“Are you there Baine?”
4 – 5 September 2020
Competing forecasts from MetService, Yr.no and MetVUW meant the decision to go wasn’t made until mid-afternoon Friday. That gave a tight timeframe to finish work, pack, and make it to the Catchpool entrance gate by winter closing time. Phew – squeaked in, and devoured left-over pizza in the car park.
It was 4x4 weekend in the Ōrongorongo Valley. Lights blazed from Xanadu, high above Big Bend, and happy kids shouted as they lobbed rocks into the river. Candles flickered in the windows of Baine-iti – Ian was home, and so it turned out was semi-permanent resident Matthew, who Ian had met for the first time an hour before we turned up.
We settled into the comfy top bunks, lulled to sleep by Ian’s tales. He was glad to catch up with Franz and had stories of skiing fun with Franz’s Dad. Then he got onto hut and bridge building exploits in the late 1940s with Paul’s Dad. Feeling left out, I asked if he knew my Dad. Remarkably he did, having overlapped with him in the Mt Cook environs later in the 50s when Ian was climbing and exploring interesting alpine routes there. That none of these fathers had known each other was a testament to the breadth of Ian’s mountain history, and a nice link for the three of us.
Another story involved Ian’s father, who acted as an unofficial ranger warning people not to go into the water catchment. Passing trampers and hunters would bash on the hut wall, yelling ‘Are you there, Baine?’ presumably checking to see if they’d get away with entering the restricted area.
Saturday dawned and we were off up Matthews Stream by 7 a.m., heading towards North Saddle. The route is well marked, with pink tape tied to trees at frequent intervals. Spectacular clumps of flowering clematis graced our way.
It took about an hour to get to the saddle, by which time a gale was blowing and we were inside a very damp cloud. A hunter appeared out of the murk. He’d arrived at 2 a.m. and slept on a precipitous ledge overlooking the Wharekauhau. Our blundering shouting destroyed any chance he had of apprehending a deer, and he was heading home.
This was decision point number one – down into the Wharekauhau, or along the ridge to pt 819? It looked less blustery in the Wharekauhau, so we decided on the longer route. The descent was steep at first, with a short section of scree sliding and a waterfall to find our way around. After that the river travel was open and straightforward. The weather was grim though, a very wetting drizzle. At the stream’s forks we turned up into the north branch and followed that for about 400 metres.
Franz in his many evenings of poring over the map had spotted a low saddle between the Wharekauhau and Papatahi Streams, and this was where we were headed. Again, the route was well marked, this time with shreds of blue tarpaulin. At the saddle we reached a second decision point. Franz’s ultimate goal had been to drop into the Papatahi and follow it to its head. Paul was keen but with heavy rain forecast and the winter gate closing time, we chose to stay on the ridge and follow it to pt 819. Goats and deer had been busy and the footpad was easy to follow along the sharply defined ridge. There were spectacular slips on both sides.
At pt 819, Franz thought the suggestion of a five-minute sandwich break was a good one. He didn’t manage much of a sandwich though as he had to chart an enema in this spot with brief phone coverage (the life of a rest home GP!). It really was a very short lunch break as by this point we were borderline hypothermic. We continued along the ridge. Again there were steep drop-offs and some corniced (clay, not snow) sections. At one stage I found myself crawling to avoid getting blown off.
From pt 819 we were back in the land of trapping tracks, well marked with big pink triangles. The one we followed on our long descent into the Ōrongorongo had been freshly chain-sawed. The forecast mid-afternoon downpour didn’t eventuate and the wind dropped, so we were a cheerful troika thumping the wall of Baine-iti.
‘Are you there Baine?’ Sounds of amusement from within. ‘We’ve not been out much, we’ve just been solving the problems of the world,’ Ian and Matthew reported from in front of the fire.
Another brew, the remainder of the Tim Tams, and back down the river to beat the 6 p.m. entrance gate closure, which we did with an hour to spare.
- Party members
- Franz Hubmann, Paul McCredie, Sarah White(scribe).