We had such a good time out hiking last weekend that we planned another trip for this weekend, despite predictions of rain for Sunday. Mt Somers (the snowy one in the photo) is only about 1.5 hours from Christchurch, and on the drier side of the Southern Alps, so we hoped to avoid the snarly purple and red area on the rain radar, west of the divide.
Thumbs up PB&J! That sandwich definitely pegs us as Americans, no one else seems to have the peanut butter fetish. Milo actually walked quite a ways up the trail (including almost 100 stairs) from the car before climbing in the backpack.
We spent quite a bit of time scrambling around the banks of this beautiful stream. I kept thinking of my Dad, who loves pretty streams with lush greenery. This stream reminds me a bit of the Opalescent south of Flowed Lands in the Adirondacks.
The stream is in a valley that never sees sun in the winter and we hit lovely patches of snow from time to time. This bit of snow looked like it had grown furry hoar frost on top of it, it was all sparkly. As NY natives, we were happy! Some of the banks were icy, so we took it a bit slow.
See this bridge? It also made us happy! We weren’t sure if the stream was bridged or not and I was steeling myself for a cold wading crossing.
Check out this neat waterfall! The path goes behind it, and the vegetation above breaks up the water making this nice (cold!) shower below, as well as a lovely moist place for verdant mosses.
See that white patch of snow among the dark trees? Look closely and you can spot Pinnacles hut where we spent the night. It’s mostly used by rock climbers in the summer (“Pinnacles” is the name of the rock formation behind the hut, a climbers paradise). We hadn’t looked at the map very carefully to realize how much climbing the day would entail, so the hut was a welcome sight that afternoon.
As we climbed up to the hut we got more snow, never enough to need snowshoes but enough to reflect that refreshing white light that to us means Winter Wonder.
The hut hadn’t been used for a few days so the fire was cold, but being a serviced hut there was a good stock pile of chopped firewood, some of it even dry. Milo thought helping Mommy start the fire was fantastic, and blew with gusto. Of course he didn’t always blow at the right time or in the right place….but that’s a learning curve. Maybe in a few years we’ll have him running up the trail and starting the fire so his slow old parents are welcomed to a warm hut.
Speaking of childhood learning curves, Milo made a big step forward on the potty training track this weekend. That cookie he’s triumphantly holding is the reward for pooping on the outhouse potty (seen in the background). He kept his diaper dry for the whole hike in, announced his need for the facilities soon after we arrived, then actually sat on the “long drop” potty and produced something within a reasonable amount of time. For those of you without children or whose potty training memories are a distant past, this constituted a major victory on the battle against diapers. Mommy even did three separate styles of “potty dance” (celebration dances that seem to really communicate to Milo how HAPPY Mommy is when he uses the potty). Just be glad I spared you the picture of the long drop potty and all its contents.
Yikes, what’s that?! Jeremiah brought his rifle along and went out in the late afternoon to see what he could see, and to my vast surprise he returned just after dark toting a big set of hindquarters slung over bloody shoulders. That man has the most remarkable success with hunting! We shared the hut with a father and 10-year-old son, not vegetarians but also definitely not hunters. The son’s comment was “Wow, I’ve never seen a real live deer before,” to which I had to reply that those hindquarters were certainly real but no longer live. They were good sports, but declined to share our fresh venison steak.
Here are our hut friends. It’s always fun to have company at a hut, and the German dad with his Filipino son made for good-humored interesting company.
Trophy legs? No, we didn’t leave them on the sign to startle other hikers arriving at the hut. Incidentally, meat is really heavy in the pack. I could hardly pick up Jeremiah’s pack on the way out, and he estimated that the meat alone added 35 lbs to his normal load, which already includes almost all our gear except Milo. And our freezer is already full of game, so why did he go through the effort? I don’t really understand, but I’ll hypothesize that it’s something to do with family tradition coupled with a drive to be rugged and self-sufficient. “Ug, me man!”
In the morning while Jeremiah took care of his meat I took a walk up to the ridge above the hut, examining possum tracks and admiring mountain lichens as well as oogling the winter scenery on a lovely windless morning.
Here’s a little up-close look at the tiny alpine plants huddling among the rocks on the ridge. Why is the moss orange? I actually don’t know, but I’m curious. The scene looks like a photo of a coral reef.
A special hot drink at a cafe seems to be our standard after-hike winter treat, and today was no exception. This cute little place has been open since 1869, and the amount of traffic then get on a quiet Sunday afternoon out in the middle of nowhere (farming country) was startling. They make quality hot chocolate too.
While looking up why brown algae is brown several years ago, I ran across the fact (which I had somehow now internalized in college biology) that there are several light absorbing pigments for photosynthesis which don’t reflect green back to us. I wonder if that moss is using a xanthin for photosynthesis instead of chlorophyll. While reading your plant physiology book several years ago I also realized how much has been discovered since I was in college. The electron transport chain in the membranes of chloroplasts being similar to the same chain in the membranes of mitochondria, but doing the exact opposite energy transfer, is really cool. I wonder how long it took God to think it up. While ruminating on this topic, I have also recently been marveling about the variety of shapes/shades/three dimensional arrangements there are of leaves/pine needles/mosses. I firmly believe structure is function, and I don’t see yet all of the different functions these shapes represent.
Hum, I wonder if you’re on the right track with the xanthophylls. I had the impression that those pigments are more for protecting the plant from “free radicals,” that happen as a biproduct of photosynthesis but that are damaging to cells than as an alternative to green chlorophyll. But actually, up there on the exposed mountain top the moss would probably need more of that protection than at lower elevations, and other plants have different adaptations to cope with the high light levels and drying winds (hairy leaves, short stature).
Speaking of leaf arrangements, NZ native plants have a propensity towards tiny leaves. The beeches have small leaves, various unrelated understory shrubs have tiny leaves….it’s a different look to the forest than hardwood forests of NE America. I’ve wondered what evolutionary pressures made it that way, but haven’t run across a good theory yet.
Molly, Jeremiah, & Milo – Thank you for helping all of us live a wonderful, picture filled, dream vacation. It is so enjoyable to wake up on a Sunday morning and while sipping my chai, to read a new chapter in your blog. Everyone looks happy & healthy ( & with Jeremiah’s hunting skills – well fed). God bless.