Ambles and Rambles – two kiwi lasses ask the big questions on a two month adventure

Many of our articles focus on particular trips, events or opinions, but the team at Wilderlife thought we’d occasionally cast a spotlight on a few outdoor good sorts, to dig deeper into the wonderful individuals who make up our vibrant outdoor community.

The Ambles and Rambles team, Izzie Ravn and Shannon Bennett, did something remarkable this summer. The following photos and words give insight into what they did and why they did it. 

In an effort to find clarity away from the distractions of modern society, Izzie and Shannon decided to spend as much time in the mountains over the course of one summer as possible. Motivated to get out of her “well cushioned, musty smelling place [called] the comfort zone,” Izzie sought out this trip as a challenge.  With a “deep interest in psychology and mental health issues,” Shannon took this extended nature ‘prescription’ to improve her creative thinking. She views the outdoors as “the best kind of therapy [for] our very sped-up and industrialised planet.”

They both shared the desire to get into parts of this country that are rarely explored and to exercise their freedom in writing their own futures and taking the time in the great expanse of the outdoors to evolve as individuals.

Izzie’s words are quoted below (unless otherwise noted).

“Gazing up at New Zealand’s lofty peaks gives us butterflies, and it was time to let them loose, exploring wild places from the ruggedly lush Kahurangi National Park, all the way south to the exquisitely, expansive Fiordland National Park.

In order to begin our story, you must first understand who we are. As millennials, we often have a hard time defining this ‘who we are’ business, but for right now, we are simply two unemployed, ever-changing, enthusiastic, unconventional mid 20 year old ladies, trying to find a little clarity in our ever growing complex world. Perhaps two months in the mountains would provide this clarity: two souls, ample amounts of pondering time and limited 21st century distractions.

Fast friends – Izzie and Shannon

Shannon and I met while both guiding on the Routeburn Track. With a perspective on life that was very different to anyone I had met, a friendship was quickly formed. Over two summers of guiding, we delved into the mountains any chance we could get, rarely together as work schedules often did not allow.”

“A proud South Islander with a rather obsessive nature,” Izzie has dabbled widely – from growing up on a farm to studying makeup artistry to spending two summers as a makeup-less guide in Fiordland. The lure of physical connection in places suited to pushing her limits brought Izzie back to the mountains and keeps her seeking them today. Shannon grew up in the small rural town of Te Puke on the East Coast of the North Island on dairy farms with parents who lived close to the land. Her appreciation for the outdoors developed strong from an early age. 

“It wasn’t until reading the book So Far So Good: A Three-Month Traverse of the Southern Alps, by Craig Potton that the seed [for a long-form adventure] was planted. 

I studied topographical maps and trawled through online trip reports, concluding that over the space of two months, we could fit in 13 circuits, with an average time frame of 9 days, packing in climbs of glaciated mountains and crossing crevassed ice plateaus, using a car to shuttle us in-between locations.

Shannon crossing the Olivine Ice Plateau

The devil was in the detail, and all of these planned routes were slightly out of our skill set. Shannon had no experience on snow and ice, and while I had done a little, it wasn’t nearly enough to safely carry out these trips. We decided we’d just see what happened and left January and February completely free. 
But, we did have a plan of what we wanted to take away from these months. Two ladies in the mountains, pursuing not only physical challenges, but reflection and growth internally. What the mind, body and spirit can accomplish in the outdoors is something we wished to challenge.

We set off from Te Puke, driving Donna (Shannon’s faithful 1996 Toyota Carob) all the way down to the northern part of Kahurangi National Park, beginning a daunting sounding route called the Dragon’s Teeth. After seeing the new year in with kombucha and corn chips, we were well rested and rearing to go. 2019 lurched into a scorcher of a summer, with bright blue skies, crisp red noses and parched mouths. We won’t give you the feature length version of our two months in the mountains, so what follows is the highlights reel.

Shannon contemplates Lake Adelaide and the Dragon’s Teeth beyond

Days one through three involved dripping heat on our way to Boulder Lake, camel-like consumption of water, dodgy swamp water boiling, and searching for a ‘large cairn’ in the Anatoki River that turned out to be a wild goose chase. Finding no ‘large cairn’, we blazed our own trail up the SE ridge out of the Anatoki through thick bush. On this day, a swear jar was created. Day one – Shannon’s total was $15, and mine $10. This was going to be an expensive few months.

Day 13 found us in Arthurs Pass National Park, well into the three passes route. Pope’s Pass was on the agenda today, but first a lovely zig zag up Browning Pass and a quick dip in Browning Lake to freshen up at the top. Our planned sidle route became too steep and we adjusted to continue climbing instead of sidling, which conveniently took us up Mt Harman. From the summit we had panoramic views of the whole park, and spent our lunch break naming peaks, dancing and having a photo shoot.

Shannon scrambling up Mt Harman

The celebration may have been a little premature, as the afternoon opened another can of worms. Heading down from Mt Harman, we shimmied across steep scree and ice, dodged bluffs and a rather large, unmapped waterfall. Relieved to have reached the valley and a dry Julia Creek, I expressed my gratitude for the lack of water in the creek. As if the creek heard me, Julia began to trickle, flow, then gush her way down the valley in a series of ferocious waterfalls, all occurring within 50 meters. Thick bush covered both sides of the river, and after a couple of dodgy moves, including trying to scale a waterfall, a rock cairn was spotted up to the right of the river. The bush did its best to block our path, but the cairn was found and the track discovered.

