Alpine Route, Mt Richmond Forest Park | August 2016
Winter. Actually, midwinter.
Somehow I feel this winter is more bleak than previous years, it’s wetter than any of the last three, and more consistently overcast. It rained every day for three weeks, then a week off, then back to the precipitation. Of course, it’s showers more than rain most of the days.
I’ve been sitting inside. Work is slower at this time of year so I’ve been spending time on finishing off my ’100 Days Walking Te Araroa’ paperback version. My editor suggested a few changes, mostly incorrect tense used, or changing the tense in mid-sentence, or breaking long sentences down into shorter chunks.
That all finished I did another check read through the 294 pages of a pdf. More fiddling. There are about 12 words on each line but if there was a big one at either end, or both, that meant there were strange gaps between the words. That needed to be rectified to my eye, words changed, or reordered. Also some extra lines written to bump a heading to the top of the next page.
Sorry, this is tedious enough to read about, but I slowly slumped in front of my screen, getting less productive. Man, I’ve been working on this, first the e-book, now a paperback for 15 months. I am well over it.
I’d always intended a midwinter break and the timing was obvious — during the Olympics when people are distracted and you can slink off unnoticed.
I started this tradition when I went off to Nelson Lakes during the Sydney Olympics, I was living in Australia at the time and had no desire to have to deal with the jingoism. 2004 and 2008 were both visits to Stewart Island. 2012 I was biking down from Cape York on my last four months living in Australia.
Stewart Island was a possibility again, maybe, it’s good walking in winter, no one else around and no issues with deep snow or avalanches. But there’s plenty of travel, both time and expense involved.
After some consideration I settled for something closer to home. There is snow about but I’m going to attempt the Alpine Route at the back of Nelson. Head south to St Arnaud.
I’ve packed my ice axe and crampons, 12 days’ food, and I’m raring to go.
Here’s my route:
Click to view larger topographic map
Not surprisingly there was no one in the hut, just a forlorn weka, investigating all the sudden noise. I have a feeling there will be plenty of solitude on this trip.
Well, that wasn’t a surprise, it was forecast. Around 10 cm covered everything in the morning, 1° C inside the hut.
Actually there were some sights along the way: some mature kanuka, up the hill a patch of massive tree ferns, mountain cabbage trees, some filmy ferns, and less than 100 m from the hut, still in the forest, just as I was getting into the snow was a small fern bank covered in tiny icicles.
You get these wondrous moments.
I listened to the mountain weather forecast just after the news at 5 am, which offered a forecast as good as you could hope for, four fine days with little wind. Yippee!! Maybe the fine weather might even last a little longer.
Overall, the most amazing experience, a perfect winter’s day to go with the fine vista in every direction.
I sensed it was cold in the morning and glanced at my thermometer, argh, -5°C. No wonder I didn’t want to get up.
The highlight was the considerable tranches of mature kanuka forest. The valley must have been burnt off at some stage, maybe as part of the Wairau valley burning by the moa hunters some centuries ago.
My body might be in an ageing state, but its limitations are overcome by my mind’s ambitions.
There’s plenty of ventilation with the open fireplace chimney. No point in lighting a fire, firewood is hard to procure in this area and there’s a few notes that mention that because the fire smokes profusely you are required to leave the door open, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of heating.
When I awoke during the night I couldn’t hear rain. Maybe it was snowing.
Then when I thought it couldn’t get any harder I had a few hundred metres where it was thigh deep, turns out being entirely energy sapping.
No need to scurry on, in fact little chance that much scurrying with my leaden limbs.
For some reason everybody else I know is too busy to take 15 days off work in the middle of winter to climb some big hills, lugging a decent sized pack, and staying in uninsulated huts with excessive natural ventilation.
I’m not sure I’ll convince anyone when they read this account either.
Despite that early flustering around at Porters Creek Hut and the creeks, it turned into the hard work as usual kind of day.
In winter the stakes are raised: more clothes and equipment to carry, cold huts, a lack of serendipitous companionship, unless you take your own.
The drop down through the forest was straightforward, easier in the downward direction than the alternative.