Archive for April, 2012

Onward! The time for a new adventure has finally come! Tomorrow, I will fly down to California, spend Saturday at the annual kick-off, and begin hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on Sunday.  The PCT runs from Campo, CA to Manning Park, BC for a total of 2663.5 miles…on foot.  Yes, that’s right, I’m walking!  No, I am not crazy. No, I don’t think a bear will eat me.  No, I am not carrying a gun.

I have spent the past few days quickly running through my last minute to-do lists such as printing out all of Halfmile’s maps which took a few printer ink cartridges, making a cat food can alcohol stove, fixing some gear issues, getting permits, finding plenty of small plastic containers for hot sauce, compiling delicious trail food etc.  My dearest most awesome mother has agreed to run my support through mail drops and excellent varieties of vegan cookies, as well as helping me sew up some clothing including replacing the zipper of my wind jacket which unbeknownst to me became horribly corroded in the past few months.  My awesome father has also pitched in, sending me amazing amounts of flavored peanut butter and chocolate bars. Big thanks to them!

I’ve been super excited about this thru-hike ever since I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2010 and the Colorado Trail in 2011.  Those stories are on this blog as well.  But in the meantime, I invite you to jump on and follow the adventure of the summer!

(Cat food can alcohol stove…goodbye canisters!)


(All of Halfmile’s maps printed double sided)

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Leaving the historical hut, our plan was to follow up a drainage which Christian described only as “slow travel,” then up a ridge just as steep as the first one we climbed for ISGE.  He was right.  We only had to go about a kilometer or kilometer and a half up the drainage, but the steep banks and a decent elevation change made river crossings sketchy at best and finding suitable terrain not covered in matagouri difficult.

Wanting to stick to our plan, we continued crossing the drainage a little early, getting knee-deep in the water, to avoid densely packed matagouri only to face a large, sketchy gully.  To get through that, we hiked up considerably high to find a somewhat suitable place to cross.  Unfortunately, at one point, our only handhold was a matagouri bush.  After getting across, I had to stop and pick a thousand matagouri needle things out of my hand.  I had an odd flashback to my mother and grandmother picking driftwood splinters out of my feet every night with needles.

Back down at the drainage, we ran into more and more of the same problems: matagouri and spaniards poking us, lack of moderately even ground, difficult sections of water to cross, and steep banks on either side.  When we finally made it to the Y we had marked, we saw the ridge we needed to climb.  Breathing a sigh of relief to be rid of that annoying drainage, we began to climb 400m in a kilometer or so – steep but preferable to getting beat up by plants.  Plus, with considerably less food, none of us found it quite so taxing as the first ridge.

Near the top, we had to follow a much more gentle slope over to a cool tarn we had marked with an x on the map.  Due to the

The tent facing the wind off the higher tarn.

terrain layout, we ended up climbing the first peak marked on the ridge, then descending the 50m or so to the tarn.  By that time, the wind had picked up in its usual fashion and sent us into a tizzy about finding the most protected area to set up the tent to avoid staying up all night in shifts to make sure the poles don’t break.

We deliberated and scouted every spot around the tarn until finally we came to the decision of just angling it directly with the wind and using the very nearby large rocks as giant anchors.  It ended up working fairly well and the wind lessened over the course of the evening into the night.


Ryan found a hole in his thermarest that the matagouri had poked through his backpack and the stuff sack and set about fixing it with some seam sealer and a patch, then weighing it down with several large rocks to dry in the remaining sunlight.  Unfortunately, we had a few large gusts of wind which decided against our will to flip all four rocks over creating another, larger rip in the thermarest which he attempted to fix again.

That evening, we saw one of the best sunsets on the whole trip.  The clouds turned a bright fire-red, making them appear like volcanic lava exploding in the sky.

I had a great night’s sleep only to wake up to James rushing out of the tent and puking his brains out.  When we peered out to check on him, all we saw was the cat hole digging ice ax gone.

Heather, Ryan, and I packed everything up and got everything for the morning ready while we tried to get some liquids and basic food to stay down in James’ stomach.  When he felt ready, we left, hiking up to the ridge opposite of the tarn to hike toward our end point.  We had placed a few super short days in toward the end to give us some leeway in case we ran into any issues and boy were we glad we did.  Our entire day’s plan was to hike up to the ridge, follow the ridge for a bit, then drop down to a small lake on the other side.  I believe the distance was a mere 5 kilometers, but of the typical New Zealand steepness, loose footing, and rock hopping.

It took us the better part of the day to get there stopping anywhere from every 10 minutes to every 30 minutes for James to use the little boys cat hole.  Toward the end of the ridge, we divided up the weighty things of his pack to make it easier for him since he was getting dehydrated from the loss of fluids.

The small lake was only a few kilometers from the end-point which we had to hit between 11am and noon.  Easy enough.  We woke up to misty rain which severely decreased visibility a few times in the short hike there.

We had one river crossing which we had been warned could be gnarly, but it ended up being super easy and gave us no problems.  Eventually we hit the marked fence on the map and followed it straight to the track leading into the beech forest and to the end parking lot where we would be picked up the next day.

