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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1931

Christmas Trip to the Spencer Mountains

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Christmas Trip to the Spencer Mountains

"And he who has no home to call his own will find a home somewhere."

On Xmas Day, in the morning, our company of twenty-six was unloaded on to the sand-hills at Nelson to find a breakfast of bacon and eggs sizzling under the young pines.

After a bathe we clambered back into our two lorries in lordly wise and murmured "Rotoroa." The only way to travel through Nelson is on top of a lorry; or through anywhere else, for that matter, where the sun is hot enough to take the chill off the wind of your going.

How refreshing to wind-tired eyes was Rotoroa, dark and calm, closed in by mountains streaked with snow.

After dinner we climbed into our most barbarous togs and rowed off in other people's boats till the launch was ready to take us the twelve miles to the head of the lake.

It was dark by the time our launches reached the head of the lake and ground their noses into the shingle at the mouth of the D'Urville River. This little delta, and that at the mouth of the more turbulent Sabine River, provide the only good landings along the deeply bushed shore.

Then the fire to be made, pack to be sought after and shrieked for, many plum puddings to be consumed in the confusion, and finally ti-tree nests to be snuggled into—calm—and the shrill song of the first mosquito.

I remembered getting up very early the next morning, because of the mosquitos, and paddling about the lake to troll for trout.

There were our mountains—in fact, they were doubly in the sky and in the lake—Hopeless and Little Twin and Travers, very steep when viewed with a measuring eye.

Few people are acquainted with the Spencer Mountains. They are almost entirely unmapped.

Mt. Misery rises sleeping from the head of the lake, between the two glaciated valleys of the Sabine and the D'Urville.

We climbed Misery first to get the compass bearings on to the Hopeless ridge and across the Sabine Valley.

From the roots of the mountain to the snow line the bushed slopes are so steep that a stone could be thrown into the river 3500 feet below. One shudders to think of the slips that would come down if these slopes should become deforested— as they must if the deer continue to eat down all the young trees. Above the bushline a cirque clothed in mountain meadow sweeps up to the razor-back ridge.

There were a great many kinds of flowers, but none were very showy or abundant, probably owing to the deer. The Spaniard was very plentiful, but very often we found it with its leaves pulled up and strawn around. A deer-stalker who visited us said that it was the keas that did this. The keas were very tame. They would stand still till we came within two yards of them. Or a pair of them would fly above, screaming and showing the blood-red colour of their under wings. The green grasshoppers that sprang all day among the rocks near the tops of the ridges were curiously like them in colour. They had patches of red, where their legs folded against their bodies, so that you could see them when they jumped. These grasshoppers form a large part of the keas' diet.

The meadow round the tarns was formed of low cushion plants and was very soft to tread on.

The big cushion-plants called mountain sheep were plentifully squeezed between the great brown rocks that lay loosely on the top of the ridges.

A smoky black lichen grew on the most barren rocks and black mountain butterflies flitted above the rocks and the meadow.

We used to climb up the meadow but run down by the shingle slides.

On the Hopeless ridge there was no water and we had to make little mounds of snow on hot rock flakes and lie underneath waiting for a trickle.

One party followed the Sabine River from Lake Rotoroa to its source in two small mountain tarns several thousand feet up. Here, right in the centre of the island, were found nesting seagulls which had never seen the sea. It was from a peak in this region that the party could see Lake Constance. This lovely lake lies in a lap in the mountains at a height between 5000-6000 feet above sea level, and is over a mile across. In flood time its overflow spills down a precipice for nearly 3000 feet.

Meanwhile the more placid-spirited were gently trolling the waters of Lake Rotoroa for trout or

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Lake Rotoroa and the Hopeless Ridge.

Lake Rotoroa and the Hopeless Ridge.

The Hopeless Ridge.

The Hopeless Ridge.

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murdering eels by night, with minds unspoiled by any desire for the monarchs of height; or they would sit in the sun and the smoke stirring venison stew against the climbers' return.

On New Year's Day, just as our party was retiring to sleep after greeting 1931 with song and volleys of gunshot, another was setting out on a climb, so that they could not decide whether the porridge was supper or breakfast.

By sunrise the climbers were sitting on a ledge at the bush-line, spitting date stones into the D'Urville camp below.

All the peaks in Nelson—and who shall name them?—were poking through the morning mist. We put away our torches as the sun came up behind Mt. Arthur.

Our objective was the highest point on Misery ridge—as yet unnamed. We reached it before mid-day and built a cairn of stones. We have applied to the Survey Department to have it named "Windward."

On the day after New Year we returned to the outlet of the lake on the Gown River and shifted camp by lorry to Lake Rotoiti. Eight of us walked over via the bridle-track and the Howard goldfields.

In a sunny clearing we came upon a little hut with roses growing over it. The owner, who was just going off to do some digging, invited us in and made us a brew of tea. He had made all sorts of things out of tins—mugs, candle lanterns and even a nutmeg grater. The hut was papered with "Auckland Weekly News" rather yellowed by a mucking fireplace that had been damaged during the earthquake. Mr. Brown told us he stood inside while it was happening, "And I looks at the cat, and I says to myself, if the cat does a git, I does a git." Outside the snow was up to his waist and opened by a deep crack.

We knew that our leader had rented a cottage in the little settlement at Rotoiti; but we hardly expected so many and such deep easy chairs, hot water laid on, and the tin of bulls-eyes, which we were told afterwards were not meant to be consumed.

The St. Arnauds, or "No Catchums," are not to be compared with the Hopeless range. Around the lake they have been partly divided by a big burn. Add to this that we saw them only under a leaden sky; but there were no sandflies.

New the tale is not henceforth of exploration, but of monstrous rabbit-pies and tons of rice and rivalry of cooks.

Yet the Travers Valley is not inferior to the Sabine or the D'Urville; but we had no discomfort to drive us forth into the mountains.

The Travers flows into the head of the lake and its valley has wide flats and beech groves of many different varieties.

We tramped up in the rain, cheerfully blowing drops from the ends of our noses as we would creep through the groves to catch a glimpse of the herds of deer and the rabbits on the greensward.

It was snowing up in the mountains and when the wind blew the clouds aside we could see a wavering thread of waterfall on which a bead of snow was strung.

By following up the valley it would be possible to cross over into the Sabine River behind Mt. Travers; we had not enough food or time to, and so, not being Brunner, and therefore disinclined to live on eels and nikau shoots, we abandoned the project till we should come back again, for it is certain that we will come back.

When we were discussing this year's Xmas trip there were a number in favour of returning to the Spencer mountains, but we decided to break new ground and go to the Kaikouras, for our years with the 'Varsity Tramping Club are so few.

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