Monday, May 20, 2019

Snow amid an earthquake

Time to head north. First stop Dunedin where my camera, which had been in for repairs since the LCD monitor stopped working whilst tramping in the Takitimus in February, was at last ready for pickup. Then unfortunately back all the way to Glenorchy to pick up my boots which I had accidentally left at Kinloch Lodge in the drying cupboard after walking the Greenstone Caples. Luckily I had a bed in Wanaka so no biggie...

Then at last I headed over the Lindis Pass and into Canterbury, with the plan to go tramping in Arthur's Pass. But the long range weather forecast was looking bleak, ie stormy and rainy and probably snowy.......

As usual the north east coast was in a rain shadow, so off to Kaikoura I went.

I hadn't been to Kaikoura since the devastating earthquake in 2016 that isolated the town for months. The coastal highway had taken a full year to reopen following the massive uplift in the earth's crust that damaged so much infrastructure. It was now over two years, and the effect it had had on the economy of a town hugely reliant on tourism is still very evident. It felt a lot quieter, but then again, May is hardly high season....

My plan was to climb up Mt Fyffe, in the coastal Kaikoura Range, then pop down into the valleys on the other side of the mountain and walk back out. Although there were tracks, these too had been damaged by the earthquake, so I wasn't quite sure what was in store.

It began to rain soon after I arrived in Kaikoura, and it was a cold blustery night. In the morning it was cold, and on the hills it had snowed. The first snow of the season!

From the Mt Fyffe carpark the track follows a 4WD track the entire way to the hut. The weather was sunny and clear, so I dropped the backpack at the hut and headed up to the summit, which takes a further hour if you take your time. The fresh snow everywhere made beautiful patterns where the wind-drifts crossed the path. Wilding pine are a real menace up there, but they sure look pretty with a coat of snow!

Just as I got to the summit I realised I had been beaten there by a couple of Australian ladies who had arrived by helicopter! I'd heard the machine noise but didn't twig that they were flying well healed punters to the summit and providing them with a glass of bubbly with their view. They took some photos, skulled their drinks and then they jumped in their machine and were gone.

Silence but for the wind. Glorious views in all directions. Including along the razor ridge to the Kowhai Saddle.

I decided that with the new snow and the potential for a slide to be fatal, I wouldn't attempt the walk along the ridgeline to the saddle as I don't own crampons. Instead I would take a steep route down to Kowhai Valley from near the hut and then walk upstream to Kowhai Hut. This would mean I could stay below the snowline and still walk a loop, just a different loop....

Back at the hut I was joined by another group of walkers, overseas backpackers, and a local young man who drove up in his 4WD, ostensibly to do some surveying for his job, but mostly to have a meetup with one of the girls who was tramping with her two friends. It was a beautiful sunset, made even more so by the rising full moon, and with a clear night, I tried for some star shots.

The next morning, after watching a spectacular sunrise, they all piled in to his car and drove back down the hill. That left me to continue my tramp in solitude.

The track I was taking is a faint footpad, not well marked, that plunges almost vertically into Kowhai Valley. I was glad I was going down because it would be a killer walking up, but it still required a lot of concentration to keep upright and keep on track. As I reentered the forest lower down the track became more discernible, and soon I had arrived at the river.

From there, there was a fairly good track all the way up river, but I needed to keep an eye out for the best point to cross the river to get to the hut. It's a sweet little six bedder in a clearing up on a river terrace, and that evening I was joined by a father and son who regularly visit the hut and have taken a sort of guardianship over the place. The young boy was celebrating his 8th Birthday, so I joined them eating their huge supply of Tim Tams, introducing the birthday boy to the joy of a Tim Tam Slam!!

The next morning the boys left before me, packing out any rubbish left behind by other hut users (not me), and I followed about a half hour after them. I never caught up to them all day, but was very glad they were in front of me, because the track below where I joined the river yesterday disappeared or was poorly marked for large sections. The river must be crossed multiple times (I'd hazard a guess it was more than 10) in order to bypass cliffs and bluffs, and there are only a few small rock scrambles hardly worth mentioning. I mean if an 8 year old boy can do it.... At times the only way I knew where to go was to follow wet footprints. Thanks guys.

At last the river widened to a large gravelly expanse and I followed dry braids until the track markers started again and the final walk through some teatree spat me out at the carpark.

I stayed another night in Kaikoura and then headed north to Marlborough, visiting Ward Beach enroute. The 2016 earthquake caused an uplift in the seabed all along the coastline, up to 5.5m at Waipapa Bay, but at Wards it exposed round boulders just like those at Moeraki further south. Only no crowds!

By mid afternoon I am in Renwick, visiting my friends Rick and Barb who I met on the Humpridge a year ago. I stayed a couple of nights whilst they helped me plan my next expedition.

It involves a packraft! That's next....

No comments:

Post a Comment