Learning to Punt
There is something magical about punters. That is those unlucky sods who gamble their lot with yours, for some mysterious reason. Some would argue that we are all born punters, but for myself I think it is an acquired skill. The following therefore is a brief illustration of the journey from punting to punted.
Paradise proper had been put out of action by a hangover from hell. This was how we found our searching for a new slice of paradise in Arthur’s Pass. I slept under the bus on the Friday night, not bothering with the faff of a tent. This plan was perfect in theory, yet not in practice, as someone had managed to shut me under the bus. I waited in my dark little prison for Phoebe to come rescue me, whenever that might be. Luckily she did miss me, and came looking with an empty tummy. Now released from my cell I set about trying to unscramble my brain and assemble something that resembled breakie. Easier said than done as some random (non-OUTC) folk had set up mats in the cooking shelter. Phoebe early in the morning is a force to be reckoned with, and she non-nonchalantly cleared the shelter without any bother. Soon porridge was bubbling away, which left us to face our next problem, where was Conor who was meant to drive us? This remained a mystery for most of the morning, until the critical time came for our departure. A sleepy looking Conor emerged out of the woodwork, thus paving the way for our departure.
As we left we received the news that the Lake Mavis crew had decided not to cross the Bealey River, a worrying sign for our plans. Our pitch was a trip over the summit of Mt Pfeifer to the Otehake hotpools before looping around back to the Morrison Footbridge. A look at the Otira confirmed my earlier worries, a change of plans was at hand. Instead we would follow our plan in so far as obtaining the Waharoa saddle, following the ridgeline along, then dropping down a steep scree gut to the NE of the Biv, looping back to the bridge. Little did we know how long the day would be.
The walk started off with a bang when Owen tried to avoid a “TRAIN” by grabbing an electric fence. The train turned out to be a little track sweeper, so that was humorous. Although the Otira was running high and milky, its tributaries had standard flows so I was quite comfortable pushing on with our new plan. Travel up Paratu Stream was easy enough, at least for Phoebe and I. Alaina required a bit of hand holding and maneuvered up the creek like a toddler learning to walk, minus the swagger. Despite this we moved fast and soon found ourselves in the trees on the way to the saddle proper.
The section in the bushline came and went swiftly, ejecting us into a stony clearing on the saddle. From this vantage point we could see down to Lake Kaurapataka and the Taramakau Valley beyond. Our path went south from here, literally and figuratively. Owen had started to break out into “Ain’t no mountain high enough…” as we climbed steeply to escape the treeline. During this upward trek I formed the hypothesis that Alaina was not the biggest fan of heights, a theory that did not take long to validate given the way she clung to the earth. The weather up until this point had been rather shitty, but by some stroke of luck the cloud began to move with us, slowly rising revealing more of the landscape. It was to this backdrop that we stopped for some nibbles.
From there we moved with the mist, making our way to the ridgeline that would guide us to our goal. Moving along the view was splendid, slight consolation for Alaina who was shitting her pants. For whatever reason some punters just don’t quite compute that a hard can well be… hard? Anyway much to our surprise the day was blooming into something beautiful, with sunshine peeping through the blinds. Unfortunately for Alaina, as we crested the next rise, a narrow spiney ridge presented itself in front of us.
This might have been amusing if I didn’t feel an inkling of responsibility to pull everyone through (okay it was still pretty funny to be honest). As you might guess we moved pretty slowly traversing around towards Mt Pfeifer. We found our own ways to entertain ourselves. Owen frolicked off to have a rockgasm in private, taking in the superb geology including impressively distinct faultlines. Phoebe meanwhile was caressing a boulder fondly, something she called ‘bouldering’.
We waited at this bouldering rock for Alaina to crawl our way. A rock wren bobbed happily (or intimidatingly?) in front of us while we past the time. From here we assumed a new formation, a bit of good cop, bad cop if you will. I guided us in the right direction, cracking the whip. In the meantime Phoebe held back with Alaina, coxing her along with kind words and encouragement. In this fashion we made some good progress, with Mt Pfeifer rising above us, with the biv in the basin down below.
There was a decision to make here. We had visuals on both the biv and the summit. Problem was it was only going to get chossier, steeper and generally more unpleasant for the uninitiated. This sounded less than ideal for Alaina, who was already overdue for several changes of underwear. We came to an agreement that Alaina and Celia would beeline down to the biv for lunch, whilst the rest of us send it to the summit. I was comfortable with this as it was just a straight run down to the comfort of the shelter leaving us to swiftly knock the bastard off. With the plan settled we promptly parted ways and we began our scramble up. The change of pace was welcome but exhausting, we were hauling ass up the hill and mine was badly out of shape. We approached the summit up steep scree slopes, before scrambling the final few metres on solid rock.
