Winter Tramping

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June 21st 2007
Published: June 21st 2007
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The tramp beginsThe tramp beginsThe tramp begins

The bit of white at the very left of the photo is where the hut is
So it was an uneventful drive to Te Anau, picked up jac from the airport, continued meandering south to te anau, gorgeous sunny weather, started at lunchtime so the ice on the roads was luckily all melted, awesome. We turned up at the walker bach (jac's husband's family's) with plenty of light to spare, walked the '500 Jenny-steps' down to the DOC office to check the weather, which was a little scary, and settled in for the night. The forecast for the next day was for a cloudy/showery cold day, with snow in the afternoon, and then lots of snow and rain and gale force winds and COLD for the day after. Considering we only had a short-ish day up to Luxmore hut (less than 5 hours from the start of the track), and considering jac had done that part in winter before and knew what the track was like, we decided that, starting at daylight (about 8.30am at the moment, so not really that early at all), we should be at the hut before the snow settled in. The only dodgy part might be the half hour on the tussock/boardwalk at the top once we broke out above the tree-line, but there are snow-poles, got plenty of clothes, we'll be fine.
So, next morning, we left bright (it really wasnt that bright, the cloud cover was exceptionally low, but at that point we were only worried that we might not actually be able to see anything from the hut with the amazing view) and early about a half hour after sunrise (as i said, not that early, sunrise at 8.30am) and walked from the house to the lake te anau control gates (about 40mins, which we badly regretted on the way home, considering we could have driven that far, but oh no! that would make it hardly a tramp at all!), and then got stuck into the tramp, about an hour on the flat walking around the lake throught the beech forest, beautiful! And then about 2 hours straight up the perambulator path (the Kepler track is a Great Walk, which means you actually could almost wheel a wheelchair up there, no clambering over rocks or roots or falling into swollen rivers or big waist-deep puddles of mud or climbing up riverbeds with water rushing at your face and only sheets of ice on the sides to hold on to, or hanging precariously off cliff-faces or anything exciting like last year's winter tramp!). Which was pretty cool actually, it was all up, no down, which is sloggish but you keep catching glimpses of te anau through the trees, which gives you this awesome sense of achievement, to think you walked all that way in that one day.
Then after jac and i both got heartily sick of my moaning about my hip flexor muscles which had been increasingly throwing a tanty for no good reason most of the way up (agony!), we made it to the limestone bluffs, which were awesome, millions of icicles hanging off, i can never walk past those without stopping. Something about them just makes you want to suck on them, they look so appetising.
The track winds along next to those for a while, and then up again for a little way (by this stage my hip flexors nearly had me in tears), and then all of a sudden we popped out above the tree line. When i say 'popped' i actually mean clambered up some awfully slippery ice-that-was-once calf-deep-snow that had made it into the edge of the forest only to melt and be trampled all over and refreeze several times.
A steep climb through some more of that wonderful snow later (it wasnt that steep, but damn sure felt it the amount of falling over i did!), and we were on the flat-ish, in knee deep slippery ice-that-was-once-snow. Very exciting, the view was amazing, we could again see te anau, and it was snowing just gently, all was beautiful. Save for the snow that had a nice crust, just thick enough for you to stand on, think it was going to hold your weight, and then collapse under you as soon as you moved your other foot forward. So we got pretty warm for a while, (quite a while, a bit that would have taken us about a half hour in the summer with no snow took us just over an hour, pretty hard going) and there was some more falling over, (but only on the icy bits, where it wasn't comfy to sit down of course), and, of course - it wouldnt be a winter tramp without - an element of danger trying to work out where the boardwalk was, and not break a leg by stepping off it by accident (it's about 30 cm wide, and raised a little over the tussock, but it was covered with snow and/or ice most of the way, so where there was heaps of snow, you couldnt really see where it was, apart from a few holes that had melted right on the edge so you could see the half-metre drop through the snow that i imagine would have been quite painful to put a foot into. And where you could see the boardwalk it was covered in slippery slippery ice which you almost slipped off into the holes). Oh and with jac pulling out her compass at every snow pole and taking a bearing (i'm still not entirely convinced she knew what she was doing) to make sure that if it snowed half a metre overnight to cover the poles we'd still be able to find the track where it went back into the trees and find our way home.
