Apparently I’m not the only one who can’t decide where to go sometimes. This time the two of us were equally as bad. We started off with 8 or 9 different options, and narrowed it down to three (Murchison, Jukes and the Tyndall range) on the West Coast. But by the time we got in the car on Saturday morning, we still had to nut out exactly which mountains we’d climb, or which combination.
I’d done all three, but not Sedgwick of the Tyndall range. I wasn’t particularly fussed which we did as a result, and I still want to go back to Murchison for sunrise/sunset, and to Jukes just because it’s so nice and I’d like to share it with friends. But I’m always excited by the prospect of walking new terrain, and was pretty sure Graham took this into account when he decided that we’d make the call depending on the weather in Queenstown. If the weather was good we’d go up Murchison, then move on to the Tyndall range. If not, we’d just head up to the Tyndalls, try for Gieke that afternoon, leaving the possibility of adventuring out to Sedgewick on the Sunday, and ducking up Tyndall on the way out on Monday.
As we drove past Lake St Clair (the drive being as educational and informative as usual.. did you know redbreasted robins are not actually ‘robins’ (as in the European or American robins) as such..? They’re part of the flycatcher family), noting a decent amount of snow still lining the road side from the weekend before, the weather closed in, and we were in grey mist and patchy rain. The mood dropped.
A young looking wedge tailed eagle standing over road kill on the side of the road temporarily lifted it (though he was looking less than energetic too), and we doubled back for a closer look. But in general I think we were both slightly unimpressed with the weather all the way to Queenstown. And so the decision was made, and the Tyndall range it was. We drove the short distance to the turn off, which we managed not to drive straight by (it’s easy to do coming from the south, as it’s not really visible until you’re at it), and were somewhat dismayed to find four other cars there.
Bugger.. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but when you go for a three day walk to be in and part of nature, it’s a bit of a dismay if you have to share it too closely with others, particularly those you don’t know. I was aware that if I felt a little like this, that Graham probably felt it more strongly, and sure enough he seemed to hesitate, and kept the car running (the rain probably didn’t help finding the enthusiasm to get going). I didn’t want to push him into doing anything he was going to be unhappy with, so said that there was plenty of spots to camp on top, which would allow us to avoid the others, but also raised the possibility that we could do something different if he wanted.
I then got out to check out whether the cars looked like they had bushwalking gear in them. Two did, one didn’t, one had a boot you couldn’t see into. I left the choice to Graham, and he decided to go with it anyway. By this stage the rain had stopped, but it was still misty and we expected more, not to mention some overgrown track at the start, so the wet weather gear went on straight away.
We took guesses as to how many other walkers would be up there, and who would take such a big group, as neither of us entertained the possibility that there might be more than one party. But the log book cleared things up a little; there were two parties, one of 7 from NWWC, doing the usual mountains, and one of 3 heading out to Lake Margaret (and, as we discovered later, mountain biking out from there).
That cleared up, we set off. A short bit of button grass bog, then the overgrown stuff, then quite quickly we were onto the more open, and very much straight up terrain. My back was sore, especially with the bigger steps up which meant bending it further forward than it liked, and I struggled to keep pace with Graham. Having worked that night and being tired in general didn’t help, but I did get a little excited to realise that the higher we climbed, the higher the mist seemed to lift! The humidity wasn’t so bad higher up either, and as we arrived on top we had glimpses of Sedgwick and then Gieke through gaps in the mist.
I was glad, I didn’t want to have driven all the way out here, chosen such a beautiful place, for us to be sitting in cloud all weekend. I began to have a little hope. We headed straight for the place I’d camped last time with Bec (it is a lovely little spot, though there’s one other I really want to try too on some other occasion), and were relieved to find the NWWC group had camped around the other side of Lake Tyndall. We could see their tents, and hear some laughter as we walked in, but that was about all.
