Marlborough blog | July 2022

Mid-winter tramping?

Yeah, why not?

It may have some disincentives, the short length of daylight, and cooler temperatures, but it has a huge advantage: extended periods of solitude.

Plus it coincides with a drop-off of my self-employed work potential, so if you’re not doing too much that’s productive, it’s a great time to be out and about.

My trip to Marlborough in March was not fully successful due to continuing poor weather, but for some reason, I thought the depths of winter might provide a better opportunity.

The length of daylight didn’t prove much of an issue, and I managed to catch up on plenty of sleep. The weather was, well, variable, but I was kinda expecting that.

Snow added to the mix, and I ended up with a couple of nights in cold and well-ventilated huts. Like freeze-your-wet-boots-inside-the-hut cold.

13 days of tramping in total, with me scurrying out prior to a third snowfall.

But my objectives, as they were, managed to be achieved, and a few Little Adventures were chalked up.

Tramping for hours in the snow. The amazing route up Alfred Stream. Watching the Clarence River rise substantially, and change colour.

No surprise that I didn’t see others on any of these days.

So, a modest excursion, but exactly what I was looking for.

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Day 1 | Black Birch Bivvy

In the dark, I didn’t manage to see the hut until just before I bumped into it.
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Day 2 | Out to Kaikoura

The experience of the wind was seriously discombobulated with the branches swishing around, and the light and shade also swirling. It felt almost like being in a small boat in a storm.

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Day 3 | Warden Hut in snow

At first the flakes were few, but eventually it was full-on snowing, sufficient to cover the ground.

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Day 4 | Warden Hut, again

Snow. It fell in the night to create a winter wonderland.

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Day 5 | Old Willows Hut

No mattresses, dirt floor, excess ventilation. And that dead cat in the corner looked recent.

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Day 6 | Alfred Hut

If I didn’t go to Alfred Hut now, my second expedition here, I doubted I’d start out on a third.

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Day 7 | Palmer Hut

Cold? You betcha! Frost on the inside of the louvres. Plenty of sparkles on my frozen boots.

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Day 8 | Palmer Hut, night 2

Fairly austere rations. Plenty of physical and to be honest, mental effort. But you get into The Flow, with body and mind working together, although this time it was mostly body.

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Day 9 | Palmer Hut, night 3

It’s an amazing privilege to be out there. Better make the most of it.

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Day 10 | Palmer Hut, night 4

The most tricky bit, the only tricky bit, was the last 200 m to the bivvy where a narrow gorge had a few large boulders dropped in, and that is always hard to negotiate, particularly when Albert Stream has risen from the overnight rain and snow melt.

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Day 11 | Forbes Hut

Gore Stream turned out to be quite shallow and easy to splash through, even if it looked like sloppy concrete.

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Day 12 | Warden Hut, once again

The narrow channel had the full flow, but I put all my tech gear into a waterproof bag deep in my pack. My walking pole was twanging away musically, but I shuffled across side on as usual, the water level just under my kneecaps.

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Day 13 | Christchurch

Then I just needed to get out of my wet clothes and boots, and head off to civilisation, a shower, some fresh food, and some conversation, those attributes of life that I had avoided for the previous 11 days.