Picturesque New Zealand/Chapter 14
Switzerland challenged—The Southern Alps—Up a Mighty Glacier—The Perverse Ski—Mountaineering by Moonlight—Within the Shadows of Mount Cook—Boiling the Billy—Over the Alps to Westland.
Switzerland, proud as it may well be of its world-lauded mountains, is scarcely prouder of them than is New Zealand of its Southern Alps. For though the world at large has not as yet done so, the Dominion has discovered to its own satisfaction, that its Alps compare worthily with the Alps of Switzerland both in variety and scenic splendor.
But though Maoriland challenges the physical superiority of the Swiss Alps, it unreservedly admits their supremacy as money-making attractions. The Swiss Alps are a mighty source of revenue; the New Zealand Alps are as yet mainly a source of scenery. No hundred thousand tourists annually jab New Zealand's Alps with alpenstocks, as in the Central Alps of Europe. Here, where the first mountaineers were Maoris, no numerous grim tales of tragedy make one shudder, no hundred bleeding corpses annually stain the snows. Here is a mighty field for exploration, a great white solitude with deep silences still unbroken by footfall of man.
Yet time is bringing a change. The stillness is now more often broken, the human tread more frequently is heard. To this argent world, where the eye glimpses sea, lake, and river, richly wooded height, and grassy plain, from one vantage-ground, pleasure-seekers yearly repair in increasing numbers to climb, ramble, glissade, and ski.
New Zealand's Alps are more than three hundred miles long, but their name applies more particularly to their highest portion, in the west central part of the South Island. The loftiest peaks are in the vicinity of Mount Cook (12,349 feet), the "Aorangi the Cloud Piercer" of the Maoris, more than two hundred and fifty miles from Cook Strait, the northern terminal of the chain. Until, as geologists believe, the chain was submerged by sinking, it evidently extended to the North Island. It is equally probable that this subsidence disconnected the main divide of the North Island, and that the high Kaikouras, in the northeastern part of the South Island, were a part of this divide.
The Southern Alpine Range consists chiefly of overturned folds, and judging by its enormous moraines it evidently was higher ages ago. These moraines are much higher than those of the European Alps. On this point. Professor James Park says that "the younger Pleistocene valley moraines of Switzerland are small compared with the vast piles of glacial débris at Pukaki and Tekapo, in the Mount Cook area."
In height the Southern Alps are excelled by the Swiss Alps; but they have a large number of peaks approximating, or more than, ten thousand feet in height, all within a few miles of Aorangi.
In the New Zealand Alps there are hard and dangerous ascents, but to the tourist none is known which in difficulty and peril worthily compares with the Aiguille Grépon, Aiguille Dru, Torres Inglese, or Kleine Zinne. To the average Northern Hemisphere tourist, however, the Southern Alps are unknown, and few professional mountain climbers have made their acquaintance. Some day, when Southern Alpine visitors number thousands instead of hundreds, the great variety of this long white world will be far better known; and precipitous cliff faces, "chimneys," and slabbed height, now ignored or undiscovered, will be sought and conquered by alpenstock and armored foot.
In their accessibility the Southern Alps excel the Swiss Alps. Their glaciers, which are larger than those of Switzerland, are reached with astonishing ease. Furthermore, the snow-line in the New Zealand Alps is much lower than that of Switzerland's Alps. On the west it is so low that, between latitudes forty-three and forty-four degrees, the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers descend to within slightly less than seven hundred feet of sea-level and into dense forests.
A varied world, in truth, are the Southern Alps and their radiating ranges. On one side are the festooned forests of the Tasman seaboard; on the other side are sparsely inhabited tussock plains. Here stormy elements and great rivers of ice are slowly wearing down mountains; here torrential snow rivers aid and continue the work of destruction by carrying away the eroded silt and with it filling valleys and lakes. Here are great glacial beds filled with white lakes; forest-rimmed blue lakes; and wild streams that are full almost to the top of their banks one week and are dry the next. Here glacial débris is heaped to mountain heights; trees grow where once the ocean rolled; hot springs "ooze from decomposing sulphides in the pressure-heated strata"; and here are gold and greenstone, the koura and pounamu of the Maoris.
The heart of the Southern Alps can be reached via the passes of Westland, but the tourist routes thereto are on the east, chiefly from the railway terminals at Kurow, 120 miles from Dunedin, and at Fairlie, 139 miles from Christchurch. The main route is via Fairlie, which is ninety-six miles from the Hermitage, the State hotel near Mount Cook. From Fairlie the Hermitage is reached in one day by motor-coaches.
