The Third Expedition (2012)
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.
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.
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!"
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!!!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
LEFT PHOTO: Bobbie (left), Llynnelley (middle), Simon (right) up at the Huxley Gorge
Mother, Father and Simon together at the Huxley Gorge
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.
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.
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.
The mountains in all their splendor and majesty!
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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!
Left: Wreckage high in the Beech Tree
Left: Simon high 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.
Simon took this photo of Adam from up the tree he had climbed
The Second Expedition was February and March 2010
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Bobbie having a "shot" with the .22 rifle one evening
Paying bills by the roadside near Lake Ohau
The river in flood. Notice how the Dam is under water
Adam with some baby Hedgehogs found whilst rabbit shooting
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Last Updated: Monday, 19 December, 2022