Frank and I wanted to climb 2 mountains on our to do list in an area where there was no rain forecast with 3 days to do it. He consulted his list and came up with these two peaks. It would involve long days with big height gains and distances. There were a few huts in the area which is always an attraction for me. The peaks, especially Kohurau would provide outstanding (literally) views including Mt Cook.
We drove down to where we thought we could pitch our tent in reasonably peaceful surroundings. En route we resorted to going to the Timaru Subway for our evening meal as it was getting quite late and everything was closed except for McDonalds and KFC or course. We had the unexpected treat of seeing a wallaby crossing the road just past Waimate. We finally found a suitable place to pitch the tent on the Waitaki Island near Kurow itself in a level very soft spot where the grass had died in thick pillows. It was a little cool though and the traffic was close though non-existent until dawn approached. In the morning we opted to go to a cafe in Kurow. I was feeling chilly still and selected the one on the sunny side of the street though it looked the least attractive prospect. We were given a warm welcome by a couple who looked as though they ate the profits. Mine host had not done the barista course at the local poly...the coffees were half fluffies and the muffins left a soapy taste in the mouth. Mine was booby trapped with a gob of greasy cream cheese surrounded by a sickly lemon syrup.
We ventured to the junction of the Awakino tributaries. A farmer was busy, maybe some maintenance was being done on the skifield road. We didn't want to advertise our intent so partially hid the vehicle by some scrub off the road. We set off up the 4WD track that leads all the way over a saddle where the height gain to Kohurau is only a further 600m. The weather was very pleasant. Frank led us on a deviation that he thought linked to the track further up valley, necessitating an escape down off a terrace and through light scrub to a lovely stream. We lunched on a high point of the track noting the lush spaniard country and I spotted an alternative 4WD track lower down.
After 3 leisurely hours we came to the first hut. I was reminded this was not our destination so we checked it out very quickly. It looked very tidy and attractive, being constructed of corrugated iron, lined and with a silken wooden floor and a Shacklock coal range. I checked out the map and calculated we would have enough time to climb the mountain and return to the saddle and 4WD track before dark, even going at a leisurely pace. Frank was not so sure or feeling so energetic but as I said I was going to climb it anyway he thought he could give it a go at least.
The going was pleasant, slate-like talus most of the way and well consolidated. After an hour or so we stopped for a snack and to layer up some more. Frank got his second wind here. I went on ahead as he is faster and came to a false summit, then a second false summit and finally I was relieved to see the real summit at 5.40pm with a constructed rock wall surrounding the surveyor's theodolite base. We enjoyed the views including the ancient peneplain - a former seabed. Frank stayed to take many photos while I beat it down the hill as he is faster than I am downhill as well.
Going down, I took advantage of scree-like leads and switched my radio on in case we needed to communicate. Three thirds of the way down, we got in touch and Frank soon caught up to complete the descent together. We hastily repacked our daypacks back into full packs. I heard a bellow and put it down to there being cattle but Frank had other suspicions as it was 'the roar'.
We felt really good about having persisted to the summit and made our way down the track to the next hut in impending dusk, stopping for a while to have a good drink up at a pretty little side stream. As we approached the hut on a terrace, it looked rather big. Frank hoped this meant it was very close but indeed, it was big and very rustic, being made of blocks of stone with a refurbished iron roof. It must have been practically rebuilt and was very well lined with building paper. The bunks gave us a good choice of mattresses but we were very annoyed to see 2 expensive blue DoC mattresses that had been stolen from huts nearby.
As it was now 8pm, I chose the quinoa/Moroccan Lamb meal which was a very tasty choice. We settled into our cosy pits but the wind turned NW and banged some loose iron intermittently though it wasn't really a problem. I was too lazy to put my earplugs in. We got up around 8am and were away by 9.40am for a day that Frank said would have less height gain but similar distance. I spotted the chance of a shortcut using an old water race from the depression era when men were trying their luck at goldmining. So we kept our eyes open for it and after crossing a stream recognised it. Sometimes it was overgrown with tussock and slow going but it was a nice change from the track.
