Winter Vol Biv

So it’s still a bit early for thinking about thermic flights, even though here and there in the right place and at the right time we are starting to get the odd sneaky climb but I decided it was time for an adventure seeing as the last time I got out was before lock down. This along with the looming threat of another surge of Covid it was time to head out. I had started packing my stuff and had just popped around to Pete’s place to borrow a power bank when an emergency announcement from Aunt Cindy and Cuzzy Ash told us that the rona is back and the country is moving back up the alert levels. This cemented my decision to make a dash for the hills for a bit of adventure time.

So the plan was to take the gondola up Coronet and glide out the back aiming for Roses Saddle, if I made it to the saddle in good time I’d re fly and try and get to the next hut (Highland Creek) and the next day carry on to Wanaka. I was confident that even if I didn’t get any climbs I would be able to make Wanaka in 2 days.

Unfortunately the news of the new cases forced me to change plans, firstly Coronet Peak decided to close for the day so they could walk around the base building scratching their heads trying to decide how to separate all the Jerry’s. This would mean that I’d have to hike up instead of taking the gondy, no biggie, just meant i had to start an hour earlier and had a bit of a hike first. Secondly I was now concerned about how I’d get back from Wanaka, so turns out Pandemics aren’t the best for hitch hiking, so I decided an out and return. This would be way more difficult with the Thursday forecast of stronger SW winds so I’d be fighting back into a head wind rather than running to Wanaka with the wind behind me. Ah well, challenge set.

I’d decided to stay in the hut so no tent this trip, making the bag at least a kilo lighter.

Bag came to 20kg with 2 litres of water

Kit List + Review

Flying Equipment
  • Glider: Aspen 6 28
  • Harness Ozium 2 with the foam back protector removed
  • Charley double capped round rescue
  • Advance lightpack 2 90 liter backpack
  • Helmet
  • Black diamond expedition mitts
  • XC Tracer GPS Mini III (vario)
  • Merino T Shirt
  • Spare t shirt, boxers and socks.
  • Polyester hoodie
  • Thinner down jacket
  • Big down jacket
  • Soft shell winter pants
  • Beanie
  • UL Poncho
  • Back country meal freeze dried, cottage pie x1
  • Broccoli head x1
  • Mandarins x 5
  • Apples x 4
  • Cookies granola x 5
  • Sour Squirms x1
  • Honey Roasted Peanuts 150g
  • Oats sachets x 2
  • Mi Goreng instant noodles x 1
  • Coffee instant 30g
  • Salt
Other Gear
  • Sleeping bag, Rab 800
  • Inreach Mini
  • 10,000 MaH + 2,000 MaH power banks
  • Stove (UL 30g)
  • Gas small, half used 110g.
  • Titanium mug, 80g. (Toaks)
  • Water filter and plastic bottle (Sawyer squeeze)
  • Pocket Knife
  • Spoon
  • Hiking poles (Leki’s)
  • Camelback (2 Litre)
  • UL towel

So I think the only thing that I forgot was some toilet paper, which I realise before I stopped at the petrol station and managed to swipe a handful of serviettes. Other than that there wasn’t anything that i was missing.

Food: I was happy with the quantity of food I took as I was actively trying to eat a lot as it was a hiking dominant trip. the food left over was an apple, 50g of peanuts the Instant noodles and 1 packet of oats. So I ate most of it and there was enough food left over to see me through about another 12 hours just incase, better to have too much than not enough. If I want to go lighter I could take less fresh food but seeing as I had no tent and the bag wasn’t horrendously heavy I decided to take fresh. The backcountry meal was awful, I tried putting the broccoli in it but that was a mistake I should’ve just eaten that separately. Shame I have so many of those meals as I feel I need to eat them. Next time I go for a 1 nighter I won’t bother with the stove and hot meals, I’d happily just take some sandwiches and do without that gear just to be a bit lighter. But seeing as it was winter i was happy to have a hot meal and a hot coffee in the morning.

Clothes: Spot on, I’d just take another merino T shirt instead of the synthetic 2nd.

Water filter: I didn’t use it, there was streams to drink from and the water bottle I took wasn’t compatible because it had gaps in the thread so it was useless anyway.

Power Bank: 10,000 MaH would’ve been enough, didn’t need the smaller one.

UL Towel: Didn’t use.

UL Poncho: Didn’t use, but forecast was some rain so didn’t regret taking it.


Forecast was good, light winds Wednesday with clear skies and slight potential for instability below 5000ft. Thursday was forecast light SW but nothing horrendous, actually the southerly came stronger than expected in the end there was thick mid-high level cloud forecast that actually cleared by 1pm and there was just cumulus at around 7000ft.


Wednesday Route

So after hiking up coronet because the gondola was shut I took off and flew down the ridge in the direction of Mailings Peak, I barely got a squeak out of the vario (as expected in mid August) and ended up just punting it across the valley and slope landing the other side.

Gliding from Coro Summit to Mailings Peak
Walking up Mailings Peak

I slope landed and walked up to the top of mailings peak, then flew in the direction of Roses Saddle, I got a wee climb on the way that only really got me as high as launch a couple hundred meters out from take off. The glide was good and got me just south of the saddle landing near the track. It was about an hour’s hike to the top of the saddle.

