South Westland

"yo are you interested on coming on a south westland trip?- fmc scholarship."

I had never explored much of South Westland save for the Gillespie Pass circuit, so it didn't take me long to agree to this venture in August 2015.  The scholarship was confirmed in November, so I hastily arranged some time off work and began to organise my food and gear for the 18 day trip starting in Makarora up the Wilkin River and taking a round-about route around Mt Aspiring finishing in the Matukituki River.  The final list of participants was only finalised a few weeks before leaving, two of whom I had either not met or barely knew, but in my experience people that are willing to go on 18 day trips in the mountains are generally fun humans to hang out with.

I had learned a few lessons from my last long trip, and I was keen to try out a few things on this one based on those lessons.  Instead of wearing shoes and carrying a heavy pair of mountaineering boots (which worked great for that trip), this time I bought a lightweight boot to wear all the time as we were not going to be spending much time in the show or doing any technical climbing.  I took crocs instead of jandals, as they are lighter and better to wear around camp.  I swapped the blow up mattress for a Thermarest ZLite sleeping mat, because of its robustness and the large amount of camping below the bush line, and its dual purpose as something to sit on.  I significantly reduced the amount of clothing, pots, first aid gear and anything else I deemed unlikely to be useful to save weight.  By the time I had finished optimising my gear I was able to comfortably fit 13 days of food, a 70m rope and a light rack, a bulky Exped Waterbloc 800 sleeping bag, cooker, fuel and all of my other kit into a 75L Macpac Ascent, which probably only weighed about 25kg.

On February 1 all 5 of us somehow piled into an aged Toyota Corolla Wagon and raced down to Wanaka, with a few brief stops to iron ourselves out a bit.  We had an interesting encounter with an enthusiasitc fruit seller in Fairlie where we bought bags of apricots and cherries (without having to leave the car!).  Before long we found ourselves in Wanaka to fuel up, before heading over to the coast to drop some food with Waitoto River Safaris who kindly agreed to drop it off up river for us in a weeks time.  We got back to Makarora just before dark and set up camp for the night, ready for a big first day ahead.

Day 1

A casual start up the Wilkin, progress up valley on the track tedious, so we opted for the river bed option.  Almost got squashed by a jet boat crossing the river just above a rapid.  Deep but manageable crossing just upstream of Kerin Forks Hut.  Next time maybe cross closer to the hut.  Good travel in upper valley, we started to tire as the day got on with our heavy packs and the pace slowed somewhat.  Around this time I noticed Josh had a whole leek sticking out the side of his pack.  Caught a baby rabbit at Top Forks Hut, some wanted to keep it as a pet and take it with us.

Upper Wilkin

Upper Wilkin

Day 2

Another casual start, with the sun well up by the time we left.  Bit of a grunt up to Lake Diana, where we all promptly decided it was time for a swim.  Surprisingly warm.  Felling a bit rubbish heading up to Lake Castalia but after some lunch and getting into the steeper terrain was feeling much better.  On the way up to the ridge north of Mt Juno we got caught out by a few steep moraine like features, before reaching a smooth sloping slab that we protected.  Next time travel around the lake a wee ways before heading up to the ridge to travel up on easier ground.  Once on the ridge, straightforward travel towards Leda Peak except for a short abseil at one point that could have been sidled just below on rock or further down on snow.  Switched to snow travel where it was obviously going to be more efficient, traversing under Leda Peak by ~60-80m around to pt1914 where we found a very sheltered but small campsite.  Weather closing in so we settled down for the night.  Water obtained by a dribble 20m below camp.  Stunning views of Wonderland.

Lake Castalia

Lake Castalia

Wonderland

Wonderland

Camp under Leda Peak

Camp under Leda Peak

Day 3

Tent/teepee bound most of the day except for brief periods where it stopped raining.  Passed the time by reading to each other from Nick's kindle, knot tying practice, and sleeping.  A steady supply of water was now being collected from the teepee by putting cups and pots near at the edge catching the runoff.  Excavated moat around the teepee after a small water ingress problem.

