Saturday, March 1, 2008

Arthur's Pass

Nights turn into days and days turn into glorious nights filled with zero responsibility, hard work, excellent company, and great music as our journey in New Zealand continues.

For this installment of Pacific Wandering I will briefly highlight the days after returning from the Australian Open. Rock and Roll.

New Registration, Insurance, front right tire, oil change and our pale green 1990 Nissan Sentra “Midnight Special” was purring like a kitten. She was dog gone ready to take us Pacific Wandering through the central south island of New Zealand. I tell you one thing, we never shag the foot feed or lay rubber with her. When you rely on an 18 year old piece of shit it, by gum it gets babied. We took a few days in Christchurch to complete the tasks mentioned above, get caught up on sleep and plan a multi day tramp. The highlight from our brief stay in the city was maybe our enthusiastic day which included a seven hour afternoon nap, a foot long at Subway and then promptly back to bed. A day which to me was a major throw back to first and second year university life. After browsing through our trusty “Tramping in New Zealand” guide Pat, Simon, and I came to an agreement on a 3 night, 4 day, advanced track in Arthur’s Pass National Park. Our sprits were high. We had five days until we started working on a vineyard so no better way to spend time than pounding a trail. The trail was our first ‘demanding’ track which required a significant amount of orienteering and serious river fording action.

About a two hour drive North West of Christchurch or EzekielSynagogue as I like to call it was Arthur’s Pass National Park. We stayed in a great hostel for the night to pack our backpacks and get some rest. The trail began as we headed upstream in inclement weather along a 200 meter wide river basin. Mostly baron rocks but water flowed in multiple channels which we seemed to be crossing every half an hour. We had already succumbed the fact we were going to be walking with wet feet, believe it or not, it felt OK. The day was relatively short and the scenery didn’t change much as we followed the river bed for six hours in a deep ravine. Snow capped mountain ranges loomed on either side of us as rain periodically poured from the impressive low lying clouds stewing atop the peaks of the Southern Alps. We arrived at a back country hut where a few people we already settled in. The nostalgic smell of gas cookers mixed in the air as we happily removed our waterlogged boots amidst an unpleasant swarm of hungry sand flies chewing our legs. The usual drill commenced, food, books, light conversation, and sleep dictated by the sun.

We woke the next morning to find everyone else but us and Kasparov already on the trail. Kasparov is a fictional name we gave to our Czech-Republic acquaintance that drove us to the track. He was a very bitter, solitary man, with negativity most appropriately describing his lexicon. The sun was shining as we began the day with semi dry feet thanks to the wood stove in the hut. This was the day we would cross the tropical Harman Pass. We knew it was going to be demanding because it allowed 7-9 hours with a small 500m ascend and a 711m descend over only 7 kms. Semi dry feet lasted a meager twenty minutes as we had to ford a fast moving water right away. Then we began boulder hopping up the White river. It was exhilarating terrain for several hours as we ascended toward Harman pass via the river. Many waterfalls spewed over the steep banks creating intense wind tunnels and refreshing mist baths. The track required a significant amount of athleticism and quick decision making as we jumped from rock to rock successfully climbing in and around the river. As we reached the tropical pass it had surprisingly began to rain. The terrain changed momentarily and we spotted the first trail marker after a day and a half of tramping. Sweet. On another note, this was the point where we lost Kasparov, never to be seen again. Cloudly, spitting skies gave us little to admire while making the pass so we routinely began the descend on very similar terrain. After six hours of jumping, ass sliding, and stagger stepping my legs were jelly and I was hoping the hut would come soon. We reached the point where the river took on a normal gradient and I thought the hard shit was over. It was then we entered a trail cut out of the side of the bank. It smelled of pungent decomposition, there were vines everywhere and the ups and downs were killer. I shut my mind off and simply put one foot in front of the other until we reached our hut ninety minutes later. Our reward for the roughest day of tramping yet were natural hot springs that lines the edge of the White river. After a carbohydrate enriched meal we went down searching for the springs. It was as easy as following your nose toward the smell of sulfur. We found one which was literally inches from the river. It was a pool of clear, stinky water that intermittently bubbled from below. The water was scalding hot so we reverted to skills learned as young boys on the beach and diverted a small trench of water from the river to lower the temperate and raise the water level. Perfect. As I lay in hot, steaming water inches from a hypothermic river rapidly rushing by me in a deep ravine of lush forest surrounded by mountains, I was having a moment. One of those precious moments that will never escape a healthy mind. Something that you will look back on and smile inside knowing that there are places on our earth with natural beauty that don’t get justice from a picture. Places that need to be explored and embraced if for just a moment in time. Moments that define you. We waited for Kasparov but when darkness fell we assumed he must have changed his intent to our hut. We hope he did because we never saw him again. The night sleep or lack there of was partially brought on by mice running all night. Our new tramping mate, Ian Brodie from Glasgow, Scotland initiated a midnight rafter food hanging mission. Pat lay in bed and muttered “If they can get to my food through my bag they deserve it” and he rolled over ignoring the preventative measures.

