Nudging the comfort zone

I make a point to never check the weekend forecast for an upcoming tramp before Thursday, Wednesday night at the latest.  It’s not a superstition, exactly, more my way to cope with an ever-changing forecast and an aversion to decision-making.  Better to see the forecast just once, close enough to departure to be pretty solid, and make one decision about where we’ll go to avoid the rain.

But THIS time the whole of our weekend driving range looked amazingly good.  Cold, for sure; it IS winter after all.  But dry, sunny, and with calm winds.  Carrie and I reveled in the unexpected luck in getting yet another winter tramp in fine weather.  We both have kids and partners and jobs, so overnight tramps don’t happen spur-of-the-moment, and if the calendar appointment happens to fall on a good weather weekend, it’s cause for joy.

We opted for Edwards Valley.  We had both been there before, but it’s less than two hours drive from Christchurch, and has a snug hut above the tree line, and side trip potential.

The walk up the Edwards starts with crossing the Bealey and the Mingha Rivers, which aren’t bridged, but in low flows are straight forward.  I even kept my boots somewhat dry, with the aid of gaiters and a walking pole.  The track isn’t technical, but, as we were reminded by a couple staying at the hut, it IS a big step up from the Abel Tasman great walk.  The track bounced between a steep wooded path around gorges and stretches of gravelly river bed, but since you’re going up river and the hut is on the river, you really can’t get lost.

When we arrived at the hut it was basking in afternoon sun.  The wisp of smoke coming from the chimney showed that someone was already there, stoking the fire, always has a welcoming feel.

We had a snack and a cuppa, and headed up the valley towards that snowy mountain, now called “Falling Mountain.”

“During the magnitude 7.1 Arthur’s Pass earthquake on 9 March 1929, a 900-metre-high section of mountain peak collapsed onto Taruahuna Pass, close to the epicentre. The landslide continued partway up the flanks of Mt Franklin opposite. It then slid about 5 kilometres down the remote valley of the west branch of the Otehake River. The collapsed peak was later dubbed Falling Mountain.”  https://teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/4493/falling-mountain-landslide

Yikes.

I’ve been in the Taruahuna pass several years ago and I remember the landscape–huge rip-rap type boulders fill the entire pass, your entire field of vision for at least an hour of hiking.  Can you imagine a land slide big enough to shoot rubble 5 km down the neighboring valley?  It did occur to me that one would have to be extraordinarily unlucky to be in the mountains during that kind of event, and of course it’s not unprecedented…. But you can’t live your life worrying about these things.

Here’s the Falling Mountain rubble. We chased that warm sun all the way up the valley but never caught it before we decided to turn around and head back towards dinner at the hut.

The last of the day’s sun, reflected off a peak.

The hut was unexpectedly busy for a winter weekend; of the 16 bunks, 13 ended up full. Around one table that evening we had cool range of accents, and countries of origin. Chinese, Canadian, German, Kiwi, Dutch, Zimbabwean, American and Australian.  The sky was cloudless and the moon hadn’t yet risen; the milky way was more spectacular than I’d ever seen it.

There was a good hard frost that night. Note to self–next time fill the cooking pan with water in the evening, before the tap freezes.

The next morning the fire’s warmth was all gone, and we waited for the sun to crack over the hill before setting off on our day adventure.

Carrie’s husband gets excited about routes and maps, and he had picked out a creek bed near the hut that, based on the aerial photos and the topo maps, should be climbable without needing any technical gear, as long as we exited the creek bed before the bluffs at the top.  We left most of our stuff in the hut and set off with day packs, crossing the river and pushing through a little bit of friendly scrub to the frosty creek.  Just for reference, “unfriendly” scrub would involve the well-armored  matagouri and speargrass, which we luckily didn’t encounter.  Jeremiah often comes home from his hunting trips picking bits of thorns out of his skin, but “bush bashing” through spines and prickles holds no appeal for me!

Creek icicles!

The hut below looks both close and far away.

In the end we climbed up that rocky bit, which we could have avoided if we’d come out of the creek earlier, but which turned out alright in the end.

After our unexpected rock scramble near the top of the hill, we finally popped our heads over the crest, and our vista suddenly expanded. “It’s like the Sound of Music! I called to Carrie, delighted not only with the view but also that we hadn’t gotten ourselves into trouble on our chosen route.

We strolled along the low alpine grasses, and had an early lunch by this frozen tarn. “We should have carried our stuff, we could have gone down the other side to Lake Mavis, and back along the Mingha!” I enthused, regretting that we had to turn back down to the woods so soon.  Consulting the map, we realized that I might have been a little over-enthusiastic with that plan. It would be a fantastic mission some day, but we had a whole lot more ridge to go along before we could even see Lake Mavis.

Still, we felt pretty accomplished.  Once you’re confident with navigating off-trail, all kinds of amazing adventures open up.  Carrie and I are working on building those skills and that confidence, while at the same time being aware that a whole lot can go wrong while making up your own route in the mountains.

As we turned back down the hill, we chose a different route to avoid the rocky bits.  I always feel tentative lowering myself down through sections that would be really difficult to back-track up, in case we meet a cliff and get stuck.  But this time we were fine.  And again, no speargrass!

Comfort zones nudged out a bit towards more adventure–yay!

 

 

 

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