Misadventures in the two thumbs

Clint and I decided to avoid some of the high avalanche danger that has been present after large storms in New Zealand by doing a ski traverse, the plan: Roundhill to Dobson via a night at South Opuha hut.

There had been a series of low level snow storms around the Mackenzie area, so we were hopeful that the hut would be above snow line and not too difficult to access.

We turned up at Roundhill and managed to have our car returned to Tekapo but Simon at Roundhill.

The Richmond Range from the Carpark at Roundhill

It was a pretty massive powder day atRoundhill, unfortunately, we were not there to ski pow. So Clint and I hoofed it breaking trail through 50cm or so of light (but quickly warming) pow up to the top of the Richmond Range.

170816 South Ophua Hut (2 of 16)
170816 South Ophua Hut (3 of 16)
Clint at the top of the Ridge, acknowledging that it’s a lot further than it looks
Joel on the ridge of the Richmond Range

We rode down the back to the valley bottom below Mt Misery and proceeded down stream.

Clint’s wind affected pow riding down to the valley bottom

I knew that there would be a few harder to negotiate sections of the valley bottom as we approached the hut some 8km or so away but we were in for a bit of a nasty surprise, as the sun was setting we had to negotiate ever narrowing gorge-like features near the river. Eventually, as we curved around Sugar Loaf mountain we succumbed to the terrain and were pushed into the river and  we had to walk downstream, in the dark, a few hundred metres before we managed to put our skis back on to continue to the hut.

Easy walking at the start, chasing Tahr downstream
Lots of animal activity around the valley
Lots of animal activity around the valley
Lots of animal activity around the valley – things get a bit more miserable later.
The real bad times ahead as the sun starts to set and the valley gets difficult to negotiate

Relieved to arrive at the hut at about 730pm, we quickly started the fire and cooked dinner, warmed up and got some rest.

In the dark, whilst lurching, up to my thighs in water, through the river, in the dark, I had decided that this tour was a wash. The snow down below about 1150m was just a veneer on tussocks and rocks and made travel very difficult. Combined with the terrain pushing you constantly into the river and our only real option of continuing on the tour would be to slog it back up through the valley that we had so much trouble getting down and the pressing concern that our weather window was closing with another storm expected the next day, I decided that I was just going to pull the pin and evacuate. I called up Tekapo Helicopters on my sat phone and they were happy to come pick us up from the hut. A short flight later and we were back to the comforts of Lake Tekapo. A little bit humbled but safe, warm and able to ski another day.

South Opuha Hut and the river curving around Misery and Sugar Loaf
South Opuha hut and the valley downstream on the South Opuha River
The easy way out

In hindsight, we may have been able to fight our way up through the true right of the valley, below mt misery, and ski back along the path we had come to make it to Roundhill but unlikely to do so before they close and our options of getting back to Tekapo disappearing.

Total distance: 17.25 km
Total climbing: 2753 m
Total descent: -3206 m
Total Time: 09:38:34

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