East Hawdon Bivoouac
Having finally nailed Sudden Valley East Hawdon was the obvious next trip.
Why Jason & decide July was a good time I am not sure but the conditions encountered were quiet unexpected.
Normally we would have tented in the meadow near the shelter in Hawdon Valley car park the night before but both Jason & I had work commitments on Friday. An early start from a frosty Christchurch took us up “the hill” through a snow clad Porter’s Pass. Noticeable was the temperature gauge in my car. By the time we got to Cass the temperature showed a surprising minus 8 degrees C. We might have to rug up. Even more noticeable was the higher peaks which were very well coated with heavy snow. So by the time we arrived at the shelter in Hawdon Valley we knew this may not be quite as easy as expected.
Route guides suggested 2 hours to East Hawdon Stream & 2 & ½ hours up to the bivvy.
We would normally beat recommended times. Not today however!
We headed up the valley avoiding any potential for a wet dip before it was necessary.
We were drawn toward the “sun & blue sky”. Emerging from the frozen mist we still found temperatures sub zero, but at least the sun made us feel better. Looking back we could see the murky cloud back to where my vehicle was parked.
After a couple of hours we crossed our first icy stream. It was to become our best mode of progress for many more hours. We were heading up to new territory, East Hawdon Valley. Snow was just below knee deep as we crossed the ever narrowing valley. I had a picture in my mind that as we entered the gorge the depth of snow would be much less because the gorge would be sheltered. You got that wrong Brian!!
Continuing on the snow depth varied from ankle to mostly knee & sometimes waste deep.
Trying to find a track or marker cairns under the snow was an impossible challenge so despite the sub zero temperatures we found the bulk of our 500 vertical metre climb to the bivouac was spent in the icy waters of the stream.
Progression up the valley was very slow and my previous winter tramping experiences reminded me that I needed to keep my momentum; the conditions did not present an opportunity to stop for a brew so other than an occasional snack bar we continued without breaks in order to maintain some sort of body temperature.
Our GPS told us that we were nearing the bivouac but the last 150 metres was not that steep but with a heavy blanket of snow I struggled through the ice coated stream.
Jason who had reached the bivouac &come back to give me some encouragement. About 100 metres from the hut he offered to take my pack, I agreed without hesitation.
5 minutes later I climbed the stairs to the bivouac. It looked more like a freezer with a heavy layer of snow on top & of course the interior temperature was sub zero.
For a 4-5 hour trip it took us over 8 hours. Jason could have made the bivouac sometime earlier but team safety slowed him down (i.e. me!). I have to say that I was running on petrol fumes only when I got into the bivouac. Whilst a brew was the immediate concern, getting out of my wet & frozen gear was a mission. Boots & socks off & oh the bloody cramp set in & all Jason could do was laugh & take my photo. The pain in both inner thighs brought me close to tears but eventually with dry clothes a brew & an hour in my sleeping bag I started to regain my body temperature & other than the beer Jason made me drink I started to become my normal self.
Well that is as best as you can do when you are sleeping in a freezer. With our cooking we managed to get the internal temperature to about zero deg c. With our gear we were ok to survive this but other than when we were feeding or watering ourselves we were in our alpine bags.
The stream was about 80metres below the bivouac & with the deep snow and the drop down we had no intention of going down for water (which we needed) but with enough snow on our roof & doorstep we were able to melt it down for more hot drink & a Rogan Josh dinner.
I chewed on my one can of beer for about an hour or so. Coffee & soup were much more appealing but after dinner when Jason pulled out a bottle of Shiraz he got my interest.
As can be imagined we were tired but we were not ready to sleep so some music care of my MP3 & portable speaker kept us singing whilst we drank the wine. It was an incredible challenge but a wonderful memory!