Tuesday 17th March 2009

 3am and I’m lying awake stressing over the sale of the shop.  Due to go tramping today: 6 days to look around the head of the Landsborough, and I should be resting for the long drive up to Ohau.  But instead I’m musing over the latest, only, offer on the shop. Not yet on paper, not yet certain.  Next Tuesday is the day of reckoning: the day it becomes official or vanishes into the ether.  No point stressing yet pom.

Get up, lazy pom, get up.  The kilometers could be rolling under your wheels right now, get out there, get to the roadend, get on the hill. No point lying here stressing over things beyond your control.  The pack’s already half packed – just need to throw in newly dried clothes, write out my itinery, and leave. Huxley -> Broderick pass -> landsboroughugh -> valley head.  Possible exit routes: Karangarua, Jacob’s, … Out Monday, Panic Friday.  Attn: the store manager,  who  volunteered the night before to be the official point of contact.  Consider emailing details to tramping friends, just in case.  But what’s the point:  Dennis says he will do the job, and I have the beacon in my survival pack for immediate rescue if the worst comes to the worst, so route details are likely only to be used to find a body. 

Job’s done. 5:00am. Let’s go.


The long drive to Ohau.

Elect to miss Dansey’s Pass: frustrating though shorter.  Past Macraes: at work under spotlights even at this hour, to the coast at Palmerston.  Dawn, Moeraki, a flat sea.  Flat enough to iron a shirt on.  Where does that phrase come from? Oamaru, Kurow and breakfast.  Omarama and Diesel. More breakfast. Daylight in the place of light.  On past Lake Ohau.  The Ben Ohau range bare and barren: more snow on the Rock and Pillar than up here.  Not much snow and ice work going to happen this week. The roadend; only people in the intentions book are DOC trappers.  Good, not too much company then.  No hunters: the roar clearly not started yet.

Push on: should be able to get half way to Monument in the van, avoid the long 9km trudge on a 4wd track beside the Hopkins.  But no: 3km further up a washout and we turn round, park up and get walking.  The dog suddenly alive and alert after snoozing all the way on the passenger’s seat.  Putting boots & gaiters on: a few impatient yaps: come on boss, let’s go.  What’s the delay.

Hopkins Valley • By madpom.


The slog to Monument

The only word for the track from Huxley Lodge to the Huxley – Dobson confluence is a slog.  9km along river rocks and 4wd tracks.  Forced march.   Past Monument hut – don’t call in as DOC probably in residence.  Wet feet decision made at the hut: not going to sidle all the way to the forks, so might as well get 'em wet here and avoid the sidle section up the Hopkins too.   Turns out DOC are camped at the entrance to the Huxley: 5 big tents, though nobody at home.

Splash up the Huxley, under the swingbridge, up the flats in burning sunshine.  Lament the lack of sunhat and sunscreen: planned on hypothermia, not sunstroke.  Never mind.  On reaching the spot where The Retards were airlifted out last year dog runs around like a mad thing: too long time for scents; the memory must have kicked in though.  ‘I remember people here: they gave me food whilst they smoked dope & waited for the rescue choper.  I like food.’ 

Huxley Valley • By madpom.

And on to the forks hut.  Missing as usual the dry track across the marsh, and up to the knees in mud 100m short of The Forks.  The hut book shows DOC have been in residence: cyanide and traps up the valley, but nothing nasty: no 1080 or brodificum.  Lucky really, as the muzzle’s in the van.  Along with the ice-axe, now I think about it.  Bugger.  Have to hope there’s no snow, loose scree or tough river crossings.  Can always fashion a pole if I have to though.  Sooner rather than later be good – so it’s there when I need it 

Huxley Forks Hut • By madpom.

1:00pm. Leave intentions in the hut: on to Broderik for the night then over the pass to frazer.  List a few options on and beyond.

Sidle path to Broderik: last trip showed this to be easier and faster than the creek.  3pm and we’re there.  Sun shining over to low Broderik pass, 400m above.  Tussock up to the head of the valley.  Glaciers above the hut glinting in the sun.  Time enough to cross the pass, either to the hut or the camp at the drop-off of the hanging valley above it.  But Broderik is one of my favourite spots and a night in the hut appeal more than the climb & camp.  Lucky really: radio NZ forecast calls for showers overnight intensifying to rain in the morning.  Mushroom casserole with curry-fried rice.  Yum.

Huxley North Branch • By madpom.


Wednesday 18th March


Drizzle starting at dawn, so it’s a quick bowl of muesli: scotch oats, sugar, power milk and cold water:  the great discovery of the trip from Palmy to Otago: it’s not necessary to cook scotch oats.  Cold they make muesli, hot they make porridge.  Saves gas, time and the need to belch porridge all day.

Brodrick Pass • By madpom.

Drizzle setting in, so lets get the pass over with before the rain arrives.  More intentions in the book: Fraser Hut , The Landsboro, Karangarua / Douglas and beyond.  And we’re off: dog rushing ahead.  The original good keen man.

Markers up the pass, following the dog out of habit.  End up dropping off the ridge into a gully on a deer track.  Guess she’s following deer, not people:  don’t follow the dog, pom.  Scramble back to the ridge through sub-alpine scrub, and on and on and up to wet rock and scree.  The glaciers of Mt Strauchon appearing and vanishing into cloud, rain and mist.  Slow going over slippery rocks, but we make the pass in the end under a biting wind.  My first, long awaited, view of the real landsborough:  flats at the Haast road aside.  But the landsborough is not there:  MacKenzie Creek, the hanging valley below the pass is clear, but the landsborough itself is an ocean of cloud.  Not even there, if you didn’t know better.

