13 January 2011

I have always depended on the madness of strangers

30 December
Thousands of years of evolved human thought, and I'm sitting on top of a cardboard box trying to force it closed using duct tape.  I eventually win the struggle by throwing out some chocolate, and post my resupply gear to Greymouth.

Peter from Nelson Lakes Shuttles picks me up at 11:00am.  He picks up Susan on the way, who's chatty despite me having had a go at Aucklanders within two seconds of meeting her.  She gets off in the village, while I'm dropped off partway up the Roberts Ridge.  I eat my lunch in the carpark with all the campervans and squabbling English tourists.  Lake Rotorori is still very high from that 'Mt Owen' weather event and all the tourists can't go on their boat cruises.  So they're hanging in the carpark.

Away up the steep pinchgut track by 1:30pm.  It's hot, and my pack is heavy with 10 days food and surplus chocolate that begged not to be thrown out.  Too heavy.  Once above the bushline, the track is very well trodden and works its way along eroded tops.  The actual tramp isn't all that spectacular - the views are nice, but overall I don't think it warrants the reputation it seems to have.  It's a lot like Mueller down by Mt Cook, I suppose -- put a track somewhere that you can easily support, concentrate people there to justify a lot of support resources, and you can guarantee an alpine experience to all comers.  The concentration is right, anyway.  Have seen ten times as many people today as I have the rest of my traverse so far.

Lake Angelus Hut by 5:30pm.  There's much less snow around than I thought there'd be.  The hut is brand new and well located, and attracts... well, backpackers.  [ed note: on the original piece of paper, I wrote "awful, noisy fucks" and made light of terrorist events in the Middle East].  A few of them are crying in the bunkrooms or sleeping off the walk in.  Three turn up at 10:30pm to discover that they have no ticketed bunk, no food and no cooker.  They manage to scrounge three soup packets and some pasta from a Czech couple and start eyeing off the wood stove.  I suggest that they not use it.  They start whispering in Hebrew.

I retire to the full bunkroom to enjoy pleasant 200 degree temperatures (the emergency wood) and snoring.

Lake Angelus Hut

31 December
Fine weather again.  Away by 8:30am, dropping down around the outlet of Hanapouri Tarn and then climbing the basins at its head.  I'm on the jumbled weetbix of Sunset Saddle by 11:00am, and on the summit of Mt Angelus not much later.  The views are big, but barren.  It's a labourious descent down boulders onto the lip of the upper hanging valley in Hopeless Creek and a big tussock lead around the cliffs.  Lunch behind a rock, away from the wind.  After a short sidle, it's straight down to the valley floor on tussock and scree fans.  At Hopeless Hut by 2:00pm.  I'd planned to only go this far today, and eat another 800g or so from my heavy pack, but it seems a shame to waste the good weather.

So it's another few hours down the Hopeless into the Travers.  The Travers valley is beautiful, with the river running blue with all the flour brought down in the heavy rains.  The track is very well formed.  I reach John Tait by 4:30pm and decide to call it a day.

There are a few others in the hut, and we play the puzzling 'Monopoly: the Card Game', which I lose horribly despite the Kiwis partaking in quite a few university cigarettes towards the end and getting lax on the rules.  I'm not sure what the resident German Christian girl, Heike, makes of us all.

Confusion reigns.  Nobody sees midnight.

Travers River

1 January
Happy New Year, me.  Up and away by 8:00am, reaching Upper Travers Hut by 10:30am on a track keeping to the beech fringes.  Have a quick chat and handshake with the volunteer warden, who is surprised to have had only two others for company last night.  Party's up at Angelus, I say.  He shakes his head, no.

A quick ascent to Travers saddle, topping out at noon.  I have a long lunch in the cold wind on the saddle, before a surprisingly long descent into the east branch of the Sabine.  The track crosses a nice slot gorge on the way.  Meet a family from Hamilton going the other way at a snail's pace -- the father was carring mum's pack, his own pack, and a child on his shoulders.  He asks how far to the top.  It would be great if I were able to serve up a cheese platter of potential responses and have people pick their favourites, as the truth didn't appear to be what this particular man was after.  He did have until 10:00pm until it gets really dark, though.  Didn't think he'd appreciate that fact, though.

Skipped down to West Sabine Hut by 3:00pm and decided that I may as well continue on to Blue Lake.  I leave my pack at the swingbridge and duck in to sign the hut book, finding a fairly full hut.  Halfway up the west branch, I meet the volunteer warden for the Sabine - Eileen - with the usual workload of no-cooker-broken-boots-i-must-meet-my-shuttle to deal with.  And, like everyone in New Zealand, relatives in Queensland.  She has a forecast off the DOC radio -- isolated showerss with gales rising, rain clearing to showers.  I might push all the way into the Matakataki tomorrow to get over the alpine passes before the weather craps out.  Will be a big day though.  Will see.

