Three Titty-less Twits Tackle the Titiroa Traverse

A terrible tramping tale filled with far too much alliteration.

As reality hit home about the amount of junk that I had collected over the course of the year and the temperamental weather forecasts, post-exam tramping plans were hard to make. Luckily a three day weather window sat between the 12th and the 14th, so we set our sights on a north to south traverse of Mt Titiroa.

Sadly on arrival in Manapouri we had to leave our only pair of tits in the car, leaving us tittyless. Undeterred our troublesome trio tootled down to the wharf to meet the old hand who would ferry us across the river. The plan was that we would walk up and over Mt Titiroa to the North Borland, before walking to Borland lodge, where we would meet back up with Cara-Lisa. The ferryman did not seem too convinced of Logan’s ability, perhaps it was his American accent. After reassuring him that yes, he had indeed been to Fjordlands before, we were allowed to pass across the river. With the first hurdle completed it was time for the march across the marshes to Hope Arm on Manapouri. This section was completed in due haste and soon we were lounging on a beach gorging ourselves on hummus.

With a bit more walking we soon found Hope Arm Hut, complete with two fishermen. After a quick chinwag and a scribble in the hutbook we were off in the direction of Garnock Burn. On the map it looked like there was a small hump to cross before we descended down to the burn, which lay at the base of our approach to Titiroa. In fact, that small hump turned out to be a rather harrowingly huge. With much perspiration and perseverance the hump was conquered, leaving us wondering what we had got ourselves in for. After a knee-jarring drop down to the burn we were confronted with a rather large, steep and forested hill, which we had to presume hid the summit of Titiroa from our sight. Much deliberation was had as we pondered if the route we were supposed to be following really did just charge straight up the guts. We cluelessly consulted each other and the charts to come up with a course to tackle this challenge. Alas, we were confounded and choose the most convenient path. Crossing the burn was easy, as was the lower portion of forest (approximately 50 metres of it). As we gained elevation the gradient of our chosen path steepened until we were scrambling between bluffs, scratching at the soil with our fingertips. I sensed the others had their doubts as to our route as they clung on for dear life. I however was confident in my own stupidity, selflessly leading the charge skyward (on my hands and knees).

As we climbed, we lost several buckets of sweat and subsequently regretted not filling up our water bottles at the stream. Mercifully the pitch of the slope flattened out, about the same time as the hallucinations started, brought on by dehydration. Soldiering on, we bashbashed our way on to pt 1017, and from there it was a relative saunter to the saddle where we planned to set up camp. Several litres of water later we erected our tents on a flattish sandy patch next to the stream, battling the savage wind, struggling to maintain control over our accommodation.

It was once everything was set up that someone suggested perhaps we could find a better camping spot. I don’t know why they had waited until everything was set up to suggest this. On further investigation I discovered a cosy and sheltered campsite situated in the trees just up from the original spot. One by one the tents were transplanted to their new home. By the end of all that we were thoroughly ready for dinner, so the cookers were fired up. In all our organization we discovered that we had each brought a cooker, a pot and gas; just a tad excessive. The peanut satay (noodles + peanut butter) went down a treat, leaving us with very full tummies. We waddled back to our pits and curled up for the night.

I awoke to the chirping of birds and sunlight filtering through the trees. Afraid that the others would already be getting ready I crammed my sleeping bag into its stuff sack and pulled myself outside, announcing to the world that it was time to rise and shine. I got some disgruntled responses from the other tents. Undeterred I continued with my pack up, eventually joined by my companions. As the porridge bubbled Logan revealed that it was little past 6am. Woops, make the most of the day I guess? A very large bowl of porridge later and we were on our way towards the summit.

We were sure to fill up our water bottles before we left, which was just as well as soon enough sweat rolled off our faces again. We were confronted with the strange alien landscape that covered the ridge of Titiroa. It was sandy white, punctuated by strange monoliths, carved by the degradation of time. Under these giants we soldiered skyward.

Every two steps were coupled with a step backwards on the sandy surface. The weather was stunning, making for spectacular views out over Fiordland and Southland. Many rest breaks were had to take this all in. The upper reaches of the mountain were covered with snow on one side and a collection of tarns occupied the basin below. As we approached the summit we clambered up and around each other to be the first there. Given our early start we reached the top at 10am.

Snacks were pulled out and we sunbathed, soaking up the magnificence of the place. There really are no words fit to describe the feeling of being in a place like that. After nearly an hour Jakob signaled his desire to plod on, so we hauled our packs on and skirted around to the other side of the summit. The ridge looking this way was gnarled with rock, whilst the east face carried a heavy burden of snow. After a short deliberation we choose to don crampons and traverse under the rocks. It was at this point the others revealed they had never used them before. Fast forward through “Sam’s Snowcraft” and we were sidling around the mountain side. The snow was slushy in the noon sun and relatively deep. Making each step carefully we made our way down towards the saddle before pt 1677.

Making short work of the traverse, now came time for what we really dreaded, the 1000m drop to the North Borland. Much to our surprise dropping off the ridge was more pleasure than torture, as the soft sand made for excellent sand/scree running.

Once we reached the upper valley below we began to traverse across the wetlands heading for pt 1159. Some of this travel was quite wet and squishy. At one point I aimed for a perfectly reasonable route across some soft black moss on a steepish slope. Unfortunately for me and my dignity this moss was more slime, which proceeded to carry my legs out from under me. I found myself sliding down a slimey rock slab, clawing to try and stop the momentum I was building. After what seemed like an eternity (5 metres of downhill slide in fact) I came to a halt, dripping wet, covered in Fiordland wetland. The others roared with laughter from the top. Ignoring that incident, everything else went to plan as we made our way over the saddle to the left of pt 1159. In the next kilometre Logan had a slip up of his own, leading to a “black and blue arse”, a fate which I am happy to report I avoided. We then dropped into the bush, following the tracks of a marshy stream until it cascaded into a steep gorge. We cut into the bush for a bit before rejoining the stream once it had flattened out. Soon enough we popped out into the river flats of the North Branch of the Borland River. By the time we had pushed our way through the tall tussock to the hut on the other side of the river it was only 2pm.

We filled the afternoon in with hummus munching, bowel unloading (which both Jakob and Logan were desperately holding on for till the hut) and dam construction, because why not?

After what seemed like an eternity the sun began to lower on the horizon. This signaled a retreat from the sandflies and the beginning of dinner prep. There wasn’t really much prep given it was just pasta and olive oil, but it was hungrily devoured. Logan drew the short straw and was on the floor, as Jakob and I curled up in our bunks for the night.

Unsure of what time Cara would emerge from her adventure we had a later start the next day. The vat of porridge was even larger than the day before, too much even for our hungry trio of twits. We were out of the hut by 9am, making our way across the marshy riverlands for the forest down river.

The track (what a luxury) wove through the trees, climbing and descending with the forest’s undulations. Our weary legs resented the up and struggled to hold us on the down. Despite this we made quick work of the track, passing the two unbridged streams in good time. On coming to the walkwire across a larger stream/river we were rather confused, as there was no walkwire. This did little to stop our intrepid party, and soon we were having lunch in the large rock bivvy 500m down the track.

Once I had polished off my hummus we were off again down towards the Borland lodge. Ninety-nine bottles of beer later and a bridge later and we ran into a Cara walking up the track towards us in jandals. We swapped war stories as we marched towards the carpark. It wasn’t far from that point and soon we were sheltering from sandflies in the car, heading for home.

Titiroa is truly spectacular, a must do.

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Sam Harrison

Tramper with something to say about tramps (of the walking variety).