This story starts, as many do, during the early hours of the morning in the mighty Riccarton. Despite the darkness, Hamish and Marina were quite happy with their sleep, and begun an optimistic conversation about their preparedness as we pulled up next to Georgia’s house. That convo turned to shit with her addition, that’s for sure. Turns out she’d been roped into CUSSC’s ice skating night and was running on 2 hours sleep plus what was probably a considerable amount of lingering alcohol. At least she was not alone, as we discovered upon picking Luke up in an identical state. The plus side? Quite possibly the most satisfying pit stop to the Sheffield Pie Shop in history! Paired nicely with sugar loaded scones of Hamish’s creation, our battlers were back to the world of the living as we pulled up to the trailhead.
The west coast had put on a stunner of a winter day for us – meaning that although it was cloudier than a hotboxed Impreza, it wasn’t raining or blowing particularly hard. The humidity was getting us just as wet as any storm however, and before long we stopped to strip our overly warm layers in favour of more breathable kit. Georgia’s choice of wearing a tree-shirt was rather unorthodox, and somewhat hindered her mobility.
After an hour or two of slippery climbing, all the warm gear came back on as we emerged into the snow. Gnarly, rocky ridgelines formed a rough route as we traversed up Mt French. Upon summiting, we discovered that the trig station had surrendered under a white flag of snow in a most patriotic fashion.
A penguin huddling lunch break was held atop Marina’s sleeping mat, during which many cheeses were proudly shown off by our domesticated Turophile, Luke. Attempts to trade more lacklustre lunches with such dairy decadence where met with hard refusals, much to Georgia’s dismay.
Further ridgeline following took us to the Summit of Ben Claddagh, but not without struggle. Jagged, rocky detritus marked the way, causing us to occasionally doubt our line choice before spotting neatly cut shrubs – proving that despite our pesky sense of self preservation and aversion to sheer drops, we were heading the right way.
Once summiting, we were treated to absolutely stunning views, given you had a strong ability to envision a scene or a good memory of the photos on the guide website. The thick, impenetrable whiteness of the dense cloud formed a great canvas on which your mind’s eye could paint a stunning vista of the west coast.
As we walked along, taking in the nearby (and only) scenery, we decided that haiku poetry would be the only fitting way to express the sincerity and beauty of the snowy mountains. A group favourite follows:
Snow is slippery as
fuCk FUcK sHiT FucK fuCk sHiT FUCK
Guess I’m down here now
Aside from haikus, parody renditions of “I Can See Clearly Now” could also be heard, thanks to Luke.
Next, we had to drop down into a basin at the head of the Greenstone River, mostly via a fun ice-scree slope. This is not to be confused with ice cream, as ice-scree tends to be a bit crunchier and grittier to chew. Heading up the other side proved far more challenging. Thick leatherwood growth, interspersed with Spaniards and other spikey-mc-nothanks’s, slowed our pace to a crawl as we tried to escape the basin. The guide mentioned an “obvious tussock ramp” leading up the final climb of the day, but Captain Obvious must have been taking a sick day cos we had no clue what they were on about. After backtracking and re-attacking the climb from another point, we eventually emerged onto what one could perhaps call a “ramp”, especially if one liked to get people’s hopes up falsely. Hamish was adamant that the ramp was not up to wheelchair spec, and to call it such was in breach of several engineering regulations.
Topping the ridge as the last of the sun faded away, we kitted up with headlights and warm gear for the final descent to the rock bivvy. Though the rock was a bloody big bastard in the middle of a tussock field, our headlights failed to light up much more than the cloud a few metres away from us, so they were about as much use as our “night vision” that Luke insisted we use in their place. Having failed to load up on carrots before the trip, we stuck with the headlights instead, and slipped, slided, scrabbled and shrub-bashed our way through the rocks and roughage. Our shins were bruised and scraped from the days bush bashing already – this final push was definitely not helping either.
Despite knowing the biv was frustratingly close as the kea flies, we were forced to take the route the weka walks. After what seemed like an age of pushes through bushes and feets in creeks, Hamish realised he was walking in what would have been the shadow of a promisingly large boulder (had we arrived before sunset). Getting perhaps a bit head of himself, he made plenty of noises befitting the cave dweller he was hoping to shortly become and attempted a direct charge though some particularly thick bushes. After un-stucking himself, he and Georgia made a more sensible approach and to their absolute delight, found themselves, finally, wonderfully, at the biv! As Georgia called Luke and Marina over, Hamish turned the rock-biv into a rock-home by grabbing his speaker and blasting “Pump it Up” – as is quickly becoming CUTC tradition.
We hungry trampers soon filled up after a long day, featuring an interesting shared meal of pasta, kranksies, veg, and a questionable “tasty” “cheese” “sauce”. It was the kind of meal to be unappealing anywhere but under a rock amongst the snow, but thankfully that’s exactly where we found ourselves. A couple hours and as many chocolate bars later, we were huddling in our sleeping bags and hoping not to slide into the puddle during our sleep.
After a luxuriously long sleep for tramping, we awoke to a clearer day! Snippets of river plains and ocean could be seen down the valley, and we were reminded that skies could be blue as well as white – if only in small patches. Hamish totally misinterpreted the vibe of the awakening crew and was mostly packed and geared up before realising that his companions were still in their sleeping bags, and so resorted to jump jam and jogging to stay warm.
