Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Tara Tama 'Cruise'

Fine views on an evening descent from Tara Tama
After a busy finish to the year, organising our annual "Christmas Rogaine" and finishing off the school year, we felt it would be only appropriate to squeeze in a pre Christmas adventure. The forecast was looking great and we had a few keen beans to join us - Chris's Dad Ian, our excellent adventure companion from way back Crispin and our orienteering mate and all round keen bean Georgia.

This was actually Georgia's trip, with a fewer minor 'amendments' by Chris (ie. make it longer, harder, more mountains etc) and was sold to me as a 'nice and cruisey' given that my knee is still in a bad way and I have been resting it for the past few months. We drove up to Arthurs, leaving later than expected as Cris only flew down from Nelson at 6.30pm that day, and managed to organise a night at Geoff and Wendy's lovely bach (this bach also has a spa!).

In the morning the last of the front was still lingering at the pass, so we lay in bed gazing up at the beach forest and raindrops on the window. Ian put on a record and we drank coffee, lamenting that a few days spent hanging out at the bach doing jigsaw puzzles wouldn't be a bad option either! But the sun was peeping through by now, so we packed up and piled back into Georgia's wee Toyota Corolla.

Heading down the Otira viaduct the brakes shuddered as 5 heavy trampers and their packs tested the car's abilities. Safely down we parked at the Rolleston River and headed up valley, crossing a fairly high Rolleston River and then boulder bashing on up stream. I could tell I had lost fitness and confidence with my sore knee as the rest of the party skipped off ahead of me. Luckily we had distributed the weight at the beginning, so I had an incredibly light pack.
Chris in the Rolleston River
En Route up the Rolleston
Boulder hopping
Looking towards Philistine and Waimak Col
The weather continued to clear and we sat in sun eating sardines and drinking fresh mountain water from the stream - I was on a high just to be back tramping in the hills. We then had a steep bash up out of the Rolleston River to lake Florence. Chris and Cris enjoyed a fairly sketchy climb over a bluff, while Georgia and I followed a proud Ian, who led the way through a scrubby but relatively easier route up.

Up on the ridge the climbing was easier and we climbed up until we were overlooking Lake Florence. We ate lunch and made the decision to sidle around Mt Armstrong instead of straight over it based on the time of day and distance we still intended to travel. We skirted around some shingle, over some snow and then up to a small saddle directly beneath Mt Armstong. From here we could see down into Hunt's Creek and the way across to Bjeveld Col (which we all came up with a different way of pronouncing!).

Georgia is excited about the trip ahead
Ascending snow slopes above Lake Florence
At the Col we had thought about heading down over 'Taipo's Breast' (primarily because of the name, which for some reason Cris, Chris and Ian seemed very excited about) but instead decided a quicker way would be to head down a massive scree which lead almost directly into the Taipo River. It was a long way down and we had to administer some first aid to poor Ian when he scraped a pile of skin off his shin - he muttered about 'thin skin' and 'getting old' but then continued to move down the scree at a pace that left the rest of us in his dust.
A break at the top of the big scree
Half way down the big scree
At the end of the scree we entered a slippery gully, then a dense bush bashing section, then all of a sudden we popped out on the track. It felt wonderful to walk on the track, my knee was feeling it a bit by now and Ian was saying he felt tired. We headed up the track, across a mighty swingbridge and located the lovely Julia Hut at about 9pm - after our first 'cruisy' tramping day, yeah right!

After dinner (which was a fairly massive undertaking trying to feed 5 hungry people) we decided we had better check out the hot pools. We saw a sign painted on a tree directing us down river, so we put on headlamps and wandered out for a look. The river was pretty high, either from the recent rain or snowmelt, and we became increasingly worried the pools may be completely submerged. But after about 10 minutes travelling downstream we were struck by the strong smell of sulphur and located a 5cm puddle amongst boulders that was hot.

From that moment the excavation began. We quickly realised we forgot to take the shovel provided in the hut for this exact purpose - but never mind, we were with the Forne's - master rock movers! In minutes they were hauling up boulders and the pool was growing. After about an hour we had a pool that was about 2 feet deep and big enough for two people to lie in alongside each other.
Hot pool feet
We stripped off and took it in turns to enjoy the pool, which did feel wonderful on sore joints! I even spotted some little glowworms twinkling at us on the riverbank as we lay in there, we could hear the Taipo River roaring beside us and the stars twinkled above. All feeling bathed and sulphur smelling, we walked back to the hut for a good sleep.

