July 7, 2017
Twizel, New Zealand
I’ve been in New Zealand for just over a week now, and it was really only yesterday that I started to fully enjoy and embrace being here. After spending five months travelling with two of the most important people in my life, my brother and my girlfriend – I mean my girlfriend and my brother (Kim is probably reading this) – it was a bit of an adjustment suddenly being on my own, Month 6 into this trip, as far away from home as I will get. My arrival was made easier by having a place to stay with a fellow Canadian (thanks to my colleague Lindsay’s brother Oscar), and I met plenty of people at the hostel in Wanaka the last few nights, but it isn’t quite the same feeling as traveling with someone. That, and I’ve been cold since I arrived in Queenstown. Maybe going from the equator straight to 45 degrees south latitude was a bit of a miscalculation. I imagine it was part of the reason I got sick for two days. Oh well.
All of that changed yesterday though when I picked up my “wicked” camper van in Queenstown. Despite the wacky paint shop and crude language painted in block letters for tailgaters to read (the rental company has actually been in some trouble down here because of the not so family friendly graffiti), the van will provide me with two weeks of freedom and flexibility to head to wherever the snow looks good. And even though it was about minus 10 outside last night, I was nice and cozy inside the van with my sleeping bag and extra blankets that were provided. I’m ready to do some ski touring!
Because backcountry skiing is not an individual sport, and because Matt got sucked back into work, I’ve had to find some touring buddies for my time down here. So far, it hasn’t been the easiest thing to do. I put up a post on some of the Facebook groups down here, and our friend Gavin that we met in Nepal connected me with some of his friends in Wanaka. But people work for a living, and have other things to do, so despite trading a few numbers I haven’t done any touring yet. Not really the end of the world, because there isn’t a whole lot of snow as it is. That being said, I did have quite a bit of fun night skiing at Coronet Peak the other night with Oscar and a few of his buddies – continent #5 is in the books!
In the last couple days I’ve connected with Jamie, an avid backcountry skier from Scotland, of all places. Jamie, like me, has better things to do than work five days a week. So he and I met up yesterday, here in Twizel, and hatched out a plan for the next few days. Despite the more than a dozen-year age difference between the two of us (me being the elder), we both have only one common objective for the next few weeks: to ski until our legs fall off. Or at least come close.
We got off to a great start towards that objective today when we drove up to the Ohau ski field and loaded up our packs with three days worth of food and overnight gear. Jamie has been in New Zealand since last October, on a working holiday, so knows his way around the South Island pretty well. Our plan was to tour up the ski field and drop off the back side of the hill and down into the next valley to stay at the Snowy Gorge Hut. We checked in with the ski patrol at the top of the hill, gave them the car keys and filled them in on our proposed itinerary for the next few days.
Skinning up the ski field’s cat track was a little slow, given the big pack I was carrying, as well as the fact I hadn’t been out touring for over two months. But it felt great to be touring again. And when we did finally make it to the top ridge of the ski field, we were rewarded with great views of the Southern Alps, including Mount Cook/Aoraki (New Zealand’s highest peak), and Lake Ohau to the east. We toured along the ridge towards Mount Sutton to look for a place to drop into the valley.
As we had a break and enjoyed some lunch, looking down into the valley we planned to ski, it started to dawn upon us that Snowy Gorge wasn’t really that snowy. In fact we probably wouldn’t even be able to ski all the way to the hut. The snowline looked like it was 300 – 400 m below the ridge where we were sitting, and the hut was another few hundred metres below that! With time and flexibility on our side, we decided to simply turn around and ski back down to the parking lot. Somewhat sheepishly, with our big overnight packs. The ski patrol was a little surprised to see us so soon, but we got to enjoy some nice turns down the ski field, with Lake Ohau framing the backdrop.
And now we are back at the Wild Buck Pub in Twizel. Funny little place. Last night when we were in here there was a raffle/bingo game in which you could win household cleaning products and/or canned soup (among other foodstuffs). We’ve poured through the latest weather and snowforecast.com outlooks to come up with a new plan. It seems like there is lots of snow up near Mt. Cook, as well as a nice hut that we could base ourselves in for a night or two, so we’ll head there in the morning. Then later in the week it looks like a fresh storm will pass through, further north at Lake Tekapo area, so we’ll probably try to chase that. In the meantime, we’ll head out to one of the free campgrounds nearby and park the car for the evening. I can definitely get in to this routine.