Meanwhile, the sleeping bag team “enjoyed” leftover cold pasta for breakfast, the cheese sauce having solidified overnight to a delicious texture not unlike that of undercooked egg whites. Marina and Georgia managed to rescue and devour all the sauceless pieces before deciding that Luke was really not pulling his weight and must be force fed the rest. Placing the pot on his chest so he could not move, Georgia grabbed the nearest spork and begun shoving spoonfuls of yellow cheesy gunk into his mouth, deaf to his pleas for help. Luke tried to get out of it by claiming that he could not eat any more and was full, however this was proved to be false after more pasta was forcefully shoved down his throat. This continued until the pasta pot was empty. Much to Georgia’s surprise, he was rather ungrateful actually. I mean, who doesn’t want to be fed breakfast in bed?
Eventually, we were all ready to go, and made our ascent back the way we’d came with the lavish luxury of *gasp* vision, and *double gasp* a cut route through the shrub! The biv was tauntingly obvious from such a distance, and the area we’d spent so long scouring seemed so small. Happy to leave that frustration behind, we continued along the ridge towards Mt Smart.
Back in the cloudy whiteness of the tops, we skidded and “skiless skied” along to the top of Mt Smart. Upon summiting and cresting the other side, we started to scope out routes towards the elusive Pt 713, a waypoint for where we were hoping to end up. Though unmarked, we were hoping to find a cut route, considering the somewhat frequent accounts of Mt Smart ascents. Upon Georgia questioning whether she had found a route or not, Hamish suddenly realised he was standing next to about 20 cut branches and 2 pieces of orange flagging tape. So, yes.
The route spat us out into a slip where we had lunch, then spent a good half hour trying to figure out where the route went next. Eventually Occam’s razor prevailed, and we simply followed the series of slips/gorges down through the scrub. A considerable drop presented itself, and Luke and Hamish attempted different ways to best it. While Luke dropped his pack down ahead of him and slowly bouldered down the rock face, Hamish crashed his way through thick bushes, accompanied by various snapping noises. The smug satisfaction of crossing such an obstacle, albiet sketchily, was quickly snuffed as Marina and Georgia pointed out the route’s re-entry to the bush atop the drop. Cock.
Noticing the sun dropping in the sky, we hooned it down the track amongst the bush, vaulting and swinging from trees as fast as our complaining knees would allow. Snippets of views could be seen through the foliage, and warm dappled light was lighting up the forest in vibrant greens and golds. Eventually we found ourselves back into plantation forest, on a gravel road. Easy street from here on out! Half powerwalking, half jogging, we hooned it through the pines. The sky glowed orange with sunset, illuminating the yellow gorse flowers like fairy lights in all directions, until we finally reached the road end.
Hamish made good time in the transition zone and was onto the bike leg of his duathlon before long, hooning it back to the car under torchlight. After hooning, once again, the car back to the remaining trampers waiting in their penguin huddle, the whole crew was warming up and stinking up the car as we headed unanimously to a Hokitika pub. After loading up on hot chips, drinks, and weird looks from the other bar-goers, we finally hit the road for the final stint back to Christchurch. Singalongs helped keep some awake, while others slept to avoid the questionable vocals.
All of this, just to sleep under some rock? You bet. It’s what we do. We rock.
Technical-ish Route Guide
Mt French track to Smart Creek Rock Biv
Up to Mt French via Mt French Track (3 hours). Could be described as a bit sketchy at times between Mt French and Ben Claddagh as it is more rock climbing than tramping, but maybe that was the snow. Followed ridge line until got to saddle just after pt 1169. Then descended down a small scree slope and continued down into the basin. Way out of basin is via “tussock ramp” above pt 1218. I believe that the true left of the small stream there is the way to go but we were in darkness so just clambered up. Follow the main ridge west until you reach a obvious small flat gravel patch, marked on the map below.
This is where the “route” descends down into the bivvys basin. You should also be able to see the biv now. Follow the tussock patch leading into the basin down for a bit and then cut across to the left. A small bushbash will take you to a rocky slope. Descend this for a bit and then another bushbash to your left (we did find a track here but only on the way up) will take you to another rocky slope. Then it should be fine from memory and you will be in the basin? Took us 2 hours from the ridgeline to the biv in the dark on the way down and 45 minutes out the next day once we discovered the track. Total time on day one was 9.5 hours, though the last few hours could be done quicker if you could actually see your surroundings and it wasn’t dark.
Out via Mt Smart
Get back onto the main ridge as seen below.
Easy going until you get to Mt Smart. About 600m west of Mt Smart you can see a spur that leads down to pt 713 without crossing any streams. This is the spur we took. Don’t drop down until you are right on the spur as there is a track YAY. The bush is thicc so you don’t want to miss the track. We found the track as this marked point on the map.
We would like to sincerely thank whoever made that track as they really saved our asses. God bless dude. Love your work. Follow the route down until you get spat out at a rocky slope. This is where we “lost” the track. The last taped tree we could find had a single bit of orange tape between two bits of green tape. But alas, hope is not lost as the route continues down the steep gully. Follow this gully until you reach a point where you either have to literally down climb a bluff or vertically bushbash. This is where you find the track again. Standing above the bluff and looking to your left, you will see a hole in the side that looks suspiciously like a foothold. We spotted cut branches above it and also orange tape was seen at the bottom of the bluff. Do a wee bit of a sketchy manoeuvre around the tree on your left and the route is found. This route led down all the way to the logging roads, how good. It was relatively well marked with tape. We marked where we exited the bush on the map below. If you were coming from the opposite direction, go to this point and there is an inconspicuous track leading off. This is the one.
Good luck with your mission. Follow the logging roads out to the main road. Took us 6.30 hours from the biv to the main road. Would def take longer in the opposite direction as track up to Mt Smart is steep and slippery.
25th-26th July 2020
Authors: Hamish Dodd and Georgia Prince
Photos: Luke Whitehead, Georgia Prince, Hamish Dodd
Featuring Luke Whitehead, Georgia Prince, Marina Comeskey, Hamish Dodd