Cloudless on Cloudy
Nothing beats waking up early after a good night’s sleep in a campervan, with the anticipation of a new adventure awaiting. Except perhaps waking up in a campervan whose water pump hasn’t frozen overnight, making a cup of tea a reality rather than a remote dream! It was still pitch dark outside after I’d scoffed a warming bowl of porridge, but I was keen to get going. Outside the ground was frozen hard and the crunch of boot on ice was full of wintery promise.
My objective for the day was an ascent of Cloudy Peak in the northern Dunstan Range. I’d been partway up this peak once before but never all the way to the summit, where a new trig was waiting to be bagged. It was also to be my first time using snowshoes in New Zealand and the first time I’d used them for a summit attempt. So several firsts to be had, just the way I like it.
Crossing a frozen paddock I aroused the curiosity of a herd of cattle who, unaccustomed to seeing the bouncing beam of a head torch, wanted to get rather closer than I was comfortable with to check me out. Hopping over a stile with a last nervous look over my shoulder at the fast-advancing mass of bovine flesh, I ran straight into the local farmer who greeted me with a friendly “you’re a keen bugger” welcome. This was to be my last sighting of another person in the nine hours that I’d be gone. Solitude in the mountains and a bluebird day dawning. Heaven on earth!
The first 5 kms were a gentle meander along a farm track before the trajectory turned steeply upward and the climbing began. Hitting the main ridge just as the sun snuck above a distant range of mountains, my long-legged Gandolf-like shadow stretched improbably far across a wide expanse of tussock. The sun was up but for now at least it was having little impact on the brittle ground that remained stubbornly frozen for several hours to come.
The summit was still 10 kms away along an undulating ridge and as I climbed higher the patches of snow became larger and more omnipresent, eventually forming into an unbroken blanket of pure white beauty. I got most of the way up without the aid of spikes or snowshoes, but about half an hour short of the summit the drifts deepened to thigh depth and the snowshoes became a must. Being something of a novice it took a little while to adjust my gait to one resembling that of John Wayne, and in the meantime I had the indignity of falling over my own feet several times. Ah well, all part of the learning experience and at least there was nobody around to have a laugh at my expense.
I was now in a Narnia-like wonderland of frozen tussock, still and silent beneath a stunning blue sky. The views out west to the Pisa Range and Mt. Aspiring National Park just kept getting bigger and better. Towards the top I left the well-graded trail and cut steeply uphill to the summit and the ice-encrusted trig that majestically marked this 1526m high point. The views in every direction were expansive, opening up so many possibilities for future adventures to my ever-keen eye.
I snapped a few photos, scoffed a cheese sandwich and reluctantly started heading back downhill in the direction of civilization. Some 3.5 hours later, tired but jubilant, high on the joy of spending such a perfect day doing what I love best – exploring new ground – I arrived back at the van, now basking in the barmy 3 deg C heat! And as the water pump was now working, I finally got my cuppa before driving home in the low light of a stunning Otago evening.