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Heels 1970

A Day in The Life

page 10

A Day in The Life

The seemingly endless Fiordland rain stopped beating on the roof of Homer Hut sometime in the night of January 11th, 1970. Towards mid-morning the oppressive low clouds were rolling and tearing themselves off the jagged mountain valley-walls, letting the sunlight through to dance and twinkle in the teardrops left on every leaf in the Upper Hollyford. Kevin Henshall, Pam Stanton and I packed up and wandered up to the tunnel portal, intent on catching a ride down into the Cleddau. The two-man Mount Tutoko expedition was under way at last.

By mid-day Kevin and I were pushing our cheerful sweaty way into the steaming, fern infested green jungle at the Tutoko River forest, along a recently upgraded Parks Board track. The side creeks were falling in diminishing streams down the vertical walls of the nearby peaks Underwood and Patuki, left high and proud above the deeply carved glacial valley. The forest disappeared when we reached the dry river-bed, a vast airbase for the sandflies of the region. It took me no more than fifteen seconds to pack away our xeroxed map, put on the pack and break into a staggering run. Even then the bastards wouldn't give up. Hair, nostrils, eyes and ears full of whining black kamikaze insects- we got going quickly. Being fully clothed in such humid condition and not being able to stop to rest and look at the view doesn't contribute to one's sanity either.

Anyway, it was a perfect day by the time we met Ross Gooder and John Wild at Leader Creek, on their way out after several wet days in the region. Ross said he would be back soon. A tiger for punishment, I thought, as Kevin and I pottered along over mossy boulders of the rapidly vanishing Limerick Creek to Dave's Cave. Both creek and cave (which was really just a comfortable little bivvy rock), were apparently named after a well-known vulgar limerick. Two Tongue and Meats were in residence, so we joined them for a pleasant afternoon and evening, surrounded by huge Fiordland trees and rocks. The next day was spent wandering up Leader Creek into some fairly fearsome country - swift, steep streams, huge rocks, thick scrub and on all sides, mighty mountain bluffs, with snow patches way up high, waiting for us. The climb through scrub and snowgrass to Turner's biv surprised us a little, in the hairy appearance of the route. We chugged slowly upwards out of the land of sandflies, along a new line of cairns, stopping here and there for several hours in the land of grasshoppers to fester in the sun and eat sardines. It was well into the afternoon by the time we had decided to camp outside the second of the three "Turner's biv's" - the third is probably the original, and all three are pretty good.

Ross came steaming into our shambolic snowgrass "camp" not long afterwards, grinning like a crevasse and asking humbly to be allowed to climb with us. Kevin and I agreed with an outward show of reluctance. At this stage our only thoughts were of the weather. The day was still perfect, but those things are pretty rare in Fiordland. One more fine day Huey, please. Tea was eaten and we curled up in our pits in various places in the tussock, with the alarm set for 2.00am.

At half past two, I seem to remember the grunting and snarling of a Gooder, crouching like a devil over a roaring primus. It appeared that Henshall and I had overslept. We page 11raced away at about 3am into the wrong part of the Madeline ice-fall,backed out and sped off uphill over rocks, mud and snow, pausing to don crampons before sneaking through the frozen maze of the upper ice-fall, still in murky darkness. Down a little gully, then a sidle under Madeline around to the head of the Age Glacier. The day had just cracked open, with all the first blues and oranges spilling over the snow high on Tutoko. We paused in the middle of this scene for a bite of scrog. Then it was all-out for the col at the bottom of Tutoko's South-East ridge. After sidling across a steep shelf, we negotiated a "schrund" or two while heading uphill into the sunlight. The view from the col was of a mass of peaks beyond the cloud-filled Hollyford and Pyke, beyond the great white sweep of the Donne Glacier that lay almost at our feet. A bitter wind was blowing and we lingered no longer than to snatch off our crampons, before heading for the first buttress. It was good rock; clean, hard, cold, and plenty of holds and we swarmed up by several different routes towards the ridge that led to the next buttress. A careful sidle on steep snow, then up the rock again, Darrans climbing at its best - steep stable warm rock, exposed and varied. For the most part we followed a footpath on the eastern side of the ridge, taking to a snow arete in order to negotiate a rotten gendarme, in freezing wind. (Memories of crampons squeaking on the rocks they were dislodging onto someone below). Then it was a short staggering dash across a windswept dip in the ridge on to the flank of the South summit. An easy walk along the broad crisp snow and there it was - Tutoko. The peak I had looked at longingly from Aspiring and Earnslaw, I was now standing on. And what a view. A thousand black and white names stood silently in a hundred different rows, receding into the blue haze many miles away.

This was the climax of a month's climbing and tramping - a perfect day in a superb place. And now, nothing else seemed necessary. There was no more desperate urge to do anything, so we sat and looked at the valleys, carved deep around us, the sea to the West, the little blue lakes to the North. The whole country seemed to be made of mountains. After a while we stood up and began the return, walking back down through the sky the same way as we had come, casually jaunting along some pretty exposed places, talking, laughing, photographing, and sitting down for ages, just to look and look again at everything in sight. By the time we were approaching our campsite it was the middle of a hot afternoon. Little warm streams of water trickled down over the rocks everywhere. I took off everything and sat down and played in a handy pool, not giving a damn how sunburnt I got. The South face of Tutoko was performing well, with great hunks of ice falling off with tremendous roars every few minutes. We didn't give a damn about that either, safe in our comfortable snowgrass perch, drinking brew after brew with a practised, regal lethargy. From time to time we looked up to the col for signs of our two Australian friends, whom we had passed on our descent. Late in the afternoon they appeared, incredibly small, even through the telelens. The grasshoppers bounced around in the slippery snowgrass like so many superballs, and the sun moved over into the west, past Grave, on its way to the sea. We had tea as the shadows came creeping over the snow. I lay on my pit on a big flat rock, amongst a jumble of crisp dry gear, drawing on a cigarettte, one of three precious battered Dunhills that page 12Ross produced from his map flap. What perfect, decadent luxury. Miles from the nearest radio, this place had a music all its own. The sun's tawny rays were now nearly horizontal, turning the snow an ever deeper gold, and the grass and rocks to orange and red. The nearby peaks stood out soot-black against the light; the further ones fading into ever lighter greys in the distant recesses of Fiordland. Soft colours hand in hand with a harsh topography, everything seemed complete now. Nothing had to be done to anything, anywhere.

The next day we fled like thieves, to the pub.