The Garden of Eden and the Great Unknown

3-10 February 2013

Our driver, Chrys dropped eleven of us off at Erewhon Station and after the obligatory pack weigh-in we set off up the Clyde under clear skies and with a generally good week’s forecast.

The river was crossed with care three times before we reached Watchdog Hut on the true right by mid-afternoon. A period of heavy rain was forecast overnight and generated lengthy debate about whether we should head upstream to McCoy Hut or stay put. Cloud proceeding down-valley settled the discussion and we stayed, after which the rain set in with a vengeance. The next morning the river was high, moving was not an option and we settled in for a day of 5-handed 500, cryptic crosswords and yoga exercises. By Tuesday morning the rain and short southerly had passed and we set off for Perth Col up the true right of the Frances River which was by now a wide surging brown mass of rolling boulders.

Fresh snow covered the tops ahead but only the Agnes Stream presented any real challenge. This obstacle was eventually overcome with some drama, particularly for Geoff and Raymond, who had come back to assist the rest of us across and took some time thawing out. Progress up the Frances River to the terminal lake and then on the rubble up the Colin Campbell Glacier took time, particularly when avalanche debris had to be negotiated at the base of Mt Tyndall. We had a long day, arriving at our camping spot just under Perth Col late evening. That night was cold and clear and a group huddle proved the best way to survive the elements for most of the party. Dawn the next day was stunning for Geoff and Aarn who had slept out and spectacular for those who opted for more comfort. Some time was spent heading back to a viewpoint above our footsteps up the glacier and the morning fog down in the valley for the rumoured following CTC party. Laurayne demonstrated that tramping and style could coexist with her coordinated earrings and then it was time for action and a final ascent to Perth Col and a view of the Gardens.

The initial view of the Garden was everything that had been promised. There were some comments that it was better four years ago that led to some disparaging comments from Gary, who had missed out previously. The remainder of the Garden “newbies” thought it was close to heaven. Day 4 saw us traversing the length of the Gardens, taking time to check out Adams Col and a small rocky knoll above Angels Col at lunch-time. The scale of the Gardens was difficult to judge until we looked back on packs and people left and realised how small we were within in the landscape. A side-trip to Vertebrae Col and views to the Farrar Glacier showed other routes and options for a million future trips. Karen found how abrasive the glacial ice was on descent but the number of medically-trained staff proved equal to the occasion.

We camped at the foot of the ridge of The Great Unknown and Geoff set out that night to check routes around the more technical parts of the following day’s route. Following his guidance the next day we traversed underneath and then up to the summit of this 2196m peak. The terrain was varied with large boulders and loose rocks, a 400m snow slope and some scrambling near the top. The last part of the ridge looked impassable with some impressive scrambling, however everyone reached the summit just as the rising valley cloud started to obscure the view of the Gardens. As Geoff said of this remote area, there is unlikely to have ever been eleven people on the summit previously.

Raymond found a way off the summit rocks and we descended into the rising coastal cloud. Ruth’s view of a nimble chamois and immersion for some in a tepid tarn provided some light relief as we dropped and dropped. Unfortunately the promised tarns on the descent ridge did not materialise and we were forced to continue right down to the Elizabeth Stream flats in search of water, resulting in another long day. Aarn and Liz were seen to be offering thanks for arrival on flat land by some strange manoeuvres.

Day 6 was a difficult descent of Redfields Stream to the Perth. This did not give itself up easily to human travel, with many waterfalls and difficult sidles through thick west-coast scrub. The previous route description mentioned three waterfalls but we stopped counting at 43! We assume that the hunters’ access that led to the bridge over the Perth has been degraded for some time. Eventually we reached a sandy camping spot by the river just as night was drawing in.

After that we had relatively easy travel down to Scone Hut with the relative civilisation of a track. The flood debris from the new-year’s rainfall was impressive with Five Finger Stream some 300m across and littered with car-sized boulders. Nolans Hut provided the welcome news that Chrys Horn had left shortly before and was waiting at a swimming hole just below Hughes Creek. It was fantastic to meet up with Chrys, not only for her company but for the fresh vegetables that would make the final night’s meal palatable with cheesecake for desert! The last day was mercifully short and we ended up in Hari Hari for a big feed on Sunday.

What a trip! There were many memorable moments besides the great scenery but a few for me were the three sightings of whio, the rock wrens on The Great Unknown, the skinny-dipping competition, Gary teaching Karen cryptic crosswords, tasty dinners, finding the leader’s ice-axe (don’t ask!), wood-fire brews at lunch-time, and patched knees, shins and feet.

It was truly a great combined effort but a special mention has to go to Geoff Spearpoint who was a fantastic, patient leader, Chrys Horn who selflessly did the van shuffle, and the organising team for all the logistics. Roll on the next trip!

Trampers: Geoff Spearpoint, Gary Huish, Raymond Ford, Liz Stephenson, Laurayne Deverey, Chris Leaver, Karen Keith, Merv Meredith, Kevin Hughes, Aarn Tate, Chrys Horn and Ruth Barratt. (RB)