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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 9 (December 1, 1938)

Valleys Beyond — Exploration In The Southern Alps

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Valleys Beyond
Exploration In The Southern Alps

The exploration of the alpine valleys and magnificent glacier systems of our mountain ranges, apart from the enrichment of science, has yielded much of interest to every lover of nature. Likewise, ever since the pioneering days of Sir Julius von Haast in the ‘sixties, and the stirring achievements of men like G. E. Mannering, A. P. Harper, C. E. Douglas and the Graham Brothers in the ‘nineties, there has been a steadily growing interest in the mountain regions as a field of sport.

During the past ten years, mainly due to the advent of mountaineering, tramping and ski-ing clubs, more people have visited the alpine playgrounds than ever before, and it is safe to say that, with expanding transport facilities, the call of the mountains will be heard by ever-increasing numbers.

Lesser Known Valleys.

The magnificent Mt. Cook area of the Southern Alps has, of course, claimed the chief attention of explorers. However, there are other valleys and peaks of the Alps which have a great appeal to the mountaineer, and about which much less is known to the general public. It is due largely to the efforts of the Canterbury Mountaineering Club and the New Zealand Alpine Club that these lesser known districts have been rediscovered and revealed. For example, the head-waters of the Canterbury rivers such as the Waimakariri, Rakaia, Rangitata and Godley, are fed from numerous glaciers and snowfields which, because of their difficulty of access and remoteness possess a particular fascination to the explorer mountaineer.

Those who have never seen the New Zealand mountains and these alpine valleys can have but an imperfect conception of their beauty and vastness. The photographer and the artist both play their part in depicting the beauty and grandeur of a mountain scene, but even the highest art must fail to portray this beauty and grandeur in its reality.

The Mountains Challenge.

Many attempts have been made to find an answer to the question: “Why do people go into the mountains?” Only those who find their joy in the high hills can answer that question. Some say that they go to climb peaks, some to geologise or botanise, while others say they go just to tramp, and to photograph the alpine scenery. To be sure, some do go for these purposes. Others again go because they feel the mountains offer a perpetual challenge. They climb the peaks, explore the untrodden valleys, endure the hardships of nature, not only for the reward of conquest, but because nowhere else do they feel fully alive.

Mr. C. E. Mathews, a veteran climber, writes a different answer to the same question. He says: “Everything seems to be in our favour. We breathe a diviner air, we watch the clear streams bounding out of the mountain side and racing laughingly
The Godley Glacier, showing Mt. Peterman and Stewart's Saddle, Southern Alps, New Zealand.

The Godley Glacier, showing Mt. Peterman and Stewart's Saddle, Southern Alps, New Zealand.

down the valley as if, as Ruskin says, ‘the day were all too short for them to get down the hill.’ We see the great forests wave and the rivers roll, we are hushed to silence in the early morning by the awful beauty of the rose of dawn, we see the rising sun strike the snowy peaks with a crimson flush; we see the western horizon in the evening one vast sea of fire; we hear the crash of the avalanche and the roar of the torrent, and yet beyond these voices there is peace.”

When one leaves the haunts of men for the solitude of the mountains,

“… the cares that infest the day Fold their tents like the Arabs And as silently steal away.”

Every year, especially during the climbing season which usually extends from the month of December to March, we find many heavily-laden men setting forth into some remote part of the Main Divide or the adjacent valleys in search of adventure. All the year they have been planning with enthuisasm and thoroughness the necessary details for some enterprising expedition, while at the same time delving into the historic records of past explorations.

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Hardships of Exploration.

Exploration in the lesser known and seldom frequented parts of the mountain valleys assuredly has its joys and compensations.

Deserting the beaten track for glaciers and passes the traveller must carry his house upon his back. These packs, often sixty to seventy pounds in weight, have to be swagged for days over boulder-strewn river bed, over bluffs, and through bush to some sheltered camp-site or alpine hut.

We cannot in New Zealand sleep at the foot of the Main Divide in a luxurious hotel whilst all our swagging is being done by porters and guides as in other mountain countries. Even if we are deprived of the use and comfort of high altitude hotels and chateaux, we are at least proud of the chain of alpine huts which extend from Arthur's Pass in the north to the Hermitage in the south. Due to the foresight and enterprise of the Canterbury Mountaineering Club there has been erected at the heads of the major rivers a shelter hut which serves as a base for exploration as well as a refuge in time of storm.

In the Waimakariri there is the Carrington Hut erected to perpetuate the memory of one of the Club's foundation members, while in the Wilberforce River there is the Park Morpeth Hut so well-known to trans-divide travellers when undertaking the “Three Pass Trip” into Westland. At the head of the Rakaia River there is the Lyell Hut, and in the Havelock branch of the Rangitata River the newly erected hut and bivouac near the Eric stream. The Godley Hut and the De La Beche Hut are the New Zealand Alpine Club's contribution to the alpine chain, the former being in the Godley Valley and the latter on the Tasman Glacier at the foot of Graham's Saddle.

Divide Crossings.

Forsaking the wind-swept valleys of Canterbury for the headwaters of some West Coast river the divide crosser must be prepared to brave the rougher travel and conditions which the latter crossings entail.

The rivers on the eastern side of the Main Divide are long, with a gentle slope to the sea, but in West-land they are comparatively short, very steep, and impassable if in flood. Like mighty cataracts they fill the rocky gorges with leaping waves, surging down and around the massive boulders that bar their path.

Travel in the rain-saturated undergrowth becomes arduous and slow, yet the mountain explorer faces all these difficulties revelling in their fierce caress.

Mountaineering stores up a fund of memories that will endure through a man's lifetime. Mr. F. S. Smythe, the famous Everest climber, writes in this connection: “In the hills it is the memories that count most, and it is these memories that will sustain us in our old age when the voice of the high mountains whisper back through the span of years.”

An Appreciation.

In the following letter to the Minister of Railways, the Hon. D. G. Sullivan, Mr. F. M. Renner, Principal, Rongotai College, Wellington, makes appreciative comment upon the courtesy and attention shown by officers of the Railways Department to a party of boys from the College who recently toured the North Island by rail:—

I shall be glad if you will accept the school's very cordial appreciation of your kindness in making it possible for the Rongotai College party of eighteen boys to have such an enjoyable and
The dread of the mountaineer—huge chasms at the head of the Murchison Glacier, Southern Alps, New Zealand.

The dread of the mountaineer—huge chasms at the head of the Murchison Glacier, Southern Alps, New Zealand.

instructive railroad tour as was afforded to them during the recent vacation. Particularly do I wish to commend to you in high terms, the exceptional courtesy shown and attention paid to the party by all your officers at every station, large or small. No trouble was too much and nothing was left undone by your officers to ensure the comfort and enjoyment of the boys.

I shall be glad if you will take steps to ensure that our thanks and appreciation are made known as widely as possible to all concerned.