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Heels 1969

The Copland

The Copland

So you want to know about the Copland? Charlie Douglas would squirm in his grave if he could hear what follows. He had an antipathy towards any "crack-brained idiot who wishes to make what he calls a record, and whose ambition is to be a small hero in a lecture hall, drawing room, or even pot-house", coupled with a distaste for "that gang of amateurs called the New Zealand Alpine Club". And for maps "enabling Alpine Maniacs, Digging Vagrants and other Migrants to find their way about even in a thick fog." And lastly ... "there is enough of this Globe Trotter literature knocking about already concerning the awfull escapes, towering precipices, and peaks moving glaciers and awfull avalanches." Douglas explored this rugged West Coast page 28 valley in 1892, with the object of discovering "a pass available for mule traffic to the Hermitage." (!)

It happened like this. Our swollen-headed little band had been having a couple of days R and R at the Hermitage, practising V.S. tactics in the Tavern bar -"waiting for the weather to clear". I don't think the thick fog was Huey's fault that time. The colourful camel-train wended its way up to Hooker Hut one fine afternoon, and the next two days saw half the party pike in disgust after two unsuccessful attempts on the Copland pass. Then there were three.

Morning number four saw them away at 4 a.m. crazed with a do-or-die determination this time - not the safest of attitudes in these parts. After three thousand feet of rocky ridge came a few minutes of snow, with a crust like fresh toast, then the 'schrund, and the tiny, icy notch in the Main Divide called the Copland Pass. Like Pooh Bear we heave and squeeze through the gap - and we are through, laughing in our conquest, tumbling in the powder. Got you, you bastard. Below lie the green fecund depths of the Copland. Caloo, callay, oh frabjous day. A glug in the Instafiz at the end of the snow. Quarter past eight. Three shoulder-borne green Mountain Mules bob down into the valley, into the drizzle, into the dripping green world of Vest Coast bush - a profusion of flax, ribbon wood, holly and wekas, emerging into the Cedars, Totara, Rata and giant Dracophyllum of the lowlands.

Near Douglas Rock Hut lie a few acres of dismantled mountain ('68 was a good year for bivvy rocks in the Copland). Arguments as to whether it was caused by avalanche or earthquake are silenced not long afterwards by a roar like a Boeing taking off close by. Peering out through the foliage we observe the huge white mass come drifting slowly down out of the sky for about fifteen seconds. We felt correspondingly puny just then.

The track unwinds, cairn by cairn, into the soft, purple-tinted carpet of Welcome Flats. The country is warm and smiling and our flagging strength is sustained only by the thought of the fabled hot pools across the swing bridge. The gaudy blue and orange hut looks out of place against the battle-dress camouflage of the forest; a civilian inspecting an overtowering army of trees. Man is still an intruder here, one feels.

And then the pools. Nothing quite like a hot pool for destroying the will power and reshuffling the priorities. (Thoughts of an attempt on Sefton died a natural death at page 29 this stage). Mr. Explorer Douglas describes the scene from the pools:-

"Away on the south side of the flats is one of the wonders of the Copland, namely the Sierra. The jagged peaks and broken face of the Wakatipu "Remarkables", all that I have read or seen of rugged ridges or mountain, sink into insignificance before this wonderful sight. A range of broken shattered cliffs, topped by a serrated ridge looking as if some Giant with little skill and very bad file had attempted to make a saw out of the Mountains".

We spent a day here, listening to the Bellbirds and scampering around Shield Creek - de-escalating mentally in the sylvan glades after a hard trip; before wandering the four and a half hours out to the Karangarua bridge.