Mt. Tapuae-o-Uenuku from the Clarence, 22-25 October
Footprint of the Rainbow
22-25 October, 2010
Not one but two Kaikouran dishes were offered this Labour Day Weekend. Joining the familiar Barrish favourite Tappy from the Hodder was an altogether drier Nankervonian Clarence concoction.
A search of ancient Tararua menus seems to indicate that Tappy from the Clarence was last served in 1954 and before that in 1941. Tappy from the Clarence returned in 2009, but was taken off the menu when bad weather threatened to spoil the cuisine - instead Pinnacle Peak was nibbled at the Leatham River café. 2010 and the ancient recipe was again unearthed: (Serves 7) Take a prominent peak in the Inland Kaikouras. Sift access routes carefully to remove any traces of river crossings (‘floatillas’). Add climber meat. Tender AIC lamb to old mountain mutton, any cut will do. Marinate for a couple of weeks with talk of problematical roads, tussock camps and salt of-the-earth run holders. Bake on the high intermontane slopes for three days in the sun. Serve with fresh snow, scree and vegetable sheep.
Friday’s ferry was high in Tararua. Crossover of flavours seemed certain. But our seven were safely chilled overnight in a Kekerengu sheep shearers’ quarters, then tenderised for two hours in the morning on the 4WD road. By Saturday noon, the ingredients were gathered at the Branch Cottage airstrip. From here the tussock camp seemed an improbable target: the only flattish and watered place for miles around and reachable by just one practical route through scrubby and broken country. But at 1500m it was about half Tappy’s elevation and a mere kea glide south and east from the summit.
Finding the landing spot, we put up tents and noted the approach of other parties below. This distraction allowed us to pretend we hadn’t noticed Tappy’s glaring snow slopes and southern buttresses towering almost a vertical mile above the camp. By evening, a total of four parties, twenty climbers and about ten tents were in camp. Inter-party banter was rife (but stopped short of food disparagement which many consider ‘below-the-harness’).
That evening, plans were finalised over bland couscous and uninspired drinks prepared by the AIC graduates. Nank, Piers and Dave would traverse the Tappy up its East Ridge and down the Branch Stream route. Meanwhile, Paul would lead Mark, Sean and Daniel west to climb Mt Alarm then follow the ridge to traverse Tappy the other way, reversing the Nank ascent route.
Sunday morning before five and a quartet of Maxim torches swarmed off into the blackness. The Nank team de-camped soon after, along with an NZAC party of ten also intent on the East Ridge. Sunrise saw the Nankers cramponing crisply on firm thirty-degree snow. Rocks of the East Ridge rising on our right were a superb silhouette against the backdrop of the lower Clarence valley and Kaikoura coast. Continuing high up this slope for an hour or three, Piers drank the exposure and got a good taste of alpine travel New Zealand-style. When the going softened, we used the staircase put in by the ten NZAC’ers so as not to hurt their feelings. With two hundred to the top, the line went right, crossing through the East Ridge, to mellower Taranaki-ish summit slopes. Passing a rock tower, we climbed a delicious steep snow gully only to be ambushed by strong gusts above. All were forced to layer up, in my case, one-handed and kneeling by my daggered axe. Luckily the gusts were short-lived. I looked across to Nank and Piers padding the final few metres to the summit. Behind them, and now some 2400m below, was the spot in the Clarence River valley where we had left the cars. It made for a spectacular scene.
Topping out at 10 o’clock we hoped for a summit rendezvous with the Hodder army. Alas, we had been too fast and were a couple of hours early. This was confirmed by the rampaging Maxim party which, having disabled the Alarm, swept along the ridge to Tappy, encountering the Barrians in various states of high summit fever early in the afternoon.
The descent from summit ridge was uneventful apart from the unfortunate loss of Nank’s sacred and ancient north wall hammer. It is thought its carrier ‘donated’ the tool to a lonely rock during a moment’s distraction.
The Nank team were content to roast themselves at the tussock camp all afternoon, awaiting return of the Alarmists. The Maxim detachment duly appeared over the rounded spur above the camp. So it was that the magnificent seven embarked on a lengthy banquet starting with nibbles and blue cheese, then moving onto a superb dinner. All the while they drank in fine views of distant golden lands - the mountain fires.