Getting close to the last bit, we saw the other group’s tents set up just far enough back in the forest so Andy and Christian wouldn’t see them.  Or so they thought.  They had diverted to get there the night before because Tracy’s knees were having some issues.  Apparently, the instructors saw them anyway and pretended not to notice until nightfall when they snuck around and made bird noises until they got out of their tents to explore.

That afternoon, we ate the rest of our food and closed out the session with the usual “paperwork” and whatnot.  We repaired as much of the equipment as we could and had a rousing last night stew to top it all off.  Road brecky would come in the morning, so we sterilized the cookware and ate everything else.

So, that’s NOLS New Zealand in a nutshell.

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Our lounge day of peak bagging ended with our longer journey down into the South Ahuriri Valley.  Getting back up to the saddle was the easy part, especially due to the previous day’s scout.  From there, we hiked down a bit to a stream flowing into the tarn and did the usual didymo process.

Our next move we did due to the easier grade of contour lines, but in reality was not the easiest maneuver, taking considerably longer than we had anticipated.  To get into the adjacent valley, we decided to follow the drainage down and turn right when we hit the Y in the river.

Rock Sculptures by the River!

The whole way down was either rock hopping or annoying contouring.  Contouring is ok for a little while, then the constant annoyance of having one foot higher than the other starts to aggravate the hip muscles and just feels awkward.  It was then that we realized the ridge river right would have made a much easier decent even with the snow grass that we tried so hard to avoid.  Lesson learned.

From there, we just had to scout around for a good campsite that was a.) not boggy, b.) out of the wind, and c.) as flat as possible.  After the previous two nights, the waking up at the bottom of the sleeping bag curled up in balls number was getting a little old.  Determining a decent campsite on those three factors was more difficult than it seemed and we eventually picked a site that had a little wind exposure, but was flat, so we took our chances.

After quesadillas for lunch (peanut butter-dia) for me, we went wandering up the valley a ways with day packs to explore.  Our motivation had severely decreased from the increased annoyance at our descent an hour ago, so we didn’t make it terribly far because the tussocks got so thick and streams just popped out of nowhere underfoot.

We ended up going back and sitting by the river for a long while just hanging out and making rock sculptures.  Balancing odd-shaped rocks on top of each other entertained us for quite a long time…I wonder if that’s what people did before the internet, cell phones, and video games.  I found it a lot more rewarding and relaxing than the modern entertainment devices.

That evening, Ryan cooked us a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner with stew and rolls and lots of it, well, as much as we could spare.  Then we continued our tent rummy game to stay out of the wind that had picked up a bit.

The morning began with Ryan’s famous pancakes which set us off on a good start for more unexpected, yet typical New Zealand terrain challenges.  We had a short jaunt over to the hut down valley where the six person group stayed two nights before and we read what they wrote in the log.  Before long, the instructors came up and said hi.  They planned on staying there at the hut that night in a long day…all of two kilometers.

Andy told us a few bad jokes, then we headed down river to camp near a historic hut.  At first we found a herd path that took us

Going down valley amongst a few Spaniards (the pokey bushes at the bottom of the picture)

high above the river on the plateau and navigated fairly well through the thick vegetation, but it went in and out forcing us to lose it and find it again many times until it just decided to end for no apparent reason.

We searched and searched and eventually found a way down and found new herd paths to follow until the vegetation not only grew thick, it grew tall as well.  To our right, the river surged through the tightness of the valley against a bank that we could navigate if we didn’t have full packs on and felt like taking some risks.  Ahead lay a thick layer of matagouri which had actually grown taller than all of us, yet somehow had pricklers at the bottom which would prevent us from crawling through.  To our left, we had more matagouri and a steep scree slope.

For about half an hour, we dilated and scouted around then came back for more deliberation.  We came to the conclusion that pushing through the matagouri was stupid because inevitably it would give us new scars, simply just hurt and our best option would be to contour the scree slope.  Backtracking to where the matagouri grew tall, but thin, we squeaked through with only minor trouble, and got up to the scree.  From there we saw just how thick and wide the matagouri had grown; if we had tried to push through, it would not only hurt, but would probably have taken at least two hours.

We traveled quickly in comparison across the scree and made our way back down to the other side of the matagouri and conveniently found herd paths which took us the rest of the way down river until our cut off where we made a sharp left along a lake to another tributary.

Facing incredible wind, we made our way along the lake.  At least foot-tall waves cascaded across the normally still lake and crashed up and over its banks on the far shore, all created by the wind.  When we got near the historic hut, we scouted around for a campsite and found the most protected spot amongst our best friend: the matagouri!

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For the first time, I wished I had a copy machine.  When in the woods, you never realize how useful they are, especially on a NOLS trip before ISGE.  For seven route plans, we had to have two extra copies or twenty-one route plans total.  One set for ourselves, one set for the other group, and one set for the instructors.  Each had to continue from the previous one, including all the contingency plans.

An entire morning passed between breakfast, camp break down and copying route plans.  It didn’t seem quite as tedious when we each copied two, but still, it took forever.  Gathering together, we all said bye for a week as we set off in two separate paths.

The six-person group decided to follow the rest of the track up to the tiniest tarn possible on the map about half a kilometer from the tarn we planned to camp at.  Our route took a bit more of a drastic approach and seemed like a fantastic idea on the map.  We wanted to follow a very steep ridge nearby up to the plateau, and then walk across that for a few kilometers and camp near a beautiful high tarn.

