Tuesday, August 23, 2011


After spending so much time in a city, albeit in our own house, we were getting tired of the cars, the noise, the people, and the illusion of rush and worry. We decided that a weekend away in the mountains was just what we needed. And after a well-timed conversation with a friend at uni, we even had someone to share a ride with and maybe shoot something to bring home.

We decided to head up to Lake Sumner and Jolliebrook Hut. Tom, our hunting friend, wanted to go the unconventional route and Stephen, always yearning for a challenge, was keen for this suggested mountain route. I was happy to go along for the ride.

Early Saturday morning, despite the weather warnings for Sunday afternoon, we packed up the car, picked up Tom (and his mountain of things) and headed West towards the mountains and Lake Sumner.

After a lovely, though twisty, drive we arrived at the muddy pull out beside the farm track we were on and parked the car. We were immediately smothered in the rich musical calls of a male Bellbird courting a female. He would puff himself up like a bellows and then expunge the melodic enticement to arouse her attentions. Hopping from branch to branch, this little fellow followed the coy wanderings of the female without pause, like a wee green cotton ball tied to her leg.

I was soon reminded to focus on putting my stuff together so we could hit the trail. So, leaving these two to their indeterminate fate, I pulled on my boots and added some of Toms' food to my bag. Then it was off across the wee stream and around the hill, following the sheep.

Once around the hill, we came to the swing bridge that would take us across the river and to the base of our mountain.

Once we were across, we left the trail and headed up onto the snake-like ridge that came down the mountain to meet the river where we had crossed. After a short bush-bash we emerged onto a bald patch of the ridge and decided on a route for our ascent up the hill.

Of course, once in the dense tangle of beech forest it was difficult to determine which way we should head. Led more by the open spaces between the trees than an overall direction, we attempted to keep a course up slope. But this was periodically challenged by a thicket of tangled branches and clinging vines (appropriately named bush lawyer).

After a rough struggle through this maze of scratchy branches and clingy climbers, we emerged at the base of a steep, but open slope. We decided to follow it up along the edge of the forest, hoping for some easing in making our way up. Unfortunately, this open slope was covered in our friend the Wild Spaniard/Taramea, also known in our family as 'spikey death grass'. I was glad to be wearing long pants to provide some protection to my legs, but could definitely feel they didn't do much.

Despite having to avoid these sharp, pointy plants, the way was easier - I think. With my head down, I put one foot in front of the other, singing whatever song floated through my head to keep my mind focused on moving and not on how much my calves and thighs burned from the climb.

We stopped for a quick lunch (and nap) part way up the hill. Stephen was happily leading the march, while Tom and I straggled at the back (him with a sore head from a celebratory night before and me from simply being slow). The two of us were happy to simply follow where Stephen led, which when it came to the snowy bits made for easier climbing.

Eventually, we made it to the top of the ridge. Exhausted from the intense climb, we looked around and enjoyed the glorious view towards Lake Sumner and the Sisters range to our East and South. Unfortunately, this was not the summit of the mountain and we still had a ways to go to get there, along the ridge and down the other side where our hut was waiting for us. But with the sun still shining over us, we were not worried about getting there.

Rather than climb up and over the rest of the mountain, we decided to side slope around. Figuring that this would be an easier and hopefully faster way of getting round to where we wanted to go. So, clinging to the rocky, scree slopes we carefully made our way around the side of the mountain. Although the spikey death grass was much rarer here, there were other things to try and avoid - like slipping down the scree and off the side of the mountain itself.

Fortunately, we were all sure-footed enough and successfully reached the far side of the ridge. It was getting noticeably late in the afternoon by this point and we were still not all that close. Although we were on the right side of the summit now, we still had a ways to go along the top before getting to the right ridge that would drop us down gently enough and on the right side of the mountain. Our pace increased and we marched along the summit ridge with renewed purpose and energy. Although my legs were like jelly from the climb and the careful side sloping, I forced them on wards - thinking about the cosy hut we would be sleeping in tonight.

By the time we got to the ridge the moon was up and the sky was quickly turning to dusk. As we dropped down towards the river (and our hut), the grassy open slope turned to beech brush and soon we were submerged in the thick branches of the scraggy trees again. This time in the dark.

It is an interesting endeavor trying to find ones way in thick brush in the dark with a head lamp on. I couldn't tell you which is easier, with it on or off. With the light you can see only the immediate branches around your face, which I suppose allows you to avoid getting hit in the face. But you tend to feel trapped and almost claustrophobic as everything beyond is utter blackness. We worked our way down the hill in a random sort of way, meeting up every once in a while using Marco Polo to find each other. Finally, the sound of rushing water arrived in our ears, the brush opened up and we found the whisperings of a trail that would take us to our hut.

After 5 or so river crossings and what seemed miles (in fact was about 700 metres) we made it to a clearing and our wee hut. Tom cooked a magnificent meal of five-spice pork with udon noodles and chinese cabbage and we fell, utterly spent, into bed.

The next morning we awoke to an uncanny silence. The kind of silence I had not heard for so long. The silence of freshly fallen snow.

The world outside had been transformed overnight from a dark, sharp unknown to a bright, soft whiteness. The snow was heavy and wet and blanketed the forest around us with it's thickness. It was glorious. We decided that perhaps we should make a good start to see if we were going to be able to get home.

The hike back to the car was fairly uneventful. We followed the trail this time, shaving a good 4 hours off our trip time. Enjoying the beauty of the snow while it lasted, then resigning ourselves to soaking wet feet from the puddles and mud it created.

We eventually emerged from the narrow valley and into the farmed land beyond. We wandered amongst the cows and grasses and rejoiced in the easiness of the trail over our previous days trek. We were in high spirits as we rounded the mountain in the sun and were startled when seemingly out of nowhere, we were pounded by hail and snow and slush all at once. The last hour of the hike we trudged on with our heads down, set only on arriving at the car.

Finally, cold, wet and exhilarated, we crossed the swing bridge and walked the last 500 metres to the car, no sign of our romantic pair here today. We changed into dry warm clothes and drove carefully back along the farm track to the highway and onto Christchurch, where the sun was shining - though there were the threatening clouds of a Southerly on the horizon. Tomorrow would be interesting, but we were home. Exhausted from our weekend way, I curled up in front of the pellet fire like a cat and slept, dreaming of the snow I might wake up to in the morning.

1 comment: