January 7th-8th, 2019

It seems this season of adventure has now been cut short by a nasty virus and a very necessary quarantine. This is a big test for all us adventure sorts — how long can you last without getting a backcountry fix? It took me all of about 2 days to resort to running around 10km in my backyard. So, I’ve turned to old adventures for a fix, some of which were more successful than others. 

Of course, last summer was officially known by the phrase ‘The Mountains Say No!’ and this trip was of course no exception. Originally the week I had off work was intended for a long expedition-based trip like in the good old uni days, and I had unfinished business with both the Olivine Ice Plateau and the Gardens. However, the mountains said no and I ended up hatching a plan with my good friend Max Olsen for an ambitious overnight mission in Fiordland, to match a brief (and in the end barely existent) weather gap.

The plan was to go from Moraine Creek to Tutoko Valley, spending the night in Turner’s Eyre along the way. This is big country in Fiordland, as well as tiger country, and we weren’t sure it was even possible, with the likely crux being partway through the second day descending into Tutoko Valley. And no, I won’t share where Max’s intended line was — make your own adventure! And also, we now have unfinished business with this one . . .

So needless to say, we had to go pretty fast and light to even have a chance of making it, but things really didn’t end up quite how we planned. Last minute Joel and Katherine joined our trip (adding to the excellent company), but of course faff unfortunately increases exponentially with group size, no matter how fast and efficient the group members are! We set off bright and early the next day, and for a time it was bright.

The Moraine Creek track (which was rough as ever) was the least of our problems, as we quickly veered off up the gut to follow the route around under point 1362 to Rainbow Lake.

This route was quite entertaining in places, with a lot of loose rock and some very tenuous vegetation hand holds.

There was a fixed line in one place, and we ended up fixing another hand line to protect some of the more exposed top sections before making it to the lake. Around Rainbow Lake the contours appear to mellow quite a bit, but the terrain definitely remains tiger country.

Progress was, however, fairly rapid up and over the saddle by 1527 and then a bit slower over the saddle by 1709. By this time it had stopped being so bright, so route finding was a bit more difficult and the slab we were scrambling felt a bit tenuous in places, to me at least, particularly as it started to become damp. So, our friend the rope made another appearance, with the ever associated faff.

On the far side of the pass was ledge upon ledge of beautiful slab, finding a way through which was much like solving a maze. As in between ledges the slab was punctuated by steep sections, which one had to find a safe route down.

By this time to add to the gathering mist, there was also likely to be gathering dark long before we made it to Turner’s Eyre that night.

We hadn’t really prepared for an eventuality where we didn’t make it and wouldn’t just be able to sleep out, as it really wasn’t forecast to be closing in until at least tomorrow. But of course, this was the season where the mountains said no, and they were saying no again now.

Luckily, Max said yes. This meant he knew of a tent stashed very close to where we were right around dinner time. So, we located this tent, which turned out to be a moulded 2-man outdated Macpac event, with broken poles. We used the pegs to fix the poles. And then repeated the process after a light breeze during pitching rebroke all the poles in new places!

It was a beautiful location and evidently Fiordland agreed with our decision to not push on with the journey, as it treated us to some beautiful Fiordland misty mountain and glacial sunset magic.

Four of us with very lightweight mats in a mouldy 2-man tent was a very cramped experience — basically we just slept on top of each other, more cramped than any adventure racing experience I’ve had to date. 

Fiordland, however, wanted to make sure we weren’t complacent and so made sure we set off in damp low visibility, just to drive the message home. I took an unexpected slide on some snow heading back to our first saddle. Nothing like a good scare early in the morning to remind you that you are in for an epic! I had some good abseils back off the slab we had climbed up yesterday. A high visibility rope was a great visibility aid, so it was very easy to see where it got stuck after our second abseil. Unfortunately, the only solution to this was to climb back up and start again.

Not long after this, Fiordland did decide that it had driven the message home enough and the mist lifted, allowing us to see essentially the exact same views of Rainbow Lake as before. The retreat back down from Rainbow Lake was best done as a series of abseils owing to loose rock. Lower down we struggled to find a route down, as the way we had climbed up by the waterfall the day before was very much an up route, not a down route. After an entertaining bush abseil, we got back on solid ground to find an old fixed line not far from where we had been. Clearly, we were not the only ones having some trouble with the route.

Darkness was again closing around us and supplies were running short, so we pounded a bag of raro between us and made a mad dash for the track. The Moraine Creek track is even more interesting in the dark. Certainly it was never designed to be followed at such a time of day! But we eventually managed to follow it out and traversing a 3-wire bridge in the pitch black by the light of a head torch was certainly an interesting experience.

We made it back to the car just in time to crash out for the night in the nearest campsite around 1am in the morning. We then had fun explaining to the DoC ranger at 6am just what we were doing there! At least an epic trip leaves a good story for those times when you can’t go out.

To follow Penzy’s blog and view all the photos from her trip, visit her blog at Southerly Storm: Te Puoho Glacier. Photos courtesy of Southerly Storm Photography.