Jono, Robert, and I left Wilkinson hut at about 3pm. A well cut track sidles along the Whitcombe until the route charged up a steep rocky creek, spiting our map by having no signs of a track at all. We had a few Issues with loose rocks, but on the whole getting to Price Basin was very smooth and we got there just before dark. It is definitely a route that is easier to come up than down.
I have never been to a hut marked on maps as rarely visited as Price Bain. We were the first group there for seven months, and the last couple had coppered in. They had also left a goon behind, which was not nearly as bad as it could have been. It made in following rain day a little more entertaining.
In manky drizzle we climbed rapidly through the tussock and up to a slate covered ridge. Things got less wet, but more interesting around 1860, and we looked for an easy route to the left. This was a scramble upon atrociously lose slaty scree. The rock was so lose, that when we did find something solid we got the rope out. Around the corner was a less avoidable rock step, on which a rope felt quite warranted. A should out to Rob who led both. At point 2084 we realised we were not too sure where to decent the cirque. The route guide had been left at Neave. We ended out possibly pioneering an dubious route down a moraine gut which ended in a waterfall we had to rappel.
Walking around the last few hundred meters of beech felt like walking into mythology. Ivory Lake is a place I’ve heard stories of and seen on calendars as long as I have been tramping. To actually get there was profoundly rewarding, and to arrive on day seven of the most complicated tramp I have ever tried made it even more so, no one could stop grinning all afternoon. Not only is the view of the cirque perfect, the panorama is completed with canyons dropping away right behind the hut, and snow capped peaks pushing into the clouds. Many toasties were made, and the armchair came on some adventures.
The next morning we made the call not to try Steadman Brow in dubious visibility but to head down the Waitaha. This meant we wouldn’t be able to meet up with Anita and Emma. Somehow we had not printed out the route guide for the valley, and when we got to Upper Waitaha hut at about 12 30 the number of desperate and dire accounts in the hut book surprised us somewhat.
Some of the warning in the lower huts made the travel sound even more atrocious, and i’m very glad we were walking downstream so we didn’t have these ominous words echoing in our ears.
Instead of boldly running against daylight we spent the afternoon bouldering. Much to our surprise, and the surprise of meteorologists, we ended up walking in persistent rain and rising water for the next two days. Despite poor conditions lighted parks and sheer silliness of the rock hopping helped us make good time, and it only took 7 1/2 hours to get to moonbeam. Walking out to the road end was made harder by the now very real flood. Crossing moonbeam torrent took some thinking, and below Morgan George the DOC track was at times waist deep and needed to be avoided.
Halfway between Upper Waitaha and Moonbeam we found a bag of bolting gear with a phone number and a request for return. It had been left behind during an attempt as a source to sea kayak descent of the Waitaha river, an idea which fills me with dread. We were able to contact the owner via our almost-sat-phone, and avoided having to walk about 15 km’s of gravel to get onto the highway. It was only now we heard that one party in four who head up the Waitaha pull their PLB!
This is a trip which pushed me in a bunch of ways. Travel was consistently at the most difficult end of my expectations, and I was regularly surprised. With such unpredictable and dubious weather there was a real sense of isolation and commitment. The biggest lesson from hindsight is that we should have done some more recent group training. One or two hard weekends with heavy packs, and Lauper stream would not have come as quite so much of a shock. I found the adventure I was looking for though, and a place where tramping left as hard as mountaineering. I am hooked and cannot wait to go back to the west coast.