The Garden of Eden

Feb 1-6 sunday-friday 2009

Despite the forecast southerly, at Clearwater there was a strong NW, and as the jumped up downs at Erewhon came into view a rainbow hung over the Havelock River. Our long anticipated trip was about to begin. We parked in a small tree-sheltered paddock 5 minutes walk from The Clyde River just as three other young folk were about to leave. Despite having thrown out everything unnecessary our packs were at least 18 kg (Phil's was probably 32 kg - about half his weight).

Within 15 minutes the river cut around a small bluff making an immediate river crossing necessary. I tried to focus on the task at hand, deciding which of the straps on my Aarn pack to leave done up but the glacial waters did look quite deep and swift. However with 3 strong men in each group of 5 there was no need to be anxious - we crossed without incident. The valley was wide here with river stone interspersed with patches of lumpy grass as we faced into the wind, but the rain retreated as we progressed. Before long views to the right up the Lawrence showed a tongue of snow near Butler Saddle (Geoff's trip last ANZAC weekend); then another river crossing back to the true left and on past Black Bluff.

The 3 young ones had stayed on the true right, but the river becomes too swift to cross at this point so they were forced to climb in scratchy scrub around Armada Bluff. We had a snack and watched them pick their way down. The sun was out now, and way up above the head of the valley was Snowy Peak with Baker Peak to the left where we were to camp while in the Gardens.

A final crossing place before McCoy Stream took some time to find. After 2 withdrawn attempts a good place was found where the river split. The valley was starting to close in a little with moss and lichen coating the stones softening our step. Before long we had reached our camp spot near the Frances confluence, and Geoff was organising a fire and brew (Day 1: 7.5 hours).

An 8:15 am start now with a southerly wind. We stuck to the true right with the occasional need to walk in water or go up into scrub on the bank. Agnes Stream was fast flowing but with Phil holding out his hand in encouragement I remember jumping across at one spot and nearly tipping him off balance! I spied a sheet of tin - perhaps part of the Agnes Biv? At the moraine lake the cloud was low but a couple of blue duck cheered us from the gloom. We donned our helmets, turned left and started climbing on chunky loose sharp rocks. We paused briefly and a lone and probably sick tahr, unaware of our presence, climbed up to within 10m of us. The main Colin Campbell glacier was now to our right as we made our way up a narrowing valley to the Wee McGregor glacier. The way steepened up scree and rock and before long Yvette, Phil and I caught up to the rest of the group fitting their crampons. Phil and Geoff disappeared into the cloud to check the route. There were some small crevasses to pick our way around but no real problems. Before long we were back in some sun and stepping across onto rock at Perth Col on the main divide. It was slow going up the scree ridge to the right of the col but eventually we reached Little Mt Baker summit, just below which was our campsite. After excavating a larger platform for several sites and Geoff fixing our snapped tent pole and perfectly positioning rocks onto the tent stays, we crawled in for a welcome rest out the wind. (Day 2: 10 hours).

Still the cloud hung around on day 3. It was thick in the valleys but we had views south-west to Mounts Cook, Tasman, Elie de Beaumont, D'Archiac and along most of the length of the Garden of Eden to the west. We were all breathless in wonder (not effort) as we walked across the snowy- ice gently down-hill to Adams Col, 45 minutes from camp. Geoff pointed to a rocky platform above Adams Col which can accommodate tents. Then a rocky descent and icy ascent led us to the Garden of Allah. The beautiful Beelzebub Glacier falls away to the west. On the southern edge of the glacier the surface was mostly smooth with small crevasses easily stepped-across. But to our left the glacier resembled a stormy ocean of stationary waves and the subdued lighting made everything seem surreal. Size and distance were difficult to judge.

