their passion for the outdoors after all of two weeks in the job!

It was 6 o'clock on a Friday, Mum and Dad dropped me off at Aickens, the nothing town where the Otira meets the Taramakau. Its a Bermuda triangle of braided river, gorse and farm history. I only remembered enough about this place to remember it was a pain in the arse. This time though it was kind, the river crossings aligned to the track marker on the far bank. The rough shelter was still there and the forgotten forest grotto where springs emerge from the mountain crystal clear, I remember these places now.

Up the Taramakau towards Harpers Pass, where my ancestors used to cross barefoot in a hurry. Hungry for the food and resources of the Tasman Sea. There have been other interesting journeys here to. Grant Hunter covers most of them in his book. More recently my friends Joe and Tim decided it would be a good idea to haul a Duo (a very heavy plastic whitewater tandem) over here and paddle it down the Hurunui to the sea, and even more recently well-known outdoors personalities Steve Moffet and Steve Gurney did the same, be it in a more Mark Twain fashion. Both these later attempts were honouring an early crossing of the pass by as Tim says, some "hard bastards", the Park Brothers.

It would have been prudent to hurry up the valley, but it felt so great to be back in the mountains. I was finding everything beautiful; the lone hare scampering across the wide riverbed, the young gorse against the rich red lichen. The mountains appeared in turn; Pfeiffer, which Penny and I climbed years ago, and then Franklin as I crossed the heavy blue Otehake. A sprite bottle, washed up, gave me the extra vessel I had regreted not bringing. Pairs of paradise ducks headed downriver on dusk (why?). My mate Aaron is always stoked by Paradise ducks, he thinks their call sounds like “fuck me”, “fuck me”, over and over. I've never heard it myself, but still when I see a lumbering, hoary, honking duck I think of Aaron.

I reached the turn-off to Townsend Hut as darkness fell. The sign was half buried by a regenerating alluvial fan. The track was straight up the creek bed to start with, then up the windfall. Sometimes you just want to push fast forward, but then you settle into your work and start enjoying it. I quickly learnt that my brute strength was lacking, 45 minutes up the hill I was borderline hypoglycemic and the end was nowhere in sight. Glowworms kept me company for a while then the first milestone came when I started noticing dracophyllum leaves on the track (and slipping on them). These weren't the longifolium (or turpentine scrub) variety but one of those Dr Suess like specimens. The next milestone came when the track levelled off and the stars came out. It only remained to track the snow poles to the hut through long tussock.

I had been half hoping for some company and conversation, but the hut was empty. The last party had come through in June. I fed myself with cabin bread and cheese and amused myself by reading the hut books. Townsend hut is one of those huts that only a small group of people come to, if you've been around for a while in the New Zealand bush the names are familiar. There are your friends, your acquaintances and the people you know of. Then there are those tramping "celebrities": Geoff Spearpoint, John Rhodes, Shaun Barnett, Pat Barrett et al. You're doing well to beat them to a hut. At times theres nostalgia also, couples you know that have split, people that have died. Hut books give a quick fix of history.

The next morning the weather was clagging in from the north. I was heading south all day so figured things would only get better. The climb up Mt Koeti was straight forward, sidling gently across tussocky basins and curving up an easy ridge. The view from the top was minimalist. Upended cairns the only evidence of more extravagant times.

Snow slopes favoured me as I headed southish on a compass, sidling beneath dubious outcrops on the ridge. While the golden rule of tops travel is "stick to the ridge", sometimes a calculated sidle may be faster. Further along a lovely fault line saved me more climb as I headed towards Rover Saddle.

I sat down for breakfast and a moulting chamois wandered past below me. I have never seen such a cat in the hat like creature. It bounded, oddly inefficient, in circles through the snow. Staring at me quizically, completly absurd, just like this animation.

After Rover Saddle I thought point 1751 was going to take some time, its jagged ridge looks broken and chossy, but the southern side had just the right amount of snow for a quick steep sidle, and before I knew it I was on the low peak of Scarface looking down at Lake Minchin. Lake Minchin has always held some sort of cryptic appeal to me. I don't know whether it was the unusual name, or a great photo in one of the mountain books we had growing up. Either way I had never seen it before and it was great to look down on it from up high.

The ridge along Scarface is fun. Just a scramble with the odd steeper bit on relatively good rock (relative starting from a very low standard). From here you can see the Poulter sweeping away to the south-east, now a nice mountain bike ride, as DOC look at ways to bring mountain bikes into National Parks. I descended Scarface direct to Worsley Biv, a nice A-Frame shelter named in honour of one of New Zealands greatest navigators, Frank Worsley, best known for his role in Shackletons Antarctic Expeditions. The plan had been to head over Trudge Col, the established route to the Hawdon, but from reading the hut book, this sounded far too slow, and I wanted to have a look at Mt Valiant. Heading up Trudge Stream I headed left, climbing above and then into a side creek that drains a large slip shown on the topo map. The route proved clear and provided easy access to the tops.

I avoided the final broken ridge of Mt Valiant by sidling slow and climbing snow and screes up the north-western side. The view was worth it. All sorts of peaks and ridges from the Nelson Lakes to the Rakaia and the Paparoas.

An easy descent down snow slopes and scree saw me enconsed for a long sleep at the new East Hawdon Biv. Left only with an easy wander out to the Hawdon Road end for an arranged midday pick-up by Mum and Dad. Better than sitting on the couch I reckon.


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Jamie,
A very enjoyable read and such a great mixture of the facts and more important what is going on for you and how much you love and enjoy the mountains. I can relate.
I reckon being in a hut, the days journey done, and trawling through the hut books going back many a year is just such a great experience. We tend not to get too many "stars" in the Ruahines, but certainly a handful of names it is always cool to see written in them. It brings such a depth and history to the mountains.
Have a great day.

Jamie said...

Hey Robb,

yeah I love hut books, probably more important than dinner I reckon!

its great to be back in the NZ backcountry.