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Islands of Despair

Six — Musgrave Inlet

page 57

Musgrave Inlet

Continued bad weather confined us to office work and other camp jobs for some days, but Saturday, 1st April, broke fine, calm and clear, after a light frost. George and I decided we would try to reach Mt. Eden from Laurie Harbour, so we set out in the dinghy and ran about four miles up Port Ross, where we beached the boat near the foot of a slip. After a strenuous scramble up the somewhat overgrown slip, and then through some reasonably easy scrub and tussock, we reached the summit at 11.30 a.m. Observations were soon completed, and we went on to Cloudy Peak, which was still clear of cloud. The wind was getting strong, but we managed to finish work at that station also. It was just getting dark when we reached the boat, and we had a very unpleasant two-hour trip in a choppy sea before we arrived home.

On the next fine day I carried out observations at Meggs Hill and Kekeno, which meant the completion of the triangulation work in the vicinity of Port Ross. Since Mt. Eden and Cloudy Peak had also been done I decided that Chambres Inlet could be by-passed in the meantime, and that we could make our next camp in Musgrave Inlet. Accordingly I arranged for the Ranui to stand by for a suitable day for shifting down the coast.

Actually it was not until Friday, 14th April, that we were favoured with reasonable weather, and a call had to be made at Chambres Inlet to collect our tents. On arriving at Musgrave page 58Inlet the ship was fortunately able to come very close inshore, so we had no trouble in getting our belongings ashore and erecting the tents before darkness fell.

Musgrave Inlet was quite different from what I had expected. I had been told that the inlet ran nearly through to the west coast, in fact that only a low saddle about 300 ft. high separated it from the western cliffs. However, in actual fact it proved to be surrounded by the most rugged country we had yet seen, and the "low saddle" turned out to be a towering series of precipices reaching up into the mantle of low cloud. Down these impressive rocks faces tumbled a number of spectacular waterfalls, many of them several hundred feet high. The sides of the inlet were terribly steep, and for a great part of their length consisted of sheer rock faces which would be quite unscaleable. After studying the valley sides through the binoculars we selected a place that seemed to offer some possibilities, and decided to make our way towards it. After clambering over the boulders along the coast for about half a mile we set to work cutting our way up the hillside, and by late evening we had a track of sorts that gave access to the tussock country.

Next day we all made for the high country, to commence locating trig stations in suitable positions. Unluckily the brilliantly sunny morning soon deteriorated into thick fog and we had to return to camp with very little achieved. In fact we had some difficulty in finding our way back. In the afternoon George and I visited a fair-sized lake which we had seen from the hills. It proved to have been formed by the valley stream being dammed by the old terminal moraine of the glacier. We had hoped to find ducks on the lake, but unluckily the only sign of life was a few seal pups happily disporting themselves. We subsequently decided on the name Lake Hinemoa, in recognition of the number of visits that had been made to the Auckland Islands by the New Zealand Government vessel of that name.

After several days of wet and cloudy weather we again page 59attempted to reach the high peaks at the head of the inlet, but once again cloud descended, and by 11.30 a.m. conditions were becoming bad. We knew we were near the summit of the ridge, so we decided to keep on climbing. Eventually we found there was no more hill to climb, so we drove in the trig station mark and erected a beacon over it. As visibility was only a few yards we did not linger any longer than necessary.

Similar weather again next day, so I decided not to waste any more time by being caught in the cloud, and we turned our attention to finding a route out of the south side of the valley. This was not particularly difficult, as we found we could get up the rock walls by climbing trees and scrambling off the upper branches as we reached each one of the series of terraces. It was particularly annoying, though, when the cloud banks we had so confidently expected did not materialize. It would have been an ideal day for reconnaissance work at the head of the inlet.

The blowflies were still bad, and most of us had a certain amount of trouble with them, despite the most elaborate precautions. I adopted a practice of tying my tent up securely and then piling fern fronds in a thick layer all over and around the entrance, and this seemed to be fairly effective. The flies did not trouble us in wet weather, fortunately.

The next fine morning we all climbed the southern track to reconnoitre and erect trig signals. On leaving the track we erected guide flags to enable us to find our way back, as the route passed through a narrow gap in the sheer cliffs, and there seemed to be no other way down. Walking conditions were very bad on account of recent heavy rain, and this was made worse when rain recommenced at 11.30 a.m. There was no cloud, so we kept going. Two men struck off to the east, while Les and I pushed westwards till we reached a barren hill with an altitude of 1935 feet. It commanded a fine view of the western coast and Disappointment Island, but as it was snowing, hailing, raining and blowing a moderate gale we did not pause to admire the landscape. After getting our beacon up page 60we decided a fitting name for the spot would be Bleak Hill.

From there we made our way to a peculiar natural feature which I had previously seen from the Ranui when well out at sea, and which consisted of a massive basalt archway. The aperture under the arch proved to have a length of 195 ft., a breadth of 25 ft., and a height of about 20 ft. We sheltered in it for a few minutes to eat a little chocolate and biscuit. The noise of the wind howling through the opening was rather eerie. Les was of the opinion that the Giant's Archway, as we called it, was the result of wind erosion. A trig signal was erected with some difficulty on top of the arch, and then we headed for home. I was rather concerned about finding our marker flags in the swirling mist that now surrounded us, but luckily it lifted at an appropriate time. I was also worried about Les, as the weather seemed to have got into his system and at one stage it was doubtful whether he would be able to keep going. We eventually arrived home wet to the skin and plastered with mud. I cleaned my clothes by the simple expedient of wading into the deep stream and washing them while I was wearing them.

Two days of very heavy rain followed, together with a strong easterly wind that swept right into the inlet and created a heavy surf. Life in the camp became very uncomfortable, and the only place where we could keep reasonably warm was in our sleeping bags. So we all remained in bed except at meal times. During a brief lapse in the rain one of the men essayed a trip to the mess-tent clad only in his sea-boots and underwear. The delight of the spectators can be imagined when he lost his footing in the deep mud.

When the rain stopped we emerged to take stock of the situation. The creek was still a raging torrent and was quite impassable, while large quantities of kelp had been flung right into the bush. These heaps of kelp provided a good source of crabs and squid for me to take back to Graham, but later on became rather troublesome through attracting arge numbers of small flies. They also brought pigs to the page 61neighbourhood, and I shot a fine young one with the Webley. With the easterly breeze and the roar of the surf it was not difficult to get within easy ange.

With improved weather we decided to try to work on the northern side again, but found the route was now very difficult. The big boulders alongside the water had become very greasy with the kelp, and the cut track was little else than an elongated bog. Every day for five days we toiled up the track and then up the tussock-covered ridge, hoping that the cloud would lift for an hour or two at midday. But it never did, and our daily five-hour journey was always in vain. At the end of the fifth day our feet were in a bad way with continual walking in water, and I had to bind mine with elastoplast. The sixth day we decided to have a spell from the daily grind, and of course that was the day that the clouds did lift. However, I managed to reach Musgrave's Knob, which was fairly handy to camp, and I got observations completed there. The seventh day broke clear and we made the long journey to the western coast. We arrived there just as the clouds started rolling in again, and had to return to camp with nothing achieved. We reached home to find the Ranui waiting, and I am sure nobody was disappointed when I decided to leave for Port Ross in the morning.

It was very disturbing to realize how little work we were getting done in these camps, as in both Chambres and Musgrave Inlets the job was hardly half done, and a further visit would be inevitable to at least one and possibly both of these inlets.