Saturday, January 5, 2013

My Week Off

I took a few days of vacation during the last week of December to enjoy a little time in the mountains. I planned to do some climbing with a copule of Brits I had met - Garreth, the Welshman (I shouldn't call him a Brit), and Matt, from somewhere in the south.

There was a work party on the Saturday night, which I stayed for, but I had also promised Gareth and Matt I'd catch them at the French Ridge Hut on Sunday night. The plan was to climb something very early Monday morning. That meant driving from Christchurch to Aspiring National Park in the morning (5-6 hours), and hiking in to the hut in the afternoon (between 6 and 8 hours, according to the Department of Conservation (DOC) guide). The drive went fine, I got to the trailhead by 1pm (sharp), and made it to the hut at 7pm (sharp). However successful my plan was, I wouldn't want to do that combination again. Needless to say I was rather fatigued.

Hiking in alone for 6 hours was actually one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip. Even with a huge pack of supplies it was just really nice to go at my own pace and take the occasional 10 minute rest/nap.

Monday morning we climbed to Mt. French, having decided we were a bit too tuckered out for the more technical Mt. Avalanche. It was a perfect day, and I don't use that word lightly. No wind, really warm, but chilly enough that cramponing was pretty easy for most of the climb.
Mt. Aspiring in the background.

After our climb I immediately napped. During this lazy afternoon some other climbers strolled into the hut - a Czech couple, and a lone Austrian guy. The Austrian guy was especially friendly; he offered us all wine, and given that he carried it ~15km and 1500m uphill, that's quite generous.

Posing in front of the hut with our Austrian friend.

The long way down...

There was truly incredible weather that night, so I attempted to sleep outside until the Keas started pecking at my sleeping bag, at which point I went back inside. We headed back down the valley the next day (Christmas!) to our cars and camped in Wanaka. A delightful Indian restaurant made for a terrific Christmas dinner.

The following day we didn't have much of a plan except for recovering. I decided having such a free day was perfect for Skydiving! With the easy of a phone call I booked a spot and showed up at 3pm sharp. By about 3:30 I had been up and down, it was quite well organized. Sign forms, watch 5 minute instruction video, put on suit, jump in plane, make smalltalk with jump-mate, jump, land. Ticked off the list! Unfortunately I have no photographic evidence I actually did it, so you'll just have to believe me.

We did some rock climbing the next day, then drove to Mt. Cook village, where the New Zealand Alpine Club's swanky "Unwin lodge" is located. For an NZAC member like myself, it's basically the world's greatest hostel for $20 a night. It's just a bunk, but *what* a bunk!
Rock climbing near Wanaka amongst the Manuka flowers. There was an apiary across the road.

On the way there, however, Gareth had car trouble. Gareth and Matt had been driving Gareth's "NFA wonder" as I liked to call it, i.e. "No Fixed Address". It's a 1994 Toyota Townace tricked out with a mattress and stove in the back, perfect for mobile New Zealand living. Needless to say I was quite jealous of it.

Matt had been driving and got the engine a little too hot. I was driving behind them when all of a sudden brown liquid exploded out the side of the van. They quickly pulled over. It turned out that the radiator hose had come unseated from the engine block, so it unloaded the rusty coolant all at once. We got it towed to the nearest town, but had to cram all three kits into my car.

Alas, we got to Mt. Cook just as some nasty weather was coming in. We did some rock climbing on Friday, and attempted to hurry up Mt. Kitchener before the weather rolled in, but our morale just wasn't there so we bailed early. As it was only 7am by the time we got back to Unwin lodge, I decided to do a little day hike to the Ball Shelter. Hiking on one's own is a really enjoyable experience, as I guess I mentioned earlier.

Don't worry, mum, quite rare in summer.

I met one Kiwi when I got to the shelter who said he had a picture of his dad taken somtime in the 60s in a 60-something Toyota truck parked next to the hut. Back then they maintained a road all the way to the hut, but since the glacier has receded the lateral glacial moraine is less stable, and avalanches have presumably made maintaining the road prohibitively expensive.

The final day it rained. Back to Christchurch!

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