We felt a sense of accomplishment as we sat de thawing ourselves in front of the heat pump, after going tramping where no-one would dare to go in the eye of a southerly!
It all started at 4 in the morning when we left home in the driving rain uncertain of what we might find on the Whanauia Range. Arriving at Renfew road end at 7:30 as daylight was breaking. Just three minutes from the car we were in the snow. The walk was along a well benched track till we rounded a corner and had to climb over a windfall, slowing our progress. Round the next corner the detour round the major slip started as we ascended steeply until it eased off to a sidle. We then came across a sign that ensured a steep descent and to be cautious. Another sign further down informed us we were just ten minutes from the bridge. A short backtrack on the old track showed us how big this ‘major slip’ was. Round the next corner we came across an amazing bridge over a chasm of darkness ready to shallow anyone who failed to read the DOC sign that said ‘no abseiling.’ The next section of track had concrete steps which led to the final climb to the Rangiwahia Hut. As we got higher and higher the icicles grew and grew passing a waterfall which was surprisingly not frozen. As we reached a flatter section of track near the hut we heard two gunshots back down in the valley. We both shook the snow and ice off our boots as we entered the hut where we were greeted by a small amount of trapped heat as we proceeded to fuel up.
Feeling more energetic we made the decision to go over the range to Triangle Hut deep in the head of the Oroua River. The first hill along a wide rut in the ground was a walk in the park then the climb up the next 100 and a bit metres went off without a hitch. At the top I peeled the ice off the giant triangle to make a duplicate which showed how we were going up to 1400 metres in the freezing cold southerly. The next section the snow got deeper but I continued plugging on waratah to waratah, breaking ice off each so we can see them on the return if we return! Upon reaching the sidle stopped for a bar and drink. Our body heat dropped rapidly so only a quick stop as we continued to battle on. The worse bit finally hit us as we were wading waist deep, great to reach the bushline which made travel extremely easy. Dad took the lead as we descended another 400 metres in the slush; a typical Ruahine Ridge as the last 100 was nearly vertical. Had to run through the river to avoid wet feet since yet another hut was on the opposite side of the river. Little dry firewood was to be found but found some wet wood which we managed to dry. Coffee and tea hydrated and warmed our bodies nicely and a feed of rice risotto, tuna, mash potato and fudge steam pudding was enjoyed by all, as we recover for the climb back up and through the waste deep snow.
Being the shortest day of the year we started with torches and ran back over the river before starting back up ridge, stopped at 150m to take a layer off. Despite the easy going we stopped again at the leatherwood zone for some energy food and put a layer back on. Hit the tussock zone and still had not warmed up so put our parkas on. The climb back up to top of sidle not as bad as predicted had some more energy food ascent up to the sign. The final climb proved to be the hardest bit with waist deep snow as well as the wee bit down the other side where our boot prints seem to have been covered over with more snow. After three hours of plugging steps I finally had to stop, Dad took over for a bit till we hit the old ski tow rut which I overtook him on before the Antarctic looking toilet loomed out of the mist. After a few minutes father burst in covered in snow, having slipped and become trapped under a bank somewhere up the hill. After melting snow and eating noodles as well as pasta we were ready to go leaving the hunter in the hut that has to push the button every 30 minutes for the heater or he will freeze. The descent back to the chasm was quickly covered and soon snow turned to mud before the ascent, sidle then descent. This time I crawled under the windfall nearly getting stuck. We were soon looking back from the car into the Ruahines and all the mountains we have climbed over the last 6 months!