I mentioned to Pete one weekend at Ruapehu Lodge that I was doing some Life Member interviews and he promptly said ‘Right we’d better bloody get on with it then’. So he regaled me with decades of club adventures over coffee surrounded by kids playing and with stunning views of Taranaki out the window.
When did you join the club?
It was in about ‘63 or something like that. I just started a plumbing apprenticeship with Peter Daniels, he belonged to the club and he was a plumber too. He got me onto my first tramp and I thought, shit, this is bloody good! We went from Holdsworth and the plan was to go along the ridge above the true left of the Atiwhakatu. We got a bit ballsed up and ended up at the bush edge where you go into Mitre Flats! We mucked around up there for the day and walked out and got the bus home. I loved it!
Then he got me on the first Fitness Essential (FE) trip too. Peter Daniels was one of those guys that’d inspire you to do more than what you were capable of doing, he was bloody good. But then you start doing FE trips and then you never want to go back to do lesser trips. I did all the trips in the Tararuas that I could. I never bloody enjoyed river trips but tops, valleys, yep.
You were on the South America club trip weren’t you?
Yeah, I’d started climbing, first at Te Tai bay and then I did AIC’s up at the lodge. Then I went south on a really good Christmas trip, with Ken McNatty, Graham Westerby and Kev Moynihan – we climbed Aspiring, D’Archiac at the head of the Godley Valley, some others too.
In 1968 the club ran a trip to Peru and I got myself in on that. There was me, Paul Green, Mac Riding, Allen Higgins and Ken McNatty – as well as Dick Cowan from the Hutt Valleys, Ken’s cousin Bob McKerrow, and John Lawrence who joined us from Los Angeles for a couple of weeks.
We climbed most of the Cordillera Vilcabamba peaks we could get to from the valley we were in – a lot of first ascents, too. We met all the locals while we were there, they used to come and trade with us. We had milk powder tins and kerosene tins that they’d trade us for potatoes, cheese, things like that. The meat and cheese were a bit dodgy so we never actually ate that! But we still accepted it off them for a few tins. They were right into the old tins! When we left, they gave us all ponchos, hand-made and woven on their looms and everything. We never gave them money, it was always trades for this, that and the other thing.
Probably the highest we went up was about 18000 ft [5500m]. None of us really suffered from altitude sickness or anything like that. When we first got to our base camp we really noticed it. Just to move a boulder around it was a huff and a puff. After a week though you’d adjusted to the height and then you were away.
We camped in the ruins of Machu Picchu, just a bit above the valley we were staying in. We spent a night there too, you certainly couldn’t do that now!
That was a great year, what with the Peru trip and the club’s 21st when we came back, too.
There were lots of impressive Christmas trips back then – did you go on a few?
1968 we also did a great Christmas trip, probably the best I ever did. It was with Allen Higgins, and Graham Westerby, Kevin Moynihan, Noel Thomas, Murray Brown, Tony and Dennis Gazley.
We went up the Waiatoto River, over the Bonar Glacier, down the East Matukituki River gorge, up the West Matukituki River, over Arawhata Saddle and down the Arawhata River, up the Joe River and over O’Leary Pass and down the Dart River and out. We were all just about knackered at the end of that. But that would have been about the best trip at Christmas I did.
Then I joined up with old Brian Hunt on his Christmas trips. I must’ve done about eight Christmas trips in Mt Aspiring National Park with Brian. By the time we’d done a few we didn’t even need a map because we knew where we were going.
The first trip we did with Brian we had about sixty pound packs – we thought, bugger that for a joke! After that we’d arrange at least two air drops so we’d only have 30 pound packs. But the only trouble was if the weather crapped out. One Christmas trip we flew into the Arawhata gorge, went up to about the 2nd creek on the true left – and then it shat on us the next day. We were down to half rations, not good on the second day of a Christmas trip! It cleared up again and we were away again but that was the catch, if the weather crapped out you could be in trouble.