The sun was out bright in the morning, and we were a bit late getting started. We wanted to travel upstream and find a place to cross the Taipo, as the bridge by the hut marked on our map didn't appear to exist anymore. The travel upstream was following an old track and after about an hour we reached the place we planned to cross. A quick scout soon revealed that none of us were happy about crossing here - the river was high, swift and steep, with little cascades coming down amongst large boulders.
Chris crosses the swing bridge heading 'up' Taipo
Blue pool and blue duck... but can you spot it?
A short debate ensued, with Cris sitting well clear on a rock nearby enjoying the sun, and the rest of us putting in our spoke. In the end my spoke kind of won (I think) and we decided to head back downstream to Mid Taipo Hut, then up to Dunn Creek Hut, climb Tara Tama Peak in the evening and then all going to plan get down to Scotties Biv before dark (and this was the soft option!!!).

Resolved on our new plan we headed back to Julia Hut (it was now midday) and then on down river. The track was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed the valley walk. We reached Dunn Creek Hut by 5pm and had a quick cook up of noodles. Dunn Creek seemed like an excellent spot to stop, but what more fun could there be than bagging a peak in the late summer evening?
Beautiful walking 'down' Taipo
The route seemed straightforward - we continued on up a track to an avalanche gully, then boulder hopped quickly and steeply up. The terrain steepened and we climbed amongst beautiful alpine flowers. Someone mentioned there could be a 'broccolanche' and from then on we climbed up in fear of such an occurrence.
Excellent climbing out of Dunn Creek
Open tops of Tara Tama
Georgia weaves through the boulders
There was quite a lot of cloud hanging around the top of the peaks, but the wee glimpses of blue I kept seeing above made me think we might just pop out of it on top. Sure enough, after winding up some gentle snow slopes and climbing across some 'plate like' boulder fields we popped out of the cloud on the gentle curving snow ridge to the top of Tara Tama. It really was majestic and we whooped with delight, what better place to be than here?
On top of... Tara Tama!
A fine team on top!
Evening descent from Tara Tama

Spectacular clouds
Inside Scotties Biv
Scotties in the moonlight
The clouds melted away as we descended the ridge and started to climb down a fairly steep gully in the diminishing light. By now it was 9pm and we knew we needed to reach Scotties Biv before dark or risk a 'grumpy Ian!' The downhill was hard on my knee (and usual ankle issues) but finally we reached a scrubby stream, had a short bush bash uphill and we were at the Biv just as it got dark. Another amazing day - cruisy though? not so sure!

It got quite cold at the Biv and we sat round shivering, eating and discussing plans for the next day. Ian (and Chris and I) had agreed to a family dinner at his sister's place on Christmas Eve - which was the following day. Dinner was to be at 6pm, sharp. We had a big day to get out from Scotties, hitch hike back to the car and drive back to Christchurch. It was going to be tight... and as for cruisy?

Up at dawn felt hard, but once we had eaten porridge, coffee and the sun had risen it didn't feel so bad. We first had a big grunt back up the ridge, with the Forne boys way out in front. On the ridge we had multiple tops to climb, but the going was good and we made quick progress. A large cloud appeared obscuring the ridge in front of us, and we considered it could be a 'Belrog', but it seemed to let us pass.
Ian and Georgia on the ridge
Chris on ridge
We got down into dracaphylum land and smashed our way downhill until we spotted a track marker. The track was steep and tricky, and felt fairly typically like a west coast ridge track. We met a nice fellow clearing the track who was heading up to Scotties Biv that night (he would be up there on Christmas Day!) and we thanked him for his work. This track is not a Doc maintained track, but a track maintained by the Permolate group who look after many remote tracks and huts on the West Coast.

The descent seemed to take forever, but eventually we heard the rumble of the Taipo River and soon enough popped out on its rocky bank. The river was still big, but braided here and looked crossable. We wandered downstream and found a deep but relatively calm section. It looked good, but was followed by a fairly big rapid so we wanted to be smart about crossing. We linked up together, started well upstream and headed out into the river with good forward momentum.

A couple of times one or other of us lost touch of the ground, but we held on tight and before long we all emerged soaking but safe out of the river. Just then something back on the other side caught Georgia's eye and she said "I don't want to alarm anyone...but there appears to be a small red thing back on the other side!" We all looked and spotted Chris's forlorn little mountaineering helmet sitting on the opposite bank - he had forgotten to put it on in his hurry to organise to cross. He sighed, popped down his pack and jumped back in. He swum strongly across the main flow, retrieved the helmet on head, and then swam back across again. He grinned sheepishly as we all headed for a warm looking patch of grass and nice lunch spot.

Water women?
In order to make our 6pm Christchurch deadline Chris decided to run on ahead and try to flag down a ride back to our car, then drive back to pick us up. We did a bit of pack rearranging and then Chris headed off at a trot. We followed behind at a more leisurely pace and enjoyed the final easy km's out to the road end where Chris was waiting smugly with the car.

It was a long drive back to Christchurch, but we made it just an hour late for the dinner. It was time enough to enjoy the buzz of having had an excellent, albeit not-so-cruisey tramp and to set down some plans for a post Christmas tramp... it looked like the high was set to continue!

Leaving Scotties Biv in the morning

Our route, roughly.