Summer doesn't start until school starts

Of course. Of course! The day kids go back to school - the weather will climb to close to 30 degrees, and then will continue climbing to well past 30 degrees.

For the last 2 weeks we've had miserable gale force winds, rain that comes sideways (because, hello!, gale force winds), temperatures between 10-15 and most parents I know are, like, geesh make it stop.

But then it's time for kids back to school and it's, like, beach weather. A mass of hot air has drifted over from Australia. Sun and blue skies. Of course.

Thanks, Southland. I think I'm seeing a pattern here.

Michael Mcintyre stand-up comedy

Do you laugh when you listen to Michael Mcintyre?

I do. I laugh because my kids, too, argue over who gets to push the elevator button (they have a sophisticated system worked out in the library and OH DON'T YOU DARE TO MESS WITH THEIR SYSTEM!), they argue over who pushes traffic light buttons and they just, generally, seem to argue like Michael Mcintyre's kids.

But then again, I bet most siblings do :).

In fact, there's a whole bunch of things I relate to when I listen to him talk. It's good fun.

The best roast chicken recipe

Just in case you're wondering... this makes for the best roast chicken!

www.allrecipes.com/recipe/83557/juicy-roasted-chicken

I don't know why this recipe works, given how little there is to it, but it works. (I use real butter as opposed to margarine.)

Also, I know it's only January - but this is the tweet of 2019.

Also, the moment I realise one of my kids likes mushrooms and the other likes red onion, I think, must've done something right as a parent!

Also, this instagram story. Ha! Sums up parenthood attempts at socialising :D "I used to be able to rally a group of friends on an hour’s notice. But now it’s like herding cats. You really have to work to get on someone’s calendar."

Also, school is starting back up is 2 weeks. As much as I do. Not. Want. To go back - I am going to pull up my big girl panties and I am going to finish this goddamn thing! One assignment at a time. It's been done before. I can do it. I dread the 3 mornings a week I'll need to be out the door (with my kids!) at 7:20 am - again - and the justified complaints I am going to receive from my kids over having to spend so much time with babysitters - again - but I'll be out the other end sometime in November 2019 and, then, I am never going to look back.

We can do hard things. I know it; my kids know it; my husband knows it. Our entire family knows it.

We can do hard things.

Gillespie pass track 2018: the stories, the people and the philosophical discussion about the importance of getting out there, sometimes

It still astounds me that we spent so much of our Gillespie pass track under blue skies and sun this year! Given how limited our timing was (there were only so many days that my friend could have off work, and I could have away from my family) and what the weather forecast looked like going in, the fact that we had no weather delays and did not need our rain coats - if anything, I returned with mild sunburn around the rim of my glasses which other trampers kindly referred to us "Maria you have panda eyes"... All of it was, to put it simply, awesome!

(Edited to add: there was rain, but we were never in the rain. It rained on Day 2, but we knew about it ahead of time, so we planned Day 2 to be a short, 3-hour walk from Kerin Forks hut to Siberia hut. We were safely in the Siberia hut way before the rain started in the afternoon. Then, although weather forecasts predicted rain throughout Day 3, it never actually rained down in Siberia valley, so we had a beautiful daytrip to Lake Crucible. Then, there was more rain during the night of Day 4 but we were, yet again, safe and warm inside the hut, sleeping. Day 4 dawned with low clouds which cleared to a beautiful sunny day, which is to say that all the time we were walking, it was nice outside. What a treat!)


As I only have two photos to show for the entire trip (due to a certain camera-dunking incident on the river the first day), I am going to try giving some context with labels below. Like this:


This photo looks down to where we had walked up that day and is taken near the summit of Gillespie pass track, which is another 40 minutes of walking higher. The previous day we had visited Lake Crucible and had stayed overnight at Siberia hut in the valley below. Then, in one decent 8-hour day, we walked over Gillespie pass (where we met Alan who kindly took these photos).

As we walked up, we witnessed Mount Awful shedding rockfalls off its steep slopes which was, also, awesome!


