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OPERATION DRAGONFLY
The Third Expedition (2012)

 

 

               Our family on in the mountians

On  leap day, 29th February 2012, our expedition leapt into action and set out on the journey south to the search location at the head of Lake Ohau.

    We were a little unsure how things would go as this was the first holiday of any kind for two years. Last summer we were prevented owing to the big earthquakes that wrecked our home and meant that we had to rebuild things. And then back in the late Spring of 2011 mother had a huge stroke. Miraculously she recovered enough for us to start considering a trip south. But would she be able to cope so far away from civilization? Only God knew and He wasn't saying at this time!

    So, it was with some trepidation that we left the shelter of our  new home and ventured into the pages of adventure in the rugged mountain wastes of the South Island of New Zealand.

    Slowly our convoy of bus, and the two Land-Rovers meandered southwards. We didn't take the caravan this time as Mother wasn't quite up to staying in it this time.

    Our plan for this expedition was to do a detailed study of a certain area to find out the feasibility of organizing a massive search next summer. This place was a considerable distance in, but  shanks pony  [our legs] could carry us when the Land Rovers failed us!

    Rather than explain what we did on a day to day basis, I am going to relate some of the adventures we had. Some were good, some bad. Some were fraught with worry, and others were very memorable.

    One day, while we were in camp resting, I asked my father where Simon was. I wanted to ask him a question and I knew he d been behind me a short time beforehand. Father didn't know but suggested I call through on the two-way radio to see. Wherever Simon was he'd answer.

    Sure enough, I got a ready answer when I asked.  "Where are you?"

     "Look up,"  came the breathless reply.

    "Where?"  I asked.

    "Up here up on the skyline."

Adam watching Simon with the binoculars 

Adam watching Simon with the binoculars 



    I looked up, up and up to the ridge of the mountain above the camp. But I couldn't see him anywhere.

    "Hold on; I'll fetch the binoculars."

    Clamping them to my eyes I scanned the ridge line towering some 2000 feet above us, finally coming to rest on the tiniest speck imaginable.

    "Wave your arms!"  I ordered.

    The stick-like speck I was watching did a funny wee jig. Yes, I knew now that it was Simon.

    "What on earth did you go up there for?"  I asked in some surprise.

    Simon's response was unhesitating and to the point.  "What on earth do you climb mountains for?"

     

Bobbie out hiking 

Bobbie out hiking... 

Like any trip into the mountains, at least for us, there is an element of danger to be reckoned with. And sometimes that danger can be quite terrifying. One morning, bright an early Simon and Father set off into uncharted waters  or to be more precise, uncharted bush.

    After climbing for several hours through thick bush they came out into a clearing where they stood gazing up at what appeared to be an unassailable cliff. Simon, notwithstanding their already precarious situation, uncoiled his rope and started to climb. Father watched with bated breath as Simon unflinchingly moved from foothold to handhold with resolute calm.

    Upon reaching the top Simon lowered the rope to Father who, now that a rope was firmly tied to a tree at the top of the cliff was satisfied, made his own way up the cliff face. Halfway up there was a small ledge where Father had a slight rest then went to open his bag for his video camera. Simon saw what was happening and calling softly down said.  

    "Don't bother filming  just get up here, and take it easy. Go slow!"


     Father who was puzzled questioned Simon.  "Why? Whats the matter? We should be filming this."

 

Bobbie climbing cliffs 

Bobbie climbing cliffs 

   But Simon's voice betrayed nothing as he murmured,  "Don't ask any questions now. Get up here and I will tell you why."

     So father, with a puzzled expression, pulled on the rope and continued the long tedious ascent.

    As Simon relieved him of his bag at the top, Father asked,  "Now, why couldn't I use the camera?"

    The reply was simple. Simon simply pointed to a huge crack in the cliff that could only be seen from above. Father realized instantly why Simon had cautioned him and told him not to dally around.

    The whole cliff face that they had climbed was due to crumble away and fall into the valley 2,000ft below! Father blanched white as he thought of the peril they had both escaped from. For some time after that, they both lost some of their enthusiasm for filming  and understandably why!!!

