Baaa! - 21/7/2016

I would like to offer my apologies for the  lack of our weekly newsletter of late. I would also like to assure you that all is not lost. Baaa! will continue (and the number of 'a's will remain inconsistent). When coming back from the break everything does get a bit hectic, with the majority of the committee recovering from the lengthy Midwinter trips (and some not coming back at all...) we were a little slow getting off our feet.
For those of you wondering about what trips there may be this weekend; a lot of our club leaders are going on an avalanche awareness course which means we are unable to run a trip. However with the conditions on the mountain not looking ideal there is a small chance that the course will be postponed so keep your eyes on the Facebook page on the off chance a last minute trip is organised. We will be back next week with a vengeance, in the meantime enjoy a trip report from one of our Midwinter trips. 

I am not too sure I can sign this off the way I normally do so...
Instead of on behalf of the VUWTC Committee,
Just on behalf of myself,
See you next Tuesday and maybe even at Hangdog tonight,
A kinda nice photo I took on my Midwinter trip coming down from Harman Pass

Mi(l)dwinter 2016 – Nelson Lakes

Naturally, not everything can go to plan on a midwinter trip, especially not in VUWTC. We had a late withdrawal for medical reasons, trimming us down to a sparse three-man group, and then on the day, our ferry to the South Island was delayed by three hours. Not a great start, but not the worst I’ve had either. This meant that we didn’t get to Mt Robert car park until about 5.30 in the evening. It did mean though that we got a stunning walk up to Bushline Hut under a clear, moonless sky. The stars were absolutely breath-taking, and on our many breaks on the way up the hill we caught plenty of shooting stars. Arriving at the hut at 8.30pm, we found the hut quite full already, with a family and two couples taking up a lot of the space. Harrison and I decided not to bother with dinner, while James – having packed a great deal more food than necessary – tucked in. We went over the map for the next morning, when we’d be heading to Angelus hut, since this was all new to Harrison, and then tucked in for a good night’s sleep.

The next morning, we were treated to another glorious day. Clear skies and nary a breath of wind. Perfect conditions for the ridgeline. We had a pretty lax start, as we were in no rush at all. I didn’t expect the walk to take more than five hours including breaks. Probably the most startling thing to me as we made our way along Robert Ridge was the complete absence of snow, where last year it had been six inches deep or more. I wasn’t feeling confident about our chances of using our crampons at all at this point, although I was thankfully wrong in the end. All in all, it was a beautiful but pretty nondescript day. Harrison and I swapped the lead a few times, where we’d blast forward for a bit before settling down for a snack and a rest. I was definitely glad for the camelback I’d purchased a few weeks before, the rising wind left my lips chapped and a constant flow of water was exactly what they needed. In the end we reached Angelus Hut after about four and a half hours, which was bloody decent I thought. We had some good chats with a German couple, and some fantastic card games, taught by Harrison in the case of some very obscure ones. After a filling meal of couscous and salami, and a few games around the fire, we went off to bed. We were planning on hitting Sunset Saddle the next day, and wanted to get a good start.

As it was, we had to change our plan. The morning can be summarised with one word. Clag. No way in hell were we going up over the saddle in that weather. So we took the alternate route down the Cascade Track. DoC explicitly states that the track can be extremely hazardous in winter conditions. As it turns out, they weren’t joking one bit. The route was extremely icy. At one point I spent ten minutes just staring at a piece of track with six inches of ice on top, a snowy tussock slope above, and damp tussock sloping to a precipice below, before deciding the least insane route was the tussock. On top of this type of problem, the track is incredibly steep. More than once I lost my footing entirely, and I nearly lost my ice axe at one point. After about an hour, we had descended maybe 200 metres, and travelled perhaps 500 metres horizontally. I’ve seen snails move faster. Still, we got to the bottom in the end, and were all the happier for it. I’ve never been so pumped with adrenalin in my life. Once we reached the Travers River, it should have been smooth sailing all the way to John Tait Hut, our stated goal. Unfortnately, there must have been a bit of miscommunication. I, after a quick word with the guys, blitzed ahead to John Tait to set up the mountain radio, fully expecting the other two to be just a little ways behind. I arrived at 6.15pm. By 8pm, I was starting to get worried. By 10pm, I realised that James and Harrison were either at Hopeless hut, or they were dead, and either way, I couldn’t do anything about it right now, so I may as well go to sleep. Unsurprisingly, they’d gone the wrong way at the junction, and ended up at Hopeless Hut. 

The next morning, both of our temporarily separated groups got an early start. I emptied my rucksack of all but the bare necessities, and after a quick sandwich and coffee based brekkie (Harrison had the oats) I headed four and a half kilometre back down the track to the Hopeless Creek junction, where Harrison was already waiting for me. James appeared a few minutes later, and together we made the trek back to John Tait for lunch. After an extended break, we continued on to Upper Travers Hut. I honestly don’t recall how long this section took, although the posted time was three hours, and that feels about right. The constant avalanche warnings somewhat belied the complete lack of snow on the peaks above us, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to be careful, right? At Upper Travers we were greeted by a party of 11, and amazingly, a generous cuppa from the folks already well established. They were a couple of family groups with some mostly grown up children, and made very good hut buddies. At this point, I realised we could make rice pudding, and James gladly parted with some of his rice to make it happen. First time I ever made rice pudding, and I think it turned out pretty well. 8/10, would half-ass again. 

The next day was a big one. Up over Travers Saddle, and down to West Sabine Hut. The posted time was 6-10 hours, but as it turned out, it was only five. We started at 9.30am, and quickly encountered a DoC crew putting up avalanche warning signs with help from a helicopter. We tried hitching a ride a couple of times, but they didn’t bite. It only took us about an hour and a half, including the time taken to put on our crampons (yay) to reach the saddle. It was all downhill from here, quite literally. Possibly the most depressing part of the trip was being most of the way down, nearly at the bush and seeing it was only about another 2.5km to West Sabine, and thinking it would only take an hour. In reality, it took two and a half. For some reason that track is just devilishly slow. I shudder at the thought of doing the Saddle traverse in the opposite direction. Still, we made it to West Sabine before three, which gave us plenty of time to get the (absolutely amazing) fire going, and cook a hearty dinner. We mulled over whether we should go to Blue Lake, but at this stage all of us were feeling a bit run down and we had a few muscle and tendon issues we didn’t want to press, so we decided to just press on to Sabine instead.

So it came to our last actual day of tramping, though we didn’t know it yet. We had another lazy start, this time leaving at midday, since we knew very well it would be a cruisy walk down the river to Sabine. The most I can really say about this piece of track is that it’s a beautiful walk next to a river, and a very much wished that I was tubing down it instead of walking. There is however a stunning bridge over the Sabine just before the hut, where beneath it is just a beautiful deep, blue pool in the river. If it had been summer I would have jumped in, no question. We made it to Sabine in about four and a half hours in the end, and noticed immediately there was a radio to call a water taxi. After some deliberating over the cost, we decided that we’d rather that than the seven-hour slog back to the car that we otherwise would have taken. So it was that the next day we were collected from the Sabine Jetty at 10am, and zipped across the lake to Rotoroa township. From there we hitched back to the car. We were lucky enough in the end to only have to walk about 10km on the roads, just over two hours’ worth. I will say that 6km along SH6 is somewhat hair raising, but we caught a lift all the way to St Arnaud in about 15 minutes once we reached Kawatiri junction. Lucky for us.

All in all, the most luxurious midwinter trip that I’ve ever been on, and worth every cent.

Scribe – Andrew Glover

View from Angelus Hut out over the frozen Tarn
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