Author: Max Truell
After Ben’s breakup and my two weeks of unfulfilling unemployment, we were in need of a mission, and we had just the one in mind. The plan started over a year ago and like most EMTH 119 lectures, Ben and I were not paying attention to robotic German maths lecturer and were instead browsing our number one used website: topomaps. We were randomly scrolling in Arthur’s pass when we came across Mt Scarface. The name was so good it had to be a gnarly one and we had been planning to do it ever since. Summer jobs and Uni had delayed us till now, but we had the perfect opportunity.
We decided to essentially do the Minchin pass route and tick of Scarface on the way. Somehow along the way Bennet ended up on the trip. To start with, Ben and I were a tad worried about Bennett’s chances of actually climbing Mt Scarface, without forgetting something essential or wandering off a cliff along the way. We tried to warn him how gnarly the mission would be. In Ben’s words, “this trip was gonna be different stuff.” Bennett’s reply was always along the lines of “sounds good boys, looking forward to it!” and he was hell bent on doing it so along he came.
The walk up the Taramakau was pleasant and we made good time. Bennett told me he was looking forward to the bush bash and seemed confused when I told him that we were actually going to stream bash to the pass. He was about to learn. The start of Townsend creek was great. Beautiful scenery and we even found a spot for a dip. However, as it got steeper and more clambery, Bennett was struggling. To make things worse, his boots had holes in the sides and were letting in stones, slipping and rolling, and to top things off, he had forgotten his gaiters. We were crawling, the hours were ticking by and we were getting worried about getting stuck in the dark. We tried a new approach of climbing above the stream. As it turned out, Bennett much preferred bush bashing to stream bashing and was once again making exceptional time through the dense Dracophylum and beech. At last we made it up to Minchin pass. The other side was easy travel and we made it to the “dog box” bivvy before dark for a well-earned cup of tea and a mint treat.
After the stream bash from the day before we decided to ditch the loop and walk out the easy way, giving us a whole day in between to conquer the mountain. So, we woke up late and got ready while Bennett slowly coaxed his legs into working order. We followed the route down the stream and had lunch by lake Minchin. We met some trampers on the track who had done a “freshers” trip in the 80s. They warned us about their mate Ollie who was practicing chi gong in Poulter hut and said that they had no clue what that involved, but that he wouldn’t be naked. Higher standards that me. Ollie as it turned out was fully dressed and a nice dude. We made a coffee and yarned to him about the part-time sweet life. We got on our way and were informed that Bennett’s degraded boots were giving him blisters. At this point I was pretty concerned about him making it up the next day, but he kept saying how he was looking forward to “dying with the boys” and I thought I might as well let him. We made our dehydrated dinner and went to bed early to give us the best go for the next day.
We woke up to the sound of silence which was reassuring as the forecast was for it to be pissing down and we were worried about the cross-ability of the river. Coffee was had, followed by coffee porridge. Ben ate some cheese and we were off. We splashed across the river and staggered up into the bush. We had been preparing for the worst. Thick slippery ground carpeted by dense beech saplings with bush lawyer hanging like barbed wire. Instead we were greeted by the opposite and made great time to the bush line though sparse bush and some dry creek beds. We climbed out onto the tops weaving through some steep bluffs and vaguely following the route description. The wind had picked up. As we started to climb up to the ridge, things got even better with hail. While Ben and I waited for Bennett, I made a slushy with a bit of snow and extra joss. Like Raro snow but with caffeine, i.e. better.
At last we made it onto the ridge and despite the whiteout could see where the top should be. There was just one steep section in the way. I tried doing a boulder problem which worked but felt a bit sketch. I pointed out another route, however this turned out to be even worse with a sheer drop off below and managed to give the others a wee scare (typical taking route advice from me). The wind was pretty strong at this point, but we angled ourselves forwards and made the last wee push to the top. After some excited screaming and shouting we settled down in some shelter to brew a cuppa. Just as well we did, because the cloud blew over in this time and we got to take some sweet photos.
The way down went like the way up except we could see the nice scree slope down from the summit that we had missed, and I managed to find the steepest way to bash back down. Bennett’s boots decided that they weren’t too happy about this and started chewing his feet.
We had a nice lunch by the hut with less sandflies than the night before. Ben only had a small piece of cheese left. “Where did the rest go?” I asked. “I ate it” he replied. “The whole kg?” “yep.” “what are you going to eat tomorrow?” Ben pointed to the small chunk in front of him. As it happed the block only lasted another two minutes. It was a very impressive effort; however it is definitely proof that Ben has a cheese problem.
We wrote about our exploit in the hut book and saw that some people called Liz and Peter went through the hut to check what repairs needed to be done. We decided to wander down to trust poulter hut for the night to give us a head start for the next day.
Trust poulter was a nice little hut, however it had the worst sand fly problem I had ever seen. Now people go on about sandflies all the time and I like to think that they don’t bother me that much, but OH MY FUCKING GOD this hut was bad. The door didn’t seem to keep them out and they were swarming in by the thousands to try to get a taste of smelly tramper.
Thankfully, to our rescue came Liz and Peter. They had stayed the night before and had worked out that they were getting in under the fireplace. Liz blocked of the hole with her gaiters and went to town spraying the bastards with a can of bug killer that had been left in the hut. Liz had great chat and told us all about backcountry trust and how the hut repairs went. Turned out that her son was a 2014 CUTC captain. They offered to give Ben a lift out to the main road the next day to help with the hitch. We all agreed to get up at 6 and walk out together the next day.
We went to bed at dark and woke up naturally before our alarm at daylight. The dawn was blessed with a lack of sandflies, so we efficiently packed up all our things and hit the trail. At first Bennett was wobbling on his feet like a speed walker in slow motion, periodically cursing his blisters, but he managed to work out a good rhythm as his boots warmed up. About 35 minutes in we stopped for some water. “Where’s your ice axe?” Ben asked. “FuuuucK,” I replied.
15 minutes later after running back in my stiff tramping boots I was reunited with trusty Pernille and was dashing back to catch up. I had it in my mind that the others would wait at the new Casey hut, however, as I bounded heavily towards the junction the hut was nowhere to be found. Worriedly I dumped the pack and raced around all over the river flats. After 45 minutes aimless sprinting I gave up and jogged up the Andrews stream track to catch the others. Turns out I missed Bennett’s thrashed boots being taped as a last hope to get him out.
As we walked, Liz told us all about permolat drama, her son’s time in CUTC and her plan to start up a tramping in schools program. Before we knew it, we were out at Andrews shelter. Bennett had managed a blister on every toe, his heels, and the top of his foot. He had in no way been prepared for this trip, but he had done far better than Ben and I had expected and despite the pain had barely complained. We were slightly proud of him.
Ben was gone and back in no time. A good-sort trucker had picked him up and talked at him all the way to Aikens corner. At last we had the fish and chips we had been dreaming of and even got the train driver to toot at us. We couldn’t have asked for more from the trip; we’d had tea on Scarface, Ben was feeling better and Bennett hadn’t died. How good!
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