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March 2013 Issue
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The hard slog to paradise

View from the summit of Black Peak. Photo: Roger Pennycuick
Matukituki Station on Wanaka-Mt Aspiring Rd (permission required to access route. Speak to DOC’s Wanaka Area Office on 03 443 7660)

Black Peak, Mt Aspiring National Park

It was always going to be a big deal, climbing and dropping more than 2000m in a day. It would take us the best part of 12 hours and this magnified our anticipation to get the journey underway.

Unfortunately a drama involving a lost wallet – left at Subway in Wanaka and found by staff who promised to look after it until our return – meant we began the tramp at Matukituki Station at a rather slack 10am.

The first two hours of the climb are a gruelling slog. We needed both hands to help hoist ourselves up the steep slope of long grass and (to keep us on our toes) the odd clump of speargrass.

There was no path to follow and at any given point we could only see the hill immediately in front. Eventually, the ridge we were to follow came into view and what a relief it was to finally reach it!

No longer were we grasping at tufts of grass to stop ourselves sliding down the hill. We were now walking comfortably on a rock-strewn ridge with our view changing rapidly from the forested sides of the opposite gully through which Phoebe Creek tumbled, to the mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park.

Shark’s Tooth could be seen from near the start of the ridge. It looked particularly striking from up there – I felt as if I could grab it and use it as a weapon.

The hard yakka had been worth it and the more we climbed, the better the view seemed to get. We couldn’t see Mt Aspiring itself until later but it soon formed the centrepiece, as it always does in this part of the world.

Towards the top, a sideways scramble across a steep scree slope under some rocky bluffs was rewarded with an access point through a rock-scattered chute on the north-western ridge. From here, it was just a 20-minute hike to the summit and the most remarkable view of all.

I could have analysed the curves, ridges and sharp pinnacles of this vast landscape for hours, trying to decipher which peak is which. But our time at the top was limited, and I had another mission to accomplish.

Around 15 years ago I had buried a time capsule underneath some rocks at the summit here. Inside were photographs of me and my family and some heart-felt musings on my thoughts and feelings of the time and what I planned to do in the future.

I began an earnest search for it, but the weather-beaten form of the summit rock, over the relentless freezing and thawing throughout the seasons, had changed the landscape too much and eventually rendered my search fruitless. if anyone finds an odd-looking parcel bundled in plastic at the top of Black Peak, please get in touch.

We may have completed the climb but a 2000m descent is no easy task, especially if your knees decide to give way on the way down. Ours held firm, albeit only due to the sweet relief of being able to bum-slide the last 600m down that steep grassy slope.

At the bottom we could see our tracks leading right the way down the hill – the only casualty being my walking buddy Joe’s backside, which felt the sharp end of a blade of speargrass.

We reached the car again at dusk. It had been a long day, but the weather had been perfect and I’d urge anyone to endure those first two hours because the rest of the tramp is breathtaking.

– Roger Pennycuick