Now, on the map, it didn’t look too bad.  Neither did it look so bad as we ate breakfast and looked over at the treeless ridge.  However, with seven days of food crushing down on our backs, it was steep to say the least.  I believe we climbed 250m or so in 1 km.  Eventually we hit something of a herd path like small trail which made life a little easier, but the packs were damn heavy!

When we got to the plateau, it seemed like the entire valley had just risen higher and we were walking on the valley floor with mountains soaring above us still.  Not to mention, when we turned around we had huge panoramic videos of the giant lake.

Eventually, we reached our intended x on the map by the second tarn.  On the way, we saw the puddle that the other group had

The "Zelda" Tarn

picked to sleep near.  Then we laughed as we saw them coming up the valley toward it and move past to the first real tarn only about a quarter kilometer from us.  We waved to each other.  So much for a long goodbye.

It took us some time to find a decent campsite.  We had issues because we found spots out of the wind, but the soil mushed and had too much water in it; then when we found non-marshy spots, the wind would whip in and try to take the tent from us.  We did find a spot without either, but it was not exactly flat.  It was one of those spots that everyone is fine at the start of the night, but by morning, everyone ends up in a lump where their feet should be because we’ve slid down.

While relaxing and cooking dinner, all of a sudden, we see Jonah and Hidde walking up to our campsite.

“Long time no see,” I said as we quietly speculated what was up.

“Hey guuuuuys!” said Jonah with a sly smirk on his face.  “So, our stoves don’t work…James?”

Laughing, James picked them apart and in about five minutes, he handed them back over for them to test.  Then all of a sudden, “OH SHIT!” yelled Hidde.  Jonah, through some laughing and wide eyes starts whacking the grass that had caught fire because they tried to light the stove on top of a large patch of snow grass, almost lighting James’ pack on fire as well.

“Setting my pack on fire would not be a good payment for fixing your stoves,” James said relatively calmly as we smothered the few flames that had shot up quickly and quietly.

In the morning, we had set up a nice day hike prospect because we wanted to spend two days eating through the heavy food that we hauled up that steep first ridge.  From that tarn, we set out hiking at a leisurely 11am or so.  First we hiked up to the same saddle that we planned on crossing through the following day to scout the best way up the loose scree with a full pack.  We got the kinks out of that plan as we rock hopped all over with nothing but our day packs which was quite refreshing.

On the way up, we passed the other group with their full packs heading into the next valley a day before us.  From the saddle, we glanced over to see Christian and Andy hiking on the steep, jagged ridge adjacent to us.

First, we hopped over to peak 1922, where we ended up finding the instructors eating white gas flavored hot snacks.  Apparently, a little but of their white gas fuel had leaked over the prized, addicting hot snacks.  Upon taste, they were ok, but definitely had a weird aftertaste which came back with white gas flavored burps.  After a quick chat, we went on to climb four other peaks in the area before we hiked down to make sure we didn’t break any tent poles with the increasing wind since we left our tent and extra gear at the campsite.  A few of the peaks were better than others but all were fun.  We enjoyed one high tarn up there which apparently looked like Zelda.  I assumed that was some video game as Ryan and James geeked out about it for a few minutes.

Our tent did survive the wind blast that began hitting us on the fourth peak we climbed, but the anchors were loose and we thanked our extra storm proof effort that we took that morning.

Looking back at the lake

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Because we combined two days into one, we added a day hike option in to fill up some space.  Kyle and JD decided to take a rest day, hanging out at the hut while James led a group on a bushwhack up the North Branch of the Temple River.  Heather took people up some peak that the map only recognized by a number for the summit.  We got fantastic weather that day as well as spectacular views all around.  Not to mention the fun scree to slide down quickly.

Changing the plan a bit, we hiked out the few kilometers along a rather nice track to the trailhead where Julie, the rations manager, met us with a car resupply.  The weather seemed iffy from the start; it threatened rain all day and sprinkled on us a bit.

My feet looking on the previous route down the valley

The track ran down river in the South Temple Valley and we followed it easily enough – until Haley went into a scenario for us pretending to have a wasp sting and a broken ankle that we had to stop and take care of.  Her acting was so good, I would have believed her except there were no wasps and red magic marker gave the bruise on her ankle.

By the time we hit the trailhead, the rain had come fairly steadily, although nothing like typical east coast of the U.S. drenching-you-no-matter-what-rain-gear-you-have rain.  Conveniently, a small three sided shelter stood there with a covered privy and we all crammed in with a Dutch family in obnoxiously short shorts.  Hidde started speaking in Dutch immediately and laughed when the woman tried to get us to say things that weren’t what she told us they meant in English.

We thought the resupply should arrive at 1pm, so we got there super early, but Julie didn’t arrive until 1:30 (thinking the resupply was at 2pm and she was early).  We asked her to move the resupply a few kilometers down the road to another camping area and take a few of us there while the rest walked.