With the obligatory photos dusted off we sent it down to the biv, getting in around 2pm for a spot of welcome lunch. The biv was in a splendid spot and I was rather sad we couldn’t call it a day there. Alas, our plans forced us away from this haven, and so I began the delicate task of devising a route home. Given the immense stress that had accrued traversing the ridgeline to reach the biv, I was not keen on returning the same way. Instead I opted to follow a route that drops down an impossibly steep scree gully, what could go wrong?
Well it turns out a whole lot. The first issue was finding the bloody thing. The terrain drops off quite steeply and I had to rein in Phoebe who was keen to just ‘send it’ off the edge of the mountain. Now, I’ve had my fair share of navigational fuck-ups, so I exercise a fair degree of caution when it comes to these route finding decisions. I opted to scout out a route farther to the left and eventually the rest of the crew followed.
I wasn’t exactly relaxed, something about the near vertical scrub bashing and the innate pressure not to screw up the nav. At one point I tested out the top of a scree gully, only to realize that this was a big fucking mistake. If only I was a tool like Owen, I mean, HAD a tool like Owen’s. I found myself scratching into the bare dirt which was at least on a 45 degree slope. This was far from comfortable so I made a desprate attempt to cling onto the side for bare life until I managed to haul myself out into the relative safety of the shitty scrub.
From here we descended further until the gully mellowed out a little (emphasis on little) before dropping back onto it. Given Alaina was already well past her comfort zone, we decided to push her further as we didn’t really have any other options. What followed was several hours of controlled uncontrolled scree sliding/running/falling down the steep gully, each person trying their best to mitigate triggering the inevitable rock slides onto fellow party members below. At one stage I heard Celia yell “ROCK”, I turned to find a dishwasher sized rock bee-lining towards Owen. Realizing his chances of a second date with that Tinder girl were now in jeopardy attempted to launch himself to the side. Sadly Owen’s foot slide in the lose scree and a look of utter horror crossed his face, as he contemplated life as a paraplegic. By some miracle he did get that second date. I mean, he did manage to avoid the boulder by a hair’s breadth.
Despite that minor hiccup, we managed to reach terra firma more or less in one piece. Alaina was suffering mentally and physically by this point, but by now I had accepted she would be scarred for life by this experience either way. The slide ran into a stream which had a faint track running parallel to it. Following this deposited us out onto Pfeifer Creek. The creek made for more or less pleasant travel and we made descent progress towards the Lake Karaupataka track. We were relieved to see a hallowed orange triangle signalling us from a tree, finally we were out of the woods.
Except we weren’t. Mentally I had made this the end of the days troubles, but how wrong could I have been. We at the track to stock up on gingernuts and other assorted goodies before sending it down the trail. We flew at great pace, led by Phoebe who I think had her mind set on dinner. Sadly this meant she wasn’t paying particular attention to the track marking. In this fashion we found ourselves a kilometre away from the actual track, wondering what had happened to all the sign of foot traffic. We bashed our way back to the TRUE track, but not before we lost Alaina down several scrubby holes in the forest floor. I figured we could afford to lose one punter, a necessary sacrifice to ensure the rest survived.
Despite her navigational misgivings, Phoebe was still determined to lead the charge out of the woods, cracking the whip on the rest of us. In this manner we half jogged, half dragged our tired frames down the farm tracks until we came to the junction with the track that went to the crossing of the Otira. Despite the river levels that morning, I felt it was still worth a punt to see if the river had dropped to a safe level to cross. Spoilers, it hadn’t. I was painfully aware that this was the sort of situation where one might be tempted by a tired and foggy mind to make a stupid decision, so with one sad look at the river I called a retreat.
Now I knew from the map it would only be a few kilometres down the TA to reach where the footbridge was. Maddy had assured me that this track was passable. The reality was rather different. For a tired party of 5 in the dark, including a half-dead, half wanting to be dead Alaina, it was pure torture. The track avoids the river by climbing up and down these annoying little gullies, weaving in and out of fallen trees. We were crawling at a snails pace, the only thing I could do to pass the time was make sure we could still see a marker, each time saying “yep”. So you could imagine our elation when we finally stumbled/fell onto the flat grass land that marked 2km back to the bridge.
“I think I need to yak” — Alaina
This flat ground could do little to stop us, as we had lost all fucks in the up and down section of torture. Finally I saw the bridge and let out loud guttural clicks to signal to my tribe members that we had reached salvation. Then I saw a tent next to the bridge and felt slightly weird about sounding like a Weka on heat. Crossing the bridge I saw the van with a light on, and did my best morse with my headlamp to sign that we were alive (perhaps not okay though). Maddy and Tom were there with chocolate, so I forgave her for telling me the track was passable. Sadly since both of them were under 21 I still got shafted into driving.
On arrival back to camp around 11pm I was greeted with cheers and hugs. It seemed that everyone had convinced themselves that I had died and had started a process of grieving. Alas, although I might be alive I could not necessarily be so sure about Alaina. One thing I did know for sure was, she had well and truly earned the title of Punter.