From Timaru—where all passengers via Fairlie change trains—to Fairlie the railway passes through a rich wheat district, a flat and rolling country of pleasing appearance and good roads. From the train the passenger may see wheat ripening while snow falls on the Two Thumb Range, northwest of Fairlie, on the lower slopes of which, in winter, votaries of the ski disport.
From Fairlie to the Hermitage it is a devious and, in the main, a dreary road, especially after leaving Burke Pass, which crosses the Two Thumb Range about fourteen miles from Fairlie. Practically all the way the road passes through large sheep ranges, where people are seldom seen, and where, in a distance of seventy miles, there are only three hotels, which are from thirty to forty miles apart. Between Pukaki and the Hermitage the traveler may go twenty miles before meeting a human being; and as for trees, excepting where they have been planted at hotels and sheep stations, there are virtually none; while on the stone-littered Mackenzie Plains even the tussock grass grows poorly.
By this route I obtained my first good view of the Alps near the foot of Burke Pass. Forty miles away, over a yellow tussock sea, stretched a long, undulating line of white above one apparently interminable line of blue. For miles this sublime picture broke the monotony of plain and hill; and finally, after being obscured for some distance by rising ground, it was enhanced by a magnificent view of Aorangi.
Beyond Burke's Pass the first object of interest passed was Tekapo, highest of the principal lakes of New Zealand, which washes the base of the Two Thumb Range twenty-five miles from Fairlie. Tekapo lies more than twenty-three hundred feet above the sea, and its area is thirty-two square miles. Like Pukaki, thirty miles distant by road, it is fed by large and turbulent glacial streams, and these so discolor it that it looks like a basin of water-diluted milk.
Tekapo's grassed slopes are not inviting to lovers of sylvan shades, but much less inviting are the unfruitful benches of Pukaki. On Pukaki's southern shore,
SECTION OF THE ALPS AND TASMAN GLACIER
where the coach road turned abruptly toward Aorangi's peaks, I saw a desolate region. Here the tussock was less prolific than at Tekapo, and the glacial débris on which it struggled for existence was very extensive. Along the shore large dark boulders were strewn in profusion, and as we neared the hotel beside the Pukaki River, the lake's outlet, outcroppings of broken drift, which here formed hills, were prominent.
Forty miles from Pukaki's hotel is the Hermitage. Of that distance about one third of the road closely follows the western shore of the lake, which is about sixteen hundred feet above sea-level; thereafter, until near the Hermitage, the Tasman River, which flows into the lake, is followed. The Tasman is a river with many divisions, and it receives the waters of numerous glacial streams, including the Hooker River and the discharges from the great Tasman Glacier, its source. For the greater part of its length it flows through gravel beds, spreading about at will over a wide flat.
The streams flowing into the Tasman are an interesting study. Some of them are mainly conduits for rain, and in the summer these become dry within a few days after a heavy precipitation. I have seen such water-courses clear within three or four days after they were heavily charged with silt.
Down the Tasman there frequently sweeps a terrific Alpine wind. Against its blasts, blown as if through a funnel, it is impossible for pedestrians to keep a straight course, and at times, as I learned by experience, they can scarcely proceed against them at all. In these winds, which commonly continue without intermission for a day, spray from madly-flowing rivers is flung rods from their banks, and drifting clouds of dust which at a distance resemble flying spume, are seen all along the Tasman's shingle flats.
On this road Mount Cook is seldom out of the traveler's sight on clear days. Here, looming up tremendously, nearly eleven thousand feet above him, it appears to far better advantage than when viewed at close range. At a distance it seems more isolated, its three peaks are more conspicuous, and its supremacy is more readily appreciated. It also presents a fine appearance from the Hermitage. As seen from the Tasman Glacier it is displayed mainly as a ridge; miles away, on the south, it is more grouped. While those who prefer the group formation may not be particularly impressed by the Tasman Glacier view, others prefer it.
