A couple of months ago, for new years eve, a few mates and I went and climbed Mt. Fishtail in the Richmond Range. A really amazing trip and as I sat outside the hut watching the sun set on 2012 on the horizon stood one peak higher than all the rest. A wee bit of research when I got back revealed it was Mt. Tapuae-o-Uenuku. It really was an inspiring sight reaching higher than most peaks around it and still capped in snow. I wanted to climb it ever since.
Ally on new years eve halfway up Mt. Fishtail looking back at Mt. Tapuae-o-Uenuku
A few weeks later while reading Ed Hillarys biography he mentions the same mountain and his desire to climb the snowy summit while he was based at the RNZAF base in Blenheim. After reaching the summit he said, “I’d climbed a decent mountain at last!”and with an accolade like that it was hard not to want to climb it! Captain Cook originally called it Mt. Odin as he thought it looked so impressive as he sailed passed it but then later called it the ‘The Watcher’ as he could still see it as he continued sailing around New Zealand. Standing at 9,465ft Mt Tapuaenuku, as it used to be known, is the highest mountain in New Zealand outside the southern alps and can be seen from all of Marlborough, Christchurch and even from Wellington. I should have phoned my sister from the summit to see if she could see me!
We were going to attempt a 3 day trip to the summit from the Awatere Valley road and up through the Hodder Valley. This is the most common route up ‘Tappy’ and but involves 70+ river crossings. Setting off straight from after I finished work on Sunday we made the 3 hour drive to the start of the trail where the farmer had kindly agreed we could pitch our tents for the night and get an early start the next day. I was pretty excited about the following day so sleeping was pretty tough but a nevers “Oh Crap, there is a massive bull outside the tents! I’m going to sleep in the car!” from Ally didn’t help matters either as the threat of being trampled by cattle in your sleep is never fun. I had been assured by the farmer that this shouldn’t be an issue and the biggest threat was actually having a fresh cow pat waiting for me outside my tent in the morning.
Our cow pat free camping area
Cherie nomming on some porridge
After packing up the tents and sorting our gear it was off and after a short time following a farm track we dropped down into the Hodder Valley and followed the river up the valley. Along the way we spotted a load of goats, wild pigs the odd chamois and even a wild cat. We heard a few rock falls above us in certain sections as something was moving about in the cliffs and we were left hoping it wouldn’t send any bigger rocks down on us. After about 6 hours, crossing the river heaps, we reached the spectacularly located Hodder Huts. The views back down the valley as the clouds started to drop were impressive but we hoped this wouldn’t last and threaten the next days plans.
Ally making one of the many river crossings
The two Hodder Huts
Cherie doing the dishes
Clouds rolling down into the valley
Hoping for good weather
The forecast had been looking pretty hit or miss with rain during the night and fresh snow near the summit. It poured down rain most of the night and we awoke at 6am completely clouded in. feeling pretty disheartened we snoozed for an extra hour before we surfaced. After venturing outside we realised that blue sky was just about visible through the cloud. After quickly scoffing some porridge , grabbing our gear and gaining some altitude we were presented with blue skies and our first glimpses of the summit. It looked pretty cold up top with winds whipping wisps of cloud off the summit.
The start of our summit walk
Cherie and Ally
Looking back down towards the huts in the cloud
Our chosen route up but we went up the smudged line at the ‘a’ in Tapuae
The route we were taking followed the Staircase stream up through big scree fields pretty gradually before heading pretty much straight up. Pretty tricky in places and really took some effort clawing your way through the rocks. As we got higher up we were greeted with some snowfields but most of the fresh snow had melted except from in the shadows. Very cold if you were in the wind too long but with a bit of Johnny Cash in your head its easy to push on through! Near the top we entered a basin with a steep couloir at the back. It looking pretty daunting but this was our route before the final summit push. Scrambling up the side of cliffs here was a little sketchy at times and making sure we didn’t send rocks falling down onto whoever was behind you was the order of the day. Climbing up the shady side ment the ice was still holding a lot of the loose rock together which made it easier in the long run but still resulted in a few cut fingers and chilly hands.
Ally near the top
Once we poked our heads out the top we could see right down towards Kaikoura and over to the North Island in the distance with scatter clouds around the summit. One minute we had spectacular views and the next minute we could barely see 20 meters in front of us so we quickly scurried up the last few hundred meters to the summit as we didn’t fancy hanging around and seeing what the weather was going to do. It was extremely chilly on top with ice still on the south facing side. One of the highlights of all the tramping I have done this summer for sure.
Just about make out Ally standing at the end
The North Island in the distance
It doesn’t do it any justice to how steep this is but its a proper scramble up. This is Cherie coming back down the couloir
The weather held out for our return to the huts as we descended through a hole in the clouds back into the top of the Hodder Valley. Ally and I chatted about how much it all reminded us of tramping in Scotland, especially on the Isle of Skye. Including lots of long breaks on the way up in took us about 7 hours return to the summit and well worth it. If i didn’t have work to go back to I would’ve done it all again the next day and tried to go up a different route.Ally
Spectacular coming back down to the huts
Up the next day and back down through the countless river crossings to the car. It was a proper scorcher but what better way to spend a roasting day than wading through spectacular gorges and rivers? It was much quicker on the way down, it didn’t feel like it on the first day but you end up gaining over 1,000m on the way up to the huts. It did feel pretty good to get back to the car but also quite gutted that was the trip done! Will definitely be back to try it again from a different side. Any suggestions? Or other good mountain to climb around the north of the south island? May have to work on a few new skills and try Mt. Aspiring soon!
Cherie walking back up to the 4×4 track
70+ River crossings leaves a lot of stones in your shoes
One of the farms on the way back to the main road
The usual New Zealand traffic jam
Looking back up to Mt. Tappy