Showing the path I travelled 

Showing the path I took up the mountain 

   I chose a sunny morning, with the sky as blue as cornflowers  with only a few fluffy clouds scudding around the topmost peaks, to go for a very long hike. I wanted to access what appeared to be a large valley extending out of the Hopkin's River valley. From the Hopkin's valley it appeared it went a fair way back in toward the main divide. So, I parked the Land Rover out in the river bed amongst the Matagori scrub and, after hanging my pack, rifle, hat and binoculars in various comfortable spots around my person, I whistled Jessie (my border collie) away from the local sheep population with whom she was having the time of her life staring at, and began walking into the valley.

    As I got closer I could see a huge waterfall just inside the narrow valley entrance. Looking all around for a suitable place to make my ascent into this vast unknown territory, I paled at the sight of the unforgiving rock faces that seemed to lean out above me.

     Shuddering, I thought to myself.  All we need now is an earthquake!

 

Jessie laughing at me 

Jessie having a laugh at Adam 

  Jessie quenched her thirst with some crystal clear mountain water from a nearby rock pool while I pondered over the next move. The mountain water here is so sweet and flavorsome. It has never been spoiled by human pollution of any kind.

    The cliffs to the south were totally out of the question. I'm a mountaineer not a rock climber! I will use ropes when I have to, but there is something quite nerve defying to be suspended from a rope hundreds of feet above solid ground. I have done this several times, and I always felt like a spider dangling from a web. It wouldn't be so bad if I knew I could get completely to the top of the cliffs without being blocked.

    Looking north I could see the cliffs were very rugged, and were more likely to be passable. There were knobs and guts of every kind. There were cliffs, rock falls and trees. Finally I decided that I would make my ascent that way.

    Clinging to tufts of grass I hauled myself up out of the basin below the water fall. The lower places were grass clad with scrub dotted here and there. Then that soon became loose gravel and then a shingle scree which came down through a broken valley gut.

    There was a difficult slip that I had to go up several hundred feet and then cross to the farther side. It was a long painful journey  and it didn't pay to look down! For a downward glance to the foaming waters below caused shivers to run down my spine. A fall from here would cost me my life. Jessie was handling the terrain very well indeed. Not quite like a goat, but almost so. She bounded from rock to rock with abandon.

Adam climbing over a difficult spot 

Adam climbing over a difficult spot! 

    Finally I reached the other side of the craggy gut and pushed through dense brush into the partial safety of an almost vertical tree covered slope  At least I had something solid to hang onto here!

    Climbing through this hopeless tangle of undergrowth and native bush, and about 1 hour after leaving the river below I finally called a halt and perched precariously upon a fallen log that was lodged between some trees I opened my pack and devoured my lunch. Jessie spent the lunch break either helping to eat my biscuits or crashing down a hundred feet to retrieve a stick I threw to her.

     When out hiking, every time I stopped, without fail, Jessie would immediately produce a stick or piece of wood as though by magic. Dropping at my feet she would look at me with beseeching brown eyes pleading for a game. Often I was too tired from climbing to bother throwing sticks  but her patience never wore thin. If I was too long deciding to join her for a game she would simply start eating the stick!!!! Her motto seemed to be  Either throw me the stick or I'll eat it!

     Anyway, I enjoyed my lunch even though I was in a rather difficult place to eat it and packed the remains back into my pack. After have a good drink of water I loaded the now lightened pack onto my back and threw Jessie's stick as hard and as far as I could down the mountainside. I wanted to get a head start on her  and sending her down was enjoyable  at least for my moral!

    Plodding onward and upward, hour after hour wore on. Clambering over moss covered rocks, damp rotten logs, pulling on tree after tree, and at times weaving on hands and knees between the roots of a tree overhanging the gorge I steadily continued my climb.

    After some time I eventually emerged from the bush and came out onto the open tops (above the bush line) and looked around to see where I was.

 

View from the top... looking down the way I had come up from 

The view from the top... looking back
down the way I had come up from 

  I was well above the gorge, so high in fact that I couldn't hear the thunder from the crashing waterfall over a thousand feet below. After a breather lying among the rough mountain grass looking out over the Hopkin's Valley and with Jessie resting patiently at my feet, I continued my ascent to the heights above.

