Living in a large city can skew the mind.
We unconsciously filter out the hum of traffic, and the visual clutter that fills our daily lives. We stand to attention awaiting the demands of our smart devices. Alarms, alerts, notifications, messages, requests, returns. It's all SPAM and TRASH. When virtual reality becomes actual reality, the mind needs to touch something real. Rock, River Silence.
A friend had been talking for some time about climbing Mt Tapuae O Uenuku in the Kaikoura Ranges. At 2885m it is the highest mountain outside of the Southern Alps. Plenty of Rocks, Rivers and silence for my tortured soul.
I was put in charge of supplying food and coffee for the trip and organising a rental car. (Thanks Jucy Rentals for the awesome little Juicebox)
Access to Tapuae starts 52 km down the Awatere River Road, nearly as far as Molesworth Station. We tether the Juicebox to a convenient rail, make sure it has enough feed for our 3-4 day absence, turn left into the Gladstone Downs Station and into the hills.
The trail follows the Hodder river for 22 kms. Actually the trail is the Hodder river. Over 5 hours we trek/wade the river with over 80 crossings and 3 steep gorges. There is one large impassable waterfall which requires a steep ascent out of the river for a couple of kilometres of leg burning and scrambling. We meet a few of the local inhabitants, then back to the river. The final climb from the river up to the Hodder Huts is a bit of an effort, only made easier by the enticing view of the shelters looming above us. The huts sit at 1440m almost exactly half way between our start altitude of 400m and the summit of Tapuae at 2880m.
The first job on arrival is to remove our sodden boots, pack then full of wads of newspaper (supplied by previous climbers in the know) an set them outside to dry. Actually my climbing partner did the boot bit, I set my considerable knowledge and expertise to making our first and very welcome coffee.
In the week prior to leaving for our trip, my delightful "partner in life" grew tired of the growing mountain of various climbing, hiking and camping accoutrements laid out on our lounge floor. The constant weighing and weighing up. "Do you think I need this?" or "You're not seriously taking that!". A special part of the pile was set aside for coffee.
Do I go cowboy? How about filter? I have been theorising for some time on the possibility of a filter holder made from a coat hanger. Weight is paramount, after all I have to carry this for 3 days.
In the end I chose my trusted Bialtti 4 cup moka express. At 470grams it's about half the weight of a bottle of water, and "Hey there's no shortage of water, we had just spent 5 hours with our boots in it." I took our Single Farm Papua New Guinean coffee which in a serendipitous way belongs at altitude (the Goroka farm is around 1500m ASL.)
Anyway I made the coffee. It was great. We felt good and tired. We ate food, the sun set. We went to bed, It was 6.30.
BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG.
At 5.15 am it's pitch black inside the hut.
"Was that you?" my climbing buddy gently enquires....
"No" I reply in my, I am not alarmed voice.
"Do you think there's someone outside?" This is the voice in the urban myth that says, ever so calmly, "Don't - look - behind - you"
I eventually get up and check outside to find 4 Himalayan Thar checking me out. Time for a morning coffee. (at the end of this rambling tale there is a quick guide on how to make perfect stovetop coffee every time)
Day 2. Up hill and up.
As it was too early for snow and no ice (until the summit) the terrain above the snowline is either rocks or scree of a combination of the two. Add in a healthy dose of gravel, schist shale and silence. When you stop to look around, you are immediately enveloped by the enormity of the planet around you. It has been said before that the silence weighs heavily. It does! We have become flighty jittery creatures. We crave constant change, our senses long to be filled, but they are an unfillable cup.
Deprived of the clutter, we can potentially get a sense of proportion, The silence becomes ..... important!
Up Hill and Up..
We get lost for two hours, get found again, get separated (my fault, I have a history of it)
There's no glorious "we knocked the bastard off." I stand on the summit in the cloud, take a selfie. ( I could be anywhere) The weather closes in. It starts to rain, it gets cold and gloomy fast.
We run, stumble, surf the shale and scree, down through the deepening gloom back to the huts. We had set an absolute turn around time of 2 pm and stuck to it, which was fortunate as the weather had set in for the night.
Back at the huts we've picked up hut mates, we drink coffee, share meals and stories. We talk about our lives in the world.
Day 3 Wet feet again.
And glorious Autumnal mist.
We follow the river for 5 hours back to the juicbox and out to civilisation. My phone goes bing!
HOW TO MAKE PERFECT STOVE TOP ESPRESSO
1.Fill the lower part of the CLEAN pot with water up to the pressure valve.
2.Fill the coffee receptacle with medium to fine grind fresh FRED coffee (the grinds should feel slightly finer than table salt)
3. Gently pack the coffee down.
4. Screw the pot together and place on a small burner on high heat, WITH THE LID UP
5. Observe your coffee pot, do not walk away to check your facebook. Coffee is important, facebook is less important
6. Espresso will start to ooze out of the spout. Let it ooze. Oooze is good.
7. When your coffee pot is HALF FULL remove it from the heat and let the remaining pressure do the work.
8 Your work is done! If you have used good coffee you will have good coffee. If you have used Allpress you have more money than sense.
After this trip we stayed for 2 days with the Lidgard family North of Kaikoura. They fed us with Cod and Crayfish and slow-grilled lamb flank and copious amounts of Pegasus Bay wine. And made us coffee from the local roaster Star Coffee, and fed us cheese from the awesome Kaikoura Cheese company. The Lidgards are good people to know.
Thanks to the Marlborough Tramping Club for your excellent website and for maintaining the Hodder Huts. http://marlboroughtrampingclub.webs.com/mt-tapuae-o-uenuku-guide
Thanks Bev and Allan Pitts for granting access through Gladstone downs and for the Weather and River report
Thanks Jucy, for the tame Juicebox.