Arrive at Blue Lake at 5:45pm or so -- the lake is very beautiful, being as blue as you'd expect and surrounded by rocky tors and flowering manuka bushes.  The hut has a contingent of Jehovas Witnesses from Christchurch (a religious theme is emerging) who appear to have passed on piety and are drinking whisky out of a detergent bottle*.  We play a bit of 500 until the maths all gets rather sinful, abandoning it for some variant of Euchre where there are no losers (except for those who remember the rules).

* This mystery is clarified later.

Mt Franklin, wedged between the Sabine forks

Blue Lake

2 January
Up and out by 7:30am.  I bump into one of the girls camping down by the lake (Norwegians, I thought) who turns out to be named Bernice, is Dutch, speaks better English than I do, and is into lightweight gear.  Would have been great to have a chat, but I'm keen on those passes so we quickly swap e-mails and I toddle off.

It's straightforward travel onto the moraine damming Lake Constance, but I'm soon climbing 200m straight up the side of the valley to get around the bluffs making up the lake's edge.  Disingenuous.  It's then a sidle followed by some ups and downs into incessed guts, eventually bringing me to the lake's edge.  In normal conditions, this is presumably where the bluffs end and it becomes possible to follow the shoreline.  I think that's part of a waratah underwater out there.  The lake might be up a bit.

A lot of shitty traversing of tussock faces interspersed with spaniards, and I make the swampy head of the lake.  After a short splash upstream, it's a steep but well marked ascent straight up to Waiau pass.  Total times 2 hrs 30 mins to the base of the ascent; 1:30 for the ascent itself.  As I climb, the wind starts gusting and visibility flakes out.  Lunch is quick, as is the descent down rock fingers to the upper forks of the Waiau.  The route down is pretty uneventful -- the occasional dropper hopelessly bent by avys offers suggestions, but I just stick to the rib adjacent to a large snow gully draining the TR aspect of the pass and cut into any big crack leading towards it.

From the upper forks, I climb up the stream issuing from Lake Thompson, sticking to the riverbed until it gorges.  Then onto a tussock and gravel ridge on its TR.  Arrive at the lake at 3:30pm.  I set up camp out of the quite bad conditions in a small rock biv and commence wasting a lot of my limited camera battery trying to shoot a video.  My performance is described as "wooden" and "awkward".  The audio solely consists of howling wind.  I drop a few swear words.  Sorry, Nick.  I don't think social media is my thing.

Looking forward to seeing if the weather will pass.  Spending six waking hours in the tent reading is okay, but another sixteen might begin to drag.

The track, Lake Constance.

Spaniard fields forever.  Waiau pass.

3 January
Weather is clearing back down the Waiau.  I wander up to the small notch above the lake facing the D'Urville and see the face of death, so it's back down the Waiau and onto the St James.  I feel a little guilty to be deviating from my preferred route, as I really want to see the Matakataki and Three Tarns Pass. 

To my surprise, there's a cut track all the way down the Waiau from the upper forks to the main forks -- thereafter streambed travel.  Quick and neat.  It looks to have been cut very recently, and I am further surprised to find a Te Araroa marker at Caroline Ck biv.  Good work, DOC.  I wonder how long Waiau will remain on TA's route, though -- the gentler Rainbow valley is now conservation estate, and this pass would be one of few on its route that would be difficult outside of summer.

Glad to not have slept in Caroline Ck Biv, as it's in pretty poor condition.  Going by the beer cans and food scraps, it's popular with hunters.

The weather continues to improve as I head down valley, although the wind continues to rise.  Some gusts nearly throw me off my feet, which makes me feel a bit better about piking out down here.  The upper river gives easy travel on terraces, and I cross it a handful of times to avoid steep banks and matagouri.  Once I'm on the farm track coming from Maling pass, it's a pretty dull forced march through farmland into the Ada valley.  There are quite a lot of brumbies here, and they're a lot tamer than the ones in Kosci.

Arrived at Christopher Hut at 4pm to find three Kiwis in residence: Katie, Duncan and Kirk.  They'd come over the Waiau pass two days before me and are taking a rest day.  Solid citizens all.  An old climber from ChCh, Mike, arrives later and we talk about the local mountaineering scene, my traverse and everything else.  The others talk about the depictions of sexual activity in a Ben Elton novel.  I like them.

Weather has closed to drizzle.