    Carefully and gingerly I picked my way among the  Spear grass , a bushy plant with hundreds of spiky leaves with sharp points, somewhat like Porcupine quills. After a days hiking amongst  Spear grass  ones lower legs are covered with nasty red spots that sting terribly  even when protected by trousers. When you've sat on one of these bushes as many times as we have, you gain a great deal of respect for them! Sitting on a prickly bush like this is similar to sitting in the mouth of a crocodile  except in this case one can get up and walk away, and with incredible agility!

    The slopes, being quite close to the gorge, were still very steep; in fact there were cliffs I had to get up. Since I was above the bush line there were no trees to hold onto for support. There only seemed to be a million kinds of native grasses, scrubs and ferns. Clutching at these was often pointless as they so readily came away in ones hand. More often than not, it was best to use balance, with the ski pole I carried in one hand, and the rifle in the other (butt down) as supports. Several times I even held onto Jessie to steady myself!

    It was a tricky job to get through the first lot of bluffs, but then, once on top of them it was easier going. Jessie, who had been trailing me a lot rather than roving ahead, decided it was time to explore this wonderful environment. As I plodded steadily and carefully on Jessie began to sniff around and the abundant new smells. I smiled to see her tail waging happily as she darted off in one direction on the scent of a field mouse or hare and then came speeding back past me at a great rate of knots following another intriguing odors. Sometimes I would give her a whistle to check where she was and I would see her shaggy head pop up with ears erect staring questioning at me over the top of the tall mountain grass. It was a sight I will never forget. There was such an angelic expression of, "Hello! Did you want me?" on her face.

Adam at the top 

Adam at the top 



    The mountain grass was sparse on the ridges, but taller and thicker in the gullies and shady slopes. So I tried to keep to the ridges but it was difficult because they were often quite steep. I finally reached 5,180ft and sat on a lofty knob overlooking the Hopkin's Valley. It reminded me of the words in the song  "I'm on top of the world, looking down on Creation!"

    With Jessie at my side I pulled out my harmonica and played a joyous melody. I was happy. I was at peace. This is what exploring is all about  climbing to a vantage point up where the Angels fear to tread. I wanted to take lots of photos and video to remember this craggy viewpoint, so I set up the video camera on the tripod and, after I had the video recording, I sat on a giant stone slab on the edge of a precipice. Sitting there, playing merry tunes on my harmonica all was well  that is until I suddenly noticed the camera on the tripod start to tilt. A sly wind gust had crept up unawares and blown the camera and tripod over. Even before it hit the ground, I yelled and leapt to my feet, but I was too late. Another camera was no more!

    So, with no video camera at hand I pulled out my digital still camera and took lots of photos of the views, and lots of the bush covered areas so we could check them in detail later for any changes in the landscape.

Adam taking a well earned rest 

The view from the top... looking back down the way I had come 


    Now, this isn't all. I had got to the top of the ridge I had climbed up in the morning. But I had to get down. And it was already 3pm!

    Looking down the slopes to the north I could see the way was totally impassable, even for a goat! The treacherous knife edge rocks were many, and the scree slopes were steep and deadly. Remembering past scrapes I had been in I shuddered to myself.  "No way! Not again."  I thought.

     If I had thrown a stone over the edge of the precipice it would have fallen and easy 1000 feet before it would have bounced hundreds of more feet. My rope would have been like trying to tie a Cruise Ship to a wharf with a piece of cotton! It was so inadequate

     Calling my brother on the radio I told him that I was likely to be later back to base that night. Giving him directions on where to see me he spotted me through the rifle scope from over 4,000ft below. There was only one choice,  and that was to retrace my steps and descend via the gorge. Not an easy task considering that it is easier to climb than go down!

    Never-the-less, I had to get moving. Time was running out if I didn't want to camp out on the stark lonely mountainside. So signing off the radio and calling Jessie I carefully began my descent to green pastures and a hot shower!

Poor Jessie... she doesn't like heights, but would follow me to the ends of the earth rather than leave me 

Poor Jessie... she doesn't like
heights, but she would rather
follow me to the ends of the
earth than leave me. 



