The mountains are calling you… well that was the talk in the office this week. After copious amounts of persuasion (thank you Silvia) I decided to take on the task of climbing Manakau (2608m) with a couple of friends (in the end there were seven of us), one of the highest peaks in the Seaward Range of the Kaikouras.
The weather window was great, supposedly there were to be no clouds in the sky for at least 4 days – this was the opportunity of a lifetime; especially in the random Winter we’ve been having so far – cold, hot, cold, hot, cold… you get the picture.
So the short 2 1/2 hour drive up the coast to Kaikoura on Friday with sufficient gear in the back for a bit of tramping, river crossings, snowline camping, a spot of mountaineering and enough food for a couple of days – we were all set.
Camping a the end of the river ready for a semi-early start on the Saturday morning, we arose to a glorious day. The first day was an 11km tramp – 7km along the river bed (starting at 120m above sea level) then 4km climbing from the river to camp at around 2000m, just where the extensive snow line started after numerous days of harsh New Zealand sunshine. The Sunday would be another 5km along the ridge to the summit then the whole 16km back home.
The river valley was fun – although we were laden with heavy packs (some more than others, I was the one with the 35L minimal pack… although Dave game me a run for my money…) We were jumping over boulders, through the river on no less than 50 occasions (we’d all bought trail shoes so our boots didn’t get wet and freeze on the inside while camping) and passed waterfalls on our way up. We hit the trail towards the bivvy and then continued further up the river to the saddle where we had a breather and prepared for the steep climb. From there it was straight up to the Stace Saddle (1045m) climbing up a snow avalanche and several scree slopes to a quick lunch at the top.
From there I suppose the bes description would be that it was a little bit ‘sketchy’ – the first bit, clambering over a few snowy pine saplings and joining the steeper Surveyor Spur a little further was fine. The spur pretty much consisted of brittle and crumbly rocks and steep scree slopes to the either side, probably around 500-1000m high. To be honest it’s not the worst ridge I’ve been up – but in mountaineering boots you seem to get desensitised to the floor beneath you so feel a little on edge. I’d have much preferred to be in my X-Talons in that position, with a little more grip and access to my usual propreoception feelers.
Anyway, we carried on up the ridge, battling with the iced tussocks and loose scree until we reached the snowline. At this point we’d split up with different speeds up the rocks (Nina, James and Rob were ahead, I was in the middle somewhere and Silvia, Jeremy and Dave bringing up the rear – with Chris, who we didn’t realise was on the mountains arrive after us with his bivvy). We pitched the tents in the light, digging in the snow anchors and guy lines (thank godness), put the cooker on for the meals and called it a night.
The night was a little breezy. Very strong winds battered the camp pretty much from 10pm to a little after 3am… the sides of the tent buckled, bent and swayed in the wind, but all was good. Thankful for the extra guys, we came through the night un-scathed and ready when the alarms went off at 4.45am (ish).
Dozing until we actually had to get up, crunching down some breakfast and then packing the day’s gear we were ready for the challenge. Another ~1000m of ascent today (with the route we ended up doing) and 2500m of quad crippling down.
Nina, James and Rob set off at 5am from the camp so the rest of us nicely had some post holes to follow when the rest of us began at 6am. We had planned the night before to sidle round to the next saddle, but both groups got pulled up the hill before we knew it and were too high to reach the saddle from below. This meant that we had to go up and over, climbing around an extra 2-300m and dropping down yet another rocky ridge to the saddle. It was pretty icy in the dark, but me and Dave decided it was a good route and continued upwards, whereas Jeremy, Silvia and Chris dropped round.
We attacked the next few climbs as the sun began to rise over the mountains and it was a glorious view over Kaikoura and the surrounding peaks… Uruwau, Mt Fyffe and the rest… stunning! Only two steep sections and a few more ridges stood inour way to the summit – and we made it to 2608m by 10am! 4 hours, not a bad time for the route we’d chosen.
That was the easy bit of the day…the return trip, however, filled us with a little bit of dread. The trudge back to the camp ground was long. We had to drop from the summit back to around 1700m then climb back up to the 2000m mark and pack up the gear before descending the rocky ridge back down to Staces Saddle.
We ran out of water at around 11am and needed desperately to get back to camp to refuel and quench our thirt. Unfortunately we returned to camp to no gas… uh oh! we had to descend back to the river at the bottom of the ridge, that would be the next time we had access to water that was’t frozen. From now until then it was frozen snow time!
We descended with purpose, leaving camp at around 1pm and reached the saddle by around 3… not a bad descent time. Found our shoes by the river at 3.30pm and started the walk back down the boulder-sticken river valley.
We made good time down the bed and reached the Hapuku Junction path at twilight after faffing a lot tryig to find the track – lots of wading in the river at this point starting to wear on our senses… still we got into the forest and turned on our headtorches.
My headtorch, of course, had nearly run out of batteries… that’s the last time I venture out without learning how to lock my headtorch in the ‘off’ posision while it’s in my pack, draining the juice out of it. Grrr…
Still, I could see my feet and Dave could see a little further, but the river bed just kept going and going…… until… we hit signs of 4×4 use. This must be it, this must be it! (although neither of us could remember what the exit track looked like)…
We’d done it – up the track and back to the car by 8pm. Phew what a long day out, but we had done it – scaled a 2600m mountain in 2 days – great company and group and would definitely do it again. Emergency Subway in Kaikoura anyone? Yum & bed by 11pm in ChCh.