Interim Trip - January 2008

(The second week of Mike Heilbron’s Christmas trip for the ATC.)

Arriving home after a day’s tramping in the Pararaha and uplifting my Wanderlust from the letterbox, I was thrilled to see a photo of Lucretia on the back cover, reminding me of the fun I had had on the first week of Noel Ashton’s interim trip.
Subsequently my daughter rang, and, stung by her comments that all my interests were ‘outdoorsy’ and why didn’t I learn a language or something, I decided to ‘be literary’ and write about my other week in the South Island with the ATC, on Mike Heilbron’s Christmas trip around Arthurs Pass.
It all began when my husband generously said I should have a week away with the club. Well two weeks wasn’t much more than one was it? So I booked my fares south.

Arriving in Christchurch, I took the shuttle to Arthurs Pass and was pleased to see Big Blue parked by the roadside. I was suddenly inundated with welcoming trampers, spilling out of the store cum café, keen to make me feel part of the group. The plan was to have dinner at ‘Oscar’s’ in the village, and then stay in the bus back down at Klondike Corner.
We had an excellent non-tramping dinner and it was also an opportunity to meet the other party members. Along with Mike and Brian Delbridge, we had Alan Peterson (ex ATC, now living in Napier) and Christine, Alan’s sister Margaret and her husband Keith, and Margaret’s friend Janette. The last three were from the Waikato Tramping Club. Margaret and Janette were only going to accompany us as far as Howden Hut.

Day 1

That morning we were driven to Whites Bridge and began our tramp up the Howden Valley to the brand new Howden Hut. It was only about 3 hrs, but with the river stones, in the heat of the day, feeling a bit dehydrated, and with my share of the group food, it was great to arrive. The old hut had been replaced with one so pristine that the builder’s tools were still locked in the warden’s quarters. That night, doing the radio sched, the rain started, and our reception and transmission were poor as we attempted to speak to Murray and Penny and Mark Lewis who were also tramping in the area. We later learnt that with bad weather forecast, and knowing the old hut was gone but not being aware of the new one, Murray had a sleepless night worrying about us, while we were snug in state-of-the-art quarters.

Day 2

The rain set in. Mike introduced us to the mysteries of cryptic crosswords, and told jokes with great aplomb, while Brian brewed the tea (and helped with the cryptics). We had nachos complete with sour cream for dinner and chocolate brownie for dessert that night. It’s certainly hard to get the perfect hut day!

Day 3

We said goodbye to Janette and Margaret and the remaining six of us continued up the Howden and then up and over Walker Pass to a gorgeous camping spot on the Tops at Tarn Col after 6-hrs tramping. That night, after another huge meal, I was allowed to make the custard to go with the Christmas pudding. Maybe carrying all this food wasn’t so bad?
Food preparation was carefully guarded and rigidly overseen by Mike and Brian. Even dishing up had its protocols. Though individual serving bowls varied in size, you had to make sure, by judicious use of the serving spoon, that each member of our four-person food group had an equal amount. Having four kids was easy compared to this!
Another pitfall was pitching the tent too close to the edge of the slippery slope above a tarn. Stepping out in the morning meant you were wont to slide 20 metres down, on your behind, into the water.

Day 4

We descended steeply into the Edwards Valley, via Taruahuna Pass and the aptly named Fallen Mountain. The whole area around Arthurs Pass is extremely geologically unstable. It is losing height each year and an avalanche may take out the village one day. Climbing to Williams Saddl
One black boulder was disintegrating into dagger-like slivers so we had the spectacle of 50-year-old men chasing each other with shards of rock.
With lots of initial boulder-bashing and after following the Edwards River down the valley we reached Edwards Hut for afternoon tea before a hard climb up on to Williams Saddle for our second Tops camp. It was quite a scramble as we had to pick out our route but, after another 6-hr tramp, we were rewarded with another sublime camping spot adjacent to jewel-like tarns. When choosing a tent site I enquired about the extent of my snoring the night before and got the answer, ‘all night’, so I picked up my tent and moved 100m. Honesty is good, but not too much of it! Keith could get his own cuppas for a while after that.

Day 5

Again we started with a challenge, faced with descending the saddle via a route through dense regenerating beech forest. Fortunately, both Brian and Alan were good navigators and, after a tortuous 2-hr descent, they got us down into the Mingha Valley, where Christine and Alan left us to walk out. We, now only four, continued up towards Goat Pass. As we followed the Mingha we were passed by lots of young, lean, fit bodies - ‘coast-to-coasters’ out training, the valley being one half of their running section. The other half is Deception, up from the West Coast to the Divide. By 3.45pm we reached a junction; decision time. It had been a long hot day, requiring lots of concentration, especially in the morning. Did we want to finish the day with a 2-hr climb up near-vertical scree slopes to Lake Mavis to camp? It looked like I had the deciding vote. ‘Don’t mind’, was too wishy-washy for Mike, so ‘okay, yes, I would like to go up to the lake’. What better way to finish a day than straight up the side of a mountain in order to camp a few metres from patches of permanent snow? Admittedly, we were pleased afterwards that we had done it. Lake Mavis, up in the clouds, was magnificent, although a bit cold to stay in too long swimming.

Day 6

We retraced our steps back down to the junction. It was very misty, early morning, and we experienced a rare phenomenon known as a ‘Broken Spectre’. As the sun rose behind us and we looked ahead over the mist-enshrouded valleys and peaks, our images were projected into the fog, surrounded by an eerie, celestial halo. Brian, Mike, Keith, Christine and Goofy, Kay and Alan on Williams Saddle
Back to earth, or at least off the mountainside, lavishly carpeted with daisies, we had a cheery encounter with the resident keas at Goat Pass Hut before spending the day heading back down the Mingha to the bus. Here we waited for the other group and were then whisked back to Arthurs Pass, hot showers and another restaurant meal at ‘Oscar’s’. It was fitting somehow, as we sat in the pub and Ed Hillary’s photo flashed across the television screen and we learnt of his death, that we should be where we were, deep in the mountains.

Thanks, Mike (and Goofy). Chris Ashton and Liz Ware were right - you two put together a fun and challenging trip. Thanks also to everyone else who worked hard on the Christmas trips.

Kay Willcocks: .