Mt Strauchon from Brodrick • By madpom.

 We drop rapidly down scree and wet tussock into the shelter of MacKenzie Creek.  Then trot off down the rocky valley floor towards the cloud and unknown land below.  Once read an account of this trip on a photocopied page of Moir’s guide in a hut, and recall that at some point we must look for a ‘pylon’ and climb to the ridge on the true left.  Pylons, it turns out, are what the rest of us call cairns.  Just below the bushline, a series of these point up a steep screen to a low ridgeline.  So it’s up, up and away with a gallon or two of sweat.  The altitude, regained with much more effort and labour than it was lost. 

MacKenzie Creek from Brodrick Pass • By madpom.

Another cairn marks the 1st ridgeline: a beautiful campspot popularity shown by a series of fire-rings.  The dog succumbs to temptation and heads down the ridge from here, but my recollection is that the main ridge must be attained first.  Heading due south, above the largest upslope fire-ring, we pick up markers heading directly up the steep, slippery and muddy slope for the ridgeline.  The markers hang around for just long enough to give us the idea before petering out, though the track is well trodden:  it’s straight up from here boss.

We fight and win, gaining another 200m of altitude by the damp ridgeline of stunted beech.  The track latches onto this and follows it steeply down, mud and wet leaf underfoot, dropping rapidly into the ocean of cloud below.  400m above the valley floor we finally break though: the grassy flats and river channels of the Landsboro visible at last.  Beech faces surrounding them, narrowing in places to tree-clad gorges before opening to more flats beyond.  The peaks above are hidden in the cloud, now above us, and the result is a pleasent lowland valley topped by a cieling of grey.  No hints of the glaciers, rock ice and hanging valleys above are visible.

Down, down, down and the track becomes more and more indistinct, before disappearing completely 100m above the western fork of MacKenzie Creek. We drop to the rock channel, happy to be on the valley floor al last and off the steep, slippery slopes.Follow the creek to the fork with the other half of MacKenzie creek, and then pick up tracks on the true left all the way to the Landsboro flats.

The Landsborough from Brodrick Pass • By madpom.


Passing stoat traps on the way: all empty. Splash, splash back through the creek: the rain heavy now, and through long wet grass onto the river terraces and to the welcome sight of Fraser Hut.  Off with wet clothes, wet pack.  Fire lit, pack emptied, gear and pack hung up to dry, sandflies fed and the billy on the boil.  Mountain radio aerial put to good use: Radio NZ international’s coming in strong, and we’re hanging out for a forecast (rain clearing by morning: sweet).  2:30pm, and we ain’t goin’ nowhere till the rain stops.  Mushroom-fried rice for tea, with salami & mixed veg.  Can’t beat it.

The Landsborough at Cheswicke Flat, Fraser Hut • By madpom.

The hut has 4 bunks: the top two being a foot or so below the roof, and 7 ft above the floor.  Strange set up, but it works:  just don’t sleep-walk.  Concrete floor rotting a bit but a warm, fully lagged hut.  Veranda, water tank and all the sandflies you can feed.  Perfect.

Fraser Hut • By madpom.




Thursday 19th

8am and the last of the rain is easing to nothing as we trot off along the airstrip, heading upriver.  A series of doc triangles follow the bushedge, confusing the issue:  should we really be over there?  No.  Straight line is preferable.  The Landsborough soon undercuts the true left bank, and the DOC triangles plunge cheerfully into the torrent to appear on the far side.  2 days of rain have done their job: there’ll be no crossing to the Landsboro today.  So we sidle: steep slopes, creeper, windfall and bluffs all adding to the fun.  The 2km to the beginning of Toetoe flats takes over an hour and I’m soaked and pissed off from wet bush and sidling. 

Fraser / Cheswicke Airstrip • By madpom.

The biv across the river at Toetoe Flat looks in good condition, though the water prohibits any recce’s to investigate further.  Beyond here things get easier.  The southern face of the Landsboro becomes more gentle, and sidling easier.  We climb to river terraces on the way to Ford Flat, dropping back to the river later for Kea.  Sidling close to the water along a marked DOC track above Kea.  To confusion: the track heads off up McKerrow Creek.  Assuming it’s heading for a good crossing point, we follow, until it cuts off up bluffs on the western side, bound for Elcho Pass.  Be warned: this track heads for the pass, not for the Landsboro heads.  Elcho: strange name, especially considering the neighbouring pass is called Chloe.  Did someone get lost looking for the latter, and name the former as an anagram to codify their confusion?

Toetoe Biv • By madpom.

Dropping into McKerrow, we scramble up the far side and drop finally to Hinds Flat. No hinds in sight, but a couple of Tahr provide entertainment.  From here up it’s boulder hopping and river flats all the way.  The flats criss-crossed with deer and tahr tracks: all made since last night’s rain.  A good sight to see, in the face of DOC’s search and destroy activities in the ranges above.  Zora Canyon is pumping, the booming of confined water sending a clear message: any future attempts on the pass into the Mahitahi will have to wait for a ‘long dry spell’.

Tahr in the Landsborough • By madpom.

Every side creek provides grassy terraces and ideal camping spots abound.  A good valley in which to have a tent.  And lucky too: our planned objective of the rock biv’s at the valley heads proves too much, and a night under canvas follows beside Arthur Creek.  The dog shows the normal canine grasp of the concept of tents:  the shelter is appreciated, but respective uses of doors, walls and the like are a strange and pointless concept.  The last of the mushrooms are put to good, use and up we curl for a night of wriggling, whimpering, tossing and turning.  Oh, and a little sleep.

McKerrow Creek camp spots • By madpom.



Part 2