First Day's Ascent
Dangling six inches off the ground, suspended over the riverbed by nothing but a tangle of roots, and only five minutes into my planned two day tramp, I paused to consider that this adventure might turn out to be more difficult than I had expected. The mossy hillside above the river I had confidently approached had collapsed, apparently composed of nothing more than a thin layer of mosses disguising a thin network of ropelike roots. Needless to say, my new vegetation wedgie made filling my water bottles in the river an uncomfortable experience. This little scene set the tone for the rest of the tramp - nothing was as easy as it seemed it should be.
My trip began at 5:30 AM the same morning, when I left our house in Nelson and headed down along the West Coast, a six-hour drive to Fox Glacier. After my arrival at the trailhead I hurried away from the swarm of sandflies patrolling the parking lot and started up the rough track through the rainforest.
The pack made travel through the forest especially toilsome, as it was too bulky for the maneuvering necessary through the narrow spaces. I passed just one older couple on their way out, who had turned back after three hours hiking with no end to the trees in sight. The forest seemed to be actively reclaiming the track, with numerous younger shoots sprouting from the largest downed trees blocking the way forward.
I finally reached the bushline, at which point the major difficulties switched from downed trees and roots to mud and route finding. At this elevation the route was in the clouds, and the tussock grasses and bush had overgrown the faint trail in many places. I finally reached the summit in thick mist (confirming I was on the top with the altimeter), then continued along what I guessed to be the ridge towards Craig Peak. After 15 minutes of travel in a continuously downhill direction I realized I was on the wrong ridge, so I reversed my course and regained the summit.
Towards Craig Peak and Back Again
The next morning I awoke to the cries of a kea above, and took a few shots of the sunrise before going back to rest in my sleeping bag while the morning warmed up a bit. Half an hour later the clouds began to form in the valley as the sun heated the wet hillside, so I packed up the gear as fast as possible and headed up the long ridge towards Mt. Craig. There was no trail to speak of, and travel across the tussock slopes was surprisingly difficult. Deep muddy runoff channels were hidden on the slopes beneath the grasses, which were easy to slip into unless careful attention was given to the terrain. I left waypoint breadcrumbs on the GPS as the route weaved through small rocky bluffs, which turned out to be a brilliant idea in retrospect.
After three hours travel and a final class four vegetable scramble to a high point on the ridge (Pt. 1596, beyond which the terrain got more complicated than I was willing to tackle alone), I enjoyed the view of the clouds rising quickly to swallow up the view of Tasman and Cook. Very hungry and ready for a snack, I devoured a Hokey Pokey bar (not recommended) which tasted like burnt marshmallows and left me shaking from the sugar high. Returning back down the ridge, I was soon back in the mist, which reduced the visibility down to more or less zero. At this point I was navigating by GPS along the broad, undulating ridge, and unfortunately had to travel up, down, and over numerous subsidiary ridges as the main ridge was difficult to follow even with the GPS. I finally made it back to my campsite, where I devoured a sandwich as I cooked up a more substantial pasta lunch.
The trip down the ridge and through the forest was long and more or less uneventful, apart from a couple of missed turns along the vague forest track. I was followed by a number of fantails through the forest, who were eager to eat up the insects I had disturbed in my tramp through the undergrowth. My legs were exhausted from the vertical mile descent over the roots and under the downed trees when I finally reached the car. I headed back to Fox Glacier for a take-away hamburger (complete with beetroot!) to reward my toil. The trip had been quite difficult, but the beauty and isolation along the ridge had certainly been worth it. All that awaited for the rest of the evening was a quick six-hour trip back home to Nelson and my beautiful wife.