Gunsight Pass, 18/19 December 2012

North Temple

Surprisingly there was a lot of interest for this trip including an untried new member who joined just days prior to the departure date. There were on the day 6 going over the pass and 2 heading up the South Temple to meet up at the head of the valley for the overnight camp. The weather provided just a small window of that weekend without rain, bookended with rain forecasts either side. Because of this the rivers were moderately high. After a 7am departure from Oamaru, 2 vehicles arrived at the Temple shelter just after 9 and we all set off after changing with fine sunny conditions, looking forward to a full-on sort of a day. The 2 going to the South Temple quickly split from the main group after crossing the North Temple and 6 of us walked up the North Temple in glorious sunny conditions stopping for lunch at the head of the valley. Heading up to the start of the Gunsight Pass the long gut came into sight, a few groans started to be heard as the test of fitness started to become known. It is about 1000m climb to the top of the pass from the valley floor and it is quite unrelenting. Helmets were donned as a precaution for the falling rocks common in the gut especially with a group like this going up. The fitness question started to make itself felt here and the group slowed down a lot. One member of the party decided to return to the valley for a camp out, having realised it was too much effort.About the last 300m 0f the climb we encountered a substantial amount of snow filling the gut entirely and despite the time of day and the good sunny weather it was found to be too hard for safe climbing without crampons and axe and had to be circumvented around some particularly steep and difficult rock walls. At 4pm we finally reached the top of the pass and because it had taken as long as this most of the party were quite tired at this point. Contact was established with the two down in the South Temple valley with the two way radios. Looking down from the pass our route involved another snow field unfortunately but luckily the snow here was not quite as hard and it was possible to kick decent steps in as we went down. One of the party did however lose his footing and ended up bumsliding most of the 200m, loosing some skin on his hands when he came to the end of the snowfield. This gave us all quite a scare and slowed the remaining journey for the day even further as we were even more cautious on the rough rocky terrain going down. Eventually we did all make it down to where the creek becomes visible again and we spent some time hunting the elusive side track that leads on to the main route up and down the South Temple valley. Another call on the radio spurred us on for the last 30 min as we realised that our fellow trampers were within close range and that we would end up spending the night at the same camp. It was a very tired crew who finally stumbled in to the camp site a bit after 7pm. We had been on the go for over 10 hours over some very rough country, but it was very satisfying putting up our tents and getting our laughing gear around some food and drink and sharing our stories. A well deserved rest was had during the night and the following morning saw us pack up and walk the much easier route back past the South Temple Hut and out to the cars by about lunch time.A debrief and lunch for some at the Wrinkly Ram brought an end to this trip. This was a touch trip that required greater fitness than we brought and tested us thoroughly. I am glad that we did have the resilience to complete the trip but feel that the wisest member was the one who turned back in the North Temple. As with most trips where things don’t go exactly to plan this will be remembered for a long time and for some of us it may well be the last time we visit the Gunsight Pass. Thanks to those 7 others who came on this adventure, and may we be fitter next time. Robbie


South Temple
As the main party headed up the North Temple, Neville and John turned left and walked on the river bed around the corner into the South Temple valley. The track up the South Temple follows the stream closely on the true right, sometimes on the river flats, sometimes climbing through beech forest to get around a bluff, and a couple of times traversing impressive rock slides apparently extending all the way down from the top of the mountain range. With a stop for a snack, they made steady progress alongside the river which was full enough to suggest that crossing might not be straightforward. From time to time they came across, in clearings, bundles of five plywood trap boxes with stainless steel grilles and branded “Mammalian Correction Units” which had presumably been helicoptered in for placement.
Three hours after setting out, the two came to the end of the track opposite the South Temple Hut. They agreed crossing there would not be a good idea so explored an alternative upstream. The track ends where the river bank becomes an apparently impassable sheer rock wall. However, the rock wall has a ledge at its foot and it was possible to clamber along this with good handholds available to come back on to the valley floor. Two hundred metres upstream the valley widened and the river split into two braids, which made crossing a breeze.
After lunch, the two crossed the river and set off up the true right, initially through beech forest. Five more crossings of the South Temple were required, most calling for careful navigation. As they progressed up the valley, the vegetation changed from dark beech forest to more open celery pine dominated bush in association with a variety of hebes, coprosmas, celmisias and dracophyllums interspersed with open grassy flats. It was clear that DoC maintenance of the track ended at the hut; above it, track marking became haphazard and in places the bush was reasserting its dominance. Indeed, no track clearing had taken place since club members had worked on it between four and ten years previously.
Some two hours after the first river crossing, Neville and John reached a promising camping area which a tramper going down the valley had suggested was the last one before the pass. At 4 o’clock radio contact was established with the main party who had just reached the top of the pass. Given the time it would take them to get down to the valley, it was decided to establish camp there and wait for the conquering heroes to straggle in.
Which they did a couple of hours later. Tents were put up, libations and dinners consumed, tales told and all settled down to sleep the sleep of the righteous – some more than others. All were up by 6am and on the track by 7.30 for the five-hour return trip, reaching the cars just after midday.