    It was a slow painful mission, but one I wouldn't balk at. I thought to myself, I will just take it real careful regardless of how long it takes. And that was the best decision of all. Once I got back down to the bush line I uncoiled the rope from around my waist and lowered myself down through the crag's and rocks. By looping my rope round trees I was safe and secure. I was fine going down on the rope. It was rather easy when among the trees. It didn't matter how steep the terrain was. I would just go over the edge of any cliff and lower myself down until I got to the next tree.

    But poor Jessie didn't fare so well. I would tell her to sit tight until I got down below each set of cliffs or craggy difficult place before calling her. That way she would find a natural easy way for herself to descend by. But several times she couldn't find a place soon enough. And I felt rather bad when I could hear her pitiful cries calling to me so plaintively from 100 yards away. When she finally came bounding up she gave me the warmest welcome possible. We would spend a few minutes very close before I remembered I had to get out of this place.

    The worse part of all was the rocky gut that I d had so much trouble getting through earlier in the day. It took me over an hour to gingerly cross the 30 yards and descend two hundred feet. It was so bad. One false move and I wouldn't be writing this now. I was so concerned about how to get out, I told Jessie to wait at each solid boulder while I picked my way step by step through the loose stones to the next stable rock. If Jessie crossed above me she would cause stones to come bouncing down in a small shingle side which could unbalance me.

Jessie looking for me 

Jessie is looking for me! 



    I moved with all caution and care. I slid down off a rock with the softness of a snake and put my feet onto a stone, testing it with delicate care. If I put too much weight upon a stone and it proved to be loose my feet would skid out from under me and as there was nothing to cling onto  I would be tossed like a leaf into the raging river down in the ravine below.

    With thanksgiving in my heart I sent a prayer heavenward as I gently and quietly got past this terrifying obstacle. I yelled with joy and relief when I reached the bottom and had a well deserved drink from a rock pool in the river. Jessie looked at me with a wry smirk as though to say,  "Double trouble! He's been at it again!"

     In the evenings, after a long day's effort out roaming the mountains, Simon and I would go off rabbiting. Let me tell something of this.

 
 

Adam and Jessie out on a hunting trip 

Adam and Jessie setting out on a
hunting trip one afternoon 

 One evening, just as the sun was setting, we were driving along a deserted farm road. I was sitting in the spare wheel on the bonnet of the LWB Land Rover with the shotgun across my lap. I was wrapped up warmly with a bush jacket, hoody and heavy oilskin. Simon was driving.

    We were driving along when suddenly a bunny bounced out onto the road in front. I raised the shot gun and fired! Bang! Then again  BANG! Both barrels were empty and the rabbit didn't stop. After doing a wild somersault it leapt up the bank above the road. While I was reloading my eyes stayed glued to the rabbit. Incredibly it jumped up onto a ledge at the roadside. I bellowed at Simon to stop and back up. He had seen the rabbit and had naturally slowed down anyway.

    Looking over my shoulder I could see the rabbit sitting just outside its burrow.  Back up! QUICK!  I screamed at Simon. With the barrel of the gun dangerously near one of the Land Rover mirrors I took aim at the bunny. It didn't move from where it was sitting. The Land Rover started moving back. Finally Simon stopped so I was less that 10 feet away from the rabbit. It still hadn't moved.

    I was so worried it was going to dive into the burrow and die in pain later that I acted without thinking twice. I opened up both barrels together with a mighty BANG! Once the dust cleared I could only see a pile of fluff where the rabbit had once been.

    Simon jumped out and ran to investigate. He turned and held up a little fragment of fluff.  "A shotgun is no good on a rabbit!" he said. "This is all that's left!"

     We moved on up the road, but we had lost the enthusiasm we'd set out with that evening!

Adam and Simon 

Simon (left) wearing his green sun hat and Adam (right) 


    Another time, we were out at dusk chasing Hares. Again I was sitting in the spare wheel. We got lost in the paddocks and it was so funny when I think now of how I was roaring out directions to Simon. "Look out! Tree ahead! Stop! Turn to the left! Slow down!"