Lake Thompson fork of the Waiau

Upper Waiau

4 January
dassdf, guhdfjhdk wgat tim LET ME WAKE UP BEFORE YOU START SINGING, PLEASE, I BREAK OUT IN FISTS.  I eventually figure out where I am, and open up the birthday card that Mum gave me at the start of my traverse.  Mike gives me a nut bar for a present, which is nice.  All the little gifts (which, in the backcountry, were 'parts of my snacks') were kinda touching.

I catch up with the gang of three Kiwis and walk with them to Ada Pass Hut.  A short day.  There are another two locals in residence, Ryan and Phil, who had come over Three Tarns the day before in the muck.  Got into the Matakataki over David Saddle with the last of the good weather.  It's one of the things about my long traverse, really -- I'm unable to pick the weather windows to do short legs, and can't afford to wait things out because of the distance I have to cover.

I've been having some thoughts about whether I should do the Whitcombe to Mt Cook village leg as planned, as the weather still hasn't settled and I'm beginning to appreciate some of the complexities around my strategy.  Crossing those big rivers solo is within my abilities when they're running low/normal, and the plan was to carry a lot of extra food to cancel out some of the associated risks there.  Hire a mountain radio to mop up some more of the residual, and... well, I'm beginning to suspect that I'd need to carry quite a lot of food and/or push it on some of the crossings.  Maybe I'll just do the Westland leg (which I've always wanted to see) and connect MCV with Arthur's Pass via the Te Araroa route.  Will see.

A pastor and his wife (Helen and Don) from Auckland arrive from the roadend, and a spontaneous birthday party is organised.  Duncan cooks me a birthday pikelet, complete with tea candle.  Helen and Don give me a dried apricot, and Phil and Ryan some OSM bars.  Katie organises a game of celebrity heads, and to my great surprise it turns out that NZ has more celebrities than Dave Dobbyn and that guy who drowned in the sea.  Not many more, but there you go.

I blow out the tea candle.  Happy birthday, me.

Brumbies in front of Faerie Queen
Blowing out my birthday pikelet.

5 January
Three of last night's lot are out early to meet their transport at the highway.  I'm in no hurry, staring at my Sultana Bran in a haze and poking about.  Said goodbye to the Kiwis (note to self: avoid Reefton and all concepts entitled "man-love Mondays") and wandered out by 8:30am.  Reached the highway at 10:45am.  A bit of windfall on the track, but pretty easy going.  Big contingent from the Auckland Tramping Club heading in -- they advise that the weather is packing in, with heavy rain forecast through Friday.  Going by this, I pass up on spending tonight at Brass Monkey Biv and will instead head straight up the Nina where I can more easily retreat from wet weather.  I pick up a lift to the NZDA lodge to save a few k's of highway trudge and walk into the Nina, a typical beech valley with a good sized river.  2.5 hours to the hut.  Although Devil's Den Biv is only another two hours on, I decide to stop here as the hut is brand new and has some leftover food going.  I cook up some coffee packets with sugar that's seen better days and read through the backlog of FMC mags.

The tops are misting over, with cloud above about 1100m.  I see that Brass Monkey is signed from the hut -- I wonder if the route is now cut?  I might come back and see, once the weather is more settled.  Hut is very welcome.

6 January
Two from Christchurch arrived last night, Robbie and Dan.  Good chat.  The wind is still roaring, carrying the occasional pocket of drizzle, but nothing too bad, so I head up and over Devilskin saddle.  There's not much by way of views, but the biv is brand new and pretty awesome.  The saddle itself is thick tussock.  I carry on down the other side to the Doubtful River, and walk more or less right down the middle of the river to avoid matagouri.  I ford the Boyle, which is coming up, and head for the road.  Walking up the highway is probably the most death-defying part of my traverse so far.  The caretaker at Boyle is busy sanding back floors, so rather than interrupt I stash my pack and wander up to the hotpools by the Sylvia.

I soak for two hours in pleasant conditions, the wind keeping the sandflies away.  When I arrive back at Boyle, the guardians are having cups of tea so I pick up my food drop and organise a room for the night. 

Long days and building muscle mass has excited my appetite, and I'm in this cycle of eating everything I can to redress the inevitable caloric defecit I must be running.  It's going to be a problem flicking the switch when I get to a town - it's going to be like gorging myself in Nelson, but worse.  So much energy rich food... so easily attainable?  I think I've just drunk my bodyweight out of the communal milo here, and there's not much chocolate left in the drop.

I feel very sick.  Nine hours of walking today.  According to a Greymouth paper from last week that been left on the table, Queensland is flooding?

