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Published: March 22nd 2013
It's a chilly morning so Kai breakfast by the lake is an indoor affair today. Cloud hangs over the tops of the hills in the distance but that should lift and dissipate by some time this afternoon. The long drive down the familiar Matukituki valley to the roadend at Raspberry Creek. Dodging sheep, cows, and tourists (day-trippers to the Rob Roy Glacier) in the early parts of the valley but tranquility returns after Aspiring hut. Quick chat with the hut warden at Aspiring (Stu North - a man of some legend in the hills here) confirms that a half hour or so about French Ridge hut the terrain turns into mountaineering land and thus requires kit I don't have with me. So that confirms the plan for the next couple of days - up to French Ridge today then a short hike up the ridge above the hut tomorrow morning before descending to the valley floor again only to ascend to Liverpool hut (which lies high up on the side of Mt Barff - on other side of the valley) for tomorrow night.
Another hour and a half brings me to Pearl Flat the junction of the steep tracks rising
to French Ridge on the right, Mt Barff on the left. The Matukituki river flows freely but tamely between me and the track to French Ridge. Rejecting both the signposted crossing at the deepest part of the river and the swingbridge a kilometre up the track, I remove my boots, don sandals and wade through the deliciously icy, shin-deep water to the other side. Pause in the sun to dry my feet, re-don dry boots, and strap wet sandals to the back of the pack. The sign at the bottom of the French Ridge route is familiar - danger, steep, slippery, weather, safety, etc etc.
Two hours of hard ascent involving dozens of enjoyable rooty climbs (they were right about steep) and I'm at the bushline. Near the top, I'm overtaken by a couple, DB and MC. Another hour to the hut where a friendly welcome from humans and a playful gang of Kea awaits. Two Argentinian climbers heading for the summit are soon joined by a pair of west coast Kiwis aiming for the same. The keen-ness of the (inexperienced) Argentinians' offer to form a foursome for the summit attempt is met with what I read as a
begrudging agreement from the (inexperienced but appearing more capable) Kiwis. Also in the hut for the night are the warden (Kiwi / English / French), DB (Kiwi) and MC (Canadian). The evening passes with many a tale of ascents, misadventures, rescues and other mountaineering folklore as well as the discovering of many a common acquaintance.
The clouds have mostly cleared away by the time a gorgeous sunset washes the surrounding peaks in a golden alpenglow. Popping out in the middle of the night to visit the precarious long-drop on the other side of the ridge, the sky is bathed in twinkles and a bright, bright milky way.
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