29 December 2010

Dragons teeth and dive boats

18 December
No clocks striking thirteen.  But I'm away on my traverse.

Breakfast was a sausage extravaganza from the only shop in Collingwood.  I think their portion sizes put everyone else out of business.  The owner of the motel kindly printed off something I'd forgotten, we crammed the car full of my junk, and Dad drove off up the Aorere valley.  The farm track off James Rd eventually got to the point where the hire car was simultaneously bottoming out and losing traction -- which, even with my rudimentary knowledge of physics, seems difficult -- so I waved goodbye to Mum and Dad half-way up a hill.

The track up to Boulder Lake followed a succession of ridges and spurs, and but for some crevasses where the limestone cap was exposed, was pretty uneventful.  It was nice to be under shade for most of it.  The poles ended on screes above the lake's outlet and I dropped to the shore.  Water level seems pretty high with all the rain of the last few days.  Boulder Lake Hut is a modern DOC build in a nice location.

Having mixed emotions about the traverse -- suspect mostly because I'm tired, and haven't really seen my parents much over the last few years.  The magnitude of it all is spooking me a little also.  Should all pass.

Boulder Lake, with Dragons Teeth at rear

Looking over Brown Cow Ridge toward Cape Farewell

19 December
Rain steady all night.  I'm kinda bound to push on anyway as I've arranged to meet Mum and Dad in the Cobb Valley on a set date for my next food drop.  In hindsight, that wasn't the best of ideas.  I slosh my way through a lot of swollen side streams and squelch up a tussock spur beside Green Saddle.

The tops are blustery.  And wet.  Still, the cairns are plentiful and the route is easy to follow -- find the crest of the Douglas Range, and follow it for the next x days.  I skip along, listening to some podcasts.  After about four and a half hours, over the pass at the Needles Eye and a sidle to the little hut at Adelaide Tarn.  The tarn (alpine lake) is enveloped in a cirque and shielded from today's weather, so conditions are pleasant.

The high route over the Dragons Teeth is obviously out, given the weather, and fingers crossed that the weather is okay for the low route down in the Anatoki.  A lot of horror stories in the hut book.

Adelaide Tarn Hut (3 bunks)

20 December
Up at 06:00, away by 07:30.  The weather is settled, if misty.  Ascending the tops behind Adelaide Tarn is quick and pleasant, with the occasional window view of the Dragons Teeth.  I use the GPS to find the way through the bluffs below pt1435, but on-sight there are a lot of workable lines on the upstream side.  Drop down a steep gully before cutting to the left onto a tussock spur.  There are a few spotty cairns that help in the early parts of the subalpine scrub belt, but they eventually become parodies.  Just go down.  A grubby watercourse helps avoid most of the scrub, but a few hundred metres above the valley floor I'm bluffed out and have to spend a while picking my way downstream.

Two hours to here.  Not worth the horror stories, but maybe I lucked out.

Easy travel along a worn footpad on the true left of the Anatoki down to pt744, where I cross the river and have some lunch.  There's some tape leading down the creek on the true left of the spur I intend to ascend up,  but given the reviews of that route in the hut book I decide to pick my own way.  This turns out well, with straightforward beech travel all the way up to ~1200m, where I meet a distinct footpad leading through scrub.  The tops are enveloped in a bright mist.  I don't see much of the Drunken Sailor, and arrive at Lonely Lake Hut at 15:30 or so -- making it a neat eight hours for the day.  The hut is of the same mould as Adelaide Tarn, although it appears more popular with hunters.  Looking forward to easy travel tomorrow -- hopefully the forecast of rain from a few days ago ran into today's dabbling drizzle.  Route looks well worn anyway.

21 December
Heavy rain.  This is becoming something of a habit.  Once above the beech, the rain was joined by its good friend 'high winds', which was enough to drive me to sit down in a clump of scrub and sulk.  Not a great day for exposed tops.  The food drop timetable... argh.  Still, looking at the map, it's not as if rivers are going to be much of a hassle.  I shall play it careful.

The route was straightforward -- again, follow the spine of the range -- but the wind gusts were intense enough to drive me to crawling in a few parts.  Wets are earning their grams.  All told, the going wasn't too bad, but would have been better if it wasn't a) wet; b) windy; or c) exposed.  But you know.  Nature hates us all.  The wind eased as I sidled past Kapako Peak, breaking some views of the upper Cobb valley and the Lockett Range. Loosened the rain hood, pulled down the balaclava and skipped down to Fenella Hut.

Fenella is a very well cared-for hut; with 12 bunks, big double-glazed windows, plumbed water and gas.  I take five of the mattresses, set up a 'princess and the pea' arrangement and laze about reading.  Six and a half hours tramping today.  Humans need very little to survive, but that act of survival is quite fragile.

