Posts Tagged ‘River’

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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The weather decided to hold up the seven faces of eve to give us a taste of all four seasons on our second day in the backpacking section.  In the morning, Jonah and I went over to Heather, Ryan, and JD’s tent to get breakfast water.  Since it still drizzled from the grey sky, we piled in on top of them with breakfast while they boiled water.

None of us wanted to venture out into the wetness that seemed to surround us: the lake, the river, the rain, the mud.  To get our spirits up and blood moving, we played a large game of Ninja.  That feeling went away fine after about ten minutes of walking though.  We split up in two groups again and slogged through the wet grass that made out rain pants slick within minutes.

The beginning of the terrain eased up nicely along the Dingle River delta and we moved fairly quickly chatting along the way.  Then the trail split: a high water track and a river track.  Judging by the height of the  water river we crossed in the morning and the other rivers in the area, we grudgingly took the high water track which immediately went up.

The precipitation returned turning the track into a muddy mess where we all slipped and slid around.  We followed a fence high above the river, occasionally holding onto it for balance and the rain came down faster until it turned into hail.  When the track went down a bit, it changed to snow and a bit later, back to rain.  It couldn’t decide which way the sky wanted to shit on us.

The rest of the way just went up and down, up and down, never flat.  The pack weight still annoyed me, but the terrain that day wasn’t horrible besides the mud.  At two spots, we had to put up handlines to get down sketchy mud-caked slopes.

At the bottom, we crossed the drainage that flowed back into the river and immediately went up on the other side where I definitely slipped and slid about fifteen feet or so and got a nice big mud stain on my butt.  I chilled with Haley in the back and after that we had fun pointing out new, exotic forms of bright, neon green moss.

Very close to our campsite destination next to a two person hut, we had to traverse a section where the river lay about fifty feet below and the track was barely wide enough to put one foot on.  Placing my feet carefully, I went across with  no problem, but afterwards laughed because there was no way you could put both feet next to eat other that entire section.

Boy, were we hungry after that.  The replacement glue ball for the pump worked fantastically and Jonah made us baller pizza with some of the heavy freshies that we toted around in hopes to use them up so we didn’t have to carry them.

Before we went to bed, Christian and Andy told us we had to have an 8 a.m. start because the next section has a reputation for problems and getting into camp after midnight.  Great.  While the distance was short, it did nothing but shoot up and down constantly and the map had gotten the track wrong so the instructors were going off of a a route another instructor had penciled onto it.  Next to one part, it had arrows and a star indicating sketchy-as-shit pretty much.  This day proved to become one of our most difficult days the whole section and we then evaluated the difficulty of each day based on this third day.

We split into two groups as always, making sure each group was self sufficient in case anything happened and immediately hiked

The Dingle River Valley, New Zealand

upward.  Fantastic way to wake up.  None of us joked or talked – just kept going up.  I had to play “time keeper” and let everyone know when break time was every hour or so, depending on when we found a good spot.  Since the NOLS rations never really gave good opportunities for a regular lunch, we had to eat snacky stuff of leftovers from dinner every hour or so to keep our energy up.  I missed my peanut butter granola burritos and boots-off breaks.

After crossing a creek, we had the crux of the day coming up where the trail literally shot directly up gaining 400 meters of elevation in 1 kilometer which translates in American to about 1200 ft in .62 of a mile.  Hmmmmm.  Yeah.  Steep.  Lucky for us, it had not rained since the day before and the track did not have quite so much mud as before so we slipped and slid a little less.

About half way up, we hit an exposed nub with loose footing and almost no handholds.  The river lay a solid few hundred feet below on a very steep grade.  A handline might have been helpful, but after a bit of scouting and spotting, we found a way up, albeit definitely sketchy.  On top, we took a short break, then continued up far enough to hit a thin layer of snow that had fallen when we trudged through the rain the previous day.

Eventually, we reached the max height and began descending back to another drainage. From there we could actually see no other way around besides walking up the river the way the land had jutted.  Personally not a fan of wet feet, I enjoyed the view, but we all got cold up there and headed down slowly trying not to slip into each other.

“What is brown and sticky?” Andy asked us with a wry smile when we plopped down for some food on an awkward slope yet less steep than the surroundings.

“Mud,” someone answered.

“Poop,” someone else answered.

“A stick!” Andy shouted.

