Monday, May 26, 2008

Arthur's Pass

"Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, in an entity, different from all other journeys. It has a personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, brassbound and inevitable,dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in -the-glass bum relax and go along with it. In this a journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it." John Steinbeck, 1962, Travels with Charley

Caught the airbus Thursday morning, flight out at 1100 went from Auckland to Wellington to Christchurch. Arrived just before Kieft and met him outside the international gate. Took the bus into town and walked through the main square to find the wicked van rental company. It was cloudy and raining which was kinda a bummer. The first thing Tyler noticed as we got off the bus was a sign on the top of a building: "IBM". We got some pictures, him with his sign and me in front of the cathedral (god did not smite me down from on high so I figure it must have been ok) and then we continued on to the rental place.

We got our van, 'Foul Notions' with a quote on the back saying: "A wise man covers his arse, a smart man leaves his pants on." It had a kitchen in the back, with a pump sink and a counter, there was a gas stove, some chairs and a table inside that folded down into a bed. It was a great van all the way around. By this point it was too late to drive anywhere that night so we went to the shopping center and stocked up on food and gas. Once we were provisioned we sat to make some plans as we had no idea what the weekend would entail. While we were shopping a lady decided to give us some advice. From everything she told us, I realized the wisdom in two of the lines written by Steinbeck: "A man who seeing his mother starving to death on a path kicks her in the stomach to clear the way, will cheerfully devote several hours of his time to giving wrong directions to a total stranger" and "The impulse of the American woman to geld her husband and castrate her sons is very strong." She wasn't American and we weren't her sons but if she wasn't trying to castrate us I don't know what she was doing. Tyler, being less experienced and thus more susceptible to such advice was quite strongly affected by her warnings, and I was getting worried that he would call the trip off. To his credit he endeavored to see it through, and I am ashamed for ever doubting him.

Her advice is, for the most part, lost to my recollection. This may be due to the fact that it extended over the better part of an hour. I recall only three points she made: first that the weather in Arthur's Pass is horrible, snowing, and most likely impassable, second that Christchurch is a bad city - we should not trust anyone there as they will most likely add drugs to our drinks and commit other such unthinkable atrocities, and third that it would be best if we headed north to spend the weekend at the hot springs. Her advice was as long and glorious as it was wrong. We ended up doing almost the exact opposite of what she told us.

We spent Thursday night, the first night, in Christchurch. We found a car park in the botanical gardens and left the van there and headed into town. As we were leaving we saw some guys breaking into a van parked near ours, and with the fell advice ringing in our ears we decided to walk the away from the city for a couple minutes, then double back past our van to make sure that ours wasn't next. We turned around a bit early as they were still working on the original one when we passed again, so we stood in the shadow of a tree and watched for a while. We were getting pretty nervous about the situation. The tension we felt was diffused quite effectively when a locksmith van drove up.

Our night started at the Bog, which was interesting as I was in the bog in Auckland the day before. From there we walked around, found a souvenir shop, a billiards hall and a couple other pubs, until we arrived at the Grumpy Mole Saloon. It was dry, had a fire, and 3$ beers and we were set for the evening. Presently a kiwi approached us, 18 or 19 years old, scrawny as hell and pissed as. He introduced himself to us as Karl and proceeded to tell us about a number of his nefarious and surprisingly improbable sexual escapades. They were quite interesting and kept the two of us entertained for a while. We eventually decided that he was going to show us the club that was most hopping that night, which happened to be across the street (Christchurch isn't all that big). The bouncer apparently knew of him and wouldn't let him in so we parted ways and Tyler and I went into the club. It was still a bit early and no one was there so we promptly left to try and find our wayward friend, but it was of no avail. We went back to the Grumpy Mole and ended up at the club later that night. The club itself seemed fine to me, although I was quite intoxicated at that point, but Kieft said that it seemed really sketchy, although he admitted that the lady's dire warning was still on his mind. We ended the night with a nice walk back in the rain and once Tyler was able to de-stress a little bit (yeah - that's what they're calling it these days) we hit the sack. It was a good night, but I had one hell of a hangover the next day.

The next morning we started out toward Arthur's Pass after buying myself a merino and possum fur hat - which was quite expensive, but well worth it. Though it was still cloudy, the drive was beautiful, the leaves were changing colours, and the road was empty. We arrived at Castle Hill and stopped for some pictures. Some of the pine trees there were bright orange, while others were the standard green. I couldn't decide if they have some species of deciduous pines or if some of the trees were infected with something, but it was quite an interesting juxtaposition.

We didn't stop to climb then as it was a bit wet and we wanted to get to the pass to do a tramp before it got dark. An hour later we arrived at a huge sign welcoming us to Arthur's pass national park, so we got some pics and continued on our way.