The rocky spine of the Douglas Range

22 December
A family reunion of six Kiwis arrived last night.  Pretty surly lot, 6 girls, from the Northlands.  I quietly pack up around them and wander down to Trilobite Hut, where my parents should arrive at midday.  The Cobb Rd notwithstanding.  The track is pedestrian, and I arrive just as my parents do at 11:00.

We have a Christmas lunch, complete with blueberries and shitty bonbon jokes.  After that, they drive me up to the lookout by the dam wall for whatever sightseeing one can do in the Cobb, and before I know it it's 15:00 and I have to head off again.  As I work my way uphill, I'm a little sad.  The MP3 player will take my mind off things... no, wait, it's decided to stop working.  Fair enough.  The track over the Peel range is good and I arrange at Balloon Hut at 17:30.  I wake up a resident Kiwi, Tammy, who eventually comes to terms with having fallen asleep for most of the day and we chat as I poke at the MP3 player with a knife.

It lives!

Christmas lunch.  Trilobite Hut.

Cobb Valley

23 December
MP3 player returns to being broken.  Resolve to not care about this anymore, at which point it starts working again.  Probably some kind of Zen mind-trap.

Up and away by 08:30, down to the junction with the track into the Leslie river.  The day starts off on an old water race, but I figure that the track should be more defined than it is -- and after heading uphill for ~30m, find it poled through red tussock.  The wind is still cold, so the change is on.  Hopefully a bit of good weather coming my way.

From the junction, it's a slow benched descent past an old fly camp to the Leslie-Peel confluence.  I'm petrified of knocking my knee -- not to say anything about falling off cliffs -- so I pick around a bit in the loose leaf matter, but the going is very good.  Down in the Leslie, it's a quick hour to a clearing and lunch.  The rest of the day is spent on good tracks down to the junction with the Karamea river, and up that river to Crow Hut.  Eight hours fourty-five today, including breaks.

With the nice weather, I have a swim and clean up a bit, and spend the night talking to two resident flyfisherman from Denmark, Ole and Bjarne.  Have to say that I didn't think I'd be talking about Princess bloody Mary two days from the closest road.  Fishing has been good -- only four, but all in the region of 3kg, and they are hopeful that they will land one tomorrow for a Christmas Eve feast.

Debris has been getting into a deep cut in my hand, so I clean it up and put some antiseptic and tape over it.

Looking down the Leslie/Karamea.  Mt Owen in background.

24 December
Overcast turning to rain.  I bid goodbye to the Danes and walk four soggy hours up the Karamea to Thor Hut for lunch.  The Karamea is still running clear and the sidestreams look fine, so I push on.  A small section where the track runs across slabs above the river, but it is well protected by a fixed wire.

Above Thor, it becomes apparent that the rain is in fact doing quite a bit -- not sure whether the water was backing up in Moonstone lake, or if a saturation point reached in the forest, but all of a sudden the river is booming discoloured.  The Mars, and then Apollo, sidestreams are carrying alarming volumes of water.  Then the track starts disappearing into the Karamea itself.  Hrm.

The rain stops, and after a long afternoon tea I commit to getting to Kendall Ck to see whether it's passable.  It should drop quickly besides.  I slosh through waist deep backwaters, and when I get to the marked crossing point, the Kendall is indeed impassable.  Deep, fast and discoloured.  It did look like an illogically shit place to cross in most conditions, however, with the river in a single channel and a death-trap of a runout.  I have a poke downstream and find not much better, but about 100m upstream the river runs fairly wide for a good distance so I set about picking a good line and finding a stout stick.  After dispatching the crossing without mishap, I scramble above the swollen Karamea and cross it on a big swingbridge 15 minutes above Trevor Carter Hut, where I am now.

Have cairned the riverbed and the water appears to be dropping pretty fast.  Chopped a bit of wood and lit the fire to dry out some of my stuff.  Stove is woofing a bit and cutting out -- the o-ring looks okay, so it must be carbon buildup.  Have heaps of spare gas, so must remember to run the stove white-hot for the next few days to burn it out.

... Now I have a machine gun.

25 December
Merry Christmas, me.

And what better way to celebrate Christmas morning than an 800m ascent before 11:00?  The route up onto Biggs Tops is very well marked, and conditions up there are pleasant.  Most of the route is just above bushline on the western faces, but it's still nice to be up on the tops on a good day.  2 hours up, 1 hour along the tops and 30 mins down to Wangapeka saddle.  I'm a little surprised to find that Wangapeka saddle is below treeline by a matter of a few hundred metres, which must be a little disappointing to those walking the track.

The track down the upper Wangapeka is okay, and becomes a very good benched track not much further down.  Cecil King's old prospecting hut has character -- but mice -- so I press on to Kings Creek Hut.  It's the utilitarian NZFS sort -- huge, bit boring, dirty, but well lined.  I kick a mattress onto the floor and read until two Kiwis turn up with tales of Christmas jingoism.  Thomas and Bridget.  They're adventure runners, and make very good company, so we chat well past dark.