With tents up, it was 2.30, so we figured we had time for a quick trip out to Gieke. That would allow us all of Sunday for an attempt on Sedgwick should the weather agree. As we walked I was reminded of all the things I loved about the range from the first trip in just under a year ago, as I revisited the alpine grassy terrain and all its colours, the conglomerate rock, the lakes, and, when the mist allowed, the views of distant (and not so distant) ranges. They appeared one by one, as if to ensure we fully appreciated each in their own right. First Sedgwick, then Eldon Peak, Frenchmans and some of the Overland mountains, including Geryon (:D).
Though we weren’t dawdling, we did have plenty of time to enjoy the late afternoon sun, and take more photos than were necessary. My back complained every time I went to jump from rock to rock, or a foot didn’t quite land where or how I thought it would, but as against my walking style as that was, it didn’t manage to dampen the joy of walking along an open alpine ridge, surrounded by some pretty impressive mountains. Misty clouds came and went, providing atmosphere (and even a brockenspectre on the summit) but still allowing for decent views.
We didn’t stay on top for long, just enough for Graham to make contact with the outside world, before we headed back, partly to avoid getting too cold, partly because of how late it was getting. The wander back down was equally beautiful, with a thickish band of cloud out to our left in the west, and some lovely colours in the sky and on mountains in the east as the sun got lower and lower. It was a lovely way to end the day, especially given the weather when we’d started out.
Back by 5.45, it was time to get warm, eat some dinner, enjoy the starry sky (and a little later, the moon rise), and fall asleep to the sound of what Graham had referred to as ‘sheep frogs’ (they did bleat just like sheep!). Fingers crossed for what tomorrow might bring… I was a tad worried the weather would clag in until after we’d called Sedgwick off (the Abels suggesting visibility is a big help).
I was up and out for a nonexistent sunrise, Graham sensibly chose to stay in his tent. What started off as being a nice clear morning quickly became bluey-white/grey mist, and stayed that way through the rising of the sun. So I headed back and we talked about the days plans over breakfast. I wasn’t sure Graham would be happy to go ahead with the weather the way it was (not great visibility at all, and I know he puts a bit more weight than I do on these things), but he was up for giving it a crack.
So off we set shortly after 9, wandering a little hesitantly across the plateau, unsure of exactly where we should drop off. We’d been walking some distance away from the party of three, who were heading in the same direction as us, so we popped over to see where they were going. Over Gieke and down to Lake Margaret, they said, so we bid them safe walking and turned back to finding a way down.
The mist was lifting a bit, and with the better visibility and the GPS track I had, we made a choice on where to head and went. And so it proceeded, decisions being made one at a time, based on what we could see ahead and the GPS track, often quite close together if need be, a lot more sporadically when on the longer ridges.
We enjoyed views back up to Gieke and the cliff line from which it protruded, across to Sedgwick, and out to the Overland track too. More immediately, we marvelled at really old banksia trees with swollen roots and trunks, which had over the course of time survived by growing horizontally with the wind, finding shelter in the nooks and crannies of rocks. And there were plenty more beautiful rocks out here too..
After a few hours walking it was clear we’d come quite a way, but still Sedgwick seemed so far off, further than before perhaps. The unknowns about terrain and route finding accentuated this distance, and though nothing was said, there was a general consensus that we didn’t have much time to spare mucking around, taking breaks or photos.
As it turned out, the little bit of extra time we spent discussing route options on the way paid off, and we both agreed that without knowing any different, we’d managed to walk a pretty good route. THis was despite ignoring the Abels notes in one spot, and taking a decidedly different route to the GPS plot I had.
By 1pm we were at the foot of our mountain, 4 hours after having started. It finally seemed achievable, just one last slog up through the scrub. I took the lead, armed with GPS track, which we hoped might lead us onto a pad. No such luck. The scrub itself wasn’t particularly difficult – waist high bauera mostly, with a touch of cutting grass – but I was already tired, and the combined effort of trying to through it and up the relatively steep incline took it out of me.
At one point Graham asked what our turn around time was. When we get to the top, was my answer, but figuring he wasn’t so keen on walking back through scrub in the dark I changed that to 2pm, reckoning we’d be up by then. Not having maps on his GPS meant he had no idea how much further we had to go, and his turn around time was 2.30. I didn’t expect it to take us that long to get up the last 4-500m, despite how slow I was going.
