West Coast best coast. Part 1:  Anita’s story

Ivan Andrews and friends from the Victoria University of Wellington Tramping Club (VUWTC) were awarded an FMC Youth Scholarship in 2017 for a Southern Alps crossing from the Rakaia to the West Coast via the Bracken snowfield and Ivory Lake Hut.

Ivan starts the story, recalling the group’s journey through to Neave Hut. Then Anita Radcliffe explains the adventure after she and Emma ditched the lads….   In part two you’ll get to hear what happened to the boys… 

A true sense of adventure is becoming harder to find in the Tararuas. They are wonderful fun and often challenging, but the ridges and creeks flow with a rhythm I am used to. There is a comfortable predictability, not a new surprise lurking around each corner. The west coast is different.

This motivated me to try something deeper and longer in the mountains that I had before. An optimistic plan to cross the Alps via the Braken snowfield and Ivory lake was hatched. Food was dehydrated and excitement levels rose. Who exactly was coming on the trip got a bit shuffled around, unfortunately the only member of the team who had done any west coast tramping pulled out at the 11th hour. It was a perfect result for adventure and surprises. In the end our group was five: Anita Radcliffe, Robert Laurenson, Emma Strack, Jono Vo, and myself. I had met Jono at Paynes ford nearly 2 months early earlier, and we had enjoyed much of the summer tramping around the Kahurangi, Arthurs Pass and Mt Cook. We only invited him to join this quest the day before we left. The shopping was a chaotic time in the Hell that is Riccarton Mall.

We met the Christchurch 4WD club in Methven. I had emailed them some months earlier about possible acces up the Rakaia, and they had offered to give us a lift. After some faff at Methven, we were off bright and early up the mighty Rakaia. Never having been in a 4WD before, I found the repeated fording of the Raikia from the heights of the Toyota Land Cruisers hugely impressive. Those things seemed to break physics.

Unfortunately they were no match for the large rocks of the upper Rakaia. We were dropped off, gathered out packs and said goodbye just before Evans Hut, where we each downed a warm double brown.

Our original plan had been to wander up the Sale Glacier and cautiously descend Katzenbach ridge, which oddly enough translates as kitten stream. This seemed like a bad idea with three days of downpour on the forecast.

Whitcomb pass still had some trials and tribulations to offer us. Differences in fitness which might not have been obvious on a weekend trip became very apparent with a generous 10 days of food, and half a gear shed on our backs. Small sections of very viscous bush bashing evoked a range of emotions. All up we spent about 14h crossing the pass, with a camp half way up the Lauper.

All tucked up at Neave hut, it rained heavily for the following two days, even the little creek near the hut became borderline uncrossable. Reading and toasties gave way to nude frolicking in the rain as cabin fever set in.

A lot of time was taken discussing our plans. Anita, the Chief Guide from last year, was not feeling as strong as she had hoped, and offered to walk down the Whitcombe. After some deliberation, we agreed that we had plenty of gear, and to split the group down fitness lines, her and Emma would walk down the Whitcombe, and Jono, Robert and I might be able to try something more like our initial objectives. Then a new forcast came though and we figured we would have to stick together.

The rain ceased mid morning our fourth day, and we set off downriver. At some point Robert pointed out that the weather was really getting pretty good, and that if we did split up afterall, we might be able to get to Price Basin that evening. We split, hopping to rejoin the others in Price Flats in a few days, having got there via Steadman Brow.

Anita’s Story!

The Ladies hung around Wilkinson hut in the sun, which we hadn’t seen for what seemed like eternity. The next day we waited until late morning for the rain to stop, then headed downstream towards Price Flat hut. This took us much longer than expected, as my knees were not ok with carrying an additional 30kgs of weight over rough terrain. Also the classic West Coast tramping was a bit of a step up from our homely Tararua peaks, with huuuuge slips and tracks which turned into deep side creeks.

We reached Price Flat on dark, and promptly stripped off and had a ‘shower’ under the high tap outside.

The next day we had arranged to meet the boys on Steadman Brow, so we got up at the bright and early hour of 11am, and set off up the most beautifly cut track that leads up to Cropp. This track had shiny new triangles at regular and logical intervals and made for very fast, easy going. Thank you to whoever recently refreshed the track, much appreciated! We reached the top of the Brow in golden sunlight, and had epic views of the whole valley and almost to Ivory Lake.

We set up some cairns to guide the boys down, and returned to Price Flat for the evening, spotting three Whio bobbing down the river just before the historic hut.

A deep sleep was interrupted by deer rubbing against the hut. Hunters take note. We gave up on the boys to return and set off for Frews late (see the theme here), having a rather miserable time, with sunburn, sore knees and losing the track a couple of times. Another rest day was spent at Frews in the rain, helped by the boxes and boxes of National Geographics available.

The West Coast rain kept coming the following day, and the routine of tea, Nat Geo and sleeping bag nesting was started. With mild cabin fever setting in, we missioned down to the nearest side stream in bare feet to see how stuck we were… surprise, the creek was merely ankle deep! Hurriedly we packed and started walking, only for the rain to come back with a vengeance. Committed, we continued on, bouldering next to a large, brown Whitcombe.

A couple of side streams in the gorge had become a little sketch, but we made it through and were nearly at Rapid Creek hut when, alas, the track just before the hut went back into the side stream. This side stream was very obviously in flood, so we whipped out the minaret we had been carting around and set up a very soggy camp on the track.

The following day, the creek had halved in size, and we set off, ready for a shower and some clean clothes. Passing through a few trillion sandflies, we emerged at Hokitika Gorge, where we saw the first non-feral humans in 11 days. We felt very dirty in comparison with these soap-scented tourists, and each had a quick wash in the toilets (In the basin. With soap.).

We tried with no luck to get a ride with one of the hundred of tourists, and set off walking down the road. Eventually we got a ride out to Hokitika, only to discover that the boys had emerged before us.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the story… Visit our website to learn more about the FMC Youth Expedition Scholarships

Wilderlife