Every now and again we would hear some gentle "boom... bom-boom... boom!" in the distance as the rockfalls echoed through the valley. Given how far we were from the rockfalls (about 2.5-3 km 'as the crow flies'), by the time we heard the noise, the tumbling rocks were way down the valley, settling in at the bottom of the slope.

However, there was one particularly (!) big one which made me dash like an antelope towards a good viewpoint so I would not miss out on the action. We had only just put down our backpacks, settling in for lunch in a sunny, sheltered spot below the summit, when a sound that could only be described as something you hear in a good earthquake documentary bellowed through the valley. "Crackle... crackle... Crackle! Boom! BOOM!"

It went on for a good 30 seconds. The ensuing clouds of dust wafted up towards Mount Awful. Oh how I wish I had photos of that!

Soon afterwards (just as I was thinking of standing up and going for a wee), another easily recognisable sound caught my attention. "Bzzzzzzzzzzzzz... Whirrrrrzzzzzzzzz.... Whirrrrrzzzzzzzzzz!" Yes, a drone. Someone was flying a drone near where I was looking for a place to wee and had they come over the ridge a minute later, there's a good chance they would've captured me right in the action, which is both funny and also a bit sad.

We heard the drone several times during our trip and I wondered about its intrusion on the national park environment. I am not strictly against drones, as they are fun and challenging and provide spectacular (!) footage if flown well. However! It felt very unsettling, walking under the 'watchful eye' of a flying machine in the otherwise green valley, when I didn't even know 1) who's flying it, 2) how far they are and 3) what footage they're getting, and why.

Reasonably speaking, I knew that it was most likely a tech-savvy tourist getting awesome video footage of silver beech forest along the Young river valley, but it was nevertheless unsettling to be walking on a quiet Saturday morning, the sun is out, the birds are chirping, the Young river is tumbling on the rapids and... overhead, there is the high-pitch buzzing sound of a drone. "Wzzzzzzz.... Wrrrrzzzzzzzzzz... Wrrrrrrzzzzzzzz!" (A concession from DOC is required to fly a drone on any public conservation land.)

***

The highlight of this trip, for me, was Lake Crucible. Stephen and his son Liam were there 2 days before us (we met them at Kerin Forks hut) and they have some photos and videos on Instagram.

(Talking of Instagram: 2 days before us there was also a group of Harvard Business School students (we met them at Siberia hut), a couple of days later there was Anna & Filip (we met them on the way down). Generally speaking, if you look up "Gillespie pass circuit" on Instagram, there are loads of photos there.)

But why Lake Crucible? I'm not sure, but possibly because the lake sits in a magnificent 'cirque' left by a former glacier. The cliffs go up at impressive angles to about 600-700 metres above the lake.

Screenshot from a topographical map at DOC website
It was 80% covered with snow and ice floats, which made for an impressive swim given that I had to push some ice floats away before I got in the water :).

We visited the lake as a 'day trip', so we were able to leave most of the stuff at Siberia hut and only carried light backpacks with lunch and raincoats. I think it worked great! However, it made for a very tedious start and end to our day. Lake Crucible track-head is an hour's walk from Siberia hut over a flat, sandfly-infested valley, so we spent 1 hour walking to start of the track, then had a beautiful 5-hour roundtrip to the lake, and then spent another hour walking back to the hut. (A lot of people visit Lake Crucible the same day that they go up/down Gillespie pass so they, simply, dump their backpacks at the bottom of the track, walk 5 hours to the lake and back, and then pick up their backpacks again to continue on towards Siberia hut or Gillespie pass.)

Will I do it again? Quite possibly, yes, because another friend has said that she wants to visit Lake Crucible, so we may head out there again next year. Maybe even take the packrafts to paddle amongst snow and ice? We'll see.

Talking of next year: most people walk Gillespie track from Young valley into Wilkin valley. We did it the other way around...

