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Heels 1970

Three Pass Trip (So To Speak) August '70

page 26

Three Pass Trip (So To Speak) August '70


Mesdames Mary Atkinson
Tricia Healy
Margi Keys
Messers: (literally)
Dave Cook
Noel Sissons
John Keys
Andy Wright
Terry Pinfold
Brian Davis

The "Maori" 8.00pm August 7th -

A mildly excited mob consisting of the aforementioned, gathers in two cabins deep in the bowels of this creaking but reliable vessel; ('E' deck I believe it was. What does 'E' stand (so to speak) for anyway). Food, bloody great mountains of it, was distributed, mainly among the males of the party. Packs were emptied and repacked, weights compared and expletives liberally sprinkled around 'E' deck, (that letter again - obviously from North West Europe).

Saturday 8th: 6.00am or thereabouts.

Tricia suffering from severe insomnia wanders about "all pale and slowly loitering". An irate and cursing steward enters, trips, bangs (so to speak) his tray on the door, bumps into packs and retreats, a fuming mass of dignity gone wrong. Soon after we disembark and head for customary and cold comforts of the "Lyttleton express". Less said the better.

Breakfast at the Christchurch railway restaurant consisted of 60 cents worth of semi-warm penguin shit, (eggs and bacon rumour has it). With two hours in hand, (so to speak) before the departure of our transport to Arthur's Pass, Aunty May received a visit and the Cathedral Tower was scaled in true touristic style.

NB. After a frost, Christchurch is cold, cold cold.

11.00am lickity-split, catcha-nigga-pushim under, we're rocketing across the plains toward the snowy foothills. A bladder and bilge stop at Springfield followed by fantastic glimpses of the Waimak' Gorge. Cass and Cora Lynn slip by. We cross the rock desert, flood plain of the Waimakariri. Suddenly we're at Bealy Bridge, across it, there, jerk, out, kerplomp, stares from the other passengers, we head towards Klondyke corner fresh as daisies.

About three hours later and about as fresh as a quadruped bovine turd, we plod on past Anti-Crow hut and a little further up, Greenlaw. The valley narrows, the trees become a little more stunted, the Waimak a mere trickle and Rolleston, A.P.Harper, the lot, all standing around beautifully white against a cloudless but cold sky.

Towards 6.00pm the sign, a few minutes from Carrington Hut, is sighted by an energetic, microscopic Andy. He gesticulates wildly and shouts his "discovery".

Buggered, but glad, we hurried on to be greeted shortly by one of the most beautiful sights a tramper/climber could wish page 27for. Carrington on our right was rearing up, a sheer-sided great white castle; its block-like top catching the last rays of the sun turning the snow into pink ice-cream. Mist around its middle accentuated the height, but we all let our imaginations run riot and for a while we were beside a previously unseen mountain, somewhere in the Andes or perhaps in Nepal.


The alarm was set presumptiously for 5.00am. The next morning with nobody really quite sure what was going to be done, apathy, aided by a North wester, decreed Sunday a rest day. However, so as not to lose the benefit of the previous day's efforts, day trips were sorted out. Wharry, Mary, Noel, Andy and Terry went up Taipo-iti stream for a recce-cum-anything. Margi, Tricia and myself sauntered up to Kilmarnock falls. Dave lurked in pit all day with a nose disease, which before the end of the trip had affected all of us to varying degrees. Kilmarnock falls were impressive, but an iced up gorge leading to its plunge-pool prevented us from getting a good close-up look. An extremely cold wind whistling up the White River drove us back to Carrington Hut by about 4.00pm. The others arrived back in fits and starts a couple of hours later. Noel and Wharry managed to traverse part of the ridge line from Harman Pass towards Isabel. Mary, Andy and Terry had followed them until Terry slipped, could not self arrest in the pog and finally went ass over kite down a bluff, landing on snow below, shaken up and with a few nasty cuts.

Huey failed to crap, so not wishing to dally any longer, we set out for Harman Pass the following morning, reserving our decision as to whether to go over Whitehorn Pass as well until we could get a measure of the weather. An alternative crap-out route was arranged, down Mary Creek to Julia Hut, if the weather was really bad. Easy crampon conditions and a gradual clearance of the almost Tararua-like winter scunge conditions as we sidled toward Whitehorn, lifted the somewhat flagging spirits and we commenced the long, slow haul up to Whitehorn in a mixture of wind slab and mildly poggy snow. A screaming Southwesterly greeted us at the top of the pass, so little time was wasted in looking at the spectacular Cronin ice-fall. A few shaft belays and a 2000 foot descent saw us at Cronin stream. Everyone decramponed, scrogged and T.B'd themselves, enjoyed once again the sensation of fingers and toes that they could actually feel, then wandered idly down the Cronin, feeling a trifle smug with two passes under our belts (so to speak). Most people had arrived at Park Morpeth by 5.00pm after ballsing around on the last section of the track above the hut all tired and irritable.

Huey was definitely going to crap; loads of high cirrus, etc., etc. The next day was spent, washing, reading, sleeping, farting, card-playing; in general trying to ward off impending boredom. The weather remained dry and windy.

