Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Skiing Tapuae-o-Uenuku

Tapuae-O-Uenuku (or Tappy) in the Kaikoura Range of the northern part of the South Island is the highest mountain in New Zealand outside of the Mt Cook region. It's where Ed Hillary cut his teeth on climbing and carrying heavy packs whilst walking in rivers and through thick vegetation. Steeped in history and with a location which means it breaks up the drive when headed south to other mountains, Tappy is actually a very worthy destination mountain in itself, with a memorable approach, cool terrain and a very isolated atmosphere when on the upper parts of the mountain.

Skiing Tappy is all about the approach, the ski to hike ratio is so lob-sided that only the ignorant or foolish would even contemplate it. After a 50km drive up the Awatere Valley I parked on the side of the road and given the late hour, bivvied by the car ‘til first light. The route up to the mountain follows the Hodder River for 22kms and 1000 vertical metres of hiking along the river bank on polished river stones and repeatedly wading through the fast flowing river which ranged in depth from knee to crotch. I soon lost count of the number of times that I crossed the river, but going off other trip reports I’ve read, 80 crossings each way sounds like the average. To make things more interesting a few landslides in the past few weeks had created small dams in the river which were extra deep.

The Hodder River- one river crossing down, 79 to go!

After about 40 crossings the doubt was starting to creep in... 
 The river itself alternated between broad, braided sections and steep gorges which required walking directly up the river itself. Travel was slow and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t beginning to doubt whether all the effort would be worth it.  So after 6 hours of walking in wet shoes it was a relief to reach the Hodder Huts at 1500 metres. I spent the rest of the day uneventfully reading and listening to music.

Finally at the comfortable huts, my home for the night
Beautiful sea of clouds at 7am looking down the upper Hodder drainage
At 6.30 the next morning I was back in my still wet running shoes and moving again. After one final river crossing the uphill in loose scree began in earnest. By 7.30 I’d reached the snowline just below 2000 metres and quickly changed to ski boots and crampons. From here it was all smooth sailing. A good re-freeze overnight made for a fast and easy ascent up the final 900 metres.

Mt. Alarm and Mitre Peak- great ski terrain if you can be bothered to carry your gear in.

view from the summit
Another view from the summit. That's the South Pacific lurking below the clouds

The snow was firm, but edge-able.

Selfie at the start of the out hike
 I was a little too early to get the snow in its perfect corn state, and impatient to wait around for it to soften up. So I skied the firm slopes back down the way I’d come, and changed back in to running shoes for the long walk back to the car. There is loads of potential for steep skiing in this area. If I was to come back, it with be with more food so that you could be based at the huts for a few days and explore all of the opportunities on offer.

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