Here, Graham took over, and I just tried to keep him in sight. Long legs and being fit have a definite advantage! Fortunately, shortly afterwards the scrub gave way to dolerite, and I couldn’t have been happier. It was quite bizarre to be walking on a dolerite topped mountain on the west coast, when almost everything around is conglomerate! But its golden yellows went perfectly with the greens and blues of the day.
As we walked the last flatish section towards the summit trig (not expected at all!), the mist came in, to our disappointment. But we were there. It was 1.45. I was too tired for anything but a smile, though Graham mustered up enough energy to yell at the mist and the mountains and anything else that listened.
After a photo or two, it was back down to the start of the rock for a quick bite to eat, but not a proper lunch, there wasn’t enough time. It was enough time, however, to allow the mist to move a bit, and we did get some nice views north before dropping back down through the scrub. Going was much easier in this direction, thankfully, and had the added value of providing entertainment for Graham who was sensibly in second place and got to watch every time the bauera kept hold of a leg for a bit too long, or I discovered I was no longer walking on earth, but was a few metres above it (until the scrub inevitably failed to hold my weight).
I took the lead, with the sole duty to retrace our steps (that’s how good we thought our route was) using the GPS. The pace wasn’t going to win us any races, but it was based on turtle and hare philosophy, which ultimately seemed to work. Every now and again I had enough energy to let out a laugh, not quite believing that we’d actually climbed Sedgwick, and being very grateful that I’d had someone to do it with. I suspect there will be increasingly more solo trips to out of the way, difficult, or not particularly easy mountains as time goes on. I’ve been aware of this for a while now, and it has only made me more grateful for the times I do have company, especially on the untracked and more challenging of walks.
And so we plodded… there wasn’t much time for photos, just one or two. When we approached the final climb through light scrub (there was a bit of a pad here) Graham said he was putting his camera away. It made sense. It was getting dark and some of the climbing was a bit climby – enough that a camera in front would be a bit annoying. I also still had the task of retracing steps, and was tired enough that I didn’t think I could concentrate on doing that and taking photos, not to mention the fact that I’d have felt guilty taking time to do so, when time was something we didn’t have a lot of.
So up we went. In one regard it was very well timed. The orangy-pinks on the mountains behind us to the east provided a perfect excuse to stop every now and again and just enjoy while we caught our breath or steeled ourselves for then next bit of climb. My legs were just about running on empty, but there’s something nice in that.. just like there’s something reassuring or hardening in the knowledge that even when you’re past tired, somehow you still have enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes I wonder just where the point of exhaustion really is.
Back shortly after 6, with no use of head torches… a solid, challenging, but very satisfying and rewarding days walking. I hadn’t been that physically tired for a while, and it felt good. Dinner by head torch, followed by a few hours sleep, and a midnight interlude where I experimented with taking photos of my tent and stars just for fun (and learnt that camera lenses frost up fast, but no, I’m NOT going to buy a lens warmer… grrr), which I paid for with a few hours of missed sleep while I tried to warm back up. Oh well..
The next morning WAS clear, and we enjoyed a muted sunrise out on the edge of the plateau, finally able to say hello to all the mountains at once. After mucking around with macro photos of ice and frost on plants and the like we headed back for an unrushed breakfast sitting on a rock in the sun, a play with the ice that had formed over the surface of the nearest tarn, and eventually, packing up of tents and gear.
A wander up Tyndall on the way out was in order, and I was looking forward to seeing the cliffs I’d only had glimpses of through the mist last time I’d been up. They were even more impressive, and it was great to see someone else as excited as I’d been when I first saw them. Needless to say we took more photos than necessary, had fun (in my case, better not speak for Graham here) climbing on rocky pillars on the cliff edge, and were treated to a display by a wedgie as he circled higher and higher. It was a nice and relaxed way to end the weekend, even if there was a snowball or two to duck!
All up: 37.4km, 2266m ascent.
Sedgewick day trip: 20km, 1094m ascent, just over 9 hours (including breaks).