Long before reaching the Hooker River Valley, up which one turns to get to the Hermitage, there is seen curving at the base of sharp-crested De la Beche and past the barren, pink-flushed walls of the Malte Brun Range, the Tasman Glacier. It looks like a great white river, which it is—a river of frozen snow larger, it is claimed, than any other "outside the circumpolar regions, except the ice-streams of the Himalayas." It is eighteen miles long; its maximum width is two and one fifth miles; its average width is a mile and a quarter; and it is hundreds of feet deep. Like other mountain torrents it has its rapids, or what correspond to them, but they are rapids that move slowly. And with all the terrific pressure they and the mass behind them exert, the glacier's daily flow is only eighteen inches, an inch for every mile of its length.
In the Hooker River Valley, in a cozy retreat beside the terminal moraine of the Mueller Glacier and below the prodigious cliffs of Mount Sefton (10,350 feet), lord of the Moorhouse Range, I was lodged at the Alpine climber's haven. In this well-chosen spot, twenty-five hundred feet above the sea, with a Government as host and Alpine guide, I was made to feel at home, and was provided with all the requisites of mountain climbing. Here, too, I obtained an inspiring view of Aorangi, and along the whole face of Sefton saw ice filling canyons and crowding against cliffs which it slowly was chiseling away. Nearer still, within a few hundred feet of the hotel, were ice blocks, ice walls, and ice caves.
The Hermitage—since considerably enlarged—was a group of one-story, galvanized-iron-clad buildings on a grassy slope near the Hooker River and within sight of the Tasman River. The first exterior view of the Hermitage proved it to be the headquarters of mountain climbers. On clotheslines back of the hotel hung leg cloths, stockings, and garments; and against the "boot shop" and elsewhere alpenstocks and ice-axes leaned.
The boot shop was an indispensable adjunct to the Hermitage. In it was a big stock of armor-plated boots, thick-soled, studded with nails that had tops as large as the heads of spikes, and further protected with metal clinchers. There were many sizes, and, I learned later, even more weights. Every wearer had a different estimate, and often, in the course of a single day, several estimates. But there was one fact about these boots that should have made them feel lighter than they were—great men had worn them, or, at least, a good number of them. And so it still is to-day: although the average visitor to the Hermitage may not by mental ability metaphorically walk in the footsteps of the great, he can walk in the boots they have worn.
In addition to the Hermitage, the Tourist Department conducts several accommodation huts in the Alps. In these the beds are bunks and the cooks are guides or porters. Two of these huts are on the Tasman Glacier route. The majority of climbers via this glacier end their first day's excursion at Ball Hut, fourteen miles from the Hermitage and thirty-four hundred feet above the sea. This hut can be reached on horseback, but not so Malte Brun Hut, nine miles beyond it at an altitude of fifty-seven hundred feet, to which all supplies are carried on porters' backs.
The goal of the majority of visitors to the Hermitage is the Tasman Glacier and the peaks, ridges, and domes that wall it in on the west and north. The Tasman Glacier is the grand parade of the Southern Alps. Into it a half-dozen large ice streams flow, and along it are ranged a score of mountains from nine thousand to eleven thousand feet high. Besides Mount Cook there are Tasman, 11,467 feet; Dampier, 11,291; Silberhorn, 10,796; Roberts, 10,487; Malte Brun, 10,421; Elie de Beaumont, 10,200; Douglas Peak, 10,107; Haidinger, 10.059; and De la Beche, 10,040.
From the hotel to the Tasman Glacier there are two commonly traversed routes. One crosses the Hooker River by a swing bridge and runs along the steep face of the Mount Cook Range to the Tasman Valley; the other route follows the opposite bank of the river to "the cage," a box running on an aerial tramway, in which Alpinists are ferried across the Hooker.
The terminal moraine of the Tasman Glacier would be an excellent place to operate a stone crusher. As I saw it, en route to Ball Hut, it appeared to be one vast rock heap for several miles. Great quantities of this débris had been so finely broken as to be suitable for road-making without further treatment. On this sterile heap, rising far above my head, nothing grew, but in the scrubby growths beside the path were many flowers, the veronica, buttercups, daisies, violets, pimpernels, and the yellow spines of the Wild Spaniard; here also were the totara scrub and its edible red berry.
Trees were scarce, but there was one I shall not forget. This was what might properly be termed the Halfway Tree, for it shaded the Halfway Place between the Hermitage and Ball Hut. The Halfway Place wasn't a hotel, nor even a house. It consisted of a small tree, a table, a galvanized-iron-bound chest containing tea, sugar and cups, and piles of "billies" and bottles. Here my Maori guide and I halted for tea—and gooseberries. Beside the tree was a gooseberry bush, and a very popular bush it was, according to my pilot.
