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Heels 1974

Matukituki Farewell

page 33

Matukituki Farewell

I woke in time to abort the alarm's metallic cackle. From the warmth of my pit I watched the lightening square of the bivvy's single window, until, forced by the realisation of the day's arrival I rose, fumbled for the door and went outside. The dew-soaked tussock brushing my legs and the still, clear coolness caused me to shiver. Far below the valley was still, as yet unnoticed by the rising sun. Before me Aspiring's sculptured pyramid rose in the early dawn, deep pink in the stillness of the waking day. I watched the rising sun make shadows creep and cause the air to stir, the flowers in the golden tussock awake to warming rays.

A perfect day and we're away with reluctant packs, heading west towards the main divide. The scrub's long gone and soon the tussock fades to the monotony of grey moraine. Climb, in early morning effort, to delight in rhythmic motion towards the steepening pass. A drink before the first rock band; fresh melt, so cold, so pure. The smooth grey rock, still cold to touch, is passed and it's climb again. The sun grows hot, the pack is heavy and the way is still up. The second rock band is here. The waterfall gives access to the snow, the sensuous feel of wet cold stones. Bridge the crack and move fast to miss the splash of the water, watch the overbalance of the pack and scramble up the last bit to listen to the playful prattle of the falling water.

At the top, rest, to watch the glacier on Barff, the sun on Avalanche, distant across the valley. The valley cut so deep below you; the dark green cloak of beech it wears delights, with the grassy floor and glittering trail that is a silent river, now so small. All is still beneath the blue sky, save for a few thin lazy clouds, drifting aimlessly. I feel drowsy beneath the sun but a fly comes to feast on my sweat and I must move, with sweat-misty goggles and melting, running snow cream. Upwards goes the snow and I must follow in steepening steps. Kick, kick, iceaxe, puncturing the crusty snow, knee deep this time, solid next. Kick, kick, axe. The uncertain, fickle snow destroys all rhythm and sucks my energy, parasitically. Clean out balled-up crampons this step to stand on four front points the next. Kick, kick, axe. The sweat fills my goggles, I cannot see too well, the sun is burning my face. The pack is pushing me into the snow and the slope is killing my calves. I cannot see to keep my balance. It is a hot, sweaty, stupid dream I shouldn't be in. Stop and lift the goggles. Blink. The hard white snow surrounds on three sides. Look over your shoulder and you think you're higher than French. Look down past your legs to see the others toiling below. Reality exists. Behind you across the narrow gully an unknown mountain rises in snow and rock. Look up the couloir. The moving clouds make it spin. Grab your iceaxe. My God it's hot, wipe your face,try to clean your glasses and it's back into the blurry world of streaky plastic. Iceaxe, kick,kick. How much further? - I can't see a thing. Keep on. The snow is getting firmer, must be gaining height. Then I'm near the top and it's swing chop, swing chop and one foot into a step. It's good to stop climbing even if it's to cut steps. Swing chop, swing chop and the particles fly in crystal profusion to tumble down the couloir. Swing chop, swing chop, and you're nearly there. Swing chop and in with the shaft to haul yourself onto the top.

Just sit there feeling the freedom, let the water drip off your nose, watch the midday sun, revel in the silent sights and feel small, for not page 34one of the peaks that watched were moved by your effort. The snow is cooling now, no longer an obstacle, it is behind. I feel like the Chamois playing in the snow basin that I watch.

The others have arrived and again I pick up my pack and head west, downwards now, into a new green-cloaked valley and behind me the peaks and ridges that I had watched for a week drop behind the rising crest.