Part 2  A sweltering Southern Alps Traverse

In hindsight it’s easy to look back and ask ourselves why we didn’t do more side trips since the weather was so good.

Dulkara Martig continues the story of her Arthurs Pass to Mt Cook mission. If you haven’t already, check out Part 1 here on Wilderlife

When it’s so sunny, in the back of your mind you’re always thinking ‘It must be turning bad soon, we’d better keep moving’. We kept to our shared vision of making the top priority a point A to point B journey.

Another wide east coast river valley was a welcome change from seas of moraine and scree in the upper catchments. After feasting on free food at McCoy Hut two of us headed to a sweet swimming hole for a dip. The Southern Alps summer vacation continued!

Our 13th night was spent camping in a nor’wester with dust swirling all around. Our alarm went off at 3:45am and we went for a wander up Mount Nolan where we found some epic scree running, seas of matagouri and counted 20 animals!

Around this time the days started to blur. I personally find something special about trips that are 10+ days long. On any outdoor trip, in the first few days you are transitioning out of the urban world. And the few days before you return home your mind is already starting to come back to the urban world. You need a solid chunk of time in the middle that is neither, where you can be fully present in nature. On long trips you become part of the landscape instead of merely rushing past. You get to really live out there – get into routines, have a slower pace of life, see life from a whole new perspective.

The sunshine continued and we headed up the Havelock River to Growler Hut where our next re-ration was waiting for us. We’d started a tradition of taking a group photo outside each hut we passed.

The 20-something huts on our trip became a highlight of the journey.

Many of the hut books on our trip dated back 20 years, illustrating a strong connection to place. It’s not just the physical place but the stories, the characters and the lessons that combine to make your experience.

The journey was a good reminder that we have so many special places in our backyard. So many New Zealanders have moved through the same valleys and added stories to the mountains. I came away with a stronger connection to the Southern Alps and a greater appreciation of our unique outdoor culture in New Zealand.

We continued heading east via the Forbes River and Twilight Col, down the Butcher Glacier and into the Godley Valley.

In the Godley Valley we finally walked in raincoats!

At Red Stag Hut we picked up another stash of food which had been driven in by 4WD by Inga’s neighbours in Luggate. The Godley River proved tricky to cross and I was regretting our decision to not bring a packraft. It took a couple of hours of scouting until we finally found a spot where it was crossable.

The end was in sight now and we were almost a week ahead of schedule. Our plan A route was to take the Joie de Vivre and Classen Glaciers to get access to the head of the Murchison Valley and Murchison Hut. With a storm due to roll through in a few days time, however, we decided on a more conservative option. We’d have to leave some routes for future adventures.

We scrambled up Rutherford Stream and over Armadillo Saddle into the Murchison.

At this point we had two main options – leg it out to Mount Cook Village or make our way onto the Tasman Glacier.

Some patchy weather made us decide to just head out around a week early instead of risking getting stuck in the mountains. A couple of the crew had promised to be back in time for family Christmas!

Feeling small in the big landscapes.

We spent a night camping on the edge of the Tasman Lake before continuing down valley to spend our final night at Liebig Hut. The sun was still shining.

Before we knew it we’d tackled the matagouri, negotiated the moraine and were sitting on the edge of Tasman Lake looking at tourist boats.

A tour-operator, Doug, pulled into the shore with a group on board and said he’d be back to pick us up. He took us the scenic way across the lake, whizzing past some sweet icebergs.

We soon found ourselves at the pub in Mt Cook Village with no tales of epic survival to share!

This journey reminded me of the beauty of getting to know my own backyard intimately.

Let’s toast to simple living and spending as much time as possible outdoors with good people, in wild places. Happy adventuring!

I would like to thank the FMC for the Youth Expedition Scholarship, NOLS for supporting myself and Inga through the Instructor Development Fund, MAProgress for providing live GPS tracking during our journey and Em’s Power Cookies for fuelling us through the alps – most of us ate 3 Em’s Cookies per day for the whole trip!

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