Friday, 13 January 2012

My first major mountaineering trip 1967

After boiling water for tea, I dry my socks in the Rockburn  valley. Robyn Armstrong (left). February 1967 Photo: John Armstrong.

I dreamed of being a successful mountaineer from my early teens and whilst I climbed small mountains including Turner Peak the year before, I decided to join John Armstrong and Robyn Norton on a 3 week expedition in 1967 into the very remote Forgotten River,/Ollivine ice plateau area, a 4 to 5 day walk from the nearest road.

Robyn crossing Cow Saddle. Photo: John Armstrong

We had five days of inclement weather in Forgotten River and during one slight clearance we climbed up to intervention Saddle at 5,800 feet and got a glimpse into the Barrier valley. I was with John Armstrong and Robyn Nortontwo very competent Dunedin mountain travellers.

During the first part of the trip while I was answering the call of nature during a rainstorm, John proposed to Robyn and they were married a year after our return..With such poor weather, we needed to move as food was running low. We went down the Forgotten River,  to the Olivine Flats, up the Olivine River then crossed Cow Saddle, and camped at the foot of Niobe 7645 and Poseidon 7340 feet. These were mighty mountains and I could hardly sleep that night before we set off on the climb. We got away at 5 a.m. on that early morning and found some deer trails that took us to a water fall. From there we scrammbled over rocky slopes until we reached the snow field. We decided to head for the Park Pass Glacier which was quite broken with a number of crevasses. First we climbed two unnamed peaks with spot heights of 6897 and 6710 feet, and then turned our attention to Poseidon. The climb was quite tricky as a thick layer of snow was melting on the rock and beginning to slide. Moving on fixed belays we reached the summit shortly after Midday. It was a thrill to stand on the top of Poseidon Peak, 7340 feet high. The view was stupendous looking over the Dart River, Lake Wakatipu, and over the huge expanse of Fiordland. We could see Mt. Aspiring, the twin peaks of Earnslaw and the majestic Madeline and Tutuko. The descent was arduous and we were tired and dehydrated. According to Robyn who wrote to me a few days ago, I fell down a small crevasse and they hauled me out. We reached our small yellow deerstalkers tent at 8 pm at night.
A view from Park Pass Glacier. Poseidon Peak 7,340 feet on the left, and the two other unnamed peaks 6,897 feet in the centre and 6,720 feet at the far right, that we climbed in February 1967.

I loved the name of Poseidon for according to the Poseidon myths he had a palace under the sea with an enormous stable filled with white horses who pulled his chariot over the ocean. "White horses" is an old expression referring to the white part of a breaking wave, and I suppose since I climbed this mighty mountain in 1967 I have ridden, bucked and surfed the white horses of waves, organisations, political parties and my life has been a series olf breakthrough events and initiatives. Yes this trip and climbing Poseidon was to prove a turning point in my life, and I learned a lot from John, a wise and capable leader.

Sitting somewhere between Fogotten River and Park Pass when I was a totally a carefree 18 year old and the world was at my feet. Photo: John Armstrong.

From Park Pass we made our was down the Rockburn, named by my explorer/surveyor Great Grand Father James McKerrow. It was a treachorous valley with precipitous sides and difficult bluffs to negotiate. We expected to reach the Dart River early on the last afternoon but there was a paragraph missing from 'Moir's Guide book' and it took an extra five hours to reach the flooded river on nightfall, and we had a difficult crossing to safety and comfort on the other side..

Robyn Norton (Armstrong) who was a very strong tramper, with  solid snow and ice skills did well on our 3 week journey.  John and Robyn's daughters carried on the family love of the outdoors with daughter  Jenny the eldest winning gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the 470 sailing class. Robyn and John still do a lot of ocean sailing and will be soon off to Stewart Island.

John Armstrong (right) the leader of our 1967 expedition was a strong climber, tramper and navigator. Two years earlier he led the 'freedom walk' on the Milford tarck which broke the Government's Tourist hotel Corporation's stranglehold on the track and opened it up to the average 'Kiwi' to walk theirown  land, previously the preserve of rich foreigners. I was on that trip and met Robyn for the first timehoto: Robyn Armstrong..

Sadly, climate change has had a huge effect on our snowfields and glaciers in New Zealand. Poseidon Peak to the left of centre top. The above photo taken in 2006 shows the effect of climate change as a proglacial lake in front of Parks Pass which started to form in 1986 and part of the receding glacier tongue appears to be floating. My good friend from Antarctica Trevor Chinn has been studying and recording this feature for years. (photo: Dorothea Stumm)
A photo I took on January 1st this year of Poseidon Peak from the high point in Pigeon Island in Lake Wakatipu.Photo: Bob McKerrow

One thing I remember clearly about that expedition 44 years ago was a shortage of paper.

How well I remember running out of toilet paper after 2 weeks or so and was carrying rather romantic letters from three girlfriends that I was trying to decide which one I really wanted to develop a serious relationship with.  Each of the three letters  written to me just before I left were more than 7 pages, so I soon narrowed the three letters down to one as the trip progressed, and I kept it. Jocelyn was the winner and we saw a lot of each other for a year after that. Sometimes romance has to be reduced to a common and practical level.

I got a message from Robyn reminding me of another incident on that trip. "One other thing I remember from that trip. You were reading a book which was the most fantastic book you had ever read, and promised to lend it to me when you finished. You finished as we reached the Dart and was so disgusted with the ending you ripped the book up and buried on the Dart Flats! Do you remember that?"

Unfortunately I do not recall that incident as I love books, and to destroy a book is unlike me. But at 18, the passion, feelings are all part of the maturing process I suppose.

Mt. Chaos left, and Poseidon Peak right from the Dart River.(Permission to use from naturesp)

Note: Many thanks to Robyn and John Armstrong for supplying me these photos over the past few days. Somehow, we had lost contact for 40 years or more.


Ruahines said...

Well Bob, be thankful you had the letters. These days they would be text messages. No wiping your ass with them.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Yes, I got a real letter from NZthe other day with postage stamps on it and it felt like winning in lotto. Such a hareity these days. Unwanted letters have proved useful in the hills.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Whoops, Robb, it should read rareity.

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