Day 4

Still raining.  Forecast (now four days old) was to clear at lunchtime, and it was right on schedule.  Packed up and headed around the Sentinel and Mt Achilles to the unnamed lake below Mt Alba.  Weather was now stunning, and we braved a swim in the lake which was pretty freezing.  Great camp spot, clear sky so slept out.

Lake under Mt Alba

Lake under Mt Alba

Lake under Mt Alba

Lake under Mt Alba

Day 5

Casual start around to the lake outlet, then followed the outlet though a tussock valley before ascending to basin below Mt Dispute.  Set up camp then went for a trip up to Mt Dispute.  On return to camp, performed operation with needle on an abscess that had developed on Nick's upper gum.  Complete success.

Looking back at Mt Achilles

Looking back at Mt Achilles

Near Mt Dispute

Near Mt Dispute

Day 6

Early start down to Bosky Gully.  Got bluffed a few times on the way down, resulting in time consuming backtracking through the dense bush.  Took a suboptimal and time consuming route sidling around pt438, instead of going directly over the top.  A mixture of fast and slow travel down the Te Naihi, with a few gorge sections requiring slow sidles in the bush, but for the most part was straightforward.  We had relatively low flows so crossed the river as required rather than keep to the route described in Moir's Guide.  Emerged onto Axius Flats at 9pm, 13hours after we started.  Worst sleep of the trip on bumpy ground, in hot air and with bugs constantly biting.

Day 7

Woke up in a shitty mood due to shitty sleep.  Back of heels quite raw as shitty tape from pak'n'sak wasn't sticking and coming off after an hour or so of walking.  Pro tip: get the Elastoplast stuff.  Went for a waddle down river to Murky Gully to fetch our food dropped off by the awesome folk at Waitoto River Safaris.  Thought we would wait until 11am just in case they turned up in the boat - and at 10:53 they did just that!  Was relieved to get a forecast for another 5 days of clear weather.  Popped in to Casey Hut on the way back - would have been nice to stay the night but it would have been counter productive to progress.  Returned to find Nick lounging around camp in his underwear.  Spent rest of the day finding shade and trying not to get burnt.

Axius Flats camp

Axius Flats camp

 

Camp at Axius Flats

Camp at Axius Flats

Day 8

Long day up to Bonar Flats.  Found a small tinny tied to a tree on the river bank so used this to cross the Waitoto.  Took two trips get all the packs and three people across, and myself and Nick tied the boat back up and swam across.  It was cold.  Tried to re-find the cattle track up on the other side but proved elusive, we spent an hour rampaging around swamplands finding nothing so headed back to the river where we found the track seemingly going directly in to the river.  Unsure if the bottom part (1km or so) even exists as on the map.  Once found track was very overgrown but easy to follow.  Some sections of dense scrub on the riverbanks.  Fantastic camp established at Bonar Flats: plenty of firewood, no nighttime bugs and flat ground!

Day 9

For our supposed rest day we went for a walk up to lake at the head of the valley below Mt Aspiring.  We followed the route in Moirs Guide, which turned out to be much more time consuming than just sticking to the river bank (which we did on the return journey).  Mt Aspiring was covered in cloud, but the waterfalls streaming down the walls on all sides was satisfactorily scenic in its absence.  The trip took over 12 hours so I was not feeling terribly well rested by the time we returned to camp.

Lake at the head of the Waitoto

Lake at the head of the Waitoto

Day 10

Slogged up to the Haast Range.  Left the stream described in Moir's Guide a bit early which meant we spent quite a bit of time scrambling around in very steep bush, even got the rope out at one point.  Eventually got to the ridge and less dense bush which we followed to the bush line.  Got squashed between a couple of large rocks that I accidentally dislodged while fetching water from a stream down in a rocky gut.  Luckily only soft tissue damage to leg and wrist, and a damaged tendon in a finger.  Weather was moderately unpleasant once we reached the tops, with strong winds and no vis, at least it wasn't raining.  We took a punt on it not raining during the night and camped in a dry tarn as it was the only flat spot around.