Screenshot from Google Earth with our route sketched on top

...because we wanted to have an 'out' option in case it rained. Young valley connects with another track to Blue Pools, so had we come to the river and seen it too high, we would've continued walking to Blue Pools where the river can be crossed via a swing bridge.

In hindsight, I'm so glad we did it this way! Because for us, walking up to Gillespie pass was an undulating, reasonable plod: steep at places, but gentle at others. It was tedious, but it was gentle on the knees. Going down, on the other hand... Bloody hell!

Young-side of the Gillespie pass is a straight-down track with not much respite. It took us almost 2 hours to go down, and most people walk up it! We were laughing on the way down that we would NOT want to be walking up it! I mean, there's nowhere to go. If you go up that way, you're pretty much going straight up for 4 hours, there is no water, no shade, it's an exposed, wind-blown tussock. And then, once you're over the pass, there is a long, ambling descent to Siberia valley. We were definitely preferring going Wilkin-to-Young, rather than Young-to-Wilkin! (Two Israeli boys going in the same direction as us wholeheartedly agreed: they, too, much preferred going down the steep slope, rather than up the steep slope!)

What else... Oh, the people: there was an amusing and sometimes fascinating collection of trampers on the track :).

For example: up at Gillespie pass we met a teenage boy with a big can of salmon in his hand, but no can opener. "Does anyone have a can opener?" he was asking us. Turns out, he was tramping with his dad and a younger brother, but they were slower than him, so he arrived at the pass much anticipating a lunch of salmon (he said, usually he doesn't bring cans of food, but had decided to make an exception this time, as he considers salmon a treat) and then realised that the can opener was still in his dad's backpack! (We didn't have a can opener, but the Israeli boys who were on the pass at the same time did, so all was well.)

On the way down another teenage boy was climbing up towards us. "HOW MUCH MORE!?" he demanded from us with furious determination. I couldn't help but laugh. It looked like he'd had enough of the Young-side climbing :). ("You're almost there, another two minutes," we reassured him. "Good!" the exclaimed and plodded on. "Yup, he definitely looks like he's had enough," I said to my friend with another bout of laughter.)

The day before a group of women in their mid-60's had walked over the pass (we met them at Siberia hut after our own trip to Lake Crucible). The moment they walked through the door, you could tell that they were DONE with it. Several plopped their backpacks down and even before unpacking anything, laid down in the bunkrooms for a 10 minute nap.

I chatted with one at the water tap later.
- "So, you guys came over the pass today! How was it?"
- "I am never coming back here again!" (Laughter.)
- "How come?"
- "Too old for this nonsense."

Turned out, they were good friends from Auckland who every year headed onto multi-day hikes together. Gillespie pass had been an idea one of them had and, let's put it this way, they were not expecting to be as hard as it had been for them. The descent, especially, they said: it had taken so much time to go up the steep slope of the Young-side of the pass, that the decent had felt 'endless'.

(Just to remind you of the landscape: this.)

We went up the way most people go down. Behind us is the landscape we ascended in: Siberia valley where Siberia hut is, then forest alongside Gillespie stream (lots of tree roots!) and eventually alpine tussock on the slopes towards Gillespie pass. We had probably walked for about 3.5-4 hours by the time this photo was taken.

They had descended into a 'hanging valley' where Gillespie stream flows towards Siberia valley below and, erroneously, they had thought, this is it, we must be almost 'home'. The Siberia hut must be somewhere in here! But then the track started descending again (there is about an hour-long walk over tree roots to reach Siberia valley below) and one of the ladies later described that, "This downhill just about killed me." Then, of course, once they reached the Siberia valley, they had to walk another 45 minutes to reach the hut.

So, yeah, by the time they reached the hut, they were not impressed!

Meanwhile, we were hanging out, playing card games with the group of students from Harvard Business School and just, generally, having a really good time. Then another couple arrived who, turned out, had lived and worked in Nepal for a while, so once my friend learned that (he has trekked in Nepal several times), there was a whole table-full of Nepal stories for the ensuing hour. I usually went to sleep by about 7 pm. (Wakeups were usually at around 6 am.)

