Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Snowy Wee McGregor, Snowy Mt Hay Station, Snowy Mackenzie Country

Thursday, Friday, 18-19 June was big snow time in Mackenzie Country. In Fairlie during a 35 cm snowfall we had a power cut, then we glamped in our lounge for 10 days, while our log burner kept us warm & our hot water going. Although we had kitchen cold water, most of our cold water pipes & the toilet cistern pipe froze, so I was toilet cistern water carrier for 10 days. Due to frozen cold water pipes we couldn't bath for 5 days. We conserved our kitchen cold water for drinking & cooking.

Our laundry outlet pipe froze & I replaced a cracked elbow joint to stop the freeze. So we couldn't use our washing machine for several days. We kept our electric fin heaters going several days, 24/7, in our bathroom & passage to stop water pipes bursting. Other locals were in the same predicament. Fairlie temperature range for the 10 days - minus 9 C to minus 13 C, the latter recorded at Mackenzie College.

On the Friday after the snowfall I shovelled snow to make paths round the house & to get our car out of the garage & driveway. A neighbour helped me shovel our driveway, as he had a decent snow shovel. I just used our heavy, old garden shovel. Thereafter the snow turned to ice due to calm weather for 9 days. Only 10 days after the snowfall did the wind come up & thaw the snow. Twizel, Pukaki & Omarama boasted minus 20 C to minus 21 C temperatures on National News. Mt Gerald Station at the end of Lilybank Rd & Lake Tekapo recorded minus 21 C too.

As Mackenzie District Council didn't properly maintain Lilybank Rd beyond Round Hill ski field turnoff, the road to Mt Gerald Station was horrendous. Leah taught farm kids who trekked that dirt road daily.

On the Thursday morning of the big snow, a warm nor'wester morning, when Leah tried bussing to Lake Tekapo School, the bus got up Burkes Pass, but the bus driver turned back near Holbrook Station due to Mt Edward winds blasting the bus all over the road. Leah didn't bus to work the following, snowy week, as the school closed for a while & when it reopened Leah had flu, so she stayed in Fairlie awaiting the thaw. She kept local finches, white eyes, blackbirds, thrushes & Australian magpies alive by feeding them daily in the snow.

Map ref: BY17 057319. Tuesday 30.06.15. A beautiful, snowy, nor'wester day, perfect for climbing Wee McGregor 1146 m, Mt Hay Station. After dropping Leah off at Lake Tekapo School, I drove along Lilybank Rd for about 10 km & parked my car about half way along Mt Hay above Lake Tekapo.

I sidled around the north end of Mt Hay over lumpy, moraine country, criss-crossing sheep paths & a farm road. I avoided the road with 10 cm deep snow - tiring. To stop my feet getting wet, I dodged snow patches & walked as much as possible on muddy, stony ground.

After an hour over low moraine hills, I reached the bottom of Wee McGregor, by a frozen tarn. Beyond the tarn rose a small conical hill below Wee McGregor. A week before the big snow, described above, I'd climbed the small conical hill thinking it was Wee McGregor, a steep climb up to about 800 m. A mistake, as I thought Wee McGregor looming behind was the southern end of Mt Ardmore. So much for interpreting my Topo 50 map!

Avoiding snow, I skirted the conical hill & began the steep ascent of Wee McGregor, sheep back shaped, with summit ridge lowering from N to S.  It took me an hour to summit, up the side of a long, steep terrace, which eased as I neared the top. I added stones to the 2 summit cairns. I wished I had a captive botanist with me to explain all the Alpine cushion plants I saw. I recognised some, but most were a mystery, even after looking at plant books in Fairlie Community Library. Small Alpine plants I saw on the ground were difficult to identify, even with published pics.

It was windy on top as the nor'wester blasted from the direction of Godley River Valley beyond the N end of Lake Tekapo. I put on my wind cheater & snapped 360 degree snowscapes:

SE: Snowy Mt Dobson SW ridge I'd recently climbed; snowy Mt Maud; snowy Mt Edward.

S: Snowy moraine country with icy tarns & braided Edward Stream below Mt Edward, flowing south through Sawdon Station. Snowy Mt Benmore & snowy Otago Alps, deep south.

SW: A glimpse of Lake Tekapo town; snowy Mt Hay (obscuring snowy Mt John & snowy Old Man Range); across Lake Tekapo, snowy Ben Ohau Range.

W: Across Lake Tekapo, snowy Fork River Valley; snowy Braemar Dome; snowy Mt Stevenson; snowy Mt Joseph; snowy Joseph Ridge; snowy Hells Gates; snowy Glenmore Station; snowy Godley Peaks Station; Cass River Valley & delta; snowy Gammack Range behind; snowy Mt Cook summit behind the lot.

NW: N of Cass River Valley - Snowy Mistake River Valley; snowy Haszard Ridge; snowy Mt Haszard; snowy Mt Mistake; snowy Pikes Peak; Godley River Valley at the head of Lake Tekapo; snowy Mt Fletcher at the head of Godley River Valley.

NW: N of Godley River Valley - Snowy Mt Erebus; snowy Mt Sibbalt; snowy Mt D'Archaic, snowy Mt Gerald above snowy Mt Gerald Station.

N: Snowy Two Thumbs Range, including snowy Mt Chevalier, snowy Mt Ross, snowy Mt Ajax, snowy The Thumbs; snowy Richmond Station & Round Hill ski field below snowy Mt Richmond; snowy Boundary Stream Valley; snowy Mt Ardmore looming above Wee McGregor.

Scrutinizing snowy moraine country below snowy Wee McGregor I tried to find the Phantom Lagoon below snowy Mt Ardmore. All I saw were stony bluffs by an icy tributary of Edward Stream.

After descending Wee McGregor, avoiding snow patches if possible, on a Mt Hay stony slope I surprised 3 Himalayan tahr. The maned male bolted round the W flank of Mt Hay. The two females bolted straight up rocky Mt Hay & summited within minutes. The sheep they'd accompanied trotted leisurely downhill.

As Mt Hay Station is a working farm, trampers/ climbers must get permission from the owners for walks & climbs. Food, water, weather proof gear must be backpacked for the mountains' bite.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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