Tracy, Haley, and Christian jumped in to start the resupply up while the rest of us walked a long ways on the road there.  I was glad that most of it was dirt and only got annoyed when the road became pavement.  For a while, I walked farther ahead of the group with James mostly because I wanted to walk with my thoughts and I knew James would understand that.  Then we chatted for a long chunk of the walk.

Eventually, we all got there, after Tracy came bounding up to meet us.  The rain continued on and off the whole time, so we gathered under the tarp to hang out all together for dinner that night.  We couldn’t see much of the huge lake that sat right next to us because of the fog that day, but we knew it was there – and contaminated with didymo, so we definitely had to treat it.

The next morning, everyone begrudgingly woke up and got everything together because the rain had refused to stop.  No one wanted to get out of their sleeping bags or take off the nice warm layers to get soaked and hike further along the road until we hit the turn off a few kilometers down.

That day, I went into rain-mode.  I hate rain for the most part.  I would much rather hike through snow.  Therefore, when it rains, I tend to put my head down and hike quicker to keep up warmth, wearing less layers (because they all seem to get wet anyway), and plug through.  We had to stop and wait a few times where I found myself having to walk in circles to keep warm and not get my fleece all wet.

At the cut off from the road, Christian decided we needed to play a game which seemed to amuse him and Andy more than all of us, but it was a good laugh all the same.  It was basically like sharks and minnows without the water.  We stood in a circle to keep the shark and the minnow in bounds while the minnow had a shaker (someone’s bowl with a bumper bar thumping around in it).  The shark had a blindfold on and had to tag the minnow.  Eventually, we set Andy and Christian against each other which was the most amusing and made us forget about the rain that seemed to drench us through the rain gear.  That’s when I decided I would return the marmot full-zip rain pants to REI when I got home just because they weren’t actually waterproof.

From there, we had a sharp 100m climb, then two kilometers to our desired x on the map.  Once we got there, we had to search around and scout for campsites because it was not exactly ideal camping, although the beech forest was super cool to camp in and blocked at least half the rain.  After setting up camp, everyone worked on getting warm and dry, not wanting to move from the tents at all until we had a meeting under the tarp.

Since we were a good group, Andy and Christian wanted to give us a long ISGE or NOLS lingo for Independent Student Group Expedition.  In English that means we got to plan out six days on our own without them in two groups wherever we wanted to go (within certain limits) and execute our plan.

Before our meeting, they had us write down two people who we thought would be good small group leaders and two people who we wanted to be with in the group for them to generate in their super brain computers two groups each with a leader.  The results were: group one: Tracy, Haley, Kyle, Hidde, and JD, led by Jonah, and group two: Ryan, Heather, and James, led by me.

We split off into the two groups and began writing up the classic NOLS route plans to give full details of our whereabouts (as long as we followed them) to the other group and to the instructors so everyone knew where everyone else was in case of an emergency.  Each group also had to divide up a PLB (personal locator beacon), a GPS, and an epinephrine kit in case anyone gets stung by a wasp, didn’t know they were allergic and went into anaphylactic shock – we practiced on an orange and an apple before leaving base just in-case.

The Temple River: North Branch on the left and South Branch on the Right

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After a day’s rest we planned to switch valleys again, this time into the South Branch of the Temple River by way of a rather steep pass, slick with a thin layer of fresh snow.  The weather chose our side this time and we set off nice and early in two groups making our way up the slope.  The terrain switched from unstable scree to wet snow grass to alpine meadow within two kilometers.

In the snow meadow, I felt as if the sun tried to burn me from every angle possible as it shone brightly above, below, and to the sides.  Go sunglasses!  Eventually, we made it to the pass where the others had scouted before and we looked for the best way down.  The sun had melted the snow significantly so we had to look for avalanche danger.

Looking into the Temple Valley was another completely different system than the Ahuriri and the Dingle Burn.  The panoramas stretched out in 360 degrees.  The first part of the descent was the most fun because we butt slid about halfway down the snowy section since the angle was not harmful.  We went to an outcropping of rocks that poked out like a sore thumb to pick the best route to continue.  The butt slide also took considerably less time and impacted the sore knees the least.

Pausing at the rock outcropping, we heard a crashing sound to the right and we looked over to see a huge boulder let loose and tumble down faster and faster to the valley floor.  Looking at each other, we all put helmets on since we had them, we thought we might as well.  Then we continued down the snow for a while trying to stay out of the rockfall line.

At the end of the snow, we couldn’t break in steps and all of us ended up self arresting, then controlled sliding down to the scree.

South Branch Temple Valley, from where the snow ended.

Relieved, we walked until we found the first stream and began to clean our boots off with salt water to prevent the spread of didymo.  There, we took a break for snacks as well since we only had one brush for five of us.

From there, we had to rock hop down to the x we made on the map near a small tarn tucked into bush.  I found this infinitely amusing to bounce around on the rocks for a few kilometers, but the others weren’t too thrilled, so we proceeded steadily, but slowly.  The sun blazed on making us pretty hot and the heat seemed to move off of the rocks toward us.

In not too long a time, we ran into the other group lounging on their packs near the river by the x.  Bad news: the small tarn had absolutely nowhere to camp by it.  Option 1: camp near the river, but be completely exposed to the wind.  Option 2: hike another 5 or 6 kilometers to the hut that we had planned to hit the next day.  Terrified on the bad wind we had encountered before, we went with option 2.