Surprisingly, I ate less during the trip than I do at home. I think. Which meant that, in addition to extra food we had taken along in case of rainy weather, I ended up carrying quite a lot of food back out with me. (I had, actually, read about a similar pattern with hikers on the PCT who don't start eating loads until a week or two into their journey, after their bodies get used to the continuous walking. I wasn't sure how I would react though, given that it had been such a long time since I went tramping last so, yeah, lesson learnt.) Curiously enough, when I arrived back home to Invercargill 6 days later, I stepped on the scales to find myself way heavier than usual! But that weight quickly came off within 2 days - and lots of peeing! - so I assume it was water retention from all the inflammation around my joints and muscles. We were all pretty darn sore after the tramp :D

Also, I managed to test another piece of gear that I hoped I would not need to test whilst multi-day hiking: my Mooncup. Although I have used one for over a decade and am well familiar with the routine, the prospect of using it on a 5-day tramp scared me. How to handle it? How to keep my hands clean before and after handling it? Is the river water clean enough to deal with it?

In the end, it was awesome - like the rest of the tramp! I read a couple of articles beforehand (this and this) and from there, worked out a routine that worked for me: a packet of disinfecting wipes (for cleaning my hands before and after), a bottle of water (for rinsing it out) and... that's it, really. Somewhere along the line I realised that if river water is clean enough to drink, it must be clean enough for a Mooncup, so... easy-peasy!

***

Along the trail I thought a lot about the importance of getting out there like that, sometimes. Every person is different, so I don't pretend to have answers for all, but especially from the point of view of depression and stress: it's very difficult to have continuously stressful thoughts whilst multi-day tramping. Every now and again I thought about things that cause me stress back home, and I would mull about them for a while, but eventually... my thoughts would move. I would focus on my feet or breathing instead, take in the view, listen to keas' screeching. There is a beautifully rhythmic pace to walking on an un-even, forested surface, and a certain quality of life that is not attainable in an artificial, city-scape environment. I kept wondering that this - this is what humans are 'designed' for. Evolution has created humans who 'fit' with this sort of environment, and our bodies do well in these sorts of conditions.

Mine did, anyway.

I felt a lot of gratitude as I walked. Gratitude towards New Zealand, gratitude for my health which allows me to walk up a hill like that; towards my husband who kept kids home for a week so I could go off; towards being able to hike with a good friend for whom, I think, this will be one of the very last 'big' tramps he'll ever go on.

Which, in the end, might be the cornerstone of why this tramp was such a good one: I think we all felt a lot of gratitude that week.

News of the gardening variety

For the most part, it's been a "stick it in the ground and see if it lives or dies" approach to gardening this year.

But, hey!, I'm learning. And some stuff is actually fruiting, so we've been enjoying berries, herbs, peas, salads... I've got several trays of mint dehydrating in the over at the moment, I wish you could smell the house right now!

Left: hazelnut and straberries, behind them currants and strawberries. Center front: pumpkins; behind them are tomatoes, cauliflower, kale, carrots. Left: potatoes and the compost bins.

Timber for next planter boxes is cut up and oiled, ready for assembly, as is compost. More carrots, I say! And watercress! And coriander!

Left to right: tomatoes, strawberries, chives, coriander, carrots.

Un unexpected addition to our family is a little apple tree that's growing from seed. The seed had self-sprouted inside a store-bought apple (Royal Gala variety), so we stuck it inside a pot and, hey presto!, it's growing. I guess we'll try bringing the tree up to full height, then. We'll see.

Reading: Alan's blog

Have spent an evening reading Alan Robinson's blog at alansonabike.wordpress.com.

We met Alan near the summit of Gillespie Pass track. He was heading down, we were heading up, and for about 5 minutes we chatted about our respective plans. Alan is, let's put it this way, a badass!

