Turning 18 has different perks for different people. For me, the biggest perk came less than 24 hours into adulthood, when I could legally enter the Bog for the planning of what would become one heck of a cluster. Rowan, Hamish, Liam, Cam, Aidan, Luca, Lachie and I crowded around a little Aspiring Region guide book - a great trip was definitely brewing. The plan was to all head over to the West Matukituki where we would split up into two groups:
Mt. Barff Crew: Maddy Whittaker, Aidan Braid, Luca Karjalainen, Jason Chua, Lachie Watson - and Torea Scott-Fyfe joining us on Saturday. Plan: Friday: walk up to Liverpool Hut, Saturday: climb Mt. Barff, walk to French Ridge Hut to meet the Aspiring Crew and Torea, Sunday: climb up to the Quarterdeck and summit Mt. French, return to French Ridge Hut and walk out as a big group
Mt. Aspiring Crew: Rowan Cox, Liam Pyott, Hamish Sturmer, Cam Jardell - Friday: walk up to French Ridge Hut, Saturday: climb the South West Ridge of Aspiring (starting and finishing at French Ridge Hut), Sunday: take Mt. Barff crew up to the Quarterdeck, walk out.
The drama began long before that Friday. Aidan pulled out to go to a mandatory flat thing then managed to get out of it, Rowan found out he had to work the weekend - then his work got cancelled, Aidan managed to get his brother’s car key stuck in the boot of his brother’s car (it snapped off in the key hole) etc etc. It was a miracle when we all made it to the Constitution St flat at 6am Friday morning - the majority bleary eyed from working on assignments to 2am.
A 5 hour car journey later (including a whole car load of people teaching me how to fill up a car with petrol), we reached Raspberry Flat carpark. The Aspiring Crew loaded up Cam’s van with our packs and drove in to Aspiring Hut, while Mt. Barff crew walked (pack-free - what a luxury!!!) and met them there. After the usual pack, unpack and repack at the van - we were off, blissfully unaware of the two slowly deflating tyres on the van.
While the walk up the West Matukituki was flat, the track up to Liverpool Hut was not. The route up to the hut felt more like a scramble but was the kind of track where you clamber up roots and rocks and feel like a kid all over again. Liverpool Hut crushed my expectations - the magical view of the mountains and valley was surpassed only by the view from the toilet!
We headed to bed - stressed, excited, anxious….a general mess really. A short 3 hours later we woke up at 1am and in a mixture of sleepy mumble, Aidan, Luca and I decided that a 2am wake-up would give us enough time to climb Mt. Barff. When I next woke-up, it wasn’t to an alarm. It was still dark but I felt much more rested than I would have expected from a 1 hour sleep…..suddenly suspicious I sat bolt upright, Aidan did too. 5.30am. What the heck - how did we sleep through the alarm. We turned on Luca - did you set the alarm Luca????? I guess we’ll never know.
We had discussed in depth with Rowan which route to take. So naturally we went exactly where he said not to go. I guess it was a matter of pride and our fierce determination to commit to our route that kept us going up the unnecessarily difficult route. The majority of us went from cramponing at Snowcraft straight to 60 degree front pointing - it was certainly an experience. We made it about ⅓ of the way up Mt. Barff - I think we would have made it further, as it certainly looked easier above - but we decided it was a mission for another time. The slopes were in full sun, we’d hit our turn around time, and the numerous avalanches we’d heard and seen booming around the valley were enough encouragement to make us turn around and head back to the hut. A quick pack up and we headed down to the valley, swum in the river and hussed it up to French Ridge Hut, arriving at about 7.30pm.
French Ridge Hut is another hut you fall in love with instantly. We were happy to see Torea inside and as we soon discovered - we were happy that she was alive! Not many people walk away from their car rolling 3 or 4 times uninjured. Even fewer people walk away from it in the middle of the night and go climb a mountain! We didn’t really realise how serious it had been until we saw the car the next day!
We got started on dinner pretty quickly. After dinner, in true Aidan fashion, Aidan whipped up a cheese-cake while we all got ready for bed. We left cheese-cake out for the Aspiring Crew - thinking of them and how their mission was ticking beyond the 20 hour mark….maybe they’ll stop at Colin Todd Hut... I hope they are alright with those clouds….
Sometime around midnight I awoke to chatter in the other room! I hopped out of my sleeping bag and ventured into the other room to discover three extremely sunburned, extremely red-eyed and extremely shattered people. They’d been going for 22 hours. After they inhaled food faster than I thought humanly possible, they seemed to perk up and the room took on a triumphant vibe. Liam stumbled in after a bit. Those four are absolute legends.
With four alarms set, there was no way the Mt. Barff crew were sleeping through our 3am alarm. The other four didn’t even stir. Not even when I dropped a crampon from chest height, spikes first onto the metal floor - which made a sound like two pots being clanged together. There was no way they were going for a 3am walk with us after their mish.
By 4am, Luca, Torea, Aidan and I were headed up to the Quarterdeck, reaching it for sunrise just by 6.45am. A vibrant sunrise over the Bonar Glacier is something words can’t even come close to describing. It was insanely beautiful in a way that cannot be compared to anything else. Rowan had said going up here would be life-changing. It really was. From the first shriek of joy from each person as the Bonar came into view, to the hugs, to all four of us standing there in awe, to the realisation that I’d never felt this alive before - it didn’t matter that the camera couldn’t really capture the colours, the scale or the view - it was a moment none of us need a photo to remind us of. It’ll be burning strong in ours minds for a long time.
By 7.20am we were on the summit of Mt. French (2356m), feeling on top of the world. By 9.30am we were back at French Ridge Hut, where most of the Aspiring Crew were still asleep. After a leisurely pack up, walk down, river swim and walk out, we arrived back at Cam’s van at Aspiring Hut, where our worst fears were confirmed - two dead flat tyres. Liam stayed at the van and Cam tramped out with us, attempting to come up with a solution to the van situation. By 8.30pm we were at Raspberry Flat carpark, driving past the shattered remnants of Torea’s car. By 2am we were back in Dunedin (Liam and Cam got back at 5am), with just enough time for a nap before morning lectures or in Rowan’s case a 5am flight. A truly crazy but truly successful cluster.