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Heels 1976

Valley Of Darkness - Marks Flat - Otoko

page 14

Valley Of Darkness - Marks Flat - Otoko

The trip sort of ballsed around at the start. Couldn't get to Blenheim, couldn't get the air drop in, impatient exasperation. But cruising down the West Coast, Gimme Shelter seemed to be happy as her horn shorted somewhere around Ross at about midnight. Things sorted out although Ken mightn't have thought so when the window dropped out of the plane flying the airdrop in. The usual pile of gear sorted itself into packs (50-65 lb.each) and we wandered up the lower Paringa on a hot summer's afternoon. First camp was in long grass near the mouth of the Valley of Darkness. A swim, Akeake flowers, lengthening shadows and all those days in the hills in front of us...

Ken abused himself, particularly his face, all night, or it looked like that after the mosquitos left. We climbed up easy bush slopes on the true left of the gorge to burst out onto the lower flats. The view up the compact valley was made better by the fact that there seemed to be a number of ways out the top, contrary to rumours we'd heard previously. We lunched amongst flowers in a little wonderland of creeks and trees and flats, and that afternoon camped in tussock in the head of the valley. Plenty of time was allowed for the three S's that constitute a good salube - swimming, sunbathing and sleeping. A practical dambuilding-diversion scheme raised our standard of living by bringing the water supply closer to the tent. Mist and a little rain kept us there the next day to savour the valley and its mighty cirque walls with ice and rock dropping off. Every now and then we'd get a glimpse of bluffs and cliffs way above, through holes in the clag. Jude and I checked out the bivvy real estate. One or two possibilities.

A bit of a grunt with a chunderous stomach (Yep, muesli for brekky) and then three rope-lengths of sometimes exposed, often steep gully and tussock climbing. Great bomb-proof shaft belays (most of the time) and keas showing us the easy way. Then a climb through a whole lot of semi-roche moutonees page 15to Snow. Plod, hot, sweat but great snow. Soft snow wore us out a bit and by the time the 3500 feet were over we were a bit poked - but stoked to be on top of Lantern peak*. Mist restricted the view a bit but a quick recce and a rope-up saw us past the slots and onto the Murdock neve north of McCullaugh. It looked like a nice campsite amongst planed bedrock on the edge of the neve as the securing rock wall grew. Hooker, the Big H, looked great just across the valley and our prospective routes onto the Hooker Glacier looked okay.

The weather couldn't be called ideal as we traversed McCullaugh the next day but we got below the whiteout eventually. Then of course the weather had to crap right out. Ken and I held onto the poles while Bryan rejoined and replaced the guys at about the same rate as they abraided through. But it wasn't an equilibrium you could be happy with and by dawn we'd had enough. Packs had been more or less packed for a while so we put on a bit more stormgear and shot off down the Murdock. Had to belay a bit and run under some icecliffs before glissading down the avalanche debris. It was a good escape route although a more direct route exists down the valley side. Rain in the moraine and more rain at the little terminal lake. A compass route up the valley side away from neat little flats amongst old moraines. Over the top and there was Marks Flat dimly below. Yahoo! Not quite the route we'd planned but interesting enough. The big bivvy was located and we settled in after retrieving the airput. (We'd packed the goodies in wooden boxes lined with sheet plastic. Probably a better alternative to four-gallon tins for airputs. There were about 10 of these at the bivvy.) I liked the way the trip was progressing - plenty of time for R and R. The rain continued but the bivvy was big enough to do little day trips under it. However we managed to circumnavigate the flat, seeing numerous Paridise and Blue ducks.

January 11 was fine, with the Big H sitting pretty 5400 feet above. Snow conditions were superb for cramponing. Unfortunately, when we got to the ridge, the snow basin I'd sort of expected wasn't there. A bloody great drop was there instead. Never mind. Up the ridge towards the low peak, page 16rope up, sidle on good snow around into the basin on the northern side under the two peaks. An oven bowl. Five more not difficult rope lenghts mainly on snow and that was it. Great place for a lunchstop. An hour on the summit before the descent and return to the neve. Then drop packs and a long trudge to bag Mt. Jack, which was actually lower than our dropped packs. I wonder if that bivy's ever seen such a feast as that night's one. A recce to Mt. Gow and the Otoko Passes preceeded a severe grunt out of Marks Flat. The philosophy of "swim, cool off and lift your spirits" was never more appreciated than on the way up to Lower Otoko Pass. Funny it started raining again just as we got to the Otoko Glacier terminal lake. Not surprising then that when we camped on a little flat between it and another such lake it rained for several days. Still, dam and boat building and reading passed the time well. Jude and I did a recce to check out the route to Upper Otoko Pass. Easy but very dark, wet,misty and eerie it was that afternoon. The route from Gow on to Upper Otoko Pass used by Scott and party (N.Z.A.J. 1960 p.p. 322) was not for us. An easier route than the one they used possibily exists on the Otoko side but it is rotten and very exposed.

The plan had been to pack over into the Edison but with the weather and food running out we had to give that away. On the last day possible, though, it cleared and we took off for Dechen. Ken felt crook on the pass and went back but we other three bowled along the crest of the Hooker Range over Gordon. The ridge was occasionally very narrow and rotten. The McCardell Glacier was a neat place. A gently-sloped little snowy icecap perched up high. We dropped packs and crampons for the stroll to the summit and then had to cut steps. The view was a bit spoilt by clouds so we didn't get a good look into the Edison. But we consoled ourselves with a picnic at 8,000 feet, and soaked up the sun. Descent was via the McCardell to the west, and via the gut between Dechen and Matherson direct to the lower lake. The gut only took a short while since we were running and glissading down avalanche-threatened slopes and debris. A good route, probably safer than we thought at the time. However it was a good snow year. That evening we moved camp to the true right side of the outlet of the page 17big lake. So that was about it really. Just a long walk of a day and a bit down the true right of the Otoko. Quite enjoyable but some of the sidling was a bit of a pain for me and the big boulders for Jude. The stinging nettle and the mosquitos were a bit of a drag. But we didn't have to hitch back up the coast and the farmer even gave us a beer.


Party: Ken Taylor, Bryan Sissons, Jude Faircloth, Wharry Keys.