Tuesday, January 20, 2009


We still laugh about it, Mt Fuji on hangovers. The evening after the World orienteering champs banquet 2005. The day had been 45 degrees, five of us in a small car faithfully following the gps and stopping regularly to try and find food that didn't involve some sort of bean curd (harder than you might suspect). We had been in sensory deprivation for weeks, marooned in our event accomodation in the hills above Toyota city. It felt now that Japan had been unleashed upon us. It was so hot, sticky, hazy and my head was throbbing.

Fuji is much like its kiwi counterpart Mt Taranaki in that you must drive to a certain height on the mountain and choose from varying levels of ascent length. We weren't going to let our toxic states make the decision, the longer and harder the better. Chris, Brent, Neil, Penny and I, honed athletic machines until yesterday. Carefree, careless, unprepared and under equipped, but the sky was clear as set off in the early evening.

To extrapolate further I was the most hungover, the previous night had been very ugly, only mitigated by the fact that a brit and a german had succumbed first. I had taken others down with me. The jumping spider hadn't eaten me as Penny had feared it might, and there were enough people at the party to carry me home. My first steps up Fuji were agony. My quads were poisoned, my calves shapeless and my ankles wouldn't bend.

Fuji is a giant pile of sacred scree. As darkness fell upon us like a scratchy, lice ridden blanket infiltrated by grass seed we stumbled up it. I have still to this day never felt worse. The huts were closed to outsiders, square piles of stones amongst the chaos of the choss. Light glimmered from the cracks in their doorways but the only light that beckoned me was that shone in my eyes by my friends up the track. Brilliant, piercing, arcing torture zapping through my retina. We stopped for a sleep, limply and huddled in the limited shelter of a locked building. My silk liner didn't suffice and the warmth of Pennys sleeping bag only centimtres away gave me precious little vicarious comfort as my cold side snuggled up to a frozen wooden doorframe.

Fortunately the rest ended and the strugggle continued, ending surreally in a ghostly courtyard on the summit ridge. Our gossip and exclamations faltered as we became aware of the dark figures lining the walls around us. Pilgrims sleeping on their feet. We peered unbelievingly down the other side at the procession of lights climbing the shorter route. Great switchbacks of orcs each with their walking sticks with bells. Fey tinkling on the air. The cloud cover built as we waited for sunrise and it rained on dawn as we sheltered under Pennys sleeping bag.

Our group split, some opting for noodles, others for the crater traverse. And by breakfast time we were descending, much faster now, heading for the bright lights of Tokyo!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cave Creek

Its a gentle walk to Cave Creek, the limestone terrain appears rugged with its overgrown river flats and sharp escarpments, but the track is straight and wide. Someone tried to farm here once, but it was long ago. The lone podocarps they spared still support their full weight of kiekie, despite the exposure to the elements and groves of manuka have conquered the gorse recently. The ferns are prolific, and so are the dragon flys, and the robins. How can a bird be so tame, so cute and so hard to photograph?

The plaque on the track looks old, but its not. It was 1995 when a group of polytech students and an accompanying DOC officer died when a viewing platform collapsed. The plaque was erected in 1996, it lists those that died. It stands now near a corner of the regenerating manuka at a splitting of the track. I can't help but contemplate how this memory will one day be swallowed by the forest, long after time has claimed the families and survivors. Maybe that totara sprouting today in its ferny nursery will wrap and obscure the plaque, crack it and digest it in its weepy boughs. I have witnessed the ruins of Tikal in Guatemala and it is comforting to know that the forest will return and swallow us and our memories.

The track no longer diverts to a viewing platform, instead it descends deceptively to the ancient canyon. Although we are there at the sunniest time of day the temperature drops substantially, the roof is pillared rimu and rata, a stunning cathedral. Water seeps out of the ruffled cliffs in puddles. We are looking for somewhere to swim so we follow it downstream where water emerges from a narrow defile in the rock. I wade into the spring, grating against the sharp sides and roof, there is a raging torrent near here somewhere, I hear it. But you would have to be gollum to go further into the dark. I turn around, pull out the camera and wait for my friends to find me in the hole.

