The Dart river in New Zealand (Rees Dart tramp, Dart river jetboat) is a large meandering alluvial plain when it reaches Glenorchy, and it feeds a large number of glaciers from the main divide. I am getting to know every nook and cranny with the flights I’ve done in this area.
This vol biv trip started with a clearing southerly. As the clouds lifted we raced up lovers leap, a base jumping cliff facing into the wind. From as low as we dared I soared up, first with my old bolero, then with Mum on the tandem. Meanwhile a trio of acro pilots walked almost all of the way up, to do their tumbles. Mum and I had a most enjoyable time soaring for 40min with the other pilot (later found out it was Troy) who had been doing SATs and heli’s all day, before I slope landed near my solo wing and took off again, 5:10pm a bit late!
I couldn’t get higher than 3000′ on the spur west of the earnslaw burn, so ducked around onto sunny faces and scratched lower and lower. Just about as I gave up I managed to gradually get something, then finally above bushline I triumphantly announced that I was away (on the radio) see you in a few days! It wasn’t easy though, it turned out the best tactic was to give up on getting high and to just slide into the lee and hope for the best!
Finally I managed to get to Daleys flat hut, and got a round of applause on reaching the trampers sheltering in the hut from the sand flies!
Next day I decided to use the bridge and head up Hedin peak, hoping to get a look over the divide. Well what a mission! The forest was generally open but several times I made good progress up mossy slopes only to realise I’d just climbed a massive boulder, and had to turn around and go back down. Occasionally I saw old permolat track markers but when there was any doubt as to which way to go these would of course be nowhere to be found!
After the morning cloud burned off, the day went totally blue. It was very hot climbing up above bushline, especially when I reached the snowline. I had forgotten my sunglasses so I pulled my thin black belaclava over my eyes, peeking out occasionally to look for slots. Later I saw a few tiny waxy clouds form a few ranges to the east (Cleft Peak), but I felt the day was pretty stable. I thought I could be back at the same hut I’d left all those hours ago in just a few minutes, so I might as well spend my time up here and try and reach the main divide. But when I saw the view from a bump behind Hedin peak I realised it would be quite hopeless to make it there that day – and with light wisps of air occasionally fanning up the slope, I’d be pushing it not to set up and launch.
I took off at around 5:30pm from over 2000m and expected to land in the valley so opted for a scenic flight past the glaciers. But just a few minutes from touch down I was surprised to find lift on a low spur. I turned and followed it and was absolutely thrilled to get to 8400′!
I pushed on toward distant Tutoko, but on reaching the Beans burn I had to land to dress appropriately. As it so often happens, after this I couldn’t get back up! Fearing a scrub bash I managed to glide to First flat, landing with it well in shadow.
Some trampers told me the track had been redone since my last visit, so my fears were unfounded. They also told me the track notes said climbing directly up to Lake Unknown was “not recommended”.
My stupidity did not fail me – against reason I climbed steep slopes holding onto beech trees before a nightmare icing on the cake 30 metre near vertical at times scrub bash before reaching the crest. Only to be greeted by the SW’r, white capping on the lake. Ouch. I wandered to the outlet to get a great view of Glenorchy, intermittent cellphone coverage, and a weather forecast. And some time to write this blog!
Coincidentally, Luke had replied to a text I sent querying the weather, saying his Dad had come up here too! I was lazy and half waited for him to turn up, getting roasted in the hot sun. Finally I went off to find the rock biv myself, via a refreshing fully clothed dip in the lake. After a few hours of alpine relaxation I suddenly decided, at 5:40pm, to climb Chaos. I left a note in the rock biv and motored up the hill. Spectacular views with hardly a cloud and a very enjoyable climb across smooth glacier scraped rocks and snow patches. After 1hr20 I was almost at the top. But I lost interest at what lay in front of me and decided to check emails instead! Chaos has some great phone reception!
That evening I settled down until I heard some shouting and whistling in the distance. It turns out the late arrivals were camped 150m away by the lake. They were still cooking tea when I arrived – and what a surprise, it was the same party of five (plus a new recruit) that I’d done a tramp with last year! We had a good chat and I unsuccessfully tried not to eat all their food.
Next morning was fine, but not as windy as I’d expected. After changing my mind about Mts Nox / Minos I hurried to catch the guys up Mt Chaos. I found a snow patch to launch from and after a knot untying session I was off.
The enormous northeastern face of Chaos turned out to be a bit of a let down. The air was rough and I drifted with the southerly up valley, finally parking myself in front of Niobe. Flying over Chamois footprints in the snow fields I struggled to get height, when you got lift you could never be sure it would still be there after a turn.
Conscious I was drifting away from civilisation with a very limited food supply, when I got high enough I pushed back to Chaos, before being forced to land again at First Flat.
It was a long walk out to Chinamans bluff (especially in bare feet!) but it was nice to be able to pinch Huss’s truck and drive home, dust blowing on the wind in the heat of the river flats.