Sylvia Flat

7 January
I am very sunburnt on my chest from yesterday's soak in the hot pools.  Sigh.  It'll take ages to get such a ridiculous t-shirt tan happening again.

I wander down the bed of the Boyle this time -- finding it a fair bit slower than the road, but with less intimate experiences with Britz campervans.  It's still windy with pokey rain, so I head into the Hope via Windy Point rather than over the Lake Mann tops.  The track is dull, being mostly beech terraces and cattle flats.  Easy though.

I find the other half of the Auckland Tramping Club camping at Halfway Shelter -- they'd planned on heading onto the Lewis Tops along most of my route, but found the wind too much.  I make the Hope/Kiwi lodge 4.5 hours from the highway.  A nice location and a very well built hut.  There are some more tramping club stragglers here, a stereotypically idiosyncratic lot.

The southwesterly is roaring up the valley, but looks to be clearing all the cloud.  The sun breaks out in parts.  I've felt pretty tired all day -- even though I've been eating well, sleeping for hours and have had a few easier days.  Maybe it's a sugar crash from yesterday, or maybe the days are catching up with me.  I am old now, 26, after all.

Trudgedom up the Poplars Station

8 January
Away by 8:15am.  Walking is easy but monotonous in beech over Kiwi Saddle and down to Lake Sumner.  There are glimpses of the lake through the trees.  The track then breaks out onto the flats at the head of the lake, which I wander along rather than stay on the marked beech terraces.  I cross the valley and cross the Hurunui on a swingbridge, having been told by the AUTC stragglers that the river would be uncrossable all the way up to No 3.  It looks maybe ankle deep.  Sigh.  Auckland.  I out-clever myself on the other side of the bridge and climb through scrub for 10 minutes to regain the track, which pops out at the mid Hurunui hut.  As I sit there, eating my peanut butter and biscuits, a bloke rocks up wearing a loincloth and backpack.  He's in the army, and likes to tramp nude.  I stick to the weather, and the weather alone.  According to the hut book, there's a Japanese tramper a day ahead of me going across Harper pass, so I might have some company down in the Taramakau, which might be good.
I wander another hour and find the hot pools marked on the topo.  A pool has been formed halfway up a steep rocky creek, and the water is hot.  I find a section of hosing running into the bush, and clamber up rock and through scrub to follow it through to a side creek.  Dig it out of the mud, poke a stick about, and organise a bit of a channel for the side stream to flow into -- and tada, a cold tap.  I slide back down to the pool, and arrange a pleasant temperature.  I listen to the MP3 player soaking for two, three hours.

It's another hour through to No 3 hut, straight up the riverbed, crossing as easiest.  I'm currently drying my thermals so I have something to sleep in.  The hut is big, but has mice.  It has small windows too -- strange, given its history as a tourist hut rather than the NZFS designs.  The wind is still pushing southerly, and the days are very clear.  It should hold for the next few days.  Locke Stream hut is only 6 hours away (which means probably 5 or less), so I might go all the way to Kiwi tomorrow and continue on up the Deception to Arthur's Pass the next day.  I have a spare day up my sleeve, plus my two contingency days.

Kiwi Saddle

9 January
Fine weather.  Away by 8:30am, straight up the increasingly bustling Hurunui to Camerons Hut (45 mins).  I kept to the river for a bit, but scrub started closing in, so picked up the track on beech terraces on the TR.  The track is lumpy and has a fair bit of windfall, with one particular puzzle taking 15 minutes to solve.  The bright orange biv up near Harper's Pass is in immaculate condition.  From the biv, it's a quick half hour up to the pass itself -- a small dip just above the scrubline.  The signposted 3hrs to Locke Stream takes me an hour and a half, straight down the streambed most of the way.  I have lunch at the hut, and call AP DoC on the fixed radio for a weather sched.  Fine today, mainly fine with isolated showers tomorrow, cloudy Tuesday.  There's some to-and-fro about river conditions -- AP seem to have a fixation with warnings!  After another few hours of river travel, I see someone coming towards me and stop to say hi.

It's the Japanese guy, Mucho.  He is very happy to see someone.  Has tried to cross the rivers downstream and can't.  Very distressed that there are no track markers.  Can't find a bridge.  Has no map outside of the little cartoon in Lonely Planet.  To his possible credit, faced with all these things, he's decided to backtrack all the way back to Windy Pt.  He has enough food, and by virtue of disorganisation has no intentions form in with anyone, so SAR won't come out anyway.  I'm bemused by all this, and offer to help him get to Aickens.  He is eternally greatful -- literally, perhaps, as he's a Jodo Buddhist monk.  He insists on wiping down surfaces before I sit on them or place my things down, which is a bit awkward.  We chat about the jodo tradition.  He's a nice guy, and DOC in Hamner probably did him no service by encouraging him to undertake activities in reasonably remote areas without any experience.

