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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Paske Hut - 6-7th October 2012

Uncle Roddus Tramping Diary: Tramp No.125
Paske Hut - 6-7th October 2012

Uncle Roddus doesn't get out in the mountains too much in the winter, usually due to work and also because the greater incidences of foul weather either putting me off or trips getting abandoned altogether. Spring is the time I usually get back into my tramping and I can get a bit of a taste of the winter trips with there still usually being plenty of snow around on the tops. This latest trip gave me a real taste of winter tramping and although I was enthusiastic enough at the start, for a while I was beginning to regret coming. Read on for the tale of my latest Epic trip.

After reading the trip report of the clubs previous expedition to this remote destination, just before writing about this more recent one, it is now more clear to this scribe why Uncle Bernhard was asking me about how high was the ground clearance of my car. I told him it was just normal, but it is an all wheel drive, and so it was that after meeting at Amberly, three others piled into my Subaru to follow Uncle Bernhard in his relatively new four wheel drive as we headed for the wilds of the upper Clarence. 
The forecast was for showers and nor-westers with possible snow down to 500M possibly clearing late afternoon or evening, Sunday was to be fine. After a longish stop at Culverden for pies and coffee, we set off again looking longingly at the clear blue sky's above the ranges to the north and the dark gloomy clouds in the direction we were heading. Got over Jacks Pass on a clear road but with very light snow falling, which got heavier and heavier as we got closer to out destination. Uncle Bernhard stopped at the St James Cycleway to use the facilities as the snow was falling quite thickly and had a discussion with Jonathan where doubts were expressed as to whether we could actually get over Paske saddle or not or whether we could camp at the top end of the Clarence if we couldn't achieve the above. Our leader was getting cold feet, perhaps after his last experience on this trek and decided to head back to Fowler Hut for lunch and look at the option of heading into Lake Guyon instead. So we drove back to Fowler Hut, only to find it full of kids going Mountain Biking. Executive decision was then made to head back to Lake Tennyson and have a go at the Paske Saddle. At the Lake, while the snow was still falling, it wasn't heavy enough to be settling deeply and so we finally set off  around the lake, after crossing the Clarence outlet without losing any poles or getting overly wet, not long after midday
After skirting the Southern end of the lake in full wet weather regalia, we stopped to eat lunch in the shelter of the beech trees on the western shore. After scrambling around the lakes edge, round clumps of Matagari and scrub, we regrouped at the northern end of Lake Tennyson before the long and snowy trudge up the Clarence  the snow not letting up and getting thicker on the ground as we progressed. We arrived at the base of Paske Saddle some time just past 5PM, had a quick refuel and Jonathon check in to see if everyone was OK to keep going, as we had a lot of work yet to do. Fortunately it had stopped snowing by now and the sun tried to make an appearance before we started our ascent.
The going was pretty tough, with a steep ascent of snow covered scrub, but steady progress was made and we eventually cleared the scrub and got onto the soft new snow. About 100M from the top it was time to don crampons and this is where the continuing crampon adventures of Uncle Roddus continue. After the last two adventures of losing my crampons on a bum slide off the back of my pack and then finding a broken strap on the last trip, I thought I had sorted them out. Considerable time was spent first trying to get them strapped on on a steep windy slope with both freezing hands and frozen crampon straps, after two attempts, as one came off during testing, I finally got them secured. Others were having trouble also with the first time they had used them and being unfamiliar with the complex strapping systems. In due course we all got started, and duly followed Jonathan, Murray and Lovisa, who were well gone by now, up the very hard ice to the saddle. Dale was the first to the top, but with visibility getting difficult as the light was fading and the snow was causing  difficulty seeing a way off the top as there was a cornice along the saddle and we couldn't see the tracks of the others who had already dropped off the saddle. I started to head off to my right, as this looked like a possible route but the fresh snow became quite deep and here did the crampon problems start again. My crampon came apart where the two parts joined and as the snow was fresh and soft I thought I may be OK, I still had one crampon on my foot, but the new snow was very dry and powdery and did not give much support before my cramponless foot slid on the ice below. This made the descent a bit frustrating but I persevered with some bum sliding and foot sliding until we re grouped at the tussock line where we were able to do away with the crampons. I thought my crampon had broken, but it turned out that the soft deep snow I had tried to walk through and pressed up the metal strip and released the little lug that holds them together.
It was getting dark by this time and so headlights were extracted from packs and crampons stored away as we followed Jonathan and Lovisa's tracks in the snow down through the beech trees down to the river. We lost their tracks near the bottom, so followed the river downstream towards the hut with this scribe feeling very tired and somewhat grumpy and seriously considering the possibility of how he could get out tomorrow without going back over the way we came, he wasn't the only one. We caught up with the others crossing the river and soon were relieved to site the hut at about 9:30PM.
As promised, Sunday dawned stunningly fine and all was forgiven and forgotten of the previous days challenges as we enjoyed the spectacular views presented us by the setting and all the fresh new snow.
We left the hut at 8:45AM and with great visibility headed back up the valley and started the climb up to the Paske saddle. The new snow provided better support going up than it did going down and it was some way up before crampons were needed. After yesterday's mishaps I was meticulous of knocking the snow off the bottom of my crampons and one other of the party suffered a similar fate with his crampons as I has the previous day. The ascent to the  saddle was successful and breathtaking(in more ways than one) and was much easier when we finally hit the hard ice. After some quick photo shoots on the saddle it was off again back down to the Clarence. The descent started off well with very hard ice making for excellent cramponing but as we started to hit the softer stuff and falling through the top crust occasionally the same situation befell my crampons and made life somewhat more difficult when we hit some harder patches on the way down first with only one and one half crampon on then just half a crampon till finally both were off and much more caution was needed than from the others to get me to the bottom.
The Clarence was a little more breezy than the Paske and so most of us hunkered down behind rocks and banks to partake some lunch before we set off back to Lake Tennyson. Discussion was had between the two who had done this trip before as to the track that sidles above the western edge of the lake and as we neared the lake they started searching for the aforementioned track which was eventually found via a cairn up a small side creek. This was a well preserved track, allowing us a much faster time along the lake than the previous day and had this scribe wondering why we didn't use it then, but so go the peculiarities of  an Uncle Bernhard trip. We all safely arrived back at the vehicles around 5:30PM to no snow and an easy exit back to Hanmer, where Bernhard nearly earned himself a Loo-loo award by driving off without Stephen, as we headed off back to Christchurch, I'm sure Stephens wife smartly pointed out the error of his ways as Uncle Bernhard quickly pulled over to pick up a worried Stephen.

Are we Mad? Getting ready to go.

Setting off around the lake.
The snow falling as we hide in the trees for lunch.

The North end of Lake Tennyson.
Slowly making out way up the Clarence.

Almost at the start of our ascent.

Climbing up to Paske Saddle with the Clarence in the background.

Getting into the deeper snow.

Nearing Paske Saddle the weather started to break, still a bit breezy though.
The view from Paske Hut on a stunning Sunday morning.

Paske Hut.

looking the other way from Paske hut.

Uncle Roddus At Paske Hut.
The rest of these Photos document the rest of the trip back to Lake Tennyson and what a contrast to the previous day.

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