Haley had a stomach ache, Tracy’s knees were killing her, and James’ ankle was doing ok but not 100%.  Since, according to the map, the trail did not go as far up as we were, we decided to follow the river down the half a kilometer or so to the track.  That was a small lapse of judgement on our part.  We should have scouted a bit around, since from our previous experience, the tracks tend to go further than the map depicts.

Anyway, we decided to basically walk through the river since it was only about mid-calf to knee-deep and not moving too fast.  We could see the ground the whole time.  It also gave us some heat relief since the water pretty much came from just melted snow.  Our idea had been to follow along the side of the river, but the bush was so thick that it literally pushed us into the river.

Not too far down however, we ran into another problem: the river got deeper, faster, and had a few drops which were not easy to navigate on foot with a large pack on.  Into the bush we went!  Throwing ourselves into it and using the vegetation to pull ourselves up, we dove in for a good old-fashioned messy bushwhack, sweating our asses off.  The plants poked and prodded us for 45 minutes and left annoying ankle and sometimes leg twisting holes unseen until you stepped in and yelped “HOLE!”

Finally, when everyone’s wits started to go, we spotted a track marked by a single metal pole and we made our way there by forcefully barreling through the vegetation since we had no other choice.  We did run into our old friends the matagouri and the spaniards a few times where nothing but curses flew.

Sitting by the post, happy with our efforts, Christian and Andy suddenly popped up out of nowhere.

“How long did it take you guys to get here?” one of them asked.

“About 45 minutes to an hour,” someone answered gulping down water.

“Hmmm, it took us 8 minutes,” Andy said looking at his watch laughing.

“Yeah, you guys should have scouted – the track picked up from the tarn a bit back,” Christian laughed with him.

Whoops.  Well, that was fun.  From there, we followed the track as much as possible which became harder at sometimes than others since the river had taken a few chunks out of it in some places.  Another fun challenge was that the trail had been changed, but some of the old markers remained leading us down deserted paths.

After a few crosses of the river, we came across one challenging spot where we reasoned and scouted for about 15 minutes before we found a suitable spot.  We also went for another small bushwhack by accident following the old markers by mistake, but we eventually got to camp laughing about our adventure around 6:30 pm or so, immediately sitting down to cook dinner since our stomachs raged after our fun-filled day.

The pass we went through, looking back at the head of the Ahuriri Valley

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Exhausted, we all passed out quickly with a meet time of something like 9am…nice and late the next day, not packed up, just having eaten breakfast.  We didn’t quite have a day off, but we kinda did.

Christian and Andy threw the ball in our court again and let us continue to plan out the rest of our ration period which took awhile to hear everyone’s opinions on what we should do and where we should go.  They left us to argue it through for an hour or so.  Eventually we came to sort of a consensus with questions to be clarified and we brought them back over to check out our super baller plan.

In the end we decided to try one of the instructors’ ideas to do a “solo” first since the time reached closer toward noon and none of us felt like hiking super far that afternoon.  Basically, we spread out in a few places where the instructors knew where we were and we had a vague idea where the next person down was.  Then we could do anything we wanted within reason in that little area and we would sleep there as well.  Luckily, the night appeared clear and it did not choose to freakishly precipitate on us, sending us all running back to the tents before our sleeping bags got soaked.

Some cool moss by my solo area

Some people chose to fast for 24 hours of the solo; I chose not to because I’d fasted before and I just get super irritable, plus I was hungry to begin with and I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire.  Once I picked my spot, I located the most sheltered space to sleep between two trees a little higher up on the bank to give me a better view of the valley.  I poked around and found a giant widow maker hanging precariously suspended and made sure I was not in it’s line of fire.

The rest of the day, I snacked, caught up on my journal, did some yoga, lounged about lazily, and waited for dark to sleep.  Nothing too revolutionary.

After sleeping in peacefully, I lounged some more, then wandered back into camp and worked on starting breakfast.  Conveniently, Heather, JD, and I got there about the same time and all of us were hungry, per usual.

When everyone who had fasted had a solid lunch and a bit of time to digest it, we set off hiking up the valley in two groups with the instructors hiking well ahead of us.  We had a nice little track back up the main Ahuriri Valley.  Fortunately for us, we had also already hiked a large chunk of the path two days before when we emerged from our bushwhack from hell, so we knew the track well and we strolled a lot of it.  Once we passed that point, we still had a few kilometers to go, but we had a track the whole way so it did not require a large amount of mental capacity.  We did have to cross the river twice and for that we did have to stop and look for the best place to cross and jump into train position.

It had started to drizzle rain, enough to put on a shell, but not enough to become too bothered by it.  When we got to the hut, we met in our separate groups, then set about cooking dinner.  JD, Heather, James and I ended up staying in the hut because none of us stayed in the last hut and it conveniently had four beds.  While Heather and Ryan planned out the next day’s route plan, I baked us some cornbread for lunch so we wouldn’t deplete our small snack supply too quickly at the beginning of the ration like the last week.