We stopped for lunch on a rocky outcrop. Geoff had thought this would be the turn-around place for us slower ones, but there was some discussion about the possibility of a round trip. If we all climbed Mt Tyndall we might find a route down through the snowfield on Mt Newton…otherwise we would have a very long day returning. Collectively we decided to go on. Phil led us up the snow slope toward Mt Tyndall. It became increasingly steeper, but thankfully the cloud shut out the ever-increasing drop beneath us. Toward the top the snow slope eased and some blue sky appeared off and on. Dropping our packs we climbed initially loose, crappy rock which became beautiful, coarse rectangular chunks. I decided not to climb the very last bit - the view of the domed-shaped summit of Tyndall (2517m) was enough of an exhilarating sight. The rocks clung precariously - just waiting to be knocked off by one extra person attempting it's summit. Cloud restricted views except east to the Clyde River.

Crampons back on, we walked across the slopes of Newton Peak. Below us was a vague outline of a crevasse - though we could have been anywhere in the swirling cloud! Geoff and Phil disappeared for sometime in search of a route down. To keep warm we walked on the spot or dug-away snow. The white-out however made the whole area featureless and it was determined that a quick return to camp wasn't possible...we had to back-track. On the steep section down Geoff kept close-by watching our step. He was very reassuring and before long we were trudging back across the Garden of Allah. Most of us appreciated a fresh water top-up before having to climb back up to Adams Col. By this time I was slowing and 'the young ones' with only one pack between three readily offered to carry a couple of packs. It was 8pm when we left Adams Col. How long back … I thought perhaps twice as long as it had taken to get here … maybe 90 minutes?? By this stage we were all just putting one step in front of the other and following the footsteps in the snow. It slowly got darker…about 9:45 it became difficult to see the group ahead so I shouted out. The torches came on and soon some rocks to our right indicated we were almost back. It was 10:20 before I retrieved my pack kindly placed on my doorstep! What a relief, but also what a wonderful never to be forgotten day. (Day 3: 13 hours including stops, dinner 12 midnight delivered to our door!).

Thankfully next morning the cloud was down and it was declared a rest day. Aarn did some pack repairs while Yvette sketched his portrait; Merv piled even more rocks around the wind-break protecting his tent; Geoff boiled up another cuppa whilst inside his sleeping bag; Susan shook-up the lunch treat (last nights un-made choc mousse). In the afternoon we spent a good hour sitting atop the firm rock on Baker Peak (2259m) chatting. The cloud started to lift as we dispersed to soak-up the elusive views, sun-warmth (and too-easily forgotten UV exposure)

Thursday dawned brilliantly clear. Geoff decided we had time to wander down to the top of Eve's Rib. This is a rocky ridge leading into the Perth Valley across the gardens from Adams Col. We were lucky to have spectacular views of the Eve Ice Fall, Guardian Peak and the Devils Backbone, plus Perth Col where we were about to return. Oh, so sad to leave all this already.

There were a few alpine plants flowering in scree around the Wee McGregor glacier lunch spot - now we could look straight up at Baker Peak. It seemed to take forever but eventually we were at the moraine lake - thank God! Geoff managed a quick dip, but before long we had to be off again - no time to linger amongst the perfumed native flowering broom. We camped just upstream of the first camp with a fire to comfort our tired muscles. (Day 5: 6 hours with packs on).

Last day: we crossed the Frances upstream of the McCoy in-order to stop at the Hut. Here Susan kindly plastered my battered feet, and lent me a second walking stick. It was a slow day (mainly because of me!) plodding back downstream, but brightened by Phil's accounts of his great eating antics. Looking back toward the Gardens the cloud was thickening with probable high winds and we were thankful we weren't in the thick of it. Instead we could feast on ice cream, sup coffee and laugh about our strange appearance (swollen lips, shiny sun-burnt tired faces and beards).

Thanks Geoff and Phil for agreeing to lead this memorable trip - your patience, ability and good humour kept me going. Together the shared experience with such wonderful tramping mates was a privilege. We were Geoff Spearpoint, Phil Novis, Susan Pearson, Joy Schroeder, Kevin Hughes, Raymond Ford, Chris Leaver, Yvette So, Aarn Tate, Merv Meredith (minus Gary Huish). (CL)