Immortalised in Ed Hilary’s classic ‘ nothing venture, nothing win’, (1975) climbing Mt Tapuae-o-nuku had always been a dream. ” My first real mountain” he called it, 100 river crossings later, falling chunks of ice, 16 hour days, 2 motorbike crashes and a 20 mile hike up the road to get in…I had to climb this beast. She clocked in at a mighty 2,885 m (9,465 ft), a monster in the inland Kaikoura ranges, the highest peak in NZ outside of the southern alps.
Fast forward a few years, as we pulled up at the road end in the shadow of the beast, we were filled with anticipation and a mean feed of Whoppers with extra cheese. Jason ‘Rogey’Rogers, Drew ‘the Sherpa’ Scott, Ben ‘Hard Man’ Howell, and ‘Captain Palangi’. We were amped, feeling strong and ready to tackle the moutain.
(Tuesday thrashings with Mike had helped build some confidence). A few weeks of pack marches, tramping out the Hillary trail, I had even managed a sneaky practice run up Mt Ngauruhoe.
Great excuse to get out a get amongst some of wider Aucklands epic spots !
To be in the foothills of this South Island beauty in the middle of winter made it even better. Expecting wives, and restrictive work schedules had meant we had a small window… The weather could not have been better us, a large slow moving High pressure system had parked herself over the South Island.
It had been quite a drive in from Christchurch, we were happy to be pitching our tent at midnight deep up the Awatere valley. A hard 3 days lay ahead, 2500 m ascent from the road end, 100 crossings of the freezing waters of the Hodder river, all carrying heavy packs. Jason weighed in at 27 kg, with ski touring kit and 2 sets of boots, the rest of us clocked in at not much less. We discussed filling Drew ‘The Sherpa’ s pack with rocks while he slept to slow him down, he elected to carry my spare undies instead. Always good to have a team player on these expeditions!
We broke camp at dawn the following morning and started the long slog up the Hodder valley. We climbed 1000 vertical meters that first day, crossed the river 100 + times including a scramble up over an area of bluffs. As we climbed large areas of snow and ice surrounded the river, the water was obviously freezing.
The hut up the top of the Hodder was a welcome site at the end of the 8 hour walk in. Freeze dried mince never tasted so good. We were stuffed after hauling the huge loads in. The next day was going to be big, we tried our best to sleep but the anticipation keep us tossing and turning.
Awoken to a 5 am alarm and a stiff body this was the big day ! We wanted to set out early while the snow and ice was crisp and easy to walk on in our crampons. we climbed quickly, it felt good to be in the ascent with our loads significantly lightened after the first day. We were climbing in pairs, me and Drew went ahead without ski gear while Jason and Ben came up behind hauling there sliding gears (they were going to beat us down!)
The sun crept over the horizon, it was another stunner of a day. as we traversed up the side of the valley, we were regularly checking the map. The hut book had been full of unpleasant stories of climbing to the wrong saddle and being blocked by huge rock cliffs in strong winds. Luckily I had Drew with me, a strong mountain veteran of numerous ascents, he wasn’t called The Sherpa for no reason.
We pushed on, climbed up a steep gut then into a wide valley. It was a mint morning and we could see Jason and Ben below in their snow shoes and skis walking up the valley. We continued on a big push up to the final saddle before the summit. We were surrounded by an epic and majestic scene, had it totally to ourselves, the rugged peaks of mitre and alarm cut through the horizon to the south. We were only people for miles of epic mountain country.
We were approaching he summit ridge, with views to the north over Cook Straight and well south over the alps. For an inexperienced Jaffa who is more familiar with Mt Eden the drop offs felt exposed and the mountains wild and desolate. There was a strong wind blasting over the top of the ridge.
The final push to the top was tiring mentally and physically. As I cautiously climbed up to the summit I could hardly believe I had made it! It was an exhilarating sense and we felt so high above it all. The wind was smashing the summit at 50+ knots so we didn’t stick around for long.
On the way down we met the others, Ben was a bit stuffed after heading up a steep and icy section in his snow shoes and finding himself unable to back track, he managed to climb his way out the top, but not after being hit in the goolies by a chunk of falling ice!
Me and Drew continued the long walk home, I was so relieved and felt an immense sense of achievement in standing on top of the beast. Jas and Ben got their go sliding down the hill, it was bittersweet, after carrying their ski gear 2000 + m, the snow was a bit Icey and powder patches a bit scarce.
There was lots of tired laughter and good yarns back at the hut, the whiskey was delicious after a 9 hour slog! Not sure about its rehydration qualities but she went down a treat.
The last day was a long slog out, a couple of tricky sections and of course numerous river crossings. We decided to bypass pies in shaky Seddon and wait for a feed in the pub in Kaikoura. Cold beer and wood fired pizza never tasted so good…. Overall an epic adventure! looking forward to the next one 🙂
POSTSCRIPT: A couple of weeks back Kevin and Jaime of TVNZ’s first crossings made a reenactment of Ed Hillarys pioneering adventure up Mt Tappy… check it out on the link below its pretty sweet