The next day, we planned on heading pretty far up the valley to camp a ways below the pass we needed to cross into the South Branch of the Temple Valley.  As we began walking, we followed the track for a ways until it petered out.  Our basic plan was to follow the river up the valley until the x on the map, making sure to be on river right when we hit the quick elevation gain because the terrain would get significantly more difficult on river left.

Our only obstacle until then was a large patch of matagouri that we pushed through getting all kinds of new scrapes.  Thank you pants.  For once, I was happy not to have shorts on.  We ended up having to cross the river several times which always took a decision moment or a few.  Our feet became perpetually wet and cold for the rest of the day which irked me, but was not quite as bad as it usually got just because we weren’t traveling fast or far.

The last crossing before the elevation gain was a little sketchy, but we managed it well and continued to follow something like a herd path higher up.  It became exceedingly tedious at times and James’ ankle started bugging him from the previous day’s leap over a braid in the river.  We slowed our pace and met up with the other group near the x on the map.

From there, we scouted the best campsite for the most wind protection.  After our mountaineering wind problems, we were not about to have that again if we could manage it.  We found one fairly quickly enough and set up camp as the wind picked up; our fears began to rise that we would have another night of shifts taking care of the tent.

We tried meeting as a group which worked for awhile until it began to snow on us and we retreated to our tents for the rest of the evening.

Waking up to about an inch and a half of fresh snow, some wind, and other mixed precipitation, most of us took a day off, but Haley, Ryan, and James went on a scouting day hike to check out our pass route for the next day.  Heather, JD, and I continued our tent rummy game which reached into the rummy 1200s at that point.

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Sleeping rather poorly, I noted at 4 a.m. the wind had picked up a bit.  Normally, I would not be pleased about wind when I go up into high passes, but from the past few months, wind has proved more often than not to provide a clear day full of visibility which was exactly what we needed that day.

Supposedly, a track went up through this particular pass we identified on the map, but we saw no signs of it; our luck of the track that extended far beyond what we expected had run out.  I was not super surprised because nothing was marked on the paper map, only on the map by our re-ration spot.

Andy and Christian went first, leaving us all on our own, then the first group set off, then we set off.  All of us took the same route, just at staggered times.  In the last group with me was Tracy, Kyle, Hidde, and James.  Since we couldn’t see more than 100 feet maximum the night before, we all took a moment just to look at our route on the map and to look at it in real life in front of our faces.  Pretty neat features!

When we finally went, we crossed over the rest of the plateau, jumping over a few hidden feeder streams, and started climbing steeply (as always in New Zealand).  About 45 minutes in, as we cross the last large chunk of snow, Hidde suddenly looks confused,

“Hey, Kyle…is your ice ax inside your pack?”

“What?” Kyle started, “Shit.”

Tracy’s eyes bulge and reaches around to feel the back of her pack, “Crap! Me too!”

All of us threw our packs down in a suitable area and decided what to do.  After a few moments of pondering, the decision came to Tracy and Kyle hiking back down without packs, but with a snack, water, map, and a layer, while we waited with the packs.  Estimating the time, we moved so we could see them almost all the way down just in case something happened.

While they hurried along, Hidde, James, and I got to watch a few avalanches crash down from the other side of the valley which made neat rumbling sounds like the mountain had a stomach ache.  They did indeed make it down and back up in approximately the estimated time, then took a small break to catch their breaths.  Then we continued on our usual route.

From there, it was not long until we reached a long bench which brought us right up to our desired pass in a pleasantly not-so-steep manner.  Looking down on the other side, we debated amongst ourselves the best way down because the slope had been warmed by the sun all morning and had the right slope angle for a possible avalanche like the ones we had heard earlier, so we picked our route carefully and crossed over to the large scree slope.

Scree became our new best friend when descending because it just flows with your plunge steps ever so nicely instead of the damn grasses.  In the middle of the slope around where the scree met the grass, we saw Christian and Andy chilling out and we immediately assumed they would try to throw some first aid scenario in or something that we had to solve, so we started reviewing while we eased closer.  Apparently, they took a long nap and had afternoon tea to make sure everyone figured out the pass ok.

As we continued down, the route we chose on the map plainly showed up in front of us with one small catch.  The drainage we planned to cross near treeline (or bushline as the Kiwis call it), actually cliffed out in a gully conveniently where it did not appear cliffed on the map.  We recalculated and decided to cross it much higher up where we only had to jump over the stream and not rappel down into it and climb up the other side.

This presented us with another challenge though.  The shoulder we found ourselves descending was much more vegetated and a bit steeper which made travel super slow as we slid on our asses quite frequently.  We also had to grab hold of large chunks of grass or slightly prickly vegetation and ease ourselves over these hidden four to six foot drops.  Then there were the matagouri and spaniards to avoid as well!

Once we hit the treeline, we rejoiced thinking the hard part was over.  Then we felt like the annoying television infomercial that

In the beginning, when we thought it was funny, and it wasn't that bad yet.

goes, “Buuuuuut wait! There’s more!”

The section of trees had previously experience a very significant amount of blowdown which slowed our travel even more than before, as if we weren’t going slow enough already.  It made for quite the obstacle course; we could not always decide which was more efficient: going under, over, or around, so we tried a mix of everything.  The reason why we had to traverse through the trees in that area was because above us, there were cliffs, and below us, the ridges going down to the valley clipped out too!  We then had the challenge of finding which ridge to follow down that wouldn’t cliff out on us.    From up there, through all the trees (standing and fallen), we had trouble identifying how many drainages we had actually crossed.