The weather didn't improve in the pass at all, but we were able to get some good views and pictures including this one of Mt Rolleston, which I am very proud of.

she will stand forever
elegant in mystery
a brief passing for one
to meet and learn and know
her ephemeral eternity

(This poem was an addition on 11 Nov 2008. I found it in the archives of my computer. I believe that I wrote is as it references this picture. As I don't often write poetry, I think it a good idea to include it here lest it be lost.)

We stopped in at the visitors center at a tiny town named for the pass and checked the weather, hoping it would be clear enough to hike avalanche peak in the morning. We were told that the weather is so variable that we would need to check again in the morning and we were given some other tramp ideas to fill the rest of the day. We hiked to Devils Punchbowl Falls, a short easy hike to a fairly impressive 130m falls, and then we went up to the Temple Basin Track which turned out to be a ski hill. We have no idea how one is supposed to get from the car park to the base of the lift, it took us over an hour. We continued up a scree field under the lift line and were met by a group of Keas.

The kea is related to the parrot, the main differences being that keas are green with red under their wings and they live in alpine areas instead of the tropics. They are very smart and quite cheeky. They love to pull apart anything they can get ahold of, including cameras and cars, and they have been known to bite peoples legs to startle us into dropping food that they can then steal. We had no food and kept a tight hold on our cameras, and the keas kept their distance. The first one swooped over us and landed less than a metre from where we were walking and just sat there showing off for us to take pictures of.

We got to the top of the ski hill and screed back down - a pastime I find a great amount of guilty pleasure in, as it is so much fun and yet it erodes the mountain so bad. The return trip took less than half the time going up did.

We were both quite cold by the end of the tramp, as neither of us had gloves and it was quite cold, not rainy but definitely cold. We went to a pub called Arthur's and had a hot chocolate and some dinner and hung out for the rest of the evening, then we retired to our van, camped and slept. We were the only ones in the whole town of Arthur's Pass who didn't live there, and there can't be more than 50 or so people living there - the barmaid at Arthur's was the same all three days as was the lady working at the visitors center.

The next morning we got up, made shake and bake pancakes and were told that the weather was too cloudy and snowy to go up avalanche peak. We were advised that the west coast might have better weather and it should be fun to go and see the glaciers. We decided that this was a good idea and headed west.

There was a large bridge called the viaduct that was built some years ago, as a human structure I didn't find it quite as neat as Tyler did, but it was impressive. There were even some covered parts of the road that diverted water or falling rocks over and away from the cars.

The drive to the Franz Josef Glacier was pretty neat. There is only one road in the area that goes from the east to west coast and we were on it and yet we didn't pass another car but every 10 minutes or so. As soon as we got out of the pass the weather improved to no end. It was suddenly sunny and warm. The drive to the glaciers was scenic but long, and we arrived with enough time to hike each of them before the sun set. We were not actually able to walk on the glaciers as that requires crampons and a tour guide and more money than we wanted to spend, but we were able to get right up to the bottom of each of them. The picture below is the Fox Glacier. Apparently they are both advancing and doing so about 10x faster than any other glacier in the world as their catchments are so wide and the mouths are so narrow. There were signs along the road driving in that pointed out where the leading edge was in 1750 &c. It was quite apparent how far the glacier had retreated since then, and even though it's advancing now, there is a long way to go before it gets anywhere close to what it was then.

We cooked dinner at the town of Franz Josef and started back to camp somewhere closer to Arthur's pass that night. We were running low on petrol but the prices were so high (2.10$/Litre - we paid 1.83$/L in Christchurch with a .10$/L off coupon) we didn't stop to fill up. We finally coasted into a town called Hari Hari and stopped at the petrol station. The price was 2.13$/L but there was nowhere else and we were completely out. The only problem was that the station was closed. We stopped at a pub and asked about where we could get petrol and were told that the station would be open again on Monday. It was Saturday afternoon and our planes left on Monday morning at 6 so that wasn't going to work. The Bartender suggested that if we were to go to the owners house and ask politely, he might be willing to open the station for us. We did and he did, and he only charged us 20$ as an opening fee - good way to make money if you ask me, and I noticed that the alleged "opening fee" didn't go into the cash register with the petrol money either. But at least we weren't stranded in some little nothing of a town the entire weekend.

We were able to get all the way back to Arthur's Pass that night. I drove, which was quite enjoyable, and as there is no restriction against open bottles of beer in the car, Kieft had a few on the way back (there are restrictions against driving under the influence and even if there weren't I would have refrained - a.) I was driving and b.) it feels to weird to drink in a car anyway.) He was in a pretty happy state by the time we got to the Pass and we ended up making the bed and heading to the only open bar in town. That makes it sound like there were lots of bars which is misleading: there were only 2, this one, which was open and Arthur's, which was closed. We had a pint or two and headed back to the van to get an early start on the day and hopefully, if the weather improved, on avalanche peak.