Great.  Thus started more and more bad jokes.  After the hard part ended, we checked the map and we had to cross five more drainages before finding our campsite, i.e. up, down five times with one small plateau atop and between two of them.  Toward the end, Heather had to stop and fix her foot twice which had begun to blister.

An airstrip showed on the map as our last landmark where the track would go across to the other side and we just had to go straight a few hundred feet and a hut would magically appear.  Relieved, we headed straight only to be startled by giant rabbits bounding out of nowhere across our path.  They were legit, bigger than small dogs.

We made peanut butter fudge for dessert that night since dinner filled no one up and we decided we deserved it after finishing in good time and having no significant problems to report.

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Wake up.  Pack up.  The day has come to change valleys.  Get some new scenery.  Enjoy a new glacier.  Gaze over at different ridges.  And let’s not forget carrying extremely heavy packs through the whole beautiful process.

As luck would have it, we had a good cause to gather in the morning for a little bit instead of chasing after Roger because we are one minute late.  Kyle’s birthday of course!  Sean and Roger spent a good portion of their evening specially crafting a Betty Crocker cake.  It turned out better than any of our attempts to bake a cake.  We sang happy birthday and the whole sha-bang, and we even brought back a few of our sea kayaking rituals which Roger found ridiculous and only let them continue for the sake of not ruining the birthday mood.

When the time came to leave, we heaved the incredibly heavy packs up and trudged along the valley floor toward the drainage that we took to get down two days before.  The top of that drainage marked the “easiest” way to cross into the Ashburton Valley; the pass itself did not have a name.

As we began hiking, we paused to smother on sunscreen and delayer since the sun had come out in full force to the point where I

Traversing across

Traversing across

hiked through the snow in a tank top.  I felt a little out-of-place trudging through snow that sometimes went thigh deep with a large pack, an ice ax in one hand and wearing just a tank top.

We examined the traverse from the drainage across to the actual pass before quickly scurrying across.  The sun had quickly begun to melt the snow which could have made parts unstable, but we pushed through quickly and soon landed in the pass which gave us a fantastic panorama view of the Ashburton Valley, so close, yet so different from the Cameron Valley.

We piled our packs and decided to run up peak 1972 which lay just next to us.  Since we somehow had energy at that point, or we just wanted an even more spectacular view, we went up.  All twelve of us.  The summit offered a better view along the ridge line in either direction and the surrounding sea of mountains.  The commanding view inspired us for that time, until we had to head all the way down skidding down some icy patches.  We had fun butt-sliding down from the pass as it was either that or posthole down the whole thing.

Once we hit the valley floor, the snow gave way to uneven tussock grass, matagouri, and spaniards.  The Ashburton River flowed by chilly from the glacier and along in a million braids that would sometimes surprise you at inconvenient times: like when you find the easiest way through the tussock, then the earth mysteriously drops a few feet down into a braid of the river.  I hate getting my feet wet.

Ashburton Valley, New Zealand

Ashburton Valley, New Zealand

Roger had a spot in mind that he wanted us to head to, so we went there and set up camp relatively close together otherwise the tents would end up in a dry braid of the riverbed.  With all the snow melting, that just did not seem like the brightest idea.

After deciding to meet at 8am, we all went to our tents, cooked dinner, and promptly passed out since the tiredness caught up to us in full force.

The next day ended up as one of my favorite days of the whole section.  We began by hiking up the left gully to the base of the glacier, which in and of itself took us up 600 meters of elevation.  Luckily, only the first part dove through tussock grass and then we went through dry riverbeds and snow.

Once at the base, we roped up with three rope teams and ten people total.  Heather and JD decided to sit this one out since they were still super tired from the day before.  I had Roger and Haley and I got the middle.

The fog that filled the valley stayed hovering down there while we hiked above and beyond it to feel the full power of the sun.  It was just like the mist in the book/movie by Stephen King, except nothing shot out of it and killed us or filled our corpses with spiders.  In response, almost every break we got, we smothered on sunscreen, and kept a hat and sunglasses on.

We got the very bare minimum basics of glacier travel while we scouted out the upper valley and what we could do in the next week or so, weather depending of course.  Because of the sun, we couldn’t wander around too much in the afternoon, so we headed back down to the base and found a good little ice climb to play.  We also did a bit of fixed rope ascension which ended up with multiple finger and hand bleeds.

