Many Happy Returns
Labour Weekend 2009
Here we go again. The Friday night ferry to Picton; the surge of trampers into vans. The struggle to find a warm nest in the dark, wet night at St Arnaud. But the breaking day brings clearing skies and the cheering sight of Hugh Barr’s mob zooming off in the water taxi up Lake Rotoiti. We were not long in following and after a brief round of introductions, were padding along through the beech forest of the Travers Valley, just 22 years since I’d met Vivienne on an identical trip.
The gleaming nearby river washing against a beach of suitable flat stones diverted us soon after starting, and soon a stone-skipping competition began. Much riotous laughter and bragging. Bill and I haven’t changed much over the past fifty years. Alison had quietly mentioned the possibility of having a proper billy tea at lunchtime, and her suggestion was seized upon as one of our central trip themes: any excuse for a nice fire – both morning and afternoon teas. In fact, the stoves were never lit.
We chanced upon the Landymore brigade not long after branching off up Hukere Stream, camped quietly upon the track. Only Brian was in residence, the others having gone to explore the upper valley. Our path climbed amongst the mossy boulders and knobbly root of the forest, ever upwards beside the roaring blue cataracts of Hukere Stream. Whenever it appeared above ground that is. Quite often it was a dry stream bed. Mighty fans of avalanche-borne rocks formed skirts on either side of the upper valley, some quite recent. The trees they’d blasted away came in very handy as firewood at our salubrious camp on the first of the two grassy flats.
And so it was we passed the first evening, with colourful tents parked around a splendid wood fire over which two large black billies bubbled quietly. Old fashioned stew, of the highest quality. Alan’s trusty folding saw had been exercised to produce a handsome pile of wood, so the after-dinner conflagration toasted us nicely, ready for bed.
The morning sun shone straight into the tent door, summoning us to prepare for the ascent to Angelus Basin. Ambling away with picnic packs at about 9, we soon arrived at the upper grassy flat, partly covered with last week’s snow, but still a perfect camping spot. All around the snowy crags glistened and beckoned: come up and explore the tops. The track steepened and traversed a waterfall pool at the top of the forest that led up to the first long gulch of snow. Fortunately a line of steps lessened the dull labour of plugging big bucket steps in wet sugar, and by midday all but one of us were sunbathing at Angelus Basin Hut, sipping tea with old friends, Brian and Jo, who’d skinned along the Robert Ridge on skis.
The descent along our uphill tracks involved some sloughing-off of loose snow, and some mighty bum-glissades. When we arrived at our camp there was a tacit decision to spend a second night there, such was our exhaustion (slackness) and pleasure at the thought of snoozing, reading and endless bowls of tea on the warm grass.
Victor, our resident Italian, was elected unanimously as cook for the pasta dinner. It turned out ok, actually. Alan and Colleen produced a magnificent series of supporting condiments. And there was dessert, with his small but complete mobile kitchen. The man is a genius in the kitchen.
Another starry night followed the evening avalanche, which thundered noisily out of a gulch above our camp, completely covering the snow tongue above our camp where Bill, Alison and Victor had been exploring 24h hours earlier. Umm, yes.
The two guardian (?) kea squawked around above us in the frosty dawn. Not a desirable bird about the house, rather good that they kept their distance while we packed up and scrupulously tidied the fireplace. Minimum impact, you bet.
All too soon it was back down into the forest, the sparkling blue Travers, swatting groundflies at Coldwater while bathing and waiting for the water taxi.
In the van’s rear mirror I could see clouds blotting out the ranges behind as we sped down the Wairau, wipers going. That sunny feeling of having picked the eyes out of a great three-day anti-cyclone. Many happy returns all right.
- Party members
- Our lot: Alan Wright, Colleen Davey, Bill and Alison Stephenson, Peter (leader and scribe) and Vivienne Radcliffe, Victor Negrin, Darren Austin, Caroline Henkel, and John Henry