Ahuriri Canyon Creek

Easter, 24-28 March 2016

I first did this trip at Easter 2010 with Joy Schroeder and Dan Pryce. This time we set out on the Thursday evening, with a wettish takeaway stop in Geraldine, then joined the cavalcade of traffic heading south through the Mackenzie basin to arrive late at Omarama and put up the spare tent at the Top 10.

FRIDAY: We sorted the party gear outside the camp kitchen, packed and left Omarama for the short drive south to the Ahuriri turnoff. The Birchwood road is a normal gravel road to the Birchwood homestead, but after that is 4WD to the carpark a short distance before Canyon Creek. Thankfully we had agreed to use Kevin’s 4WD, as apart from the short shingle fan I was expecting, a couple of small streams were washed out. Walking by 10.30am, in overcast, calm weather, the approach to Canyon Creek looks impressive, with a tight canyon at the exit. This sidles up a steep terrace on the true right. Once in the lower basin, a high step traverses the complete valley. This is climbed on a well-poled route through the bluffs. By mid-afternoon we were at the bivvy rock in the top cirque at about BZ14-282025. The rock had additions made either side since my first visit and the smaller one was claimed by a young couple, who had followed us up the valley. About now, the first of our four hiccups unfolded. I became aware my map pockets weren’t in their usual place and concluded I had left them at a spot down-valley. Sue and I returned down to the area near the turn-off to the big tarn. We searched and searched and then gave up. Later I had to admit sheepishly that they were in another pack pocket! Well, it was a nice walk anyway. This was followed by the discovery that one of us wasn’t carrying a group evening meal.

SATURDAY: The cloud cleared in the small hours to a brilliant, calm nor-west day. An early morning wander explored up-valley a little toward the black and vertical end-wall. It is topped off by the lower edge of the Thurneysen Glacier, which descends the southern face of 2455m Mt Barth. However, within 50m of our campsite, an old ankle injury of mine went from niggly to twang! A discussion of options and a bit of panic on my part saw us parting ways for the day. All of us went down-valley to where we thought the turn-off to the tarn was, then then I continued, passing a now-steady stream of people coming up, including a large family group who had set up a village in the lower basin and now had their 10 year olds happily climbing up through the bluffs. And dogs. And hopeful hunters. At 2.10pm I claimed the first tussock flat I came to in the lower basin, before someone else did. After setting up a camp fireplace in the river bed, chilling my ankle for half an hour in the water made a dramatic improvement.

Markus fared well, ascending the easy zigzag onto the ridge looking down into the Ahuriri. It was then a short walk south up to 1862m from where he could also see into the big tarn. Returning to the rock bivvy by 1pm he followed down-valley, decided the route up to the big tarn was too unknown then found me at our bush-edge campsite some time after 4 pm.

Sue and Kevin had a GPS but finding a route up to the big tarn was still uncertain, but they eventually got there. Kevin thought their descent was probably close to the description in Moirs Guide North. Their tent site was a lovely spot on a calm nor-west evening and they had a campfire to stare into after dark then a dry night to sleep out.

SUNDAY: Another fine nor-west day but with some indecision. We should have gone straight back down the road and done the short walk over the top into Top Dingle Burn, but now Kevin wasn’t feeling the best. Eventually we walked back out to Kevin’s vehicle and drove down to Base Hut planning to stay there for the night. Kevin could drive from there down to explore the wetlands while we three walked up to the Dingle Burn ridge and back. Amazingly there was no one at the hut. Then we found there was no water in the tank or close-by stream! The nearest was a drive through paddocks down to the river. We claimed the hut anyway and late morning, Sue, Markus and I set out for the Dingle Burn ridge, soon getting up to where the stream was flowing. We stopped not far from the top for lunch. It was windy across the ridge, but still well-worth a walk some distance north before returning to Base Hut. Visitors hoping to stay at the hut changed their minds when they found four trampers there and no water. Sue provided hiccup number four by putting her orthotics on the verandah hand-rail. One of them was now missing. After much searching of the area it seemed that a gust of wind or a magpie or hunters had taken it.

MONDAY: Apart from base camps, have you ever had breakfast at a tramping hut, packed up, changed into street clothes and driven away? Very strange. A little way down the Ahuriri Road we met the three young hunters and after chatting Sue decided they were nice young men and wouldn’t have taken an orthotic. So the mystery remains.

We were: Kevin Hughes, Markus Kaufmann, Merv Meredith (Leader) and Sue Piercey. (MM)