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Posts Tagged ‘Matagouri’

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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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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Despite a large dinner and dessert, we all awoke super hungry again.  Tracy made excellent sweet couscous combo for all of us and then I made cornbread to pack over for lunch since we somehow have already almost run out of trail snack food.  Oh, right…it’s because we had three trying days in a row and did nothing but go up and down which sets appetites on the “raging” mode.

Good thing, we had a sleep in morning and met up at 10 a.m. for Andy to talk about orienteering using a model of the earth made with his clothes bag and a sharpie.  It made a rather decent impression of the earth but super lumpy looking.

About an hour later, we did the usual splitting into two groups and leaving about 15 minutes apart or so.  Today’s terrain was

Continuing up the Dingle Burn River

pretty easy since the valley had widened out, the track had room to run along the small plateaus next to the river instead of shooting up to get around cliffs that the river ran right up against.

We passed by a “historic hut” which had good camping near it.  We peered in and looked around for a moment and laughed at the sign that forbid people from staying in it.  That might work fine for fair weather but I imagined that many a person has stayed in it to get out of a nasty storm, like the ones that destroyed so many of our tent poles in the mountaineering section.

From there, we stumbled around a few times for the actual trail which was sometimes marked and sometimes not.  It had a few bright orange posts and triangles which were fairly easy to spot when they existed.  It was hard to actually get lost because we just had to stay river left and not leave the valley.  Not hard at all.  We did have one small run-in with a large patch of matagouri which ripped at our skin as we pushed our way through it.

Since we went first, we scouted out our campsite and began picking spots when the other group arrived not long after and joined us in setting everything up.  The sun shone brightly and the air temperature had risen into the 70s, a nice break from the snow and cold we had before.  It inspired us to go jump in the river since we’d dry quickly.  The river water was an entirely different story and I lasted a grand total of five seconds: enough to run in, duck under, and run back out.  Damn glacial melt water.

We even had to find shade from large matagouri bushes because the sun heated up the tents too much and we feared to open the doors and have the super duper annoying sand flies come in and attack us.  We survived and checked our food to make rough meal plans for the rest of the ration because we were afraid that our stomachs would take over and we would have no food left at the end as usual.  I nibbled on spoonfuls of peanut butter from my kilo when there was nothing else.  That was worth it’s weight in gold.  I still would have killed a pound every four days or so normally, but I rationed myself.

The next day, we decided to day hike up Mt. Gladwish which lay just to the east of us.  Instead of the usual two groups leaving 15 minutes apart, we left at the same time, but climbed different ridges to the top, then followed the opposite on the way down.  New Zealand proved its ability for steepness once again as we climbed about 1000 meters in 3 kilometers or, in American, about 3000 feet in 1.8 miles.  This time, we had much less on our backs though which made it quite a bit more pleasant.

We had a fun pow wow and photo-op on the summit since the weather held beautifully and we checked out the Ahuriri Valley which lay on the other side of the ridge where we wanted to head next.

The descent became a little trying on my knees because we went down the steeper, shorter ridge that the other group had gone up.  Tracy’s knees screamed too.  We made it down fine through the tussock grass and had a relaxing late afternoon until the sand flies came out in full force and the mosquito head nets came out quickly.  Haley discovered she could take her trucker hat and put the mesh over her face and secured it with the hood of her jacket easily enough by tightening the strings.  That worked until one got in and all of a sudden she jumped off her butt pad making a loud ruckus.

Our campsite is super small down in the matagouri

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