It was all fixed wing air drops, so we’d pack all our food in old wheat sacks and 4 gallon tins. We’d have special bloody Tararuas biscuits, which had to be a certain dimension and wrapped a certain way. We’d pack them into the tins, I’d solder the tops and put them into the sacks, straw in around the cans and off they’d go. We never lost any, but we had a few damaged and burst. The guy flew a bit high and just heaved them out the bloody door… but we did alright I reckon. There’re a few ten gallon tins scattered around Mt Aspiring National Park now, slowly rusting away.
When did you start going up to the Lodge?
At first we went climbing, then attitudes changed and I thought I’d try bloody skiing. That was when the old Downhill rope tow still operated – it was a separate crowd to the RAL lifts. They had a flying fox, just behind the old long-drop toilet, so you’d throw your skis on the bloody flying fox and then walk up. So it was a bloody good piece of exercise.
Friday night the old Runciman bus would roar up from Wellington. You’d head to the lodge with your sleeping bag, grab a bunk, then you’d go back and grab your pack and bring up the food.
I got involved with a lot of the maintenance on the Lodge too, I still am involved in looking after it. When we did the big revamp for the whole place in ‘77 I did the plumbing and stuck the roof on.
Then in the ‘70s, Brian Aitkens started organising trips down to Broken River near Arthurs Pass. Don’t know how many years we went, it was always the first weekend in August because I always had my birthday down there.
We had a Broken River reunion about eight years ago. Was blimmin good to see the old crowd again, and the White Star hut we used to stay in was still there. We’d sleep there, and have our meals in the main hut up above. You had to walk in the last bit to Broken River, so you’d be up there on the mountain for the whole week.
You were Gear Custodian for ages, weren’t you?
Christ I did that for bloody donkeys years. When we first started it used to be in Trades Hall. That was bloody great, because we were all apprentices then, Noel Thomas and me, he lived down the road from where I lived. He stayed with us for a while when he was doing his apprenticeship. Thursday nights we’d roar down, go to the steak house in Willis St, have tea, down to the club. Often when the club talk was on we’d bugger off to the pool hall around the corner have a few games of pool and then back to the club house for the end of the meeting.
The old Trades Hall was blimmin good. And we had great Christmas parties too, there was always a theme so you used to have to get dressed up and all that carryon. One year, Paul Green and Kevin and Graham and me, we put 20 cents a week in for a whole bloody year and at the end of the year we spent it on drink for the club’s Christmas party. So down the pub we went and Christ, we had bottles of whisky and gin and vodka, and a crate of bloody flagons. We were all frowned upon for that by the older members when we turned up!
Those Christmas parties were bloody great. Blimmin dag.
How do you think the club’s doing now, compared to over the years?
I’ve been pleased to see how the club’s changed to incorporate mountain biking and kayaking – it’s kept the club alive. I think we’d be struggling if we’d stuck straight to tramping. Opening the club up to all sort of other activities is what’s kept the club ticking over nicely.
There’s some younger ones ticking through, in their mid-twenties, thirties – but they only seem to last a few years then they’re off to look at something else. It’s keeping them there that’s the thing! In our day we sort of started tramping and then stuck with tramping, and I’m still good friends with a lot of those bods now.
Our lodge seems a bit forgotten now, it needs some money spent on it I reckon – the carpets, bathrooms, that sort of stuff. It’s the only thing the club’s got to make money and we always grab money off it for when we want to buy a van or something. It needs some bloody work done on it, but when that’ll happen I dunno.
The climbing fraternity seems pretty strong at the moment. When I came along there were a lot of good climbers from England that spurred things along, but after they sort of did their dash it died right off, it was struggling for a while there so it’s great to see lots of alpine trips running again.
The club’s had its ups and downs over the years but I reckon it’s ticking along quite blimmin well right now. There’s lots of trips on the schedule and that’s so good to see.