"Everybody has a go at the gooseberries," said he as he helped himself.
We did not stop here to "boil the billy," as we had at first intended; instead we each plucked a Mountain Lily leaf, and dipping it into a cold, swift stream, we quenched our thirst, then pressed on to Ball Hut for supper. When we got within sight and hail of the hut the guide stopped and loudly hallooed. It was a call for "tea," and in answer thereto a porter appeared at the door. When we arrived, we sat down to canned meat and beans, canned milk and fruit, and bread baked at the hotel.
That night only these two men and myself were at the hut, but, nevertheless, ours were not the sole voices there. Other voices there were, and they were loud and harsh. They were the calls of the kea, the mountain parrot, of the South Island, which has a cry that sounds very much like its name. The kea has a strange history. Once it lived on berries and grubs, but years ago it became fond of mutton; and now, according to widely credited accounts, it is very destructive to sheep. Alighting on the back of a sheep, the kea fixes its claws in the wool or flesh and quickly makes an opening with its two-inch beak. Its cries attract other keas, and beneath their combined attack the sheep soon collapses.
The kea is a very inquisitive bird, and it is equally bold. Along the Tasman Glacier keas peck at the nails in one's boots and with their beaks test one's clothing. A guide told me that one had even perched on the toe of his boot.
At Malte Brun Hut one day, I drew four or five keas about me on a large flat-topped rock. At first they were three or four feet away from me, but very gradually and cautiously they approached until the beak of one was within an inch of the metal-headed pencil I held in one hand. Then the bird backed away. Soon a bolder one joined my audience, and, after much meditation and searching scrutiny, actually took the pencil from my hand. But he did not seem to care for it, for he almost immediately dropped it. In front of another kea I held a pocket mirror. Seeing himself reflected in it, he warily peered over the mirror, apparently expecting to find a bird on the other side. When he learned that he had been deceived, he walked away in evident disgust.
On the morrow we resumed our journey up the glacier. The Tasman Glacier is a wonderful spectacle, or, rather, a combination of wonderful spectacles. It has ice canyons and caves; ice shafts from one to two hundred feet deep; waterfalls that pour over icy ledges; streams that flow in icy tunnels; and millions of tons of boulders and broken rock torn from the mountains.
At its terminal moraine, about twenty-five hundred feet above the sea, is an unsightly mass of ice and stone; at its head a mile and a half above the tides, its surface is rounded into great snowbanks and broken into huge blocks that are clear of débris. It has crevasses as numerous and varied as the clefts of rain-washed banks; it has hidden waterfalls that tumble into funnel-shaped pits; it has streams, some of them concealed, that run during the day and are frozen into silence at night; it has still water of delightful blue in oval fissures and round basins of exquisite, fairy-like blue.
My first comprehensive near view of the Tasman Glacier, its connecting ice streams and their lateral moraines, was obtained a short distance from Ball Hut, after climbing the steep path to the top of the Ball Glacier, which flows between Mount Cook and its range. On the crest of the first ridge of the Ball Glacier's lateral moraine my eyes swept over a wild and astounding scene. Over a wide and long expanse were great projecting spurs, pinnacles and banks of snow, and deep cavities. The whole was soiled and weighted with immense quantities of boulders and shattered stone.It was a treacherous place. Over large areas the ice was thinly surfaced with rock fragments, and what appeared to be nothing more than big stone heaps were in reality ice masses covered with a few inches of debris. On these both guide and guided were forced to proceed cautiously to avoid accident. It was likewise on the long lateral moraine of the Rudolph Glacier, which meets the Tasman at the Fall. Here also were big stone heaps and deep cavities, and isolated rocks of great size
CUTTING STEPS ON ICE FACE, TASMAN GLACIER
moving imperceptibly to wreckage piles that had existed for centuries.
Everywhere on the Tasman Glacier were deep and dangerous fissures that looked to be bottomless. Before these some people, I was told, become so terrified by their aspect that they lose sight of beauty in fear of injury or death. On the glacier's ever-changing surface there are no well-defined tracks, as some visitors expect to find. The guides make their tracks as they go, and they have new ones every day.
Of the ice streams flowing into the Tasman Glacier the finest is Hochstetter Ice Fall, a precipitous glacier descending from Mounts Tasman and Cook. It is four thousand feet high, a mile wide, and "a thousand Niagaras frozen into one." The whole is a crumpled, shattered mass of blue, white-capped walls and ridges, and deep crevasses.
