I had been looking forward to this trip for ages. The plan was to catch the Friday evening ferry—but which then got delayed due to a bit of a storm passing through. We were rebooked on to the Saturday morning ferry and despite getting up early we then spent an additional two hours waiting for departure. Once on board things weren’t too crowded and we were getting excited as the forecast was looking good. However the offers of ‘free tea and coffee’ to part-compensate for the inconvenience of the delay just didn’t materialise once we were on board…
One concern was the trip up to the Hodder Huts—as the ferry was late we would have to spend more time trudging up the river in the dark. Once we drove and parked at the road-end we spent a bit of time at the van trying to cram all our stuff into our packs and generally freaking out about what was ahead. Once we started walking things were good for a short while, however, with the darkness came the cold, and slower travel, and that meant spending more time in the snowmelt river!
Some of us had decided to wear running shoes and mine were particularly crap, having no grip and this showed on some of the snowy and muddy up-hill scrambles. At approximately river crossing number 60 my feet were ‘well and truly numbed’ and I was wishing for a quick and painless death.
We made the huts at just before 11 pm that night and woke up some very understanding skiers who had been choppered to near the summit and skied down that day. We had a quick dehy meal and then settled in for what was left of the night with 14 people in an 8 bunk hut—Shay and me slept in fairly cramped quarters under the bottom bunks. It took several hours for my feet to thaw out, and with that came the pain from where my feet arches had slammed into numerous rocks (I’m just not that hard-core Tony!). Apparently there were some possums also feuding in the night and in the morning we saw the culprits snuggled up together in their posse on the veranda. We spent a long time trying to figure out what they would eat up there, but they weren’t too bothered about us and we let them be.
After stuffing my smashed feet into my boots that morning, we all headed up towards the summit. We were a bit concerned about the snow depth and condition and that led to a couple of time revisions from Tony.
It was a fantastic walk up and we were really lucky some early-risers from the neighboring hut had plugged some steps for us beforehand. Despite this, it was a bit energy-sapping. A bit further up, Tereza (who had been doing all the work at the front) had problems with a knee so Tony volunteered to help her back down.
The rest of us kept going with Brendon now the leader and stopped for a much-needed lunch in the intense heat and a short time later met a couple who had aimed for the summit but had turned back due to avalanche concerns.
This made us a bit more cautious and as we were running a bit late some of us (led by Diarmuid) decided to just aim to zig-zag up to the saddle for a look-see and call it a day. On the way up we passed the couple’s test pit and saw the ‘dodgy’ snow layer for ourselves. Once we consulted with Brendan and obtained some expert snow-condition advice, we pressed on (by this time a bit of slush and melting ice was coming off the rocks on either side).
The approach up to the saddle was steep and about halfway up we decided to don crampons. The top of the saddle was clear and beautiful with crystalline views all around. The top looked enticingly close (but oh so far away!) The condition of the snow up there also improved heaps for crampons due to the wind exposure.
At this point we saw more early risers descending from the top (so someone had made it that day!) We took some great snaps and descended. We regrouped further down with those who didn’t do the saddle and watched the progress of Andre’s dislodged helmet as it slid very slowly down the hill, only to stop very close to the edge of a precipice.
We continued down and made it to the huts again around 5.30pm (a bottle of whiskey would have gone down REALLY well at this point!) Dinner was cranked up by Andrei and there was tons of Parmesan cheese to go around. Tereza had baked a cake and brought that up so we had that for dessert with mango slices and cream from Megan. That night was a bit less crammed in the hut as the skiers had departed, which meant that this time I got a real bed.
The next day was yet another bright one and after breakfast a few people went ahead to assist Tereza with her injured knee. The rest of us then headed down the river (this trip was a bit less intimidating in the sunshine) and this time the trip was enjoyable! Although I experienced the disadvantage of actually seeing parts of the terrain that I walked the other night in my crappy old gym shoes—not good!
We passed a couple of goats on the hills on the way down and marvelled at their dry feet. Stopping for lunch at a nice spot on the river bank I was pleased to see we were almost at the 4WD track that led us out. Once on the track we made a couple of false uphill turns (further burning up our depleted energy) before seeing the van in the distance. A quick drive later and we were in Picton to catch the Bluebridge ferry back to Wellington. The bad news was that this ferry was also late—but the good news—only by 1½ hours instead of 2 hours like the first crossing. So we finally arrived totally buggered at about midnight and I’m pretty sure by the time I got home it was 1.30 am.
It was a really great trip and I hear that Tony is already planning the next one (while promising no night travel up the Hodder River this time). I would really like to do it again with no snow, to eliminate that factor, and possibly also having teams heading up based on speed/ability. What we did was fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to do a fairly straightforward and rewarding Alp 1 ascent.