Green Gully had looked heinous on the topo with escarpment symbols all the way up. We considered other possibilities if it was no go. Well, it turned out to be poetic licence and the stream was very navigable, always with lovely level terraces to travel on. What had looked like a gorge was nothing significant. We had lunch at the start of this travel and after an hour came to the foot of the 600m climb to Grayson Peak. This was very straight forward through gentle slopes of open tussock. We soon realized we were following a trail of abundant sheep manure to the summit.
Just before the summit, we stopped to snack and gear up for the windier terrain. Here was an impressive narrow tower of blocks of stone constructed to mark the summit. 5m downhill of this was the scattered skeleton of "Mallory Sheep". Did it die having made the summit or was it on the way up when it succumbed to the hostile elements? We were surprised to see a vehicle very high on the crest of a range opposite. It was moving slowly in between taking in the vistas. I don't imagine they could see us though.
We descended, eyes on our next climb up to gain the St Mary Range for a traverse on undulating ridgeline to our drop-off point on to the golden tussock saddle that joined on to the 4WD track we had travelled down after our ascent the previous evening. We used a well-defined sheep track that diverged to another catchment but we carried on through a small but very pretty patch of greenery carpeted in emerging low gentians. I led up to the next summit but queried whether we could now stop gaining height to sidle across scree to what seemed to be the ridgeline of the range.
We stopped in a sheltered spot to confirm my hunch. Yes, we abandoned the climb of Little Domett and began to travel the ridge. It was easy until the final section where we had to place our feet carefully on unstable talus to avoid wasting energy by sliding back downhill. The final summit was extended and very flat with picturesque low vegetation in the golden hues of final sunshine. We abandoned it on to easy talus slopes and to my delight, a 4WD track which started very high up the slope.
As we descended, Frank kept his eyes and ears out for further bellows from yesterday's source. He traced an eventually bellow to a stag on the other side of the valley in a clearing of low scrub. I answered and Frank admonished me that it would come over to such a challenge. It went right off, bellowing, followed by a series of indignant huffs. Fortunately it ran off up the hill away from us. What a relief! We were only armed with my walking pole.
We reached the point of uphill travel which I took very slowly after our long day with1500m height gain by this stage. Over the saddle where we'd left our gear to climb Kohurau the day before and round a long sidle, stopping for drinks at streams and down the zigzag track to the first day's hut, arriving at 8.30pm in darkness. The weather was mild, no need for a fire tonight either and lovely to get my sandals off as my soles were feeling the friction from 28kms of travel. Tonight it was Back Country Cuisine again this time as Lamb Fettucine. Off to our cosy beds, Frank on an innersprung and me on 2 foam mattresses. They seem to envelop me, holding my heat like an electric blanket. I had to strip down naked and open up the sleeping bag into a quilt.
The morning was overcast though still NW with silvery mammularis patterns of ripples. We swept up, leaving the hut as we found it. I went among the pines then spotted the toilet which I couldn't recommend as it had a privacy screen but the long drop was no more, just a pillar of toilet paper and fossilized feces. We had no wish to inspect each other's offerings so opted for christian burials!
Back down the valley along the 4WD track, taking my variant which led to a vertical drop-off where the side creek had chewed out the track. We spotted the new track downhill but got there through a mercifully short section of knee-high matagouri and spaniards. So we were now even with our unsuccessful deviations. The car was intact, not burnt out by an irate farmer wondering what the hell we were doing there. I attempted to hop over the barbed wire fence to wash at a pretty stream bordered by mint and full of watercress (cow country). My strained wrist from recent track cutting had my leg caught on the barbs and I fell down, fearing how I would end up. Luckily very shallow scratches - phew!
Frank wasn't keen to revisit the cafe at Kurow so we checked out one in Waimate and once again made a poor choice as the Sunday dinner was what you'd expect to find mid-week in a retirement home for sedentary folk. Not sure if the cook had accidently added ginger instead of mustard to the sauce accompanying the corned beef. Frank's plate looked as though it had the scraps left after everyone else got served. They may have forgotten to bring us the icecream sundaes we'd paid for but when they did arrive after prompting an ancient fellow who described himself as the young apprentice, this was neither confirmed nor denied by the woman bearing them.
I told her we'd climbed the mountain in the painting on the wall (Kahurau) but Frank said after she couldn't care less and was very busy! So true...We had an uneventful drive back to Christchurch though I kept my eye out for wallaby roadkill. Not a whisker seen.