Originally from UK, Alan is spending a year backpacking in New Zealand. Currently, he is making his way from Makarora to Glenorchy, but rather than take a car (a 2-hour ride), he is going through the mountains on foot. From Gillespie Pass track he was going to 'link up' with Top Forks / Jumboland, then continue on over the Rabbit Pass (which is so steep at Waterfall Face that some people refer to it as "put your foot in the wrong place, you're dead"), from East Matukituki valley into West Matukituki, then on over the Cascade Saddle, onto Rees-Dart track and then to Glenorchy where he was going to buy some more food.

And then he would continue!

He was planning to run the Routeburn in a day. Then, I don't remember exactly, but I think he was going to use Caples-Greenstone track to get to Mavora lakes, then on to Te Anau and from there, did he say, Ducky track? I don't remember.

A long, long walk anyway :D

Alan took a couple of photos of us, so providing all goes well, in a couple of weeks I will hopefully hear from him when he comes back into 'civilisation' and uploads his adventures onto his blog, and maybe even e-mails me the photos of me and my friend going up Gillespie.

He seemed like a really, really cool character! alansonabike.wordpress.com

Hawley's comet

I had always thought that in Halley's comet, 'Halley' is pronounced like 'galley'.

But reading John and Mary Gribbin's book "Out of the Shadow of a Giant" I have now learned that it is, in fact, Halley like 'Hawley'. Starts the same as 'trawl' or 'crawl'. Hmm... "Hawley's comet".

Weird.


Gillespie Pass track: learning about margins of error, and fun

I don't have any photos from my trip to Gillespie Pass because my friend got swept down a river.

There, I said it. Should have everyone's attention now, yeah?

(No, he didn't get hurt. Both of us walked away from the experience with not much more than a scare, variety of bruises and very wet gear. Unfortunately, both our cameras got thoroughly soaked in the process and would not work afterwards so... yeah. No photos.)

***

It happened within the first 30 minutes of our trip. We were crossing the very first river - Makarora - when it became apparent that the water was on the very high end of what you'd call 'crossable' (ie 'fordable'). Water level was up to my hips; the current was very strong; blustery northwesterly wind was sweeping down the river. We were about 6 metres away from the other bank, having already crossed two other channels before that and it really was one of those moments when you kind of think: "Is the next step going to get us out of here?"

I mean... it could've well been, literally, the toughest point of that river. It could've required just one more step to get into shallower water, and then shallower still until we were safe on the other bank - but we didn't know. All we knew was, the channel was about 20 metres across, we were about 6 metres away from the other shore, and we'd seen another couple cross it at an almost exactly the same spot.

And that's what makes it so difficult - decision-making.

When we started our walk, we'd seen another couple cross the Makarora on foot. They were walking in the opposite direction to us, so they'd, basically, crossed the river from the other shore towards us. We had a good chat with them when they were finished, prior to our own crossing, and we enquired from them about the conditions.

"How was it?"
"Hard. But doable."
"Ah yeah. How deep?"
"About crotch. Mid-hip."

They described the channels and routes they had taken, and pointed out that the last, narrowest channel was 'the hardest' for them. (For us, it would be the first channel we'd need to cross.)

We scouted the river one more time, agreed on the routes we would take, and then set to it. Crossing braided rivers is common practice in New Zealand, as many of the walking tracks do not have bridges on them. Wilderlife has a reasonably good article on the topic, as does the Mountain Safety Council.

Me and my friend were 'locked together' in a standard pack-strap method: my arm was between his shoulder blades and his backpack, clutching his backpack strap on the other side; he did the same to me. We took small, measured steps; supported our weights on walking poles (he had one, I had one); moved consistently.

The first channel (that the other couple had described as 'the hardest') was fair: crotch-deep water, decent current, about 8 metres across. We forded it and moved on.

The second was easier: knee-deep water, decent current. Forded it and moved on.

And that's when we came to the third channel.

Knee-deep.
Then mid-thigh.
Then crotch.
Then mid-hip. (I'm 163 cm.)

