Peak 19 (Attempt): Mt Armstrong – a peak too far?
“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
…once said by Sir Edmund Hillary about climbing a peak. On Sunday, I felt totally the same.
We left Christchurch before the crack of dawn; 5:30am to be precise, in time to get to the Otira Valley by sunrise. We sped along to Porter’s Pass, through Craigieburn Forest and along the Waimakariri to Arthur’s Pass Village, stopped for a quick respite then arrived at our destination within the allotted 2 hours.
Turning left onto the track towards our start point, we noted the ‘PRIVATE – NO PUBLIC ACCESS’ on the gate. Still, this was marked on the map as a public right of way, so we decided to take a look. Thanks to NZRail, this area was private as it took us to the Otira Tunnel entrance, an 8.5km rail line that rises 250m into Arthur’s Pass Village.
Anyway… we decided not to risk the car being towed or clamped (in the middle of nowhere) so dropped the kit bags and took the car back to the main road (I say main loosely) and ran back to the bags to start the tramp proper.
Back at the bags I taped my feet up (after last time) and get going. The start was an interesting mix of boulders, river jumps and more boulders. Not much really changed for the next hour apart from the river was full of water after the snow-melt and the fact that Dave was a little quicker at this than me. Stupid tramping boots, taking my proprioception away from me and adding another kg onto what I usually have on my feet… sad times. I felt like a scarecrow trying to balance on stilts – to put it bluntly, I was rubbish.
So we carried on, the pace got better, but the route did not. The boulders got bigger, the river got deeper until we were forced to cross and go in up to our waists. This was the first of many…but we soldiered on, rung out our socks and got to the crux of the walk in – yes we were still on the walk into the valley – we were no where near the start of the peak yet. This was 10.30am. We hit an area of river that was too high to cross and a little too dangerous…
Dave nicknamed this “Mordor” as it looked like the gates of hell.
The other path, lit up in the sunlight to our left, unfortunately up a steep scree slope and onto a track that didn’t really exist.
We trudged up, grasping onto yet more boulders until we’d definitely climbed the height where the path was to start. We looked at each other, and at the map. Each other. The map. Each other… this carried on until we decided we’d gone too high. Deciding to descend we realised that I had stood next to a ‘cairn’ about 10 minutes ago. Crap. The cairn wasn’t very obvious and this was the story of the next hour through dense bush. The track barely existed, the forest floor was either a river, a steep slope covered in roots or didn’t exist… so it was fun!
After a spot of lunch, we had a look at the watch and thought we’d carry on to see how the next part of the tramp looked. We got around the corner, confronted by a wall of scree. Scree, lovely scree! We therefore decided to carry on up the river (although we’d probably had enough of river beds for a while)… time caught up with us after another 30 minutes and we took another look at the map after hitting what looked like an impassable waterfall section. We had another 2km to go until the summit and had another 900m to climb (same as what we’d done already). We called it quits and turned back.
Gutted. Turning back was stomach-wrenching, but the best idea really. We’d been out for 4h30m and only had 5hrs of sunlight left after calculating that the rest of the route would take us probably about 5 hours to get us back to the same point, let alone getting back to the car.
The way back seemed long (as it usually does when you’re a little downhearted)… but we had a relaxing walk back, hitting the car just on dusk – thankful that we’d had turned around when we did, as our chances of finding the track with our headtorches would have made it a miserable return trip!
Still, a great day of adventuring in the mountains, not a peak this time; but soooo worth it.