Good forecast for the next few days apparently.

Luna Slips from Biggs Tops

26 December
2.5 easy hours to the Wangapeka roadend at Rolling Junction.  Right at the bottom, a guy comes running after me yelling.  He's Vlad, from Kareamea, by way of Russia.  We chat for a bit and I wish him luck in trying to find a lift out.  For me, it's roadbashing up to Courthouse Flat and then up to Granity Pass on Mt Owen.  It's hot, and I take my time reading the information panels about the area's mining history, but still make it up in under half the DOC time.  Which is ridiculous.

It's nice to be in limestone country.  There are sandflies here -- at 1300m?  Tricky buggers.

Sharing the hut with two Kiwis, Matt and Allan.  They reckon a SW is coming in, which worries me a bit because I need good visibility to get over the crevassed limestone of Mt Owen, and then there's creek crossings.  If there's not underground draingae?  Shrug.  Will see what it's like in the morning.

Wangapeka river

27 December
The Kiwis snore.  I'm not too bothered, and it gives me an opportunity to watch the weather.  The sky is clear at 03:00 and 05:00 ... and drizzling with closing mist at 06:00.  Totally crapped out.  I munch on my sultana bran and wander up an old moraine to see what the weather looks like doing.

It definitely looks like being awful and wet.  I decide that it's not a good idea to do the Sunrise Peak route, so follow Matt and Allan back down to Courthouse Flat.  Matt is a scientific communicator from UCan, and it's interesting to hear about the botany.  At the bottom, I beg a lift off them to "something resembling civilisation" -- no worries, they say -- and by way of various schemes and extraordinary kindness I end up at their house, drinking coffee, eating cake and having a shower.  We pore over the parts of my upcoming route that they have done, and I thank them very much for being awesome sorts.

Matt has to go see someone in Nelson, so I get a lift in with him -- and on the way, it emerges that a depth sounder on a dive boat needs testing (code: let's fang around in a boat in the rain).  So I run into the iSite five minutes before it closes to organise some kind of room for the night, and head to the marina.  The bad weather makes for a fearsome swell and an entertaining trip.  Matt drops me off at my backpackers of choice (at the wharf, of all places) -- thus concluding a great act of kindness from strangers -- and I wander into town for  some food.

The girl at the pizza shop has a bit of attitude and mocks my over-ordering.  "Go on, eat thus thin".  Having been deprived of the requisite quantity of human company over the past fortnight to maintain healthy levels of loathing for humanity, I tell her my story.  And eat an entire family pizza.  And chips.  And three pints.  She is impressed*.

So, that's leg one.  I might write up some extra features like you get on a DVD -- just because I think it'd be a shame for a blog to exist on the internet that's more about facts than it is opinion.  The 'net might spin off its axis.

A rather large American woman in this netcafe just asked me how to spell "kia ora".  She wants to put it in her Facebook status.  This is civilisation".

* I stink.  Like 'fourteen days without soap' stink.


Turns out that my decision to back out down Courthouse Flat was a reasonable one.  Everything's flooded.  300mm of rain.  And my transport out of Owen River is currently floating near Westport somewhere:

Hi Clint,
This is to advise you that your coach will not be travelling today due to road closures.You are entitled to a full refund or transfer to a different day.
Please call our contact centre on 0800 222 146 to confirm what you would like to do.Please do not reply to this email directly
Kind Regards
Troy Stapleton | Shift Leader

ICG [InterCity Group (NZ) Ltd]


07 December 2010

Hello, welcome, hi, welcome, hello.

Kerouac wrote On The Road on ten-foot lengths of teletype paper. He claimed that sliding the typewriter cylinder back at the end of a line, installing new paper at the end of a page, damaged the spontaneity of the prose. Said that mediums imposed their own artificial consciousnesses.

It may also be relevant to mention that he popped Benzedrine like Maltesers.

I'm heading over to New Zealand next week to walk the length of the Southern Alps. My best guess is that this will take around 100 days of actual being in the middle of nowhere, which will generate around 100 days of profane rambling journal entries, scrawled onto any piece of rubbish I can't burn -- soup packets, route notes, the back of topo maps.

Exactly whether this will approach the genius of the author of a Great American Novel is debatable -- some would say unlikely -- but, hey, you can rest assured that every word you read has been dragged across rivers, up mountains, through cliffs and probably sautéed in my blood.

Which might make for an entertaining artificial consciousness.

So check back here once a fortnight and you can read up on my adventures and check out some photos. If you like, there are links to the right that should let you syndicate it via RSS, or receive notifications via e-mail. I think. They may not work. Let me know.

Will write again from across the Tasman.