We eat lunch downstream further, as time again is short. Camembert on crackers a sensory celebration, moist and crunchy, soft and sharp. The girls swim briefly and we clamber again upstream, the reflected light plays havoc on the limestone walls, ripples dancing. We follow the track back out of the gully to the full heat of the day, through the manuka groves to the overgrown clearings. We are on our honeymoon but in such a timeless place, with such a tragic history, I can't morbidly help contemplating that this mortal coil is constructed with such fine and pliable wire. Let all adventurous souls rest in peace.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Summer Snows the Blimit

We managed to extract ourselves from Mum and Dads the other day (sometime mid morning) and cruised up Cons track, over Cassidy and Blimit and down Temple Basin. Its a fun loop, with decent rock or big chunks of rock helping easy progress. The views to Rolleston were obscured but we could keep an eye out for chamois in the Devils Punchbowl Creek. The highlight was squalls of summer snow stinging the face...lovely.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dasler Pinnacles

We slipped up the Hopkins over the New Years period. Nice scramble up Dasler Pinnacles. A great spot for viewing the Southern Alps...Mt Brewster to Barron Saddle, with Mt Cook beyond.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sharks Tooth

The highlight of my served time at Otago Boys High was the school camps at our lodge in Mt Aspiring. The lodge is nestled on the edge of a grove of beech trees on a great alluvial fan in the West Matukituki valley. We visited in 4th form to learn about the outdoors, then again in seventh form to study geography and PE, and yeah then there was the senior tramp which nearly ended in farce and tragedy a group strung out along the East Matukituki with hypothermia there and darkness there. Anyone who has ever descended from Rainbow Col to Ruth Flat would understand, I have been back and there is no easy way. We returned though to the lodge and woke the next morning as always under the shadow of Sharks Tooth a sharp pyramid capping the U shaped valley wall. I always wondered how hard it was to climb.

So at the Kane Family Christmas when I got talking to Sam Kane, the 5th generation of Kanes to farm the hills to the north of Tarras, and suggested that maybe we go for a wander up Sharks Tooth and he called my bluff and said yes, it was all on. We woke up at farmers time (and mountaineers, but we are neither). 5.00 and Sam picked us up and we drove up the done up Matukituki road, no more corrugations or lumpy fords or potholed bluffs at Hells gate. Raspberry Hut is still there, although it seems nearly swallowed by the vast carpark, empty now, but expecting the swarms of daytrippers for Rob Roy glacier.

Penny and Sam above the West Matuki, Cascade saddle in background

We shouldered light packs and set straight off, up behind the hut. We expected scrub, there was none, we expected bluffs, there weren't any. The route was straight forward up a giant rib of tussock until an obvious sidle into the top of a creek to reach the ridge looking down into Polnoon Burn. Sam plodded ahead, while Penny kept going as she always does. I felt the urge to sit down as the air got thinner, or maybe it was just my lungs getting slower.

The ridge was easy till the final summit pyramid. We scrambled straight up the ok rock, but was it! A sidle round on the Polnoon side on a lovely little ledge saw indefinite and irrelevant exposure but the summit was obtained. A high spot in the wind.

Cuzzie bros on the summit

We descended on the Matuki side, less slope but more broken rock, taking turns among the choss.

Then there was the long walk down to the carpark and a lovely swim in the Raspberry Creek waterfall, home just after lunch.

Popping down to see Pennys grandparents.

Just popped from my folks to Pennys grandparents the other day. Not quite just around the corner, but down the coast and over the hill. The coast was as beautiful as ever and I was eyeing up the tops for a couple of draft missions we have planned for later in the summer. Rata was drooping over the sea and as we headed up the Haast Mt Hooker sat like a Lion glinting in the sun.

The Haast highway is very special to me. It is where I learnt to drive when I volunteered with DOC through many of my school holidays. Clinton's school of hard knocks. I still have the old "Roaring Billy" sign we replaced one summer. If we had a wall it would be hanging on it. I remember the steep fast climb to the Mt Brewster Bivvy, the endless walking along the highway to and from road ends and making rubbish bins!

Further off the road I remember the weeks spent up the Siberia with "Mick". I think his real name was Rob. Track cutting and walking with a rifle; Lake Crucible, Gillespie Pass and the Upper Siberia. We flew in by plane with Paul Cooper from Makarora and at that time there were still cattle up there prone to sitting on the runway. We caught a ride in the Iriquois to drop coal once; Kieran Forks, Top Forks, Siberia what a way to see the country! Later John Capon and I took the straight route to Siberia Hut from Makarora bashing up the small stream from the Makarora river and edging down the steep slopes and creek that falls directly onto the hut. We returned via the Wilkin and had to pay the farmer to ferry us across a flooded river by jet boat.

Later still I remember a great mission with Aaron Prince from Makarora Hut to Cameron Hut (this is the other side of the road). A bit of tops travel followed by hours of fast exciting boulder hopping down a rugged gorge before ascending to Cameron Hut. And then there was the Brown St Flat trip to the Wills Hut, followed by goon bags on Neils Beach. This time, Penny and I expected at her grandparents for tea, made do with a quick dip in the blue pools.

We made it in time for dinner and it was great to see the rest of Pennys family and particularly Elsie and Stan, still looking good in their nineties!