The roughest part of the Tasman Glacier is the Fall, where a spur of the Malte Brun Range thrusts itself into the glacier as it swings to meet the Rudolph Glacier. The Fall consists of frozen rapids that have a descent of five hundred feet in one mile. If the glacier could be melted suddenly, there would be created here rapids such as the world perhaps has never known. And with all its rapidity, it would take the melted river a good while to exhaust itself, for in places the glacier is estimated to be one thousand feet deep, and opposite to Malte Brun Hut it is said to be fifteen hundred feet deep.
As we proceeded up the Tasman Glacier we heard, nearly every hour of the day, the thunder of avalanches. Many of them we saw as like waterfalls they plunged from ice-quarried ledges and, rolling and leaping, reverberated for the last time in deep hollows or at glacier's edge. Some of them seemed to be not more than a half-mile away, but the rarefied atmosphere was deceptive; they usually were two or three times more distant than they appeared.
On an elevation commanding a view of all the principal elevations and glaciers on the northern and western sides of the Tasman Glacier I enjoyed the simply hospitality of Malte Brun Hut, an anchored inn. Standing three hundred and fifty feet above the glacier, this caravansary was so exposed to the furious winds that sometimes sweep down the valley that it was lashed to a huge boulder at its rear. At Malte Brun was one of the finest purely mountain panoramas of the world. At relatively close range were the domes of Hochstetter and Elie de Beaumont, the peaks of Mount Green and Walter and the Minarets, the walls of Haidinger and Cook, and the varied configuration of other lofty mountains in their vicinity; at the hut's rear, almost bare of snow in summer, were the formidable steeps of Malte Brun. Here, also, 'midst wild flowers and grasses, we saw Alpine climbers crossing the Tasman Glacier and ascending mountains across the valley.
At Malte Brun Hut I learned of a feature of mountaineering that is popular in New Zealand. On rafters above the dining-table were several pairs of skis for the use of visitors. These skis, like the gooseberries below, were in great demand. My Polynesian guide told me so. "Everybody has a go at the skis," said he.
But he did not add, as he truthfully could have done, that the skis frequently have a "go" at tourists. Skis are alike the world over, and their idiosyncrasies are as marked in New Zealand as elsewhere. They have notions of their own about navigation, and very perverse notions they are, too. For carefully laid courses they have naught but contempt; under the feet of the unskilled they are intractable. They start willingly enough, perhaps, but only with malevolent intentions. On them one scarcely launches one's self before trickery begins.
Skis are in accord in only one respect—their determination to throw the skier. In some other things they do seem to agree, but these are mere incidents contributive to the main purpose. Often they act as if they were going to ram each other, but such is not their design. Theirs is more often a hurdling game. They hurdle over each other, and the skier hurdles over them both. At other times the skis, like some married people, agree on a separation almost at the start. In that case they run as far apart as they can, and one's legs, becoming imbued with the same spirit of isolation, do likewise, each faithfully following its ski until the downfall of man is accomplished.
It is safer, if inexperienced, to use skis as toboggans. But even then you will find that when you want to go down they want to go up; and presently you find yourself skidding on the snow, with the skis on top of you, perhaps, in an attitude of "Now we have you."
The slopes of Hochstetter Dome and the smooth upper reaches of the Tasman Glacier are ideal places for the ski. Here one can enjoy the sport for two miles without interruption from broken surfaces. On these slopes I hoped to witness a good exhibition of skiing, and I did, but it was not what I expected.
"Do all guides here know how to ski?" I asked my pilot.
"Oh, yes!" replied he promptly.
As he prepared to illustrate his proficiency to me, I said, "I 'll stay behind, Guide, and watch you go down."
"No," he objected, "you go ahead and you can see me go past. I 'll catch up with you."
He did, finally, but he was so long coming that I looked back to see what he was doing. I was just in time to see him picking himself up. A few seconds later I looked back again. He was still going, but he had turned completely around, and seemed to be trying very hard to ski uphill. When he reached me he had an abrased and bleeding wrist.
"Now you get on," said he, seating himself on the skis.
"Is that the way you go down?" I asked.
"Sometimes," he replied. "The snow is too hard this morning to ski down. This is the way all tourists go down."
We started well, but the skis soon altered our course to suit their own malicious pleasure. The fractious things appeared to be eager to see the world, and the ways they chose lay far apart. Now we were on, now off; now wearing out our clothes on the snow.
