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