Then we heard people.  Whoa.  All of us froze.  At first we thought it was the instructors who had passed us as we struggled five of us through the grasses.  Then we saw Jonah’s yellow z-rest on his backpack and realized we had caught up to the other group, even after Tracy and Kyle went back for their ice axes.  When they got back up to us, they said they had followed the wrong ridge down and it cliffed so they were on their way back up to try another one.

We needed a small break anyway, so we let them go ahead.  In the end, we all ran into each other not long after when we thought we found the correct ridge again.  Or one of two with the sharp gully between them.  They had sent Heather and Haley to scout the further one which we were all pretty sure it was, so we sent Tracy and James down the questionable one a ways to see what they thought.

After a bit, they came back and both thought they had a good ridge.  In the end, we went with the one we identified on the map which Heather and Haley had scouted, so all ten of us set out through the jungle gym of dead or dying trees.  At one point, when we climbed with our full packs through a massively sketchy down tree in the top of the gully we questioned why we set two gymnasts to scout the path.  It was sketchy, but we made it.

Great.  We found the ridge.  We could see that, once we got over there.  Fantastic.  Now we get to go down thicker blowdown.  Shit.  Both my knees and Tracy’s knees screamed by the time we got down to the valley floor.  It took us a decent amount of time to navigate over the super dead and decaying mess that stretched down to the river.

Then we had to motivate to get 7 more kilometers back to the food cache.  The motivation came when we got to follow the remnants of an old jeep road which passed off as the track.  We booked it with food on the brain in about and hour and a half, just walking straight through the streams to get there.  Everyone was beat and starving after that bushwhacking adventure.

The pass, looking back at where we came up.

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Relaxing in the beech forest, we planned out our next ration period.  Instead of carrying nine days of food, we decided to take two days plus a little and head off on a two-day loop.  Our new tent groups sorted out all the food we wanted to eat for the next few days while we cooked up some din din.

In the morning, we got a bright and early start around 8 a.m. after we cached the rest of our food under fallen beech trees, hoping we’d remember the place.  For the first time, we split into two groups and left the instructors who trailed behind an hour or so until they caught up to us and pretended not to know us.

The trail began following a tributary to the Ahuriri River and ran up a side valley which ended in a wall of waterfalls.  Literally.  I’m not joking.  An amphitheater wall of waterfalls.

We had one small climb to get around part of the river and it gave us our first view, albeit foggy, up the valley.  For the beginning, we still had a track which we found pleasant because we didn’t have to trip all over large, cumbersome clumps of tussocks or snow grass.  Under our feet, the soft decomposing beech tree leaves cushioned our feet as we walked through what appeared to be an enchanted forest.  From inside it seemed like it stretched for miles, but in reality it reached about a mile or so ahead of us, a quarter-mile behind us, and maybe a third of a mile up river right of the valley.

Once we reached the gravel flats and exited our enchanted forest, we thought the track would end there as the map indicated, but the trail markers just became orange posts more spread out until they eventually gave way to cairns that did not really follow any rhyme nor reason.  As we grabbed a snack, we looked up from the map at a wall of waterfalls.  A four or five hundred foot wall stretched out with at least five waterfalls cascading down into small braids of the tributary.  At the top it had a relatively flat plateau, where we planned to camp.  Further up, we could catch a glimpse of part of Mt. Huxley and the Huxley glacier far higher than we planned on hiking, but beautiful nonetheless.

The tricky part came when we wanted to get up there.  Looking at the wall, to the left between two of the waterfalls, the section had less of a grade, although still extremely steep.  From afar, it looked sketchy as shit.  Especially with the light rain that kept trying to spurt out of the sky.

We followed the river to the beginning of the section we had identified on the map as least steep (all relative) and where the bold line had casually kinda sorta gone at the sign map at the trailhead where we resupplied.  When we got to the base of it, I felt a little better.  I could see sharp zigs and zags creeping up it and blotches of orange marking the “indicated” way.  It started to rain lightly so I had to change layers quickly and while climbing, I stayed quite warm in just my tank top and shell.

Beginning our zig and zagging, we carefully checked out each shift before doing it since the rock had become incredibly slick and the small foot holds and occasional hand holds would not hold as well.  Luckily, a lot of it had thick, solidly rooting bushes that for the most part did not try to kill you like the matagouri and spaniards, so we could hold onto them as we ascended, occasionally providing spotting and making foot holds with our hands.

At the top of the steep climb, wall in the background to the right.

Slowly but surely, the five of us made it up and could see the other group going through the same decision points below us while Christian and Andy jaunted along behind them.  Some fog had rolled in with the drizzle as we had to cross the top of one of the waterfalls.  We went further back a bit and found a good crossing.

Cairns continued from there in a sort of haphazard way although we ended up finding a few herd paths to follow as we had to find better spots to cross the tops of the other waterfalls.  Making our way further on the plateau proved a bit more difficult than it looked on the map.  The map depicted nice wide contour lines which somehow wanted to translate into “nice grassy meadow” in my head even though I knew it wouldn’t be anything like it.