From Malte Brun Hut one of the most popular trips is the ascent of Hochstetter Dome (9258 feet). With the most ambitious essayers of this climb it is customary to start anywhere from one to three o'clock in the morning, thereby reaching the summit, six miles distant, in time to see the sun rise over mountain, forest, and sea. When taken by moonlight this is one of the most alluring excursions imaginable.
About these moonlight expeditions there is an air of mystery. In preparation for one of them my guide and I awoke long past midnight. To avoid arousing sleepers we talked in whispers while breakfast was being prepared; and finally, softly closing the door, we stole silently away, out into deep silences unbroken save by an occasional word and the crunching of snow. Above us, enveloping us, was the soft glow of the moon; beneath us was the glistening snow; and in every direction dark mountain masses loomed through mantles of white. It all seemed like a dead and frozen world, a ghostly, goblin-like world.
En route to Hochstetter Dome little more than thirty-five hundred feet of altitude had to be surmounted. The first part of the journey was up easy grades; the latter part was so steep that if we had made a serious slip on one of the Dome's great billows we should have rolled thousands of feet before stopping. Everywhere these benches exhibited appalling grades, and on the two higher ones we found it necessary to cut steps and advisable to use a rope. On these the intense cold so affected my chattering companion that, on nearing the top, he asked me, "Do you think it's any use to go any farther?"
As we reached the Dome's summit the sun was rising. First its pink flush tipped the myriad peaks above and below us; then moving slowly down the mountain slopes it became absorbed in the gloom far beneath. With the descent the greenish hue of the western horizon gradually became darker, until it likewise was lost in the darkness of the nether realm. On the east was a brilliant sky. There the tussocks of Canterbury were brightened by sunbeams while sunshine still climbed the Alps to disperse the shadows of Westland's forests.
It was a wild and fascinating scene on which the sun's rays alighted, a scene of peaks, precipices, canyons, and snow-fields interminable to the eye, a scene of forest, river, and sea. To the northeast snow-clad peaks stretched as far as the eye could see; southwest and west ranged the mighty barriers of the Tasman Glacier. In the farther west was the sombreness of wooded hills and valleys; beyond these leafy undulations ran the long white line of the Tasman's surf. On the east the Alps threw flanking ranges far into tussock land, away across the ice-born Godley and Rangitata Rivers.
One of the most interesting of my ascents in the Alps was up Ball Pass (about 7400 feet), within the shadows of Mount Cook. For diversity this route across the Mount Cook Range would be difficult to surpass. The first part of the climb was steep and hard, through scrubby growth which my brown guide and I had to clutch for support; the second and last part consisted of shattered rocks and snow-fields. All the way to the bare rocks were flowers, the celmisia, the veronica, the Mountain Lily, and several other kinds; and as elsewhere in New Zealand mountains, the prevailing color was white, with yellow at intervals.
As we scrambled upward over bush and boulder and loose and broken rock masses that on the edge of cliffs seemed ever ready to form avalanches at the slightest touch, our view increased until we saw nearly the whole of the Tasman Valley with its glaciers, its moraines, and its river. Flowing into the Tasman River we beheld the Murchison River, born in the Murchison Glacier, eleven miles long. Thirty miles distant shimmered the white surface of Lake Pukaki.
At the top we stood in the shades of Aorangi. Five or six miles westward, across the glacier-filled Hooker Valley, plowed by the Hooker River, rose a massive mountain form weighted with glaciers. It was Sefton, one of the finest appearing mountains of New Zealand. Its two peaks and the black cliffs below them were clear of clouds, and as it thus lifted itself high above its immediate neighbors, Sefton was a worthy rival of Aorangi at its best. From the pass Sefton appeared more effectively isolated than does Mount Cook from any part of the Tasman Glacier, and it is not surprising, therefore, that by some judges Sefton is preferred to Aorangi as a view.
The supreme ambition of quite a number of Southern Alpine climbers has been the ascent of Mount Cook, but comparatively few have scaled it. Aorangi is difficult to climb, and there are times when the guides at the Hermitage will not undertake the ascent owing to dangerous ice conditions. From the hotel the average round-trip length of Mount Cook ascents is from four to five days, but as weather conditions are uncertain a week or two may be required sometimes. From Cook the sublimest view of the Alps is obtained. On clear days even Mount Aspiring, a hundred miles away, is visible.
