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Heels 1978

Karangarua-Douglas, Summer 1977-8

page 20

Karangarua-Douglas, Summer 1977-8

Kaboom! Grumble.

Yet another mass of ice and snow falls from the Douglas Neve to the glacier a thousand feet lower. We got used to the noise after a while and only noticed the big ones. Tried to catch a photograph but it's all over before you can react.

Probably one of the more spectacular campsites in the Southern Alps is at Harper's Rock in the Douglas Valley of Westland National Park. The rock bivouac is perched on a morraine five hundred feet above the Douglas Glacier which is a horrendous mass of surface moraine and black ice. Over the other side of the valley loom a series of tremendous cliffs and steeply sloping rock slabs. And perched above these is the neve of the Douglas Glacier with the bulk of Mount Sefton at its east end.

Behind the rock spreads the tableflat valley of Fitzgerald Stream and Douglas Pass that leads into the Landsborough River.

We had come up the Karangarua from the West Coast and over Mounts Howitt and Gladiator to this place and our airdrop. Here we were eating up larg and restinq well in the most incredibly fine weather, watching the play of light on the bonded rock and snow. It was aIleasant interlude between the the annoyance of the last days and the unexpected struggles and pains of the days to come. We never tired of looking at the scenery from the reds and pinks of early morning through the harsh glare of noon that gave way to the softer light of afternoon before the brilliant colours at sunset, and always the crash and rumble of the glacier falling off the edge.

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The trip didn't start at all well and things(boots) went wrong again, fairly early on, but then came a few days where all went right. We picked up the drop and feasted and rested amid some sensational scenery till it was time to go.

Freshly reweighted packs entertained themselves on our backs as we left the bivvy rock, crossed the stream and sidled round the base of the west ridge of Thompson. A slight pause, a little discussion and we pick and slither our way down the moraine wall to the rocky gut beside the glacier on its true left. Then, clamber up on to the rubble-covered surface of the glacier and begin to pick our way across and downstream. After an hour of this we find our way blocked by nastily glistening black ice slots and ridges that make the place look as if a giant axe had been hacking at the ice.

So we take another half hour to back out of the mess and then start on our second alternative. Half an hour more and we are at the foot of Fitzgerald Stream where it burrows under the glacier and take a rest before following the left flank of the glacier as it grinds its way down to the lake at the tongue. Footprints page 21encourage us. None seem to be heading back the way we had come so we push on, round and over enormous blocks of angular rock. By noon we are at the tongue of the glacier and we rest before the next part. Still we feel good.

We look around and lose our good feeling. Ahead of us the south wall of the Douglas Valley drops sheer to the lake. The lake is at 3100ft and from where we are it seems as if all of the nearly 4000ft from the top of Gladiator is vertical. Impassible. And to our right and north - well, that's impossible.

So that is it, nothing to do but to retrace our steps, slowly, and two-and-a-half hours later we are back at Fitzgerald Stream and a late lunch. Then we go up the glacier for a while and head across. At the middle we drop our packs while one of us scouts a route, building cairns as he goes. Half an hour and we have a way across and another fifteen minutes sees us in the trench on the northern side of the glacier. We clamber up the moraine wall, sidling as we do, and well spaced out. The moraine is relatively stable as the glacier is almost stagnant - shown by the large layer of ablation moraine on its surface. The sidle is a slow exhausting business but things don't look any better in the trench several hundred feet below so we stick to the sidle. As the sunlight turns gold we come to the end of the glacier and drop down to the side of it at a point where it draws away from the glacier wall and leaves a muddy flat just before the lake. Miraculously, footprints not our own are found and our spirit lifts and extra energy comes from nowhere (not much, but some). There is a little more scrabbling round the valley wall before we can wander exhaustedly round the lake beach to the moraine dam as the sun vanishes and gloom sets in.

Two of us draw ahead, eager to get to the hut, the other two lag behind in exhaustion. Night came fast and exhaustion triumphed. Two slept under the stars while the other two found themselves an overhanging rock that provided a superb bivvy.

Next day we recovered.

Party - Dave Waghorn, Martin Clapham, Dave McQueen, Jeff Hicks.

- Dave Waghorn.

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