The wind was lightly coming over the saddle from the north, I was expecting it to be soarable of the sunnier northern slopes of the saddle and when I arrived it nearly was. It was windy enough for me to slightly maintain for about 10 minutes before having a relaxing glide down to the hut.

The glide down to the hut over the track I’d be walking back up the next day.

I managed to land right next to the hut, then I packed up, made some dinner and read the intentions book before getting an early night!

The next morning I walked up to the snowy northern tip of Soho, the plan was to fly along the ridge and try to slope land before one of the main spurs the run out to the west, then hike up and over it to re fly in the direction of Arrowtown/Big Hill. The wind was coming from the SW and was stronger than expected. So ended up having a fairly turbulent landing further N than I actually wanted.

First hike 2nd day.
Glide further S on soho, stronger S wind than expected.

So I siddled around the spur and then re launched and made an attempt at Big Hill but it was strong outh in QT so ended up parked in the Arrow River valley in hard sink, I eventually landed almost parked facing uphill. The I had a couple hours hike down the 4×4 track back to Arrowtown (familiar track for me). Then I went to the Fork and Tap for a couple pints of real ale with James who afterwards kindly drove me back to my car on Coronet!

Gliding along Soho towards Big Hill

Jan 20 Vol Biv

I started a vol biv trip with Rory and Michal from the Muddy Creek Car Park in the Rees Valley Glenorchy on 12th Jan 2020.

Day 1 rest after crossing the Rees river

After what was an awful start to the season, windy spring and it rained non stop for the whole of December (Queenstown and Wanaka flooded) we were pretty amped to see some good weather in the forecast, this was actually some of the best weather in a row that i have ever seen in New Zealand. So we loaded the bags up with all the kit and enough food for 7-8 days, the plan was to fly as far north as possible. We decided to start from Glenorchy and started by hiking up the Rees valley the afternoon before to be well positioned on an east face already 5 km into the National Park.

We hiked with Michals girlfriend to the river then she kindly drove the car back to Wanaka for us. We stopped for a rest after crossing the river, the aim was to go to the Earnslaw hut about 5km up the valley for a good start on an east face the next morning from below Mt Earnslaw. We planned to fly north over the Cascade saddle and beyond. Was an interesting night in the hut with heaps of mice running around, we had to tie our food up in plastic bags from the rafters to try and prevent mice from stealing our snacks.

Inside Earnslaw Hut

The next morning we hiked up the ridge towards Mt Earnslaw, the track that eventually reaches Esquilant Bivvy Hut. We were on take off before 12 and everything was looking good, we were well positioned ready to go deep straight away. However even though it was looking good we were all pretty apprehensive about being the first to fly as the prospect of having to walk back up with our heavy bags (all more than 22kg) was very real.

Michal took off first and went straight up, that was a relief. I followed and Rory after, we climbed out getting awesome views of Mt Earnslaw and made the glide over to Mt Clark. From there me and Michal flew together to the Cascade Saddle, getting pretty low at the base of Mt Anstead.

Above Mt Clark looking towards Mt Anstead and the Cascade Saddle
Looking back down the Dart River from the base of Mt Anstead

Managed to get a good climb on Anstead and glided over the Cascade Saddle in the direction of Mt Aspiring. It was clearly shaping up to be a cracker day and we kept pushing across the Matukituki, flying over Homestead Peak getting amazing views of Avalanche Glacier before crossing the East Matukituki.

Cascade Saddle with Michal top right
Views of Rob Roy Glacier fly over Homestead Peak.

On reflection I was flying too conservatively, the day was clearly pumping so should’ve pushed a bit harder. I was trying to get everything out of the climbs to get as high as possible, but the problem was the last 1000ft of the climb was slow. This meant that Michal got away from me after a few climbs whilst crossing the Matukituki, I got stuck on the spur that leads up to Albert Burn Saddle and the Whare Kea Hut on the eastern side of the East Matukituki. I eventually found the climb on the NW facing cliffs that were in the partial lee of the southerly valley flow.

After about 20 minutes of scratching around I finally got high enough to get over the pass and into the Minarets, I would’ve liked to fly further north and fly over Rabbit Pass and into the Wilkin as Michal did but I’ll have to save that for another day as I decided to cut the corner and take a more direct line for Makarora.

Looking NE across the Minarets towards Mt Albert and Makarora

I had a nice glide over the peaks following the tops getting above 3000m, I arrived at Mt Albert just below the top and got an amazing (but rough) climb up above 3000m before gliding across the Makarora River and the head of Lake Wanaka.

Above Mt Albert about to glide across the head of Lake Wanaka

As I got lower I could see that it was actually white capping southerly on the lake, as it was working quite well I assume this is a valley flow that’ll happen a lot of days in the afternoon as the bigger mountains further north suck everything in. As I got to the other side of the valley I noticed that I didn’t really have forwards speed, and was at times flying backwards. The air was smooth and as I hugged the slopes I was actually going up at times, but was evidently getting blown down the ridge. I decided to slope land ready for the next day. I wonder if I had persevered I would have managed to get out of there, I wasn’t that keen on getting blown further north where the valley tightens though.

At camp views across the Makarora Valley

It really was an enjoyable flight that would make up for the next 2 days hiking around Makarora stuck in the stability.