    We found one Hare and gave chase. Simon swerved all over the field, dodging scrub and boulders. Needless to say we lost it before I fired a shot, but we had been so intent on the Hare that we didn't notice it was getting to dark to navigate. I thought one way was the right way and Simon thought the other was best. After getting hopelessly lost we clean forgot about rabbits and hares and focused on getting ourselves out of such a crazy predicament.

    I started to complain about having such a sore bottom from sitting on the spare wheel. Every bump and hollow we went over I felt and it made me yelp with pain. Simon giggled and suggested I could skin a rabbit and sit on the fur! It was cold and bleak on the front, but it was best to sit there as I could give directions and warnings  even though they were not always heeded! We laughed a lot after we got back to camp  it seemed so silly to have got lost in a field; however, the paddocks up there are very wild and full of scrub, ditches, gullies and creeks. In the dark it's pretty hard to find your way around, especially when you are not using vehicle tracks!

    Jessie, our border collie, had the time of her life. She loved the great open expanses and would run for mile upon mile across the trackless river flats while we were picking our way along a trail. It was amusing to see her sometimes up to a mile away, with fur flying in the wind, racing happily through the grass and the Matagori scrub.

    One time we found a flock of about 100 sheep nicely rounded up with Jessie speeding round them at 90 mph keeping them tightly packed in a circle. It wasn't until I called her away that she stopped her endless circling and flopped on the grass with her tongue hanging out.

    She would try to round up the cattle, but they were too stubborn and just ignored her barking, jumping figure.

On a trip to the Huxley Gorge 

Our LWB Land Rover on a trip up to the Huxley Gorge 

We met lots of friendly people while up there. For instance, one day, I was returning from a long hike up into the Temple Valley area. I was loaded down with my pack, rifle and supplies. I had been exploring a particularly difficult area some 3,000ft above the valley floor, so was returning to the car park, naturally very hot and tired  it being a very hot afternoon.

    I'll never forget the sight as I left the trail and entered the empty (except for my vehicle) car park. Away across the other side, approaching along the dusty gravel road in, was a sturdy looking figure with a large back pack and a giant straw hat. It was too far away to be sure if it was man or woman. So I continued walking, heading for the shade of the DOC Shelter (shed) in the middle of the car park. But the distant figure arrived at the Shelter before I did and entered, only to suddenly reappear minus the pack.

    By this time I was close enough to see it was a woman with a friendly cheery face. She came to meet me and gave me a huge welcome. I was so weary I wanted to just sit down. So we both entered the Shelter and collapsed on the bench seats inside.

    Looking across the room we grinned at each other through the sweat. We were both in a terrible state. I asked her where she was from and how far she had walked. It turned out she was on a hitch-hiking tour around New Zealand and had left her husband in charge of the family farm. Apparently this adaptable lady had walked many, many miles in past Lake Ohau. No wonder she was also worn out!

    She was heading up the Hopkin's River to spend sometime up around the Broderick Pass, so I offered a ride around to the Base Camp to save her legs. This remarkable lady spent some time with us before continuing her journey  and about a week later returned with stories of the wonderful time she'd had.

The mountians are so beautiful 

The mountains are so beautiful! 


    The mountain peaks crowned with snowy caps and wreathed in silken scarves of morning cloud was a very beautiful sight. From the rocky crag's of the highest tops, down to the wide expanse of the valley with the river twisting and turning through the many braids it created a memory we will never forget.

 

Bobbie and Jessie 

Bobbie and Jessie 

   It was, as it always has been, a sad day when the home call came. Last looks at some special places dear to our hearts; standing in thought here or smiling up at a place on a ridge  not one of us wanted to leave, but work was calling and we had to go.

    This expedition was a last minute attempt owing to mother having the Stroke before Christmas. We thought at the time we wouldn't be going on holiday at all, but she improved so much that it became clear that a trip away would indeed be possible.

    We went with the intention of checking out a specific location that recent research had pointed to and spent our time planning for a big expedition next season. This other area is much further in and extremely difficult to access easily. So we need to find a new method for access. Helicopters are out of the question, not only because of cost, but because, owing to the extreme danger and the chance of an accident at any time, it is absolutely imperative to have personal means to evacuate an injured person. We cannot afford the delay of waiting while someone walks out to phone reception to call for a helicopter.

