Featured articles

Sunday, 18 December 2011

You win some, You lose some: In the Kahurangi

I lay on the ground in agony. My ankle throbbed, sending shoots of pain up my calf. Alone in the wild Kahurangi Jungle, I wondered why I put myself through such hardships. And still a few kilometres away from my car, time was ticking down to the Cook Strait ferry crossing, far away in Picton.

Rewind one week...

...I find myself climbing up the easy Chummies Track with three friends - my first trip to the Kahurangi. Although the hut waiting for us at the bushline was rarely visited, the bushy ridge track was smooth & clear, showing little sign of the floods and slips that had devastated nearby Nelson during the week. The relentless 72-hours of rain had finally let up for us this weekend, so when we finally emerged onto the ridge top, the clouds swirled around the surrounding summits for a sweet sunset.
Wild Tussocky Ridgeside
John Reid Hut was a small 6-bunker with an open fireplace – put to good use for our creamy pasta concoction. Another advantage to taking it slow – a hot meal at the end of the day! Sure beats cheese & crackers for dinner as I had done at Nelson Lakes.

The stately John Reid Hut
We were too lazy to get up early for the sunrise, but luckily my cousin Raymond Salisbury was onto it when he came here. This is what we slept through... a really incredible place caught at just the right moment.

Mt Patriarch - Raymond Salisbury
First thing on Sunday, we climbed through thick tussock and snowgrass, forging our own path to gain a better view of the territory. Each of us tried to find the easiest route up top, to balance on the knife edge of the imposing ridge leading towards Mt Patriarch.

Mt Baldy to the left, Gomorrah hiding under cloud in centre
Peering over the edge, all of the Kahurangi lay before us. Vast and remote, you could easily spend a year lost in these mountains, we thought. We were more than satisfied with just a weekend for now. The sharp granite face of Mt Baldy gleamed, stealing attention from Mt Sodom and Gomorrah close behind.

What a ridge
"This ridge is tops!"
We were having way too much fun trekking along the ridge and lying in the snowgrass lapping up the views, that time flew by overhead and took our chance at the summit in it's beak. Shortly after we spotted a Kea - shouldn't you be stealing boots in Arthurs Pass? We weren't too worried, today the view of the impressive peak was enough. 

What a day - heading down to the Gibbs Valley

Considering his options... 
We wandered along the valley floor beside the meandering Wangapeka, all very relaxed. We were back in Nelson for dinner, a perfectly good trip. There was nothing painful or hard about the trip, the views and the company was great. And all that stuff. But...

Wangapeka River
Fast forward a week...

This isn't just another story of a day spend discovering a new ridgeline.

This is about a search for my roots - back to the source. Following more than the line of a rocky knife edge, today I was following my line of ancestors - following the footsteps of triple Great Grandfather John Park Salisbury, the man who pioneered the first tracks and farming through these ranges. While some of us we were tramping in Goretex-lined boots and carrying 500-gram sleeping bags, JP would have been forging this same route with gear that belonged in the mid 1800s. And all without the help of topomaps and DoC markers.

While driving to work the following Friday morning, the crisp ridgeline and smattering of snow on the Twins and Mount Arthur was irresistible. Learning of the early 2pm finish for Christmas, it was a no-brainer! Amped, I flew along the coastal highway past Motueka to begin my spontaneous evening trip.

However, my troubles started early... I overestimated the off-road capabilities of my Nissan Pulsar and bottomed out on the muddy road to the track! I spun my New Balance wheels back to a family Christmas camp where I found help to haul me out of the ditch. Phew. 

IN MY HASTE to make up lost time, I found myself half an hour down the track with NO FOOD! Devastated, I plodded back to the car ready to drive home, ready to give up. But wracked with guilt as I could feel Old Man Salisbury watching from above, I couldn't leave yet. I grabbed my food bag with a sigh, and for the fourth time, I ran into the hills...

Dense Kahurangi forest, penetrating streams
A few hours before at the Christmas camp, I'd been told the track "wasn't too flash". "Five hours to the hut", they said. I'd smiled and told them "E kore e mau ia koe, he wai kai pakiaka - A foot accustomed to running on roots makes the speediest runner".

But now in the thick of it, pushing onto 8pm, crossing deep streams with deep climbs either side rutted with deep, thick roots... I was starting to feel like the slowliest runner. Desperately trying to cut down the tramping time as I wasn't keen to arrive at midnight, I threw myself at every climb burning my legs to oblivion and leaving a salty trail in my wake.

I felt lost travelling up the steep valley, slips and windfalls had disguised the trail, sending me into a bush-cracking frenzy. Through the thick canopy I tried to pick up features around me, but I was already falling into "WHERE IS THE HUT" mode, where anything could look like the hut. A patch of sky must mean the Ellis Basin! ...but time wore on, twilight darkened, and the climb steepened...

I had earlier dreamed of an epic midnight ascent of the mountain, I can always sleep later right? Wrong - I conked out within minutes inside the smoky hut, though my empty stomach soon stirred me to down a few mouthfuls of cheese and bread. Exhausted. Why? 

Late dusk arrival: Mount Arthur

Mt Arthur, Ellis Basin Hut at dawn. If only...
I sprung awake at 6.15am after a fitful sleep. Spurred on by fear of missing the ferry, I set an unofficial record for leaving a hut, from the horizontal to the vertical in 16 minutes. Somehow, the run down took exactly the same time as the ascent. Last night's mission and lack of sleep slowed my reflexes, so every rooty descent was technical and awkward. At my lowest point I managed to catch both feet under roots: I tumbled to a jolt, whacking my knees on rocks in the process...

I drove off, aching & hungry, looking back enviously at Mount Arthur, glowing mockingly in early sun. This means I'll have to come back now!

The Hard Way
Although this could have been a great two-day wilderness experience, I'd somehow turned it into a rushed, lonely, and painful twelve hours! Back to the drawing board? Once I had boarded the ferry and my fear of missing Christmas in Auckland had subsided, I could relax and rethink the trip. I'd learned a few lessons that's for sure. But did I regret the trip - should I have stayed home and packed? 

Ellis Basin Caves
.Wondering why I had chosen such an unused, obscure route to Mt Arthur I was surprised to later find out that the Ellis Basin marks the entrance to the deepest cave in the Southern Hemisphere! In January 2010 an extreme team of Kiwi cavers led an expedition into the giant cave network, to go where no-one had gone before. My trip seemed worthwhile after all. Next time I'll take a rope.

1 comment:

  1. I love the reference to New Balance shoes. Yeah New Balance!