There's hut food left over from deer cullers, so I mix some special fried rice into my freeze dry and eat like a king.

Harper Pass

10 January
Up and away by 6:30am with Mucho in tow.  He insists on walking in my footsteps, which is a bit off-putting.  Fourteen Duke of Edinburgh students arrived at about 10pm last night, having taken 14 hours coming down Townsend Ck from Lake Minchin.  The instructors look the worst of the lot.  They're so shagged they more or less pass out -- leaving the kids to bump around a bit and set fire to a tent with a trangia. 

A few days ago, I nicked one of my small toes wandering around without shoes on, and put a bit of tape on it to give it a chance to heal.  The tape came off at some point yesterday and has torn a deep hole into the toe beside it.  Bone deep.  Not much I can do about it, so I puff antiseptic into it and try compeed and duct tape as a waterproof seal -- which won't work too well, I don't think.  Only needs to last a few days.

We cross both the Taramakau and Otakhe above their confluence and with no issues.  The Otakhe is discoloured and swift, but barely knee deep with good runout.  The Otira is also fine - shallow gravel in three braids.  Mucho is overcome at the last crossing and has a bit of a teary.  We swap e-mails and I commence a trudge up the highway towards the Deception confluence.  The road walk is maybe 5-10km, and I lazily stick my hand out to cars as they pass.  One stops -- in the middle of the road, for maybe 3 minutes.  Only on the West Coast.  The drivers are Bavarian, and speak worse English than I do German.  What's German for "bridge"?  Or "stop at".  Or anything?  After hand signals fail to bridge the language gap, we agree that I am either being kidnapped or going to Arthur's Pass.  It turns out to be the latter, which is fine.

An easy day today then, 3 hours.

I get the current door code from NZAC head office, let the parents know that I'm alive and relax a bit.  It's always weird being back in civilisation - the easy availability of food, which I've mentioned before, and the strange chemical smell about people.  I've lost a bit of weight, which is okay given that I started the traverse a few kg over where I usually am anyway, but will have to be sorted before I get too lean.  Sadly, the first food on the chopping block is my beloved sultana bran at a miserable 1400kj/100g.  Muscles are all fine.  Body is okay except for the hole in my toe, which a few days will smooth out .  Nothing terribly wrong with my brain, except for a bit of stress over weather.  Have to learn to resign myself to whatever will be.

After engaging in the traditional pizza, chips and beer -- I return to the lodge to find some Americans from Maine and chat for quite a while with them.  My address book is filling up -- I really do like the sort of people you find in the slackcountry.  Greymouth tomorrow for 3 days to resupply.

Mucho crossing the Taramakau

The hole in my toe is growing.


  1. eowww... are you sure your foot s OK?

  2. yeah. has now scabbed over and returned to a normal colour. i'll try to keep compeed on it for the next few days if i can keep my feet dry...

  3. Keep it dry, or you know, covered in ethanol. Please don't die! Happy birthday!

  4. Happy birthday mate. Photos are fantastic, I feel like i'm there.
    Keep the updates coming
    Take care

  5. haha love it. just keep taking photos!!!

  6. You are looking pretty thin in that photo. If only I could air drop you a Gabby's burger, chips and drink or a snack box? One of those meals a day should be all the calorie intake you need ;)

    Be careful with infections dude - would hate for your trip to be cut short.

    Am having a blast reading about your adventures - keep the stories and the photos coming!

  7. Hi Clint - I've been enjoying your adventures. Keep the stories coming.

  8. Hey Clint - sounds like you are having the experience of a lifetime. Fynn said to say thanks for telling me to let him play with the Lego he got for Christmas :-) mum (maggie) has been getting a kick out of reading about your walk too.

    Happy birthday for earlier in the month, keep posting and keep well - all the best, Jason,

  9. The detergent bottle dude... why?

    (And thanks for the tale. Takes my mind off my sore legs after getting blown off Arthur yesterday :)

  10. Hi Clint, awesome to find this mate its a great read.

    I met ya on the 6th of Jan 2011 at Nina hut with my mate Robbie from Christchurch. My name's Mike, not Dan by the way :)

    I'll tell ya what we walked up to Devilskin saddle Biv later in the afternoon after you went over the saddle. It was blowing such an insane gale, the door ripped off that little biv and blew down the saddle when we tried to get in inside! Madness.

    We ended heading back down to Nina hut in the end. DOC fixed the door pretty quick from the sounds of it!