Day 11

A straightforward trip up Rock Wren Gully (where we saw Rock Wren) required no rope, although some sections are quite steep and exposed.  It clagged in as we mounted the ridge, so we skipped the trip to the summit of Moonraker and continued on to Cloudmaker Lake.  Navigation was straightforward in the clag, and after rumbling a few chamois we were wandering through the flower beds to the lake and set up camp.  Surprisingly the lake was only really cold instead of the usual ball chillingly absolutely freezing that I was used to.

View from the Haast Range

View from the Haast Range

Rock Wren Gully

Rock Wren Gully

Cloudmaker Lake

Cloudmaker Lake

Day 12

Cloud cleared during the night and we made an early start towards Colin Todd.  An intimidating exit from the lake basin proved to more straightforward than expected, and we made good progress towards Cargo Creek.  As I was looking for a good place to cross the final branch of Cargo Creek I had noticed that Nick was missing, and I knew he had been fairly close behind.  After 20 minutes I still couldn't see a way across and went back to look for Nick, finding him sitting in a creek with a broken ankle.  We activated the PLB, relieved Nick of his food, swapped some gear around and waited for the heli to arrive.  Unfortunately for reasons unknown the PLB did not locate us accurately and it took over 5 hours for the heli to arrive, and by the time it left it was around 7.30pm.  We decided to hope that the weather would hold for another 24 hours and camp where we were.  We managed to find a spot that wasn't on too much of a slope to sleep, and relatively sheltered from rockfall from the huge faces above us - indeed we heard a lot of rocks tumbling down the hill past us to the left and right during the night.

Heli carting off the injured

Heli carting off the injured

Almost two weeks of clear nights

Almost two weeks of clear nights

Day 13

After a surprising good sleep on the side of the hill we got up early and crossed cargo creek at the head on snow to get into the creek and up the other side on easy angled rock.  The rest of the route to Colin Todd was straightforward, the snow was mostly melted and we only required crampons to traverse Iso Glacier to the hut.  An Australian team of three were out climbing Aspiring and returned a few hours after we arrived.  Excited to have company and beds!

Iso Glacier

Iso Glacier

Day 14-16

Rain.  Snow.  Wind.  More Rain.  Reading terrible books.  Not eating.  Cards. Not pooping.  Made bread from flour and hash browns from potato flakes.  Yum.

Mt Aspiring

Mt Aspiring

Day 17

Rain seemed to be holding off for a bit first thing in the morning, so we went for it (including the Aussies), knowing that the forecast was for more rain and wind.  Sure enough, as we got to Bevan Col the wind and snow picked up, making things really rather chilly.  Made a slow descent down the slabs, but the nav was spot on.  We took the route down the slabs, doing three raps at the bottom because safety.

Descending from Bevan Col

Descending from Bevan Col

Left the Aussies at the base of the slabs as one of them had become cold and required warming up.  High tailed it down to Aspiring Hut in pouring rain, thunder and lightening.  Only a couple of deep spots on side streams.  Quite a few people in Aspiring Hut, which I found surprising, given the shittiness of the weather over the last few days and upcoming forecast.

Day 18

Easy dawdle out to the carpark, where we waited some time before hitching a ride with a top bloke who gave us a ride into Wanaka, then after a few raspberries at the Speights Ale House he took us out to Makarora to our car.  Drove out to Hannahs Clearing to pay our dues to Waitoto River Safaris and continued on to Christchurch, arriving home around 4am!

 

Walking out the Matukituki

Walking out the Matukituki

Back to where we started at Makarora

Back to where we started at Makarora

Thanks to the FMC for funding towards the trip, and to four great companions that made it such a pleasure. And of course Andy for driving us back to our car!

| February 20th, 2016 | Posted in Storytime |

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