The Hooker River Valley, into which we were to descend, was dark with glacial accumulations. For the greater part of its length it was partly filled by the Hooker Glacier, seven and one fourth miles long, and to a smaller extent by the Mueller Glacier, eight miles long, which flowed into it at the base of Sefton. The descent into Hooker Valley from Ball Pass was through a forbidding-looking cleft of rocky chaos, down formidable snow steeps, and over wild waters emerging from snow tunnels and caves.Before beginning the descent, my guide placed a rope around himself and me. This surprised me, for I had been told that we should encounter no ice. I divined the Maori's intentions, however, when he told me to sit on the snow in front of him. We were to toboggan down terrifying slopes on our trousers! The guide was to be
Mount Sefton and the Footstool
my anchor, separated from me by several yards of rope, and his anchor was his ice-axe.
Dubiously I inquired, "Won't the snow wear out my clothes?"
"No; go ahead," replied the native. "Just lie down, and don't dig your heels into the snow."
I tried to comply, but I soon found myself plowing the snow with my heels, which caused us to stop. Another start was about to be made, in a different direction, when I saw "breakers" ahead in the form of a broken surface suggestive of crevasses. As I intimated that I did not want to go that way, the guide reconnoitred, and decided to take another course. It was well he did, for when we got lower down this bulging surface proved to be the top of a cliff.
After that no more obstacles appeared, with the exception of sharp stones which lay half concealed in the snow and caused us to squirm and shift to save our clothes from damage. It was thrilling sport. For half a mile we coursed, alternately stopping and starting and slackening and increasing speed, varied by searching for the most suitable slopes. Sometimes we went at such a rate that it seemed impossible for us to halt until we reached the rocks far below, but the guide always succeeded in fixing his axe in firm snow and pulling up with a sharp jerk.
When our sport was ended, we picked our way on the edges of snow-fields and across steep rock-strewn streams, and thence upon a long snow strip that roofed a creek. On this, leaping over crevasses formed by collapses of the roof, and avoiding thin edges, we continued until we reached the last bit of snow. Several times I stopped to look about me, causing the guide to remonstrate.
"Keep going," commanded he bluntly. "It don't look too good here; there are too many loose stones about."
The route from the foot of Ball Pass to the Hermitage ran near the left bank of the Hooker, but the river was hidden in an icy channel until near the Mueller Glacier. Still more concealed than it were the disappearing creeks and rivulets in the valley. In one place I saw a waterfall tumbling from the Cook Range; the stream of which it was a part discharged into the river; but I was astonished to find that it did not cross the intervening path. Instead it went under the track, through a terminal moraine. In other places, too, glacial streams burst through moraines like springs.
As we traversed the valley my guide apparently was searching for something, first on one side of the track and next on the other side, and he always looked down. Was he seeking a treasure? Yes; and under a boulder he found it. The treasure was a cached "billy," containing sugar, tea, and a cup, and it was to provide us with afternoon tea. Stopping beside a creek, the Maori gathered branches of dry shrubs for firewood, and soon had a fire sufficient to boil the billy, which was done by holding it over the flames on my alpenstock.
In Australasia, boiling the billy is a very common practice, in the bush, in camp, on the tramp, on goldfields and kauri-gum-fields, and in many other places. The billy is a black-faced pail in which water is boiled for tea and in which tea is brewed. The blacker the billy the better, a sable countenance being proof of long and honorable service and lending flavor to the tea.
Not all the superb outings of the Southern Alps are confined to the vicinity of Mount Cook. One of the best of New Zealand's Alpine tours is over the Alps to Westland, to the coast of gold and greenstone, and to the land of Seddon.
From the treeless ranges of the east to the leafy luxuriance of the west is a wonderful transformation. Here frozen sterility meets fertility supporting tree and fern, palm and orchid. Here are swift gold-bearing rivers, the Grey, the Arahura, the Waiho; here are lakes famed for their shadow pictures, the Kanieri, the Mapourika, the Mahinapua; other lakes deeply set in glacier's bed, and lakes that are shallow and sedge-lined; and here is the blue of foliaged mountains, and the scent of many flowers.
And finally, in a latitude corresponding to that of the central part of New York State, are the beautiful Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers, the first nearly ten miles long, the other a mile and a quarter shorter. Their grooves are deep and abrupt; in their caverns and fissures are the shades of a soft, ethereal blue; and in the forests above them the fiery-hued rata blossom contrasts vividly with the shimmering white below.