After an 11 hour day, we arrived at Julia Hut, where a man, looking as I envision Jesus would, informed us of the hot springs. ‘THE HOT SPRINGS?!’ We chimed together in disbelief. The sulphur seemed to soften the suffering of the day.

On day 18 we woke in Douglas Rock Hut to beautiful clear skies, after a classic west coast downpour for the past few days. My cornrowed hair was as crisp as the weather, perfect for a crack at Copland Pass. However, when we reached the last 250 meter steep scree grunt to the pass, a thick, wet mist rolled in, laced with a bitterly cold wind. Would we get a view from the top? I took one last strained step on the loose scree, and poked my head over the pass. The view was in fact breath-taking. As I was out of breath, this wasn’t hard to achieve.

Mt Cook stood as a matriarch, the surrounding peaks in submission. The mist surged and swirled over the pass, dissipating in awe. The route down to Copland Shelter, a mere 200 meters below, did not look easy to reach. The glacier was sheer, fractured and glistening in the afternoon sun and we were more than happy to return back the same way we had come. The sleeping bags and cooker we lugged up were put to good use, and we cosily watched the cloud show for hours over a cup of hot chocolate mixed with caramel latte. Wistfully we turned our backs on the vista, and disappeared back into the mist.

Aoraki/Mount Cook as seen from Copland Pass

Day 24; with every relationship, there are highs and lows. This is often intensified in the outdoors with fatigue, hunger, and tricky decisions to be made. We were certainly feeling the tension when in Mt Aspiring National Park, having driven and then walked to the head of the Matukituki Valley in silence. It wasn’t as if we had had a fight, there was just nothing to say. We asked important questions in indifferent tones, such as ‘what do you want for dinner’ or ‘what time shall we get up in the morning’. Having reached a low, I tried to remind myself of why I was out here. Why have I walked 16 km into this valley, with 25 kgs on my back with the intention of spending the week exploring? I mulled it over while drifting off at 8 pm, and I’m sure Shannon did the same.

Awoken by the blare of my alarm, my love of the mountains had been reaffirmed by some good old shut eye and calories. Our plan for the day was to head up Mt Bevan, which would have an epic view of Mt Aspiring. We were both apprehensive about the route, as a friend had suggested that we would need a rope for the descent, which was not in our inventory. As we ate breakfast, Shannon seemed to be detached, lost in her own thoughts. She told me she had little desire to climb Mt Bevan. We set off none the less, but carrying our own lunches, as Shannon wanted to check out the waterfall at the head of the valley.

The day unfolded differently than the morning foretold and by lunch time, we had both successfully summited Mt Bevan. Mt Aspiring rose out of the jagged Bonar Glacier, like a sharks tooth, and we watched as three different climbing parties were wizzed onto Bevan Col by helicopter, in pursuit of the summit. Shannon even tossed out the idea that Aspiring would be an incredible climb one day. I excitedly agreed. We gingerly descended back to our campsite, reflecting on a day that had challenged our friendship and cemented the trust we had in each other, as well as our judgments in risk versus reward.

Izzie and Shannon on the summit of Mt Bevan

Day 35; today was the day. We would set foot on the Olivine Ice Plateau, a place that Dazza (Shannon’s dad) had mentioned was one of the most remote and beautiful places you could get to in New Zealand. He didn’t imagine we would actually set our sights on going there. With day packs, we ascended a rocky stream and sidled cliff faces, but by lunch time I had led us off the intended route. We were up higher than the plateau, yet still on rock. This was where Shannon waved goodbye to her new dry bag containing a head torch, thermal leggings and beanie. We watched as it ricocheted down a waterfall. She drowned her sorrows in an extra cracker. After rerouting, we made it to the ice.

Shannon debuted her brand new ice axe and crampons, and we crunched our way up to Forgotten River Col. Elation washed over us as the expanse of the plateau came into view. How had WE made it to a place so remote and arduous to get to? It is clear to me now – the resilience and support of each other. On another note, if anyone is swinging by there, keep an eye out for an ice axe. Ironically left up the Forgotten River…

Olivine Ice Plateau

With a total of 41 days spent in the mountains together, or 72% or January and February, I certainly learnt a lot. My expectations for this adventure were to summit mountains, build on outdoor skills/experience, push myself physically, and to hopefully figure out my next step in life. All of these were achieved, bar the latter. In addition, it was like a magnifying glass was placed over my personality, and spending such an intense amount of time with one person led to a lot of introspection, which at times was very confronting. The outdoors can be a beautiful, yet formidable place, but to share those experiences with at least one other person is, in my opinion, the greatest joy of the adventure.” 

Better than Netflix – watching the clouds from Mt Armstrong

Izzie and Shannon hope that their summer sojourn will inspire others (women especially) to get out and explore the nature in our backyard, reach beyond the comfort zone to “be the best version of themselves” and feel “completely capable to take on [an] adventure such as ours.” Izzie says, “we live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world!” “How lucky are we that our mountains are protected yet accessible?” Shannon hopes that people will immerse themselves in the outdoors so they can be reminded of, “the importance of preserving this incredible resource for the ecosystems and wildlife that exist there and for the generations to be inspired and replenished by.”
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