So, the hut was the most beautiful thing i remember seeing ever, I was so ready to be there long before we arrived. And there was wood and coal!!! which i had not been expecting considering it was winter and should have all been used up by incosiderate trampers before us as in last years winter tramp.
So a lovely fire, and a cup of soup, and the putting on of 3 layers of dry thermals top and bottom, dry polar fleece pants, 2 dry jerseys, and a dry woolly balaclava, i was feeling much much better. Dinner was at about 5pm, when the light started to go with an awesome sunset, some amaaaaaazing (and extremely potent) mulled wine, and aunt bettys steamed and very syrupy puds. We pretended to stay awake until nearly 7, then i gave up and went to sleep next to the fire. Aaaah.
Next day we awoke to a lot more snow than had been there the night before, exciting, a little worrying, but seeing as we knew the forecast was for it to only get worse, we decided getting out early was a lot smarter than holing up in the hut for a few days with no emergency meal and having basically eaten all our rations bar lunch and breakfast. So, with a few text messages sent out to chris (we hoped theyd made it) from up on the table top in the hut holding the cell phone high as possible as our backup notifications, it was out into the snow with us. It was snowing pretty hard. Which actually turned out to be an excellent thing - it had snowed enough to cover all the slippery ice we'd struggled so much with the day before and was much easier to walk on, with remarkably fewer bottoms-up episodes, awesome.
It hadn't snowed enough though for us to need jac's compass bearings (quite pleased about that!) and actually the track was pretty easy to see where it went, apart from the same problems with the bits of boardwalk as the day before.
We made it back to the trees much quicker, only about 40 mins, and were kinda pleased to leave the wind and snow behind...
only the snow we hadn't left behind! It was this amazing winter wonderland, with snow-covered trees and this smooth white path down through the forest. We couldn't beleive it, we didn;t think it had snowed so much overnight, and kept waiting for the snow to disappear, but it was heavy through the bush almost right down to the lakeside. Amazing! so silent, untouched, beautiful, and more coming all the time even through the trees!
Of course this meant that once we got below the snowline the lovely fluffy snow turned into wet, drippy, slippy, awful rain, which has got to be the worst weather you can have tramping in my opinion. But the rest of the way back to the house was pretty uneventful, just your regular dark humour and wet-moaning that comes out when you're tired and cold and wet.
So we got back at lunchtime, and decided to make for dunedin right then, as it was either that or brave the icy roads early in the morning, with more snow forecast.
So, driving along, happy as larry, enjoying the heater pumping out the hot air, the sensation of being once again dry, sitting, and not carrying a pack and heavy boots, a little trepidation about the road from te anau to lumsden, which according to the DOC road report had a little snow on it, get to lumsden fine, only a teeny bit of snow on the road, biiiiig sigh of relief.
Get a call from DOC, they thank us for putting our return slip in the box to say we made it out ok, and oh did you see three french girls at the hut?
We'd seen them in the hut book, but no sign on the track or at the hut, in the book they had written they were going over the pass and carrying on round the kepler. Oh. Dear.
But actually from the date they should have gone over the pass the day we walked up to the hut, and then the next day isn't difficult, so they should theoretically be fine.
Carrying on driving, it starts to snow, oh isnt that pretty
keeps snowing
snow starts to settle on the road
dark at about 3.30pm
snow keeps settling on the road
full on blizzard begins
snow keeps settling on the road
driving at about 80km/hr, using gears to brake (yay for "Perfect Child" being a manual car)
driving at about 70
'maybe we should stop at the next town'
get to clinton... this is pretty scary, slipping a bit on the road
we start to maybe look out for a hostel or bed n breakfast, think about stopping at a petrol station to ask for current road weather
decide balclutha is only another half hour, more likely to find somewhere to stay there, we can drive at 10 km/hr if need be to get there
doesnt really get any worse, still driving at about 60km/hr
get to balclutha
shall we stay?
driving through the town and miraculously snow starts disappearing halfway through town, decide its better, carry on, road is fine
the rest of the drive to dunedin is pretty uneventful, teensy bits of snow, which laughably appear to slow down the traffic by huge amounts, despite not settling at all. Us blizzard veterans keep on going, get to dunedin all safe and sound and nicely achey
Dad rings all worried, tells me that theres been 50 car accidents in the last 2 days, and that one car of uni students drove into lake wakatipu. Luckily we weren't anywhere near queenstown, where all the snow went!
The End


4th July 2007

eeek! thats so cool!

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