Honestly, the thing started scaring me when we were about halfway in. The current was strong - it was making my walking pole 'vibrate' under water as I was using it for support. Blustery wind was pushing at one moment, then receding, then pushing again. Although I was laughing nervously and telling my friend, "Bloody hell!", inside, I was thinking, "Shit me."

It was not funny.

I was relying on other people's judgement. The other couple had crossed just before us and they were fine; my friend was a glacier guide with many years experience in the outdoors, he thought it was a suitable crossing. I trusted that their judgement was better than mine, so I simply focused on making strong, stable footsteps and just pushed on.

And that's when it happened.

I still don't know why my friend went down. Maybe a rock rolled from underneath his feet, maybe a gust of wind de-stabilised his upper body (he was upstream, taking both the current and the wind) - or maybe, he was just not strong enough at 67 to be dealing with such a crossing any more. Either way, I remember seeing him suddenly leaning back with a sort of a groaning sound, and then the next moment both of us were under water.

I don't have a clear recollection of what happened next. I remember having my head under water and reaching up with an open mouth to gasp air. My arm was still stuck behind his backpack, so I started yanking on it to get it free. Yank! Yank!

The next thing I remember, I was standing upright in the river, clutching my friend's chest-strap (he had not unclipped it prior to crossing) and he was laid out in front of me, horizontally and chest down, whilst the river was forcefully trying to pull him away from me. (My legs came up in a variety of painful bruises later, so I must've put up a good fight to get upright.) He was struggling to keep his head above water: I watched him take big gulps of air and then get washed in the face again with the cold, glacial water.

I could not pull him up; he could not get up on his own, either.

"I don't know how to get you up!"

Gasps of air.

"How do I get you up!"

Gasps of air. Then silence. And then...

"Let go!"
"What?"
"Let go!"

So I let go. Immediately, my friend was pulled downstream towards a darker blue 'outside' bend of the river, where the channel is deeper, and I remained standing upright in the current, watching him go, and thinking, "Now what?"

I quickly decided that getting myself out of that river was my first priority, so I turned away from where my friend was floating downstream and continued making strong, stable steps towards the shore.

Focus, Maria. 
Pole down, foot forward, other foot forward. 
Breathe.
Pole down, foot forward, other foot forward.
Breathe.

The water was making a 'whoooosh!'-ing sound every time I took a step, creating turbulence in my wake. I listened to it, both scared that, any moment now, I would find myself face-down in the river, like my friend; but I focused on making strong, stable footsteps because, at that moment, there really was nothing else I could do.

I walked out onto the gravely shore, incredulous that I had actually made it - alone - and quickly started looking for my friend.

He was way downstream. I don't know, 100 metres? 150? It's hard to judge the distance. I started walking towards him, formulating a plan even as I was trying not to lose sight of him, but also to not fall on the rocky riverbank.

I have an emergency locator beacon in my backpack. [We had only taken one emergency beacon with us, and decided that I would have it in my backpack.] I will keep walking this riverbank, watching him. If it looks like he's not coming up for air, or I lose sight of him, I am going to activate the beacon.

The emergency beacon we had included a GPS-capability, so had a signal needed to be transmitted, it would've straight away sent coordinates to the company who manages the register and they would've seen that it's in the Makarora riverbed from a party of 2 who had registered their intention to walk the Gillespie Pass track that week. Local Department of Conservation had all our details.

As much as knowing that helped me at that particular moment - I had a definite 'out' plan if need be and I knew that the beacon was waterproof, so it must've survived the water - it didn't take away from my fear that I was witnessing another person drown. I mean... was this, how people drown?

He was wearing heavy hiking boots.
He had his backpack on - I could not tell from the distance if he was using it to float, or whether he was struggling underneath it.
Was he even a good swimmer?

I didn't know.

Luckily, the current brought him close to the riverbank - opposite to where I was standing - and I watched him grab hold of the shore, haul himself (and the backpack) up onto the gravel and then stand there, for what felt like a long time, hands on his knees, bent above his backpack.