Everyone managed to stay in a good mood the whole day and we all worked well.  At the last few hundred yards of snow we all

The fog

postholed at least once up to our waists which tired us out.  When we finally got back though, we were all starving!  JD had awesomely seen us coming and put on hot water which we immediately used to cook dinner.  Way to be one step ahead!

Another night, we all passed out super early because we were just beat.  Luckily, we would have the next day to re-ration and plan the rest of our section which had somehow gone down to only 9 days remaining.

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Beep Beep.  Beep Beep. 4:30 am wake up.  It’s still dark out.  My sleeping bag is warm.  Shit.  I want to go hiking.  I want to go hiking.  I sat up.  Step number one.  I drank some icy water to wake myself up on the inside.  Step number two.  Haley and I got breakfast water starting while sitting in our sleeping bags.  Step number three.  Wake JD up for breakfast and begin eating.  Step number four.  Run outside and go to the bathroom quickly.  Now we’re up.

The rustling of backpacks, boots, and sleeping bags filled the morning stillness.  Not many talked since no one had seen the sun yet and the morning cold still iced our bones.  Headlamps flickered in all directions as we packed day packs for a morning adventure.  Because of the dumping of snow the previous few days and the warmth predicted for the afternoon, we would have to start very early in order to have better snow travel conditions.

We split into two groups to cover more ground with a smaller amount of people.  Sean took Haley, Heather, James, and Jonah up on the Cameron Glacier while Roger took Ryan, JD, and I up to climb a peak or two behind the hut, in a direction we had only gazed upon and not explored.  Tracy took a knees-rest-day since they split with pain worse than splitting firewood, Hidde woke up feeling sick, and Kyle just wanted a rest day.


The four of us headed out through the fresh snow and over snow-covered moraine to get to the first slopes to climb.  We began long, relatively steep zig zags to gain elevation and not burn out our calves.  The first hints of dawn had begun when we left the hut and as we made our way up the slope, the sun began to rise through a purple-pink sky which lit up the layers upon layers of mountains surrounding us.

Taking a five minute break every hour or so, we shoveled down more calories to keep us warm and walking.  Roger doesn’t seem to like breaks much and kept pushing hard to get higher faster.  He did have a reason for doing so; as the sun came over the mountains, it began warming the snow and we began to sink more.  We found small, high meadows and a few slopes with waist deep snow which we postholed through.  Trying to stay near chunks of exposed scree, we had an easier time from not postholing, but then we had to watch our footing more in case the loose scree just gave out under our weight.  We began connecting partially exposed scree patches to each other trying not to find more waist deep snow.  Postholing exhausted us and by the time we hit the third peak, we knew we didn’t have much climbing left in us.  Getting to that last peak, the snow was so deep that I began almost crawling up.  I found that I sunk less if I used my shins as a crude snow shoe instead of my feet because it spread my weight better.

Our “rest” on top of the peak was really a “shovel food in the mouth and find the safest route down” since we could see so much from there.  A few of the slopes we climbed up, we now had to avoid because the wet, warm snow had not bonded to the bottom layers and could slide easily.  We headed toward a drainage and then followed that down.  In just a few hours, the snow had melted significantly: water ran through the drainage under the snow and the snow-covered scree slope that we started on now had only a small three inches or so on it.  That part was the worst because every step became loose and it jarred at the knees painfully.

We got back to the hut for lunch which all of us were ready for as we had about run out of snacks that we had brought up.  Conveniently, the other group got in about 15 minutes after us and we all ate together outside since the sun shone so brightly we only needed a long sleeve shirt on.  When we had trouble figuring out which of the bags of powder was which, Roger joked saying, “Just do what any good drug dealer does, dip a finger in and try the product!”  While we traded food and bargained around for our favorites, Roger and Sean had a little powwow planing session to the side of the hut.

They decided that we should move about 200 meters across the river for “mental stability” and avoid the hut area, so we packed up and moved that afternoon.  Right as we tried to set up the tents, the wind picked up something fierce.  With it came some drizzly rain and we all stayed in the tents the rest of the night not wanting to go out in the windy rain.

The next day, due to shitty, rainy, overcast weather, we had a rest day where we all stayed in our tents pretty much the whole day, occasionally jumping to another tent to see different people.   Eventually, when the rain ceased, we had a small gathering where we decided to change valleys the next day and head over to the Ashburton Valley, adjacent to the Cameron Valley.  Big move day on the mind.

Layers upon layers

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