Bobie (left) Llynnelley (middle) Simon (right)    Land Rover tackling the river

LEFT PHOTO: Bobbie (left), Llynnelley (middle), Simon (right) up at the Huxley Gorge
RIGHT PHOTO: Our LWB Land Rover crossing the swiftly flowing Hopkins River

Mother, Father and Simon

Mother, Father and Simon together at the Huxley Gorge

The Hopkins with our Land Rovers

Our Land Rovers crossing the Hopkins River

Four-wheel drive vehicles can only go so far, and are not able to access the area we plan to search next. We are seriously considering the use of pack horses to carry our gear. However, as we're complete novices to the world of horses, it could lead to some exciting times ahead.


FLIGHT OVER MT COOK, NEW ZEALAND HIGHEST MOUNTAIN

Lake Tekapo from the air 

Lake Tekapo from the air 

On our way home we stopped off at AIR SAFARIS at Lake Tekapo to say hello to our friends there. As the weather was so good, we decided to charter an aircraft to go for a flight around the Grand Traverse  the name used to describe the beautiful flight around the various peaks, lakes and valley's surrounding New Zealand's highest mountain, Mt Cook.

    It was an almost cloudless afternoon in the Mackenzie Basin when we took off with Tim Rayward, son of the founder, as our pilot and guide. There were a few wisps of cotton wool floating in over Burkes Pass, and we could see a wall of cloud had formed along the Main Divide. But Lake Tekapo was shining in the late afternoon sun with a deep beautiful blue. The water was deep and cold looking. We gained height and circled the town, passing low over the Mt John Observatory with its dome topped towers where clever people spend their night's peering into the inky black world of beyond our solar system.

    After about 20 minutes we reached the Godley and Murchison Glaciers at the head of Lake Tekapo. Then we entered a new land  a land of ice and snow, with broken craggy peaks, treacherous bluffs and massive chasms.

Inside the aircraft 

Inside the aircraft... it was
very comfortable and cosy 

   Safe in the comfort of the heated cabin of our modern aircraft we looked out at this snowy wonderland with excitement and thrill. Everything looked so peaceful and benign down there.

    As Simon said,  "I wonder how many people are looking up at us."

     If people were down there we couldn't make them out. However we could see various huts and cabins in remote locations.

    Tim pointed out many things of interest and gave us a thoroughly wonderful experience, taking us into places like the Whataroa Valley, close to Mt Elie De Beaumont and over both Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers. But the climax of our adventure came as we climbed up to Mt Cook.

At the top end of Lake Tekapo looking south 

At the top end of Lake
Tekapo looking south 

 
    Along with the rest of the family, I had been videoing the whole trip constantly. I had a back seat (placed in a central position) with splendid views out each side of the  plane. This meant I could film out either side depending on the views.

    Everything was fine till we reached 10,000 feet flying over Fox Glacier. Suddenly I felt a nausea feeling in my stomach. I felt just like a person does when sea sick. However I soon forgot as I was so busy concentrating on the filming. So we continued to climb. I remarked at this point to Mother that we were getting rather high and asked if she was feeling alright. She said she was feeling fine.

The Glaciers are so beautiful!     Cloud was drifting in from the West Coast

Mt Cook... New Zealands highest mountain

The mountains in all their splendor and majesty!

 
Tim circled the top of Mt Cook twice for us and put us in a wonderful position around 12,000 feet to get excellent shots. Then he turned the plane and headed back toward Lake Tekapo and the Airport. As we left Mt Cook I was still trying to film out the back window. But it became distant so I put the video camera down on the floor and picked up my digital SLR to take some photos with that. After doing so I then swapped it for the video camera again and started filming once more. But as I lifted it up to look through the lens my world suddenly, and with absolutely no warning, became very muddled and blurred.

    I tried to speak, but words would not form  I tried to yell, but only a mumble came. I tried to wave my arms, but I could hardly move  managed to touch my Mother on the arm as she was next to me, but all I could do was murmur softly with great gasps,  I cannot breath!

     I was like a Goldfish out of water  taking great gulps of nothing at all!!!!

