Ascent of Tapuae-o-Uenuku

An AIC behind many of us, the dry climate of the Kaikouras drew 9 people in search of one of NZ’s highest but easier to climb peaks, Mt Tapeau-O-Uenuku. 

The ‘Tappy’ trip is becoming a regular club event, taking a Friday off work and setting forth to tackle the legendary Hodder River before putting the alpine skills to the test. The weather forecast suggested some poor weather but the prospect of one fine day kept the hopes fully alive as we set off from the Awetere River and up a farm track. A hay barn for our Thursday night accommodation, land access, weather forecasts and river condition information provided by the local farmer was most appreciated.

Surrounded by dramatically steep, but barren mountains shrouded in cloud, light drizzle fell, who would really care today with dampness guaranteed by the Hodder River. The river is well known, for it requires 70-80 crossings to reach the Hodder Huts. While not a big river, a significant rise can leave trampers stranded due to the gorgey nature of the landscape. Even on a good day it offers little alternative but to spend all day crossing.

We moved briskly, the damp conditions offer little incentive to laze, the two huts reached by 2:15pm was a welcome sight to hang up the wet clothes and pull on the warm dry set or snuggle into ones pit. The Hodder huts (one built by the Tararua Tramping Club and the other by the Marlborough Tramping Club) are very well maintained and their small size ensures you can keep reasonably warm, especially as there are no fireplaces or potbelly stoves. The one major problem with the journey was a wrist injury sustained by Paul at the second river crossing, an annoying injury that would stop his progress beyond the huts.

A hot evening was had in the huts as the nor-west cycle had set in. An early departure was planned and upon waking the star lit sky offered much promise, promise that failed to deliver. We set off at 5:45am and watched the clouds gradually roll in, hoping by chance they would only loiter at a low level and offer dazzling skies above. Such hope vanished as we headed up, crampons on and ice axes at our side, the cloud only got thinker and at an altitude of 2360 metres, the rain hit. With steady progress and only just over an hour to the summit it was disappointing to turn back, the huts though an inviting prospect with little chance of the weather improving.

Back by 11am, a brew and an early lunch was following by endless reading and time spent in sleeping bags. Amongst the bad weather, Joe was stalking the wildlife with his camera, bravely tackling the elements and bivvying under rocks as the showers passed above.

With the prospect of a fine Sunday and restlessness hanging over me, the thought of leaving Tappy behind in good weather was not an option. I then calculated the prospect of an alpine start if we were to tackle and make it back for a ferry. The start time would be 4-4:30am, which didn’t seem too bad until the introduction of daylight saving was taken into account – we would lose an hour, goddammit, it was effectively a 3-3:30am departure.

After splitting the group between the two huts to avoid waking others up, we put our heads down and then seemingly a moment later our 3:30am alarm was ringing. By 4:15am we were on our way under torchlight, the sky looking OK but a little hazy – would it hold out? Having a practice run the previous morning ensured we could make rapid progress and up the valley we headed. Stopping under a waterfall for our last water supply, we also fitted crampons and the early morning conditions ensured that the snow was hard and no problems of having to plug steps. As we progressed the weather showed no signs of deteriorating and the spirits moved up a gear as we progressed into the basin for a well-earned break. Ahead of us lay a steep gut, what was to be the trickiest section of the climb – a gut busting 150metres up while treading carefully on the icy conditions beneath our boots. The views spanning to Alarm and Mitre were spectacular, snow capped peaks were visible for many miles and ahead of us lay the summit ridge. Jamie led the way and by 7:45am he was on the summit, the other 4 of us arriving shortly afterwards. Now the views were even more spectacular, Wellington was shrouded in clag and later we heard the rain had been pouring down, but the top of the South Island lay around us – the Seaward Kaikouras, Richmond Range, Nelson Lakes and Kahurangi NP unfolded.

Interestingly atop the peak, marking the summit was a golf club, so after posing for a couple of ‘Great golf-holes of the world’ photos we sheltered from a brisk wind, ate a snack or two and enjoyed a 45-minute break on the summit.

The descent was quick, though a slow careful approach to negotiate the icy gut, beyond that the slopes leveling out and the snow got a little softer. The prospect of a lunch break before tackling the crossings of the Hodder River lay ahead and surprisingly by 10:30am we had returned to the huts – geez 10:30am is only morning-tea time! An early lunch and then the group of 9 set forth down the valley in great conditions, though the rain had lifted the river levels, making crossings a little trickier. Arriving out at 5:30pm we concluded an excellent trip but had to face the prospect of a 9:30pm ferry sailing …… well Monday might as well be a right-off!

The comment in the hut book summarized it all “We came, we conquered and we stacked the chairs less than 6 high!”

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