It did increase a bit in elevation, but that was no longer the challenge.  Now we had to maneuver through large talus rock or through large, clumpy grasses which sometimes tried to throw you into small ankle or knee-deep streams feeding the waterfalls.  They would come out of nowhere and all of a sudden you would get this wet sensation in your foot.

Eventually, we came to the most open area and began scouting for a rumored bivy rock which could sleep three under it.  After a few scouts, we located it and camped around it.  James was the only one who elected to sleep under it, everyone else just wanted a warm dry tent.  And rummy.  The rain persisted in a light mist form and continued with some wind for most of the night.

While that day provided us with some sketchy fun, the next day overwhelmed it with what seemed like the adventure that would not end and kept throwing new challenges at us.

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After Mt. Gladwish, we all ran a bit low on energy and opted for a half day follow-up.  We did the usual, split into two groups and hiked further up the never-ending valley for a few more kilometers until the last hut, aptly named “Top Hut.”  From there, an optional day hike went further up the dense forest without a track.

Due to decreasing energy levels, James was the only one who went up with Christian for a few hours while the rest of us, lounged about, cooked, baked, read, slept.  Andy whipped out his super coffee maker fancy thing that impressed everyone–even the non-coffee drinkers.  The sun shone and we relaxed!

The next day was not quite so relaxing.  Our two groups decided to go slightly different routes to get to the same place.  One group went further up the valley then cut up a shoulder onto the ridge and the other group cut up first, then followed the ridge.  According to our plan, we would meet up somewhere along the ridge, follow the ridge a ways, then drop down the other side to a small tarn (alpine lake) before dropping all the way into the Ahiriri Valley which would be the next day.

They were not kidding when they mentioned immediately going up a steep shoulder.  It started out in a beautiful beech forest where the ground had so many decomposed leaves, it cupped your feet and cushioned them as they pushed us upward.  A track kind of existed with a few orange markers here or there, but it seemed more like a small maze of herd paths through large amounts of slippery tussock grass once we got above the beech trees.  Now, that grass is fine to go up on, but will put you on your ass at least once or twice descending.

The weather seemed to hold through the morning, but as we went up toward the ridge, the cloud cover grew greater and threatened unpleasantness.  The ridge was magnificent with views into each valley and the surrounding mountain tops blanketed in glaciers.  That is, until we lost visibility.  We could see a decent distance, but not much would help us; lucky for us, we took bearings when we noticed the rapid visibility decrease.  It was also pretty easy just following the ridge because all we had to do was not go off of it, making sure it went down on either side.  We did have enough visibility to see about 100 feet in front of us and about the same down either side.

Wind began to whip us and the gortex made its show.  As along as we kept moving we stayed warm as it tried to rain a few times.  Eventually, we saw the tarn and headed down off the ridge carefully through the freshly slick tussock and snow grass caked with prickly matagouri and spaniards.

When we got to the tarn, the camping looked interesting to say the least.  James and I began setting up the tarp between two large boulders, low to the ground with only sitting head room, while the others set up tents over very large bunches of snow grass.  It proved for an interesting sleep as we attempted to form ourselves around the awkward lumps.

We set up an area to didymo, which has been contaminating the water systems in New Zealand.  Between watersheds, the DOC (Department of Conservation) has asked hikers to wash their boots in a salt water solution which kills it off.

With energy running low and not much food left in the ration, we took a day off by the tarn doing first aid classes and the like.  A few people ran back up the ridge to explore a bit in the afternoon, but otherwise, we lounged about, gave Kyle another haircut, and played rummy.

The evening displayed our best “last night stew” abilities.  We divided ourselves into teams after we pooled all our remaining food besides a tid bit for breakfast.  One group made pasta pasta pasta led by Ryan, Haley made stew with all the random things left, and I made a heaping cornbread.  Then we divided everything up between ourselves and for once, everyone was almost full.

In the morning, the weather cleared up for the most part and we headed downhill about 800 meters to get to the base of the Ahuriri valley and find excellent campsites in a beech forest at the bottom.

The route seemed easy enough on the map, but we picked a slightly different ridge to descend without realizing it.  Instead of hiking back up, we decided to make do although we definitely ran into problems near one gully which dropped into a 30 foot cliff and we had to hike up a bit anyway, but we made it down in one piece to see the clouds make crazy ridiculous shapes across the sky.  I think New Zealand gets the crazy clouds award.

While making camp, we got to make a wish on 11:11 on November the 11th, 2011.  All of us set various alarms so none of us missed it.

After setting up camp, we walked back about 15 minutes to the road head at the base of the valley with empty packs, empty fuel bottles, and our trash to get resupplied.  Resupply was glorious along with new tent groups and a bag of extra food that Amy had promised to add to our rations to appease our appetites.

I was in a new tent group with Heather and JD and Heather and I experienced JD cooking his pink sauce to put on pasta at three times in one ration period.  It’s pink because it’s a mixture between a white sauce and tomato sauce (since there is never enough tomato sauce).  It made an excellent dish for an empty stomach though!

Looking back over the ridge we walked, the Dingle Burn Valley on the Left and the Ahuriri on the right

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