Adam... in trouble 

Simon snapped this photo of Adam in
trouble from the front of the aircraft 



    Then I lowered my head and started to drift away. Sleep was overpowering me and I didn't care at all. Tim, our Pilot, suddenly realized what was wrong after Mother called to warn him.

    He was wonderful and took control straight away. Quickly he made an emergency decent to reach more oxygen. But then a new problem arose  the decent was hurting my head. The steeper he descended the more the pain in my head increased.

    I almost passed out with the deadly pain, so Tim levelled off enough to prevent that. He called through on the radio to have a Paramedic waiting for me when we arrived at the airport.

    I don't remember the trip back or the arrival at the airport. Everyone in the aircraft kept talking to me to prevent me losing consciousness, but all I wanted was peace and quiet and to let me sleep! Hehe! I was in absolutely no pain except for the head aches caused by the rapid decent  I kept yawning  I was very drowsy and wanted to be left alone,  but wisely they didn't!

    Suddenly I felt someone shaking me by the shoulder and calling my name. It was the Paramedic, a co worker of Tim s. He soon sorted me out and after helping me into their office gave me a drink of cold water. After about an hour I came back to normal  more or less! So it's not surprising I'm often called "Double trouble" because as you can obviously see trouble is one thing that plagues my life! Ha-ha!


TRIP NORTH TO AN OLD 1944 CRASH SITE

Showing the route we took through the bush  visit the crash site
Showing the route we took through the bush to visit this crash site

After we had been home a short time, and caught up on a few chores, we set off once again, this time to the Hope Saddle at Kawatiri Junction, near Murchison, South Island, New Zealand.

    In 1944, on the 30th June, DH84 Dragon ZK-AHT crashed in the forest near here. With 7 occupants aboard, two of whom were women, they were rescued the following day with the exception of two men who passed away at the site. The wreckage was either taken away or smashed up on the spot. Anything on the ground was disposed of,  with the two engines being lugged through the bush to the road.

    After over 65 years part of a wing is still resting high up in a 100ft Beech tree. This tree still bears the scars of branches broken by the impact. We wanted to get some samples of timber, fabric and metal for testing purposes, plus also photograph the remains as they were hanging in the tree.

Our bus at Kawatiri 

Our bus at Kawatiri 



    To reach the wreckage in the tree it meant that we'd have to climb the tree. But how when it was at least 90ft up to the wreckage and the tree had a smooth thick trunk? It was too high to throw a rope over one of the upper branches. It was too high for any ladder, besides we'd never cart a ladder into the crash site!

    So after a lot of thought and research, Simon had come up with a solution. He had manufactured a pair of climbing spikes that strapped to his boots. With a harness fastened to a strop placed around the tree he could climb with comparative ease,  providing he didn't look down!

    To access the crash site required a 1 hour hike through a dense tangled forest of prickly creepers, ferns and general bush. It was very thick and awkward to get through. It is one thing to consider thrashing your way through undergrowth so thick you cannot see 5 yards away when unburdened by a pack. But is an entirely different matter when you realize that we had large packs on our backs loaded with ropes, harness and heavy climbing gear.

    So, leaving our parents out at the road, Simon and I tackled the odds and plunged up to our necks, quite literally, into the thickest and most horrible bush we have ever had the misfortune to enter!

    Several times Simon called me for help. I dropped my own pack among the jungle of twisted branches and leaves, and after about 5 minutes of fighting to reach him I peered through the leaves to see my brother trapped across a fallen tree. He had tried to climb over the trunk, but the weight of the huge pack, which was tied to him because of its bulk, had caught him off balance and he d tumbled over and become wedged.

    "Quick!"  he yelled.  "Quick! I cannot move forward, and if I go backwards I will slip down the hill."

     I reached him and soon got in underneath the pack and pushed hard to lever him up out of danger.

    Jessie our dog didn't have the problems we had, but managed to slip quite easily through below the tangle. It was probably the worst bush whacking experience Simon and I have ever endured  made all the more arduous because of the tremendous loads we both were carrying.

