Whew! All members of the BAB team are back in Christchurch, and trying to make sense of ‘normality’. Things like flushing toilets, endless food choices, clean clothes and armpits, and so much space indoors all feel rather overwhelming. Not to mention the noise, and the rapid travel of everyone and everything seemingly without awareness of surroundings. The assimilation back into society isn’t going particularly well just yet.
How to describe the trip? Words seem so inadequate, so limiting, so misleading. Superlatives wouldn’t scratch the surface. We only hope that, in time, the video will do justice in capturing our experiences.
To the stats, or things that can be quantified: We biked nearly 200km in three days from Christchurch, across the Canterbury Plains, to Erewhon Station near the head of the Rangitata River. From there we started hiking up the Havelock Valley and managed to locate an exciting version of Twilight Col in a whiteout. There appears to be a discrepancy on different maps as to the actual location of the Col, but our version worked out fine thanks to Jamie’s route-finding ability.
After dropping into the Godley Valley, we climbed again above Godley Glacier, camping near Trident Tarn for an attempt on Mt D’Archiac that didn’t happen. We hardly even saw the summit. Deteriorating weather chased us back down valley and up over Armadillo Saddle into the Murchison Valley. Traversing a terrace on the western side of the Liebig Range proved challenging in the rain, but we still squeezed in a first ascent of Mt Conrad’s West Face in a five hour weather window.
12 days after leaving Erewhon Station we reached Mount Cook Village, just before the worst storm of summer hit. Half a metre of snow fell on our proposed route over the Mt Scissors slabs into the head of the Landsborough Valley.
After waiting for six long days at the New Zealand Alpine Club’s Unwin Lodge (thanks heaps to wardens Chas and Katrina for putting up with our morose pacing) we changed plans and plugged over a snowed-up Jamieson Saddle into the Dobson Valley. Usually a doddle, new snow meant the Jamieson required two attempts to cross. Not wanting to repeat the drama, we avoided Tragedy Col, instead walking around 35km in a day down the long, long Dobson, and then round into the start of the Hopkins Valley. By now, the weather window had squeezed shut, with gale force northwest winds buffeting us during travel up to Huxley Forks Hut, and then heavy rain and rising river levels before Brodrick Hut. Our satellite phone died, meaning the end to weather forecasts.
Yet the following day we still managed to push over Brodrick Pass and into the Landsborough Valley. Smiles returned as we felt the journey was, finally, back on track. The smiles widened after crossing the Landsborough River and discovering our food stash (thanks heaps to Becky and DOC) just above Pass Creek. We celebrated by taking a rest day and eating as much as we could. It rained again.
Reaching the Upper Otoko Pass proved considerably more challenging than expected, and to look over into the head of the Otoko Valley was a huge relief. After another rest day, Jamie and Shelley climbed the steep and rather loose rock band of Mt Hooker’s North Face, linking up with the North East Ridge route a few hundred metres from the summit.
That night the rain set in again, and followed us down through the thick forest of the Otoko Valley. Yet, surprisingly, the last day was possibly the best weather of the trip and, 12 days after leaving Mount Cook Village, we arrived at Paringa on the West Coast (thanks heaps to Cornelia for picking us up and Alice for meeting us at Franz Josef).
That’s a brief physical description of the trip. The weather was never settled for very long and, in hindsight, we were probably pretty lucky to complete the traverse, not to mention climbing two first ascents. But, we would agree that the journey was so much more than the climbing. The skills of each member made us that much stronger as a team. And the varied environment we travelled through – especially Trident Tarn in the head of the Godley, the Landsborough and the Otoko – were absolute highlights.
Over the next few months we will continue working on production of the video from footage we took during the journey. Stay tuned.
Thanks to all our sponsors and supporters – SPARC, Bivouac Outdoor, Cactus Climbing Equipment, The Roxx, New Zealand Alpine Club, and Department of Conservation, we couldn’t have done it without them.