SkiTramping Comes to Life!

SkiTramping down the White Glacier to Barker Hut!
After a long and rather dark term (interspersed with some good wee weekend missions which I have failed miserably to blog about) the school holidays finally arrived! The snow forecast had been dry and hopeless, but my hopes went up on the blustery cold Wednesday Run with a Southery front in full force just a few days before the holidays were about to start...

Which turned into not much. However, on Friday night we witnessed a large high settling itself over New Zealand. This was good. But Chris needed to do a not very overdue tax return, sigh. So Saturday saw Chris taxing and both of us scheming. After several hours of intensive excitment the tax was done, a mammmoth winter mission in Arthurs Pass planned out and a huge amount of gear loaded into the car.

We planned to carry: 5 days food Skis and ski boots Glacier gear - rope and harness + prussicks Avalanche trancievers, shovel and spade each Crampons, ice axes Tramping boots Sleeping bags + mats Tent Cooker Hmmmm...this sounded like a lot! Was it possible? Would our new found sport the "SkiTramp" actually be viable? Well, we were about to find out.
 The yellow is extra part we never quite managed, the red is what we did in the end!
So, we left Christchurch at 6.55pm ready to walk to Carrington Hut up the Waimak. We returned at 7.30pm to our flat armed with Souvlaki, but having forgotten the rope and harnesses. At 9.30pm in the cool mountain air we finally left the car and headed up the moonlit valley to Carrington. The river was cold, but fortunately for me I have a horse that carried me across, so my boots were warm and dry. My alarm bleeped 12.00am, so we walked a further half hour up the valley and then finally pitched our little yellow tent on the final grassy flats before Carrington Hut.

Camp in the Waimak River
A very warm sleep in our amazing Spoon Bill (the double down bag like you have never seen before) we got up on light and headed to Carrington hut for a frosty breakfast. From there we cruised on up towards Harman pass, but the conditions slowed us down. The rocks were coated in slippery frost or invisible sheets of ice. The snow (or what looked like snow) was actually more the consistency of china plates, shattering only when stomped on hard, or sometimes not at all. So it was crampons on up the rocks to the Harman Pass which we reached around midday.

Chris in the icey upper White by the Clough Cableway
Slippery slopes up towards Harman Pass
At this point Chris saw that his plan for our trip was "a little bit ambitious" (his words). So we had the second complete trip replan that we have had on Harman Pass (remember Tim, Hadleigh and Ian?) Luckily at this point I stepped in with a new proposal and Chris liked it!

Setting off from Harman with a new plan in mind...
 The setting afternoon sun saw us skin and walk up the dark and slightly ominous Whitehorn Pass. The slopes loom above and you have to grovel up a very narrow terrain trap gulley - not the place to be after heavy snowfall. Our snow conditions were more dinner plate ice, however, after a short crampon descent we put the skis on and scraped our way down the pass.

Heading up to Whitehorn Pass

The veiws were awesome even if the skiing was not, and the reality that we were sliding down the hill with all our gear on our backs. After a while the skis were replaced by crampons, and as it got dark we changed back into tramping boots. The rocks were icey down lower and you had to be careful of footing in the big bouldery riverbed. We picked up the little Doc marker that leads you out of the bush and down the scrubby ridge towards Park Morpeth.

Arriving at Park Morpeth - I was of course carrying both sets of skis
We were happy to reach the Park Morpeth Hut and cooked up a nice feast in the cold dark. The hut was pretty cosy with warm dry boot liners and a solar light to brighten things up! Numerous hot drinks and we were ready for sleep. The big high weather system was proving true and the next day was brilliantly sunny again.
Nice grassy meadows in the Wilberforce

Our new plan meant we now had a nice day wandering down the Wilberforce River Valley, admiring the ice clad summits from the Valley floor. After a late start we headed away. The Wilberforce is a lovely remote valley with nice meadows to walk on. We passed the Urquharts Hut, then on down we had to ford the Unknown and Griffiths Rivers as they joined the Wilberforce (Brrr!)
Sometimes the valleys aren't so bad...
This peak (Mt Findlay) tickled our fancy too!
Lunch again in the setting sun, then we were rock hopping up the Weka Stream. We spotted three blue duck in the river which was cool. The rocks were big and slippery, so we cautiously headed up river. The crossings in the Weka became more difficult because of the steep and narrow terrain, but it wasn't too long before we headed left out of the river and up some scree to a flat terrace where we planned to camp.