Finally at the crash site... Simon takes some photos before he begins to climb the tree 

Simon takes a few photos
before climbing the tree 

   Once we got to the crash site we unloaded our packs and looked around at the area to figure the next move. The tree was simply gigantic and it was SO tall! Simon looked long and hard before preparing to climb. The circumference and the height were greater than anything he had climbed before in preparation for this job. To climb this huge tree was going to push his ability to the absolute maximum.

    Finally Simon turned to me and said,  "Alright, we'll do it now."

     I looked at the tree and then at Simon.  "Are you really sure?"

     "Of course I am."  he replied, with all the confidence in the world. "I can do it."

     With a rather unsteady hand I helped Simon prepare the ropes and fit him into the harness. I watched as he attached the climbing spikes to his boots and fastened the buckles.

    We placed a thick strop (rope) around the tree to hold Simon against the trunk at all times. If his feet slipped he would be held firm by this strop  both ends of which, after passing round the tree, were connected to his harness.

    Then he began to climb. Now and then his feet would slip slightly. My face grew tense as I released the rope he was hauling up a bit at a time. He would need this rope later to pull a camera up with, or any gear he may need.

 

Jessie curled up under a log waiting for us 

Jessie curled up under a log waiting 

At first Jessie frolicked all about. She gambolled among the ferns and broken trees and had a thoroughly exciting time sniffing at all the new scents. But then as time dragged on she became exhausted, and finally crept under an old log and went off to sleep. I smiled when I saw her curled up so contentedly. She was happy regardless of where we were, just so long as we were nearby.

    But what Jessie didn't know was the great danger Simon was in. He was steadily climbing the huge tree, inch by inch, foot by foot. But difficulty was about to arrive. The trunk was reasonably smooth and straight to about 65 feet, then it widened out to a much greater circumference. This meant that the strop that passed around the trunk of the tree had to be lengthened at this point. A very hazardous operation indeed as it had to be disconnected from the harness, lengthened and then re-bolted back onto the harness! My heart was in my mouth as I watched Simon do this  after making very sure his feet were firmly wedged.

Simon high up in the tree 

Simon snapped this photo of Adam in
trouble from the front of the aircraft 

   Once he had adjusted the strop Simon began to climb again, but because of the shape of the trunk now, it was very awkward to get the climbing spikes to get a grip. Many times he would slip and I would shout up to ask if he was okay. It took over 45 minutes to climb the tree, and I was very relieved to see him finally sitting in the fork of a branch at around 80 feet up.

    Simon then hauled up a second strop and a rope  with these he secured himself to the tree before setting to work to extract samples of wreckage  and photograph and film it all.

    Five hours later Simon returned to the ground with a thankful sigh of relief. It was an ordeal he doesn't want to repeat! But it was a wonderful success and will prove very useful in our search for D.H. Dragonfly ZK-AFB.

    It's not a very wonderful feeling to see ones brother dangling like a spider from a web more than 70 feet above you!

The circle shows where Simon is
The red circle shows where Simon is...
and at his highest point, around 90 feet

Wreckage high in the tree     Adam watching Simon climb

Left: Wreckage high in the Beech Tree
Right: Adam watching Simon climb the tree

Simon climbing the tree     Adam with a piece of wreckage

Left: Simon high up the tree
Right: Adam with a piece of wreckage

The wreckage as Simon saw it from up the tree
Simon took this photo of the wreckage from up the tree

    There was no reluctance as we left the crash site and headed back to the road, more than an hour's journey away through the treacherous forest.

    We arrived back at our bus that night completely exhausted and thoroughly dirty yet extremely satisfied with our efforts.

Simon took this photo of Adam from up the tree

Simon took this photo of Adam from up the tree he had climbed 

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The Second Expedition was February and March 2010

Hover the mouse over a photo to read more, or click on any of the pictures to enlarge.

 
Bobbie having a shot

Bobbie having a "shot" with the .22 rifle one evening

 

Paying bills over the cellphone near Lake Ohau

Paying bills by the roadside near Lake Ohau

 

The river when in flood

The river in flood. Notice how the Dam is under water

 

Adam and some baby Hedgehogs founds whilst rabbit shooting

Adam with some baby Hedgehogs found whilst rabbit shooting

 

  

  

  


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Last Updated: Wednesday, 05 April, 2017