The clouds were present in the morning, but they were higher than the previous days and moving so the DOC lady gave us a tentative 'all's clear' with a warning to watch the weather and turn back if the visibility got low. That's all we needed - we bought some gloves and started out, up the Scott's track to avalanche peak.

We choose Scott's track instead of avalanche peak track as it was allegedly less steep and easier to descend were the weather to turn bad. It was incredibly steep, and we were left wondering what the other track must be like. We felt like we were on Gollum's endless stair, and not even out of the bush yet, there was still a huge alpine meadow and then a ridge to traverse.

The Keas came out once we were above the bush line. 8 of them and the circled up around us, we took a bunch of pictures and moved on and they proceeded to give us an escort up the mountain, alternating between hopping and short flights, they took us from the bush line to nearly the top of the meadow.

We got some good views the higher we got until we hit the clouds and the views were mostly restricted to a couple hundred metres. The picture below is just before we lost most of the scenic views. Short range visibility remained surprisingly good as there was no point that we couldn't see the next 4 or 5 markers going up and at least 6 or 7 on the way back down. We stopped a few times to reevaluate whether it was a wise choice or not: the wind was blowing, it was quite cold, the clouds may move in and moor us in fog, &c. We were about to turn back and all the sudden most of the clouds in the near vicinity blew away and we could see all the way down to the valley floor so we decided to move on.

Once we were on the ridge, the snow started accumulating and the fog got thicker, but we could still see markers both up and down the ridge so we pressed on. This picture is in the middle of the ridge somewhere and as you can see the visibility was pretty good, even with a camera which always makes those kind of things look worse.

We had started hiking at 0950 and summited at 1200. It was cold and windy and snowy and slippery and we didn't dally long, a couple pictures, a quick pee off the top and we were on our way. We did pause long enough to vocalize both of our thoughts that tyguy should have been there with us.

Coming back down is always worse than going up, and that is where most of the accidents always happen. We were accident free which was good, especially on the ridge where a slip would have resulted in a harrowing fall off the side of one of two cliffs. The clouds had moved in lower while we were on top and there was some snow on the path in the meadow that hadn't been there earlier which made the path muddy as it melted underfoot. We stopped to eat a sandwhich just above the meadow and the keas met us again shortly after we continued on and gave us another escort down through their territiory, which ended with a fly-by: all 8 of them swooping low over our heads and landing in unison just before we entered the bush. I hope to see keas again before I leave New Zealand as they are the most amazing birds. This picture was taken as we were getting out of the clouds, just before the keas met us.

the rest of the hike was uneventful, and as the last leg of hike like that generally go, it seemed to take forever. We were down where it was warmer and started peeling off layers of clothing (I had: underarmor, a t shirt, a solomon vest, a polar fleece, a long sleeved shirt, a hoody and a rain/wind shell, gloves, and my possum hair hat and I was still a little chilly).

Once we were down it was straight to Arthurs for a hot chocolate and then we headed back towards Christchurch as Kiefts plane left at 0600 the next morning. We stopped along the way at Castle hill so I could climb, but it was still a bit wet, and there must have been about a million sheep in the area the day before, I couldn't climb much and the car stunk for the rest of the trip.

Castle hill in itself was amazing and I hope to go back with a guidebook when it is not so wet someday. There were huge boulder fields that had 500 boulders a peice scattered around the valley. It is a climber's dream.

We arrived in Christchurch with enough time to buy a kebab and drink some tui's before heading in to watch Indiana Jones. Normally I would balk at watching a movie on a trip like this but it was a fitting end to the weekend and neither of us were up for much else. We found the airport afterwards and then a campsite. Then we decided that since it was still early we would drive down to the ocean and look around. We found a huge peir, bigger than anything they could possibly use - we figure it was a symbolic dominance struggle - "we have a bigger peir than you" and all that jazz. Then we headed back and hit the hay.

The next morning we awoke and I took him to the airport and dropped him off at 0445. Then as I didn't want to go back to sleep and I still had half a tank of petrol I drove around for a while to see what I could find. Not much is the verdict on that one, I found the university of canterbury and walked around in it for a while at 0530 in the morning - there wasn't much going on. Then I headed to town to cook food and clean the van to turn it back in. I cooked on the side of the road which was really sketchy, but whatever, and turned the van in at 0830. I needed to be at the airport at 1000 so I had plenty of time to kill, I walked around the square and toured the cathedral and did some window shopping then got on the bus and headed back to auckland.

A final post script: I arrived in auckland at 12:20 and took the airbus back to uni, I arrived with just enough time to drop my stuff off at parnell and get to class. I had gone 4 days without a shower and at least 3 without a change of clothes, but I sure as hell got to class. They were two good lectures too.

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