Thursday, January 3, 2008

Rivers to mountains 2

Us at the top of Mt. Musgrave (2251 Meters), out highest South Island point.
Our New Years Campsite
The Two Thumb Range, looking back at Mt. Musgrave
Coal River

Rivers to mountains

Its amazing how fast an eight day section can go by, you start off with a heavy pack and slowly whittle your way through the food until you're back to a light pack. It can be challenging not to eat too much trail mix on the first days, leaving you with none for the last.

There's no shortage of variety in this section: flats, hills, tracks, roads, mountain tops, river valleys, rain, sun and even hail. We had it all. It started out with a bit of road walking and after a milkshake in Staveley, it was time to venture into Mt Somers Forest Park. I'm such a sucker for milkshakes, I figured it would be the last one for a while. Uphill, what's that? It's been a while since we've had to do any big climbs. I'm not sure what was against me, the legs or the brain but it was a bit of a difficult start. Maybe it was the weather, a bit of drizzle, followed by hail. That's enough to get you unmotivated.

Mt Somers Forest Park was an amazing place. It had all sorts of crazy rock formations. The Pinnacles Hut on our first night was in a great location, placed among the Pinnacle rocks, made me wish I'd brought my climbing shoes with me. Further on down the track there were water caves to explore. It was as if someone had a handful of enormous boulders and sprinkled them over a stream. There were all these voids and precariously balanced rocks with water running through them. It was an amazing spot to explore, nature's jungle gym.

Then it was back on the roads passing by Lake Clearwater to the mouth of the Potts River. This was the start of the big river crossing that has been in the back of our minds for quite some time. The Rangitata River drains the glaciers of the Southern Alps and runs south east to the coast. It was in the way and needed to be crossed. The river from the first channel to the last was five kilometers wide and quite braided. We counted the channels on the way across, the smallest being one meter wide, stretching up ones that were over ten meters wide. We crossed 48 channels. It didn't turn out to be as difficult as first though, most channels were knee deep with the final channel being waist deep with a bit of heavy current.

We headed up Forest Creek valley and up Neutral Creek to the Two Thumb Range. Our original plan had us following the Coal River out of the mountains. At this point I was feeling I needed a change from all the river walking and started looking for another route to explore. The landscape here is so barren and vast you can pick a ridge or valley and hike it. There are no trails but also no trees or vines to get yourself tangled up in, just tussock and wide open space. We decided we'd follow the mountain tops of the Two Thumb Range to the Richmond Range.

Our new plan looked as if it was going to be thwarted when we woke up to heavy mist. Al opened her tent door, looked out, said she couldn't see the stream we were camped next to, said maybe we should wait it out. I agreed, half asleep, without even looking, rolled over and went back to sleep. Around midday, when it hadn't improved, we started our climb for the ridge. When we reached it we left behind the clouds. Over the course of 50 meters the weather changed from no visibility to no clouds with perfect blue sky. This made our time on the mountain tops spectacular. We had incredible views of the Southern Alps. We reached our highest point in the South Island, Mt Musgrave at 2251 meters tall. We brought in the New Year at our highest campsite at 2075 meters, 360 degree views and a beautiful sunset. According to Al, all that was missing was a glass of wine. The clock struck 12, already in our sleeping bags we wished each other a happy new year, rolled over and fell asleep.

We are now in Lake Tekapo enjoying a sunny rest day, heading towards Twizel tomorrow.


Pinnacle Rocks by the hut
Water Caves
Dennis crossing one of the 48 Rangitata River Channels
Neutral Creek Gorge
Coming up to the ridge line out of the clouds