Rain, Rain, Rain. Early to rise Simon paced in the hut wanting to hit the trail. Pat and I happily lay in bed. I lay there converting time then realizing that my beloved New York Giants were playing in the Super Bowl. I felt a little disconnected but then smiled thinking about a football Sunday in my basement on Pine street in St. Stephen.

Nev, Pat, Dave McCormick and I sank American Hickweiser after Hickweiser watching a game in High Def. My vindictive girlfriend, disgusted at us as we became comfortably sedated via beer, wings, and football stormed out of the house. The next afternoon after a rough Monday at work I remember coming home and the house was in the same condition as I left it. Pizza getting rigor mortis on the stove, cats gnawing on festering chicken wing bones in and around the couches. There was my unemployed girlfriend taking pictures for some sort of demented collateral and screaming up a storm. That is why I smiled in my bed, in New Zealand. A free man.

The relentless nature of the rain made it dangerous to tramp not to mention the river levels would be significantly rising making fording that much more difficult and dangerous. The skies somewhat let up at around ten so we hit the trail. No climbing today, just a lot of river crossings and flat walking beside the Taipo river. Day three highlight came from an old school cable car which we needed to cross the river. A hand crank brought the aluminum box to our side of the river. You then sat inside the box and secured by a large braided cable you fired across the river propelled by gravity. The final meters of the passage were hand cranked. It was awesome! The sun started shining in the last hour of the short five hours fifteen kilometer walk which refueled my body and mind after a surprising taxing day on the trail. We ran into a three hunters which was a downer, but when they told me it took an hour drive to get there from the main road it made me feel better. The sun prematurely set over the western mountain ranges as we experienced dusk like conditions for a few relaxing hours. Our healthy appetites were calmed by some enriched white flour and salt. Pat read us some fluffy article in a tabloid magazine left from a previous tramper. Even the secluded people of New Zealand are interested in the trials and tribulations of Hollywood. Who would have ever thought Jake and Ryan would be squabbling over Reese and the toddlers?

Day four. The profile of the day was intimidating. We were to climb from nearly sea level to 1350M and then back again in nine kilometers. I was happy as a clam because my feet were dry. Bring on the climb. We figured that we climb around 350 meters an hour or more when tramping on steep terrain. We shook hands with Ian and said our farewells before the climb as he could see the sheer size of Pat’s calves.
That put us at infinite meadows of alpine grass in 3 ½ - 4 hours of powering the trail. It was cold and breeze atop Kelly Range. The euphoria of looking out on the vast Southern Alps was well worth the days of hiking. I looked smugly down at the river we followed snake out of prehipial range. We sat down near an alpine pond admiring the green water a giddy as school boys.

“Oh man, I can’t wait to have a pizza!” Simon said.
“I can’t wait to have a shower!” Pat said.
I was speechless. Once again the visual power of the scenery gripped me in a tender silence.

We ducked into an alpine hut to sign the guest book and began the rapid descend toward civilization. Pat and Simon sped ahead as I manned the back as usual not taking the un-necessary risks as them. Or maybe I’m just slower? We go at least three times as fast on the way down so we reached the end of the tramp after about ninety minutes of side hill gauging. The satisfaction of finishing our first “Demanding” hike quickly diminished as Simon and I lay nervously in a baron parking lot looming due to the absence of Pat. An hour crept by and no Pat. A day hiker offered me a ride to town, 15kms away to see if he had already hitched into town. I took it. No Pat. If you know me, as paranoid as I am, I was still calm. He was the lead man so I got in the car and drove back to the end of the trail. There was Simon but no Pat. We rationalized the situation, and wrote a note.

Pat we have headed back toward Kelly Range. It you come to the car, stay here!

We gathered what water we had left and headed toward the trail. Then Pat sauntered from the woods. “Holy fuck boys” were his concerned words. Long story short involving Pat’s mp3 player a wrong turn and the thought we made the same mistake it was all rectified and he drove back to the National Park village.

Needless to say we had a tasty, expensive meal in the Village. We all ate entrees and the insatiable hunger we possessed made us order two large pizzas for desert. We also ran into Leigh Eagles for the second time in New Zealand. I was great to see her.

Thanks for reading and I hope signs of spring start to tantalize the New Brunswick air. We are back at the barn Apple picking. Details of this work and our time here will be detailed by Pat in the next installment of Pacific Wandering. All I can say is that money does grow on trees, in the form of apples. We did rough calculations and Pat and Simon are making the equivalent of 60 000 per year. I am making slightly less but nonetheless great cash. Best of all the hard work is honing our bodies into fine working machines.


Stephen Rex