Two Thumb Range (aka Cedar Flat)

Queens Birthday 1-3 June 2013

It was always going to be a windy weekend, with both fair winds and foul. The Westland forecast included gale-force winds, torrential rain and diluted beer,

leaving Liz with the unenviable task of finding a “Plan B” to an easy-moderate Cedar Flats trip. Nowhere seemed safe but Aarn’s suggestion of the Two Thumb Range was accepted, if only for the general response; “hmm, haven’t been there”. Consequently four tentative trampers headed early up the Rangitata, after a little stop at the Peel Forest coffee shop.

As we drove up-valley, Mesopotamia looked drenched, the Two Thumb Range looked clear but ominous so we started up Forest Creek towards the site of Butler’s ‘V’ hut. Uncharacteristic European river crossing techniques kept feet dry before we turned south in fine weather up Butlers Creek towards the Ben McCloud Range. Thar and an unfortunately suspended sheep were seen as we ascended towards the 1727m Butler Saddle under impressive evening light. There weren’t many options for camp-sites in the tall tussock but we pitched tents at about 1500m just before dark and retired to bed after a pleasant satay main and ginger cream dessert, pleased to be not ‘over there’ in the foul weather to the west.

Near midnight, ‘over there’ arrived. About 2am, Liz got up to tighten tent guys and secure gear after she heard Aarn’s prized titanium bowl depart from the tent foyer to places unknown. There was debate over whether there was a lull but by 4am the wind was continuous and the minarets were suffering with Aarn bracing himself against the tent wall during each gust while Gary hung onto the tent pole. Liz and Geoff’s tent broke a pole and dawn was a welcome sight. Gary’s pack had blown away from his gaiters in the night and they were gone. Miraculously, Aarn scoured the hillside finding his bowl and Gary’s gaiters and even the cutlery bag turned up after Geoff found he had used it to store the tent poles.

Debate about turning back ensued after the disturbed night. The full round-trip down the Phantom and Hewson Rivers looked dubious in the windy conditions but Liz was not going to contemplate an ‘up and back’. ‘Onward’, she cried, ‘it will be an adventure’, and so we lurched up towards Butler Saddle as at least it was downwind and would be calmer over the saddle.

Not so! Rocks were flying off the saddle and mini-tornadoes swept down the valley sides. At times the North Opuha River would get blown out of its stream bed and be dashed against a bluff—usually when we were trying to negotiate it. Lighting the stove for a belated breakfast was a mission and even Geoff didn’t contemplate a fire. Options for a long round-trip or a massive road walk preyed on our minds before the miracle of cell-phone coverage and Liz’s Temuka based brother-in-law came to our rescue. The promise of a beer and Liz’s goat curry lured Tony, our guardian angel, into the wilderness, leaving only a short road walk between us and real coffee. Salvation, however, is not gained easily. Our quartet zig-zagged down the road, occasionally retrieving bodies blown over the bank, until finally the crossing of the North Opuha stood between us and safety. But it was bridged, what could go wrong! Aarn bravely led the way and when he resorted to hands and knees we knew that getting blown off the bridge was a real possibility. MSC generally don’t teach Geoff and Liz’s river-crossing technique with white knuckles gripping bridge decking. But we made it! Great company, new country and what an adventure.

We were Liz Stephenson (leader), Aarn Tate, Geoff Spearpoint and Gary Huish. (GH)