"ARE YOU OKAY?" I shouted towards him across the channel.

He looked up at me.

I repeated: "ARE YOU OKAY?"

He couldn't hear me.

I was scurrying through emergency response knowledge in my head, trying to remember hand signals for communicating with someone over a distance, but all I could remember was that one arm up meant 'no, I don't need help'. So much for useful knowledge, huh?

I watched my friend pull his backpack on his shoulders and he started walking back towards the initial crossing point, so I did the same. Then, he stepped in the water and started... crossing again.

I was, like, wtf? Because clearly he was intent on crossing the river again, at the same place, and I was looking at him, thinking, how is he gonna do it alone, if he fell in before?! In a moment of genius - and I am being sarcastic here, people! - I made a snap-decision to cross the river before he did, so I could get across the hardest bit before he did.

And I stepped in the water, and started crossing. Again. Alone.

That was, to sum it up, like: Jesus. F*ckin. Christ.

In the middle of the channel a boulder rolled out from underneath my foot, so I ended up standing in a hollow, waist-deep in fast-flowing water, and for about 2 minutes I actually thought that I would not get out of that intact. "I am stuck!" I shouted to my friend and he looked at me, gradually working his way towards me in that channel, and I had mental images of BOTH of us rolling down the river, this time hypothermic from all that cold-water contact.

I struggled on. A jetboat roared in from around the corner. I lifted both arms up in the air in a 'here, I am here!' wave. "Heeeey. Heeeey!!!" The driver noticed me, so the boat went back up the river to give me space. "Great," I thought to myself. "Now I have a jetboat driver watching me bloody get washed away, and [my friend] is working his way towards here, and how is he bloody gonna do it, if I can't."

I continued trying to work my way out of that waist-deep hole, and somehow - I don't know how - I actually managed to get across. I was back on the initial shore, teeth clattering - not sure if from cold, or shock, or both - and my friend said to me: "So, do you want to find another crossing and try again?"

Ahem... NO.

"No, I am not doing it again. Let's go get the jet boat."
"Okay."

I have taken a screenshot off Google Earth to show, approximately, what had happened but please bear in mind that the river channels WERE NOT THE SAME AS ON THIS IMAGE! The river changes constantly, so this is just a very indicative photo.

***

We walked back to town, paid a jet boat driver $115 to take us up to Kerin Forks hut (we had initially planned on walking it) and the rest of the trip was an absolute fantastic magic! The weather was awesome (contrary to forecasts), the company was excellent, I had a gorgeous swim in Lake Crucible amidst ice & snow floats, Mount Awful near Gillespie Pass was shedding rockfalls off its steep ridges (there are decent photos of Gillespie Pass at www.southernalpsphotography.com), there were keas, rock wrens, I met interesting people...

Again, a screenshot from Google Earth just to show the general area.


...but for the moment, I am tired and I want to go to bed, so I am going to write about it another time. Cheers!

Heading off to Gillespie tomorrow

Initially, the plan was to head onto Gillespie Pass track Monday-to-Friday, 5 days. But then it turned out that Siberia hut was already fully booked Monday and Tuesday nights (yikes! It's a 20-bed hut...) so we postponed the trip by one day so we would get into Siberia hut on Wednesday, instead of Tuesday.

Tuesday-to-Saturday, we thought, so let's go for 5 days.

But then things changed again. As  the weather forecast came closer, it started to look like a decent low pressure weather system was going to hit the West Coast on Wednesday and Thursday, so we decided to go anyway, but be prepared to sit out the bad weather in Siberia hut on Thursday. Hang out in the kitchen and watch gale force winds whip down the valley floor; and when the weather has moved off again, continue our tramp on Friday.

6 days then. Tuesday-to-Sunday.

