The Sturges Chronicles
This story is brought to you by e-mail from Dustin and Rachel Sturges on their travels through Thailand and New Zealand. This was a journal entry from New Zealand, mid-January.
Much sport climbing at Payne’s finally led to boredom. One of the two Britts we have been hanging out with for the last few weeks and I decided to climb Cloudy Peak outside of Christchurch. The girls were just going to hang out in town, so Gary and I geared up to do The Great Prow. It’s a climb in one of the wilderness areas that goes at Aussi grade 14, and is about 1000 feet of climbing. We left the Ford and got a room in Nelson, about half way there.
After the bars, the next morning offered a very unsuccessful trip to the store and a drive forever to the mountains outside Christchurch. We saw the mountain range as we were driving in. The back peaks splayed themselves against the horizon, reflecting the perfect sunlight with quiet majesty. They were very imposing.
We camped that night next to a lake in a low valley with the girls; the next morning, we headed back to the last town we had passed to get everything we had forgotten during the hangover-shopping episode in Nelson. This accomplished, we headed down the dirt road to the Ewrahon Station. The Ewrahon station is nestled on the side of a convergence of two massive glacial valleys. We were supposed to sign an intention book at the ranch, but when we got to the gate there was a sign that read “God will forgive your trespassing after I shoot you.” I crept into the yard with both hands in sight. It turned out not to be as serious as all that though. The young lady who looked after the place met me. She showed us to the book and drew us a little map to get us where we wanted to go (since the guidebook didn’t have one). Before we knew it we were on our way. We hiked down a 4wd road to the glacial valley proper. It was about a mile across before it met with the second valley (also a mile across) that we were going up.
The river that ran through the first valley was the Clyde. It broke up in about ten little rivulets across the gravel basin. We crossed all of the rivers, none more than knee deep, with the sun on our backs and the wind gently pushing us along. We came to the next valley and followed the Havelock up to what we assumed was the Cloudy Stream. After going about three hundred yards into the smaller valley, it became apparent that there were actually two valleys that the stream came from. We took the right hand valley, trusting in the girl at the station because the guidebook said the valley should be obvious.
We cussed and spit our way about a mile up into a high valley through neck-deep brush and a plant that I could swear feeds on human blood. In the middle of each, we were trying the whole way to guess which rock face out of the three thousand we were supposed to climb. At about 8 p.m., exhausted and disheartened, we gave up and made camp (sort of). The flattest spot we could find was sort of a small step just below where the scree wall of the canyon went steeply up. We made dinner, drank three liters of wine, and went to sleep (the ground was just rocks). We were awakened at about 4 a.m. by the ceiling of the tent banging on our faces. All of the stakes had been ripped from the ground and the wind had almost succeeded in throwing the tent, with over 100lbs of gear and two grown men, off of the mountain. It continued to blow viciously from all directions, pounding rain through the tent at over 100mph. We could do nothing in the dark, so we waited, cold and wet, until 6 a.m.
I was dreaming of drowning in the Arctic Ocean when I awoke, still surrounded by dark blue (the color of the tent), still freezing, and still almost submerged. The tent was still rebuilding itself in between gusts, only to come crashing back down again when the next one hit with the force of a freight train. We finally steeled ourselves and packed up inside the tent. Gary had to get out and hold the tent while I threw the packs out and jumped out to help him. We quickly found that everything that we had stashed under the fly had flown. My stove, a helmet, my coffee cup and some other stuff were nowhere to be seen.
We quickly packed the tent and started searching the slope, just pausing long enough to note that the tent had moved almost a meter from where we set it up (while we were inside it). The search for our wayward gear was impeded by the gusts of wind blasting rain out of the steep valley like a shotgun, knocking both of us flat every thirty seconds. We found the helmet, one of the pots and my coffee cup a hundred yards down the slope. We set them next to the packs and went to look for the rest. We got about five feet away before the next gust knocked us flat. When we had picked ourselves up, we had to find everything again. We settled on one pot and the helmet, counted ourselves lucky and left.
As we staggered and tumbled back down the way we came, the clouds began to let up even though the wind did not. We took a break about 1000 feet from the valley floor. As we lit our smokes, the sun came out and threw a rainbow all the way across the mile wide valley. It was brilliant, almost blinding. As we extinguished our smokes, an even brighter flash lit the sky and something like a 1000-pound charge went off in the clouds. It was amplified by all of the valleys until it was loud enough to send us running and rolling through the pissing rain, as fast as we could to the valley below.
Once we got to the valley floor we stopped and cooked some coffee over a tuna can filled with distilled alcohol. Slightly warmed, we packed our tuna can and our one pot, and started the long flat march out to the van and the girls who wouldn’t be there until tomorrow.
Please watch for the next issue to find out about how Dustin’s excursion really went to shit.