|TOO FUN IN THE TWO THUMB|
Too Fun adventures... this is taken right near the tiger
So we spent most of a day scheming and planning on a loop which would carry us on ski and by foot around the Two Thumb Peaks themselves. We left late on Tuesday and drove down to Mesopotamia where we camped. The weather was beautiful in the morning (as predicted) and views up to a very snow clad Cloudly Peak were impressive. We were optimistic about the amount of snow around.
We started up towards Black Birch Creek, crossing paddocks and deer fences with packs festooned with skis and boots proving a tad awkward. As we entered the first gorge of Black Birch Creek we realised there wasn't actually a track and we weren't really sure if there even was a route up this creek! But then we figured there was Dog Kennel Biv at the head of it, so there must be a way up.
After a bit of boulder bashing we climbed steeply out of the stream, then back down again. The river opened up for a bit, then a second gorge appeared. Some careful manoeuvres were required around a slippery, loose cliff face and then we climbed up out of the river and popped out on a lovely beech forested shelf above the gorge. We grinned, this was a perfect start to the 'Too Fun' trip.
|Climbing out of Black Birch Stream above the second gorge|
|Chris at Dog Kennel Biv|
|Descending from Cassandra Col in the fading light|
|Morning in the rain in the Trojan Stream|
We slogged up and finally reached the ridge in a near white out, with snow blasting us from the west. Chris disappeared from my view and I was thinking about the numerous happy tussocky spots we could have camped in down below us. Suddenly a small rock outcrop appeared and the figure of Chris huddling behind it. I joined him and the wind stopped immediately. This was a great shelter - below us we could see swirling snow and about two metres from the rock was a corniced ridge which dropped away into the whiteness.
"We could camp here" Chris suggested cheerily. I wasn't sure, but the idea of continuing didn't seem a sensible one, so shovels out we started widening our shelter and building a snow wall on one side to stop all the spindrift coming in. Before long we had made a nice little platform to pitch our tent and I jumped in. It was super cosy inside, although all our gear was soaked. Chris sat outside and cooked, which was a tad miserable given he got plastered in spindrift and spent about 30 minutes trying to get the lighter to work after it got wet.
|Our camp high on the ridge in the storm|
In the morning the sun was out, but so was the wind. It buffeted around us, sending swirling spirals of snow up into the air. We investigated the wind loaded slope below us, I was very hesitant about skiing it but after Chris dug around we decided it was actually pretty stable. Cautiously we skied down into the valley, quickly reaching gentler slopes and slushy snow.
|Our camp in the morning after digging out most of our gear|
We gingerly crawled to the edge where the wind abated a little, put on our skis and skied down into the relative shelter of the basin. I felt pretty frazzled by the experience, so we skied on down the hill to find a tussock spot for lunch which was less windy. Huge 'whirling willies' swirled around the peaks above us and the clouds above raced by.
Another delicious wrap with aoli and spinach greens (the last of these sadly) and we felt re-energized for a high traverse to Stag Saddle. The snow was a mixture of hard wind pack or deep mush which your skis sank down into. Fortunately for me, my weight, ski width and pack size all combined to mean I generally stayed above the snow and could actually ski, where Chris sank down deep and face planted regularly. It is very rare for me to find the going easier than him, so I shamelessly revelled in it.
|Chris having fun in the soft snow, Stag Saddle behind and left|
Chris enjoying the tussock skiing
On reaching Royal Hut we had a gear explosion in the setting rays of sun, trying to dry soaked everything, including our beloved "Spoonbill" sleeping bag. Royal Hut was a great spot for the night and we slept very well in the relative calm of the hut compared to the flapping, spindrift filled night before.
|Royal explosion at Royal Hut|
|Warm enough for a dip!|
|Our camp in the morning... looks sunny|
|Mt Caton basin, Brabazon Saddle in the background|
Near the top of Mt Caton the wee pass we reached looks directly West. It was impossible to stand, we crawled to the edge and peered at the howling storm, it was a dark grey colour and roared like a lion. It was then we also noticed that back down valley we could see great dust clouds hurtling down the Rangitata and out to the coast. This really was a tiger!!
|Near the head of the basin... dust clouds becoming apparent|
Heading down fast ... ferocious wind storm escaping photography
We had to sidle around steep tussock slopes and then on down the spur to the hut. The valley reverberated with the wind and thunder and it was a magnificent feeling to close the old tin door of the hut and have a shelter over our heads. We cooked up some noodles and then Chris said "What was that river like to cross on the way out last time you were here?" I remembered Bush Stream being a steep mountain stream, fine at normal levels but this could be a problem...
The Bush Stream had become a raging torrent, a mixture of big snow melt from the warm winds and now rain from the deluge as well. Neither of us felt at all comfortable to try and cross, but then Chris being Chris spotted a fallen tree across a rapid further up river. Without really thinking he shimmied out onto the log and then almost completely submerged himself in the fast flowing river as he grappled with the trunk.
He made it across and then back, grabbed my pack and then came back. It was only then that I suddenly realised what a stupid idea this was. Directly below the trunk was another partially submerged one, with the full force of the flooded river rushing into it. Falling in there would be a very bad idea, and shortly after that the river entered a series of nasty looking rapids. Work commitments or not, for me to try to cross this log was a huge mistake.
On saying this Chris agreed with me immediately, only now he had to go back across twice to get the packs. Fortunately by now he had worked out a technique of bridging between both the logs until he was across the swiftest part of the current and could touch the ground again. The sky was lit up around us by flashes of lightening and it definitely wasn't the first time this year I have been reminded how easy it is to make mistakes in the mountains if you let your guard down.
We sullenly trodded back up the hut thinking through many unappealing contingency plans of escape, only to conclude that by far the most pleasant and sensible option was to spend the night in the hut and see if the river had gone down in the morning. We had several more brews, read old Antics magazines and ate chocolate. Just before it got dark we walked back down to the river to discover all that had happened was it had risen further! So we collected some good bundles of firewood and climbed back up the hill for a cosy night in the hut.
The wind howled most of the night and I hoped the old Crooked Spur Hut was reasonably well attached. After a fairly restless night we woke early to see if we could still make it out in time for Chris's meeting. Down the spur we went in the beautiful sunrise, calmer now too. But the river sounded ominous from afar. True to the sound it was still too big for us to safely cross.
We sighed. We would have to go with plan b (there was also a plan c, d and e). We would climb back to the hut (now for the third time), back to the stream from yesterday, then climb up over a saddle onto the Brabazon Ridge. We would descend that back into the Rangitata River thus avoiding any river crossing, but necessitating a 1700m climb, ugh!
We climbed as fast as we could, Chris having removed most of the gear from my pack. The sun was up and it was even quite calm! The calmest day we had had... maybe the Norwest tiger was going to let us escape after all. We ran along parts of the ridge, looking up occasionally to glimpse the sparkling clear mountains on the main divide.
|Beautiful tops travel along Brabazon Ridge, pity we were running late!|
So ended our trip. Chris managed to organise a meeting later in the afternoon. The tiger let us out. We had fun. We made the right decision in the end. End of the story. Till next time (-:
|Enjoying a calm moment on the way home|