We had been debating all day whether to head up the Burnett Stream and over the easier White Col, or to go up Weka and over the more unknown and challenging route of crossing the Kahutea Glacier and up to Kahutea Col. We had ended up deciding that the Kahutea sounded like a good adventure. Now we looked on the steep route up through Bluffs onto the crevassed Kahutea Glacier and in the fading light it looked a bit daunting!

Camping in Weka Stream
Chris had to venture far to find some molten water while I pitched the tent and warded off frozen feet and hands by jumping around wildly. I think it was about -10 as I climbed into the Spoon Bill, boots and waterbottles stashed cunningly down its bottom end and cooked up some water. Chris was back and we cooked a feast in the dark, with the snowy peaks towering high and mighty in the moon light above - it was a beautiful campsite!

We slept in a bit late - it was hard to get out of the warm tent! But we finally emerged and got going, sidling up through the ice to the base of the bluffs. It looked icey and steep and I was having cold feet (literally!). We decided to leave the packs and scout for a route. Chris climbed an icey gully which I didn't like the look of, so I sidled out to the left to find a very nice snow ramp that led me to the same place as Chris.

Approaching the bluffs (left) to which lead onto the Kahutea Glacier

From there we found a nice route heading to the right, which involved a steep wee descent into the icey gully and then back out into some gentler slopes that led directly to the glacier. Woopee! There is something very satisfying about finding nice ways through tricky terrain. We down climbed, and laden with packs reclimbed the route. How much harder it is with a heavy pack! But we were soon over the rise and into the broad basin which runs all the way up alongside the glacier to Kahutea Col.

Reclimbing the scouted route

On the lower Kahutea Glacier
It was neat to be up there, the route looked good and the blue crevasses of the glacier hung at a safe distance off to our left. Glaciers are always magic and this one felt cool. The sun was out and the snow was quite pristine. We climbed up on the rope, getting very hot in the process. Chris moved up so fast that the rope was taut even though he was kicking steps!

Looking back down the Kahutea Glacier
We reached a steeper section and found ourselves looking into a deep blue crevasse. We headed closer to the ridge to see if we could skirt round next to the rock, but some poking with my axe revealed a certain eerie hollowness that I didn't like one little bit! So we decided to head up a snow steep gully directly onto the ridge, then we could easily drop back onto the glacier above the crevasse. This worked out fine and soon we were heading over the last snow dome to the Col.

Chris on the Kahutea Col
The wind had picked up and was blowing whirling snow willy's around - we felt so much like we were back in Norway. On the Col the view of the White stretched out before us - lovely and crevasse free and very ski able! We decided to see if we could get up Mt Murchison, but some average snow conditions and our single lightweight ice axes turned us around. Nevermind, back to the Col we went and in the very cold wind mounted our skis and hooned down into the sun.

Well earned lines on the White Glacier
The glacier snow was very wind affected, but the gradient was lovely. We cruised down the White carving a few turns on the way. We skied all the way down to Barker Hut bar one little hill at the end! All that ski carrying had been well and truely justified in our minds. There was a nice Czech couple staying at Barker hut whose prints we had seen on the White. They were surprised to see our skis - they said they were ski mountaineers but were still waiting for the snow to come!

Barker Hut in the setting sun
Barker felt luxouriously warm compared to our tent and we had a great night eating, cooking and enjoying the view. It was a cool place to be. We schemed some future SkiTramp missions whilst eating breakfast the following morning, and have decided a long spring day traverse from Mt Ambrose to Browning Pass is definitely a future goal in the sport of the SkiTramp.

Leaving Barker Hut in the morning
Skis stowed, crampons on again..
We walked out from Barker that day, into the cold Waimak Valley. My new ski boots had been great (Dynafit TLT 5 Performance) - super lightweight and comfy. We had seen that we could carry full ski mountaineering gear and our legs didn't crumple. We had had a neat adventure in the NZ mountains and we are now ready for the next SkiTramp (-:

The Kea's farewelled us descending from Barker Hut


Frances said…
Funny how a successful trip just leaves you hungry for the next one!! Indefatigable pair.

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