Park Morpeth was a delightful little kennel but it was with a certain amount of relief that we set off for Browning's Pass the next day. (Double bunking is O.K. for heavy sleepers, mate).

We followed the incredible miner's track for a wee way, then out directly up a steep snow covered scree which turned, in its upper parts, into a wide but potentially dangerous, snow chute /couloir.

page 28

With Harry and Noel leading, kicking steps in the compact and old snow, we began our slow fixed belay, 3 on a rope, climb. The height toh be climbed would have been little more than 1200 feet. We had been up since 4.30am that morning but it was not until about 1.00pm that we got out of the couloir and stood, relieved of the nervous tension, looking back down toward Park Morpeth, still an incredibly short distance away. The climb out of the couloir was nicely led by Noel, who in steepening conditions and slowly pogging snow, had to chop through the cornice overhang and virtually "mantelshelf" onto the top.

The lake in the basin at the top of the pass was under thick ice and snow. A scrog'n T.B. stop was followed by a recce to find the route down to the Arahura, which Pascoe's guidebook said followed the western side of the lake. Picking up the cairns we slowly came into the Arahura. Spectacular and typical west coast views soon appeared. Impressions were of huge bluffs, a steeply dropping Arahura flowing through a slit gorge in a series of waterfalls from the lake, screeching keas, scatty keas, a pissed off Mary. One's admiration for the early route pioneers was strengthened by the magnificent little track which wound its way down, thru and across bluffs and torrents.

It wasn't long before we left the snow and entered the tussock and rock of upper Arahura stream. With much gleeful shrieking, Harmon Hut, our objective for the day, was espied on a tussock and alpine scrub bench in the distance, further down the valley. Some fortunate route finding led us through the bastardly scrub with a minimum of cursing onto the tussock bench. The remains of old Pyramid Hut lay grotesquely spreadeagled in a dense patch of scrub, like the ribs of a dead cow. After slow sidling we sighted our first venetian-blind discs and soon were on a benched pack-track leading to the hut. We all wandered into this most welcome N.Z.F.S. 6 bunk hut, with its boggy backyard, somewhat surprised and elated at having done Browning's (so to speak). Noel, suffering from a disease of his right big toenail limped in last, wearing sandshoes.

Well, Huey was definitely crapping. I still don't know what had been going on up there but we were certainly fooled. Assuming the following day to be a rest day, no alarm was set and the pitter-patter of H2O on the roof by about 4.00am in the morning gave justification for a late sleep-in. However, one couldn't sleep all day and peristaltic ripples led to a rush on bum fodder and the rain swept tussock paddock outside was the venue for many eleventh hour visits. Cards, marathon circular whisper games, reading, dozing, moaning, sleeping and various other associated activities kept boredom at arms length while all hell let loose outside, Huey sent it down by the bucketful and rocked the hut with mighty westerly yawns.

Double-bunking yet again, we fell asleep around 9.30pm hoping for a little snow in the morning.

An astounding silence greeted the bleary-eyed urinators the next morning. Snow had fallen to within a 100 feet of the hut, the wind was southerly, the sky a beautiful blue and the western horizon clear.

Sucking in the icy-air and stopping every few minutes to boggle at the Main Divide poking through southerly scunge and spumes of snow, we made our humble and mostly cold way down-stream, still sidling about 200ft above the Arahura on the pack page 29track. The Styx Saddle, a delightful tussock and tarn patch was reached by lunchtime, and without any climbing either. Sitting, sunning and eating on a large rock, we were soon to be treated to one of natures most unexpected and frightening experiences. A loud rumble - an avalanche? The ground began to move, the rock moved and shuddered. Harry, brave lad, clung on. Tricia, naughty girl, grabbed Terry. Mary screamed "shit". I just about did. Bushes and tussock shook madly. In about 4 seconds it was over. Quite an experience "seeing" an earthquake.

The Styx was notable for its lack of scenic impressiveness, although Grassy Flats was quite inviting. We had to scamper, aiming for Hoki by nitefall. Lasting impressions were mainly of dead opossums, cyanide warning notices, schist and granite, tons of sidestreams, sunny spots, cold shady gorges, a crazy track, Noel's foul language, and miles of dense wet green bush.

The lower reaches of this river were an anti-climax after the grandeur, the feeling of encircling height, the steepness of everything in the Harmon Creek region.

The late afternoon found us warm and waiting for taxis beside a cow paddock. Terry and Dave indulged in a bit of cricket, others grotted and, with just a hint of sadness that it was all over bar the shouting, a few group photos were taken.

That night we hit the town; the seething metropolis of Hokitika surprisingly busy with several new buildings and a mysterious roaring, clattering noise that went on all night. A skirmy little motorcamp put a roof over our heads for the night and provided some of us with the luxury of a hot shower; its amazing how much dirt one can accumulate in the space of one week. Most were asleep by 10.00pm. Andy, "Aunty Mary had a canary up the leg of her pants", Wright returned soon after, whistling as usual.

In the morning thumbs were waggled and our happy band split up - some for Arthur's Pass and Christchurch, one for the Wairau, others for Westport (sucked again) and some to sample the sordid and saucy nitelife of Inangahua (so to speak).