Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Warrior

"Go back!", one said. "Let's go on! It's not far!" said another. Bad idea...

White water rushed through the braided river, and our knees had already disappeared in it. With mutual support, we acted like a six-legged beast moving very slowly through the stream.

Was it here that Niko, in upstream position, suddenly realized he had his wallet, with a table surface full of notes, ID's and licenses, was still in his pocket? He staggered, the mobile phone in his other pocket gave a faint hiss and bricked. But Dominik and I stood firm, and pulled Niko back upright. Now we formed a stable triangle formation in the middle of the stream, and I thought: how in the hell did we enter into this horrible situation, far away from our safe homes? Well, let's start from the beginning...

Saturday, November 30th. A rainbow of colors surrounded The Warrior on Saturday's rain forecast charts. Only Niko, Dominik and me were not impressed by this and headed towards it. Better start in storm and return in sun, than the other way around, I thought. But when we reached Erewhon Station, blue sky was greeting us; the depression had slightly changed course and was now north of us.

Here you see Mt Sunday, which was transformed into Edoras for the the movie Lord of the Rings: Two Towers. But it's just a little hill, so we were not interested in climbing it. Instead, our target was The Warrior, with 2584m being the highest peak of the Armoury Range.

Following an article Niko found, the plan was to walk up the Clyde River, past Black Bluff, up Sinclair River towards Rock Bivouac and head to Crossbow Saddle from where we could see The Warrior. The first leg to Black Bluff was said to be boring, and it was suggested to bring a MP3 player with some rock music. But The Warrior did not feel like to let us approach him so easily...

Rivers in New Zealand kill four people each year, and Clyde made clear that she had not reached her quotum yet. It is a braided river, so it continuously branches off into different smaller streams which later merge back on. Many of them could be crossed easily, but some were incredibly tough.

We lined up for one difficult crossing. "Gosh, it's getting deep here!", "Let's go back!", "Go on, it's not far!". So that's how we found ourselves back, thigh-deep, in the middle of a stream which was pondering on our legs and already took the life of Niko's phone.

Back in line formation, the six-legged beast did one step forward. Then another. Sun broke through the clouds, the wind eased and we were on the other bank, greatly relieved. But soon we found out that there were more fierce streams around us. We moved upstream, crossing a few smaller streams, but eventually found our way blocked by fierce streams which were too dangerous to cross. We wandered downstream, but found no way to reach the other shore. Trapped on an island in the middle of the river? We shall see...

We halted and I examined the water level for some time, estimating if (and how quickly) the water would rise and calculating how much time we would have left before the island would be completely flooded, knowing that it would probably take 90 minutes to summon a helicopter with the PLB in my backpack.

The other two had a totally different view on the seriousness of the situation: Dominik laid out his wet clothes and went sunbathing like it was a luxury holiday resort. And Niko, well, was fishing in the river to get a decent meal for the night.

After an hour or so, the water level was still the same. We walked along the east side of the river, and eventually found easy spots where we crossed the river back to the eastern bank. Now we were exactly where we started: at Erewhon Station. After three hours of crossing rivers, we had made zero progress. We lost the first battle to The Warrior, but the war was not over yet.

We now tried a different route by ascending the hill on the eastern shore, and traversed northwards through the bush. After two more hours, we were well beyond the difficult river section and again marched over the river bank. The road to The Warrior was now more or less open. But we had only covered two kilometres in five hours, and I calculated that with this average speed we would need four days to reach the Crossbow Saddle. We didn't have that much food, so we hoped that Niko would catch a really big salmon for us quickly.

We walked past Tank Gully, a little stream flowing through a beautiful canyon. We liked its look, and decided to enter it as we had no chance to get anywhere close to The Warrior anyway. A short time later we found a relatively level patch of grass on the slope. Evening was coming, so we decided to camp here. We set up one tent and secured the lines really well with our ice axes. But after a few fierce blasts from The Warrior, the tent more or less lay flat. We found out that some velcro tape had to be attached to the poles at the inside of the tent, quadrupling the structure quality.

We lit a campfire and three rounds of really good spaghetti went down our throats. Niko had not caught a single fish, so we roasted his socks instead. He didn't seem too happy with the burn hole, but the warmth of the campfire blessed our minds and bodies. Sun sank down behind the mountains, and Venus was seen twinkling in the sky among many little stars. The Warrior was restless during the night, howling winds jiggled the tent until the crack of dawn. But it stood firm all night.

In the morning, the roaring Clyde had turned back into a calm, blue river. The mountain tops were no longer covered in clouds, and could now be seen in full beauty. We packed our stuff and ascended Mt Caroline, a gentle hill close to Erewhon Station. Dominik and I sat down comfortably at the top, while Niko climbed one of the peaks of the Potts range. From there, Niko could see Mt Warrior, the mountain we tried to get to, but we failed.

The Warrior, we bow for you.

For complete photo album, see here!

Friday, 6 December 2013

West Coast

As said in my previous blogpost, Milos and I visited the West Coast in the weekend of 22-24 November. The Motukiekie rocks was stunning, but there was more: Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, Truman Beach, Pororari River Track, Cape Foulwind.

Pancake Rocks! The fun thing is that no one understands exactly why the rocks have this layered shape.

Truman Track, a short walk through the jungle to the beach.

The main beach at the end of the Truman track. The rocks are made of limestone. Long ago in geology, there were different layers in Earth which got mixed,and the sea washed the softer parts off, leaving limestone rocks in all sorts of weird shapes and interesting caves.

By going through this small cave, you can access another part of the coast, surrounded by high cliffs.

At first sight, you cannot get further because of the sea and cliffs. But with a little bit of jumping, cliff edge navigation and going through another cave, we found a well-hidden path to yet another part of the coast.

The beach was fully smooth, no footprints could be seen. I wanted to run to the other side, and Milos told me not to leave any trace in the beach which would not look nice in photos. So I just walked through the sea. Sometimes a giant wave was rolling in. At such times I leaped forward, lowered my camera and took a photograph of the rolling waves with the setting sun in the background.

And just when the waves came close, I run away before the waves catch me. With the camera in my hands, waves were battling me to knee height, almost knocking me over 'till the sea retracts again. And this process repeated a couple of times until I was happy with the shots.

After sunset, we did a lot of more photography in the dusk and at night. We were very happy with finding this awesome place and the good weather!

The long way back was pretty thrilling. There was no moon, we only had our torches to illuminate the environment and sea was rising again. We had to navigate our way over giant rocks, along narrow cliff edges, through two totally black caves and it happened that I left my small camera somewhere at a remote place for some timelapse shooting, which could only be accessed by a little bit of jumping and bouldering. Imagine to traverse them in the middle of the night, with the crushing sea below your feet, faintly illuminated by your headtorch. At such times, when you really can't afford a mistake, you feel far, far away from your safe bed back home!

The last day we went to Cape Foulwind to see seals and more rocks in the sea. This photo (and other photos of me) was taken by Milos Hroch.

We found a bay somewhere off the main path, and could go down all way to the shore, where some seals were sun-bathing like this one.

Bye bye, West Coast. It was an awesome photography trip!

For more pictures, see the complete gallery here!