Day 1 - Makarora to Kerin Forks hut
Day 2 - Kerin Forks hut to Siberia hut
Day 3 - possible bad weather day at Siberia hut
Day 4 - daytrip to Crucible Lake
Day 5 - Siberia hut to Young hut (over Gillespie pass)
Day 6 - Young hut to Makarora

And for the moment, this is where we're at. I will leave Invercargill tomorrow night, meet up with a friend in Wanaka Tuesday morning, start walking up Wilkin river on Tuesday afternoon and... by Sunday evening, I will come back out into phone reception :)

I am way (!) excited, not only because this is a first decent trip in a very long time (to a place I have wanted to visit for a very long time), but because I get to go with a very dear friend.

We've been friends for 10 years. In 2009, he was a mountain guide working for Fox Glacier Guiding and I was a 25-year-old intern who the company set up to flat in the same house as he was flatting at. I spent 2 weeks at Fox glacier, and we probably spent a better part of those 2 weeks talking each other's ears off every night :). Although we live a 6 hours' drive away from each other (I'm down in Invercargill, he's up at Twizel now, working on Mount Cook), we still get along beautifully. He's a 'hard case' as New Zealanders say it :)

On Tuesday, we get to walk together onto Gillespie Pass track with the shared goal of having fun and, simply, taking our time to have fun. There are no massive days planned, we are not intending to push our limits - or the weather; we have gear we need but not anything extra, and I have well-worn hiking boots.

Excited, excited, excited.


Toilet roll hunt

The real challenge of going hiking for 5 days is to get the family's toilet roll off the toilet roll holder just in time for it to be perfect. Because I don't want a full toilet roll, do I. I mean, it's 5 days. How much pooping will there be? I want there to be about half a roll of paper: not quite empty, but not full either.

So I wait.

Every time I go to the toilet, I gage the roll: is it ready yet? Nah, too full. More people need to use it, I want there to be less paper before I take it off and pack it into my backpack. Maybe, I don't know, two-three uses more? It'll be perfect.

I watch people going to the toilet, almost count them. One person. Two persons. Yeah, that should be good now. I'll go get the roll.

But then I go and realise that... I've missed it!

I don't know what happens. Has someone used up, like, a double amount or something? Because it was a pretty good roll before, but now suddenly it's just feathers and dust, nothing. Not enough to take to a 5 day walk.

So I start the count again when the next roll goes on the holder, and decide to be a bit more lenient this time: I won't wait for it to be exactly right, just more-or-less right. Good enough. I want a half a toilet roll; not a full one; not an empty one. A half one, people, you hear me!

But have you ever tried doing that with a 4-year-old in the house!? It's a blessing to have children who all toilet independently, and I want to go on record saying that!, but... man!, they go through a lot of paper. Trying to hunt down half a toilet roll has been like a type of entertainment today.

Are we there yet?

What about now?

Now?

The plants

Do you remember when, 1 year ago, we demolished our chimneys? Inside we found many little ferns growing on sooty bricks.

We transplanted them to a pebbly patch along the fenceline and... would you look at them now.


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When I received my New Zealand citizenship last year, I was gifted a little native tree - a kowhai. Not yet sure where to plant it, it lives in a pot in the back yard. In years to come - providing it survives and thrives! - I look forward to tui birds coming to our garden to feed on its nectar. At the moment they only land on the high branches of the alder tree and watch us, but if this little fella grows big enough, the birds will have a reason to visit our garden in spring.There are already two corokia bushes which attract native birds with berries in autumn, so bit by bit, the yard will become... home. Not just for us, but for birds, too.

The Revival

A disturbingly good movie. It is not perfect - neither in its storyline nor its production - but it is nevertheless disturbingly good. I recommend watching it.

In New Zealand, it is available through free-to-air, on-demand television at TVNZ.

The sad reality of plastic everywhere

A bird's nest fell off a tree in our back yard today. The Westerly winds are very strong...

At first, I was going to put it in the compost. But then I had a closer look at it and realised, it was full of plastic. Grass and feathers and twigs were interwoven with strips of plastic packaging, polyester stuffing, cigarette butts. It was quite gross, actually.

I put it in the rubbish bin.