Sunday, November 06, 2011

Tramping with bikes

With the memory of a successful mountain bike mission to hotpools freshly in our minds, it was decreed that Labour weekend would be an excellent time for another expedition by bike.  More hotpools were high on the priority list, so we decided to venture one valley north and head up the Hope River in search of the hotpools above Top Hope hut.

View Tramping in a larger map

Now, before you do a trip, you should always do some research, right?  Make sure you understand the lay of the land, how far it is and how long it might take.  So, being good young technologically-savvy folk, we googled the expedition.  And found Patrick's blog.  Now the title of his blog post Mountain B-Walking to Hot Pools should perhaps have been a warning about the suitability of the track for biking.  But it was only 3 or so hours of pushing bikes.  How hard can it be?!  And besides, Steve assured us that is would be fine*.  So four intrepid adventurers set off for a long weekend of biking and hotpools.

The first challenge was taking the bikes across a swingbridge.  Now I'm quite happy to stroll across a swingbridge, pack on my back and admiring the scenery.  But taking a bike across a swingbridge is a completely different story! The easiest way is to flip the bike up on its back wheel and push it across while holding the handelbars.  Sounds all nice and happy, yeah?  In theory, this isn't bad.  Except you now have no hands available for holding onto the bridge and, inevitably, your handlebars are wider than the supports on the bridge, which means that every metre or so you have to do a complicated wiggle of the bike to make it fit through the gap.  This leads to a greater swinging of the bridge than before, the back wheel of the bike ending up in some awkward position, and a terrible buckling of the knees as the whole thing becomes way to much for the brain to cope with.  This feeling of complete and utter terror intensifies with every step until you finally reach the far side and sink into the solid ground with great relief.  And then remember that, in order to get back to the car at the end of the trip, you're going to have to do it all again!  Argh!

The grin is not happiness but more a terrified grimace and relief at almost being at the end of the bridge ordeal

After a few minutes to steady the nerves on the other side, we set off along a nice piece of 4WD road.  It climbed up a couple of steep-ish terraces out in the open and we made pretty good progress.  And then we got to the bush edge.  Now I guess that I should acknowledge that the track along the northern bank of the Hope River is a tramping track.  It was never designed for biking.  And it's not really suitable for biking.  It started out okay.  A few tree roots here and there, the odd treefall, that sort of thing but you could easily go several hundred metres at a time before having to get off to get past an obstacle.  And then it slowly deteriorated.  A nice clear section of track would reveal a fallen tree 10m around the corner.  A rooty but bike-able section would end in a gnarled tangle of roots that were dificult to walk over, let alone ride.  A tinkling stream would be nestled in a steepy, slippery gorge that threatened to suck you and your bike into a dark abyss.  Now, we had done our homework and were mentally prepared for some sections that were unrideable.  You simply get off your bike and haul it up a bank, throw it over a tree or push it over the nasty, rooty, muddy bit.  A bit of a hassle but part of the fun of mountain biking.

This type of riding inevitably leads to some spills, with the best fall of the trip once again being awarded to Steve, who ended upside down still attached to his bike.  This had unfortunate consequences for the yogurt!

After MANY hours of pushing bikes interspersed with the odd bit of riding, we reached an excellent spot for a late lunch.  I think by this point we'd been going about 4 hours and were a little weary of the bike pushing.  But a quick consultation of the map suggested that we had another 1.5 km or so of nasty track before we hit the river flats and easy riding.

Well, I reckon that that was the longest 1.5km of my life!  There were giant river boulders, nasty gutty creeks, steep banks, enormous roots, tangled treefalls and much mud.  But it did eventually end and spit us out onto a nice grassy riverbank with only the odd matagouri bush and cow to contend with.  A couple of kms of sweet, beautiful uninterupted riding.  And then another swingbridge.  Thankfully this one was on the shorter side, so didn't generate quite the same terrifying swing. But was still terrifying.  It was quickly over though and after a quick push up a nasty slimy cliff, it was back to nice riding along a 4WD track again.  Yay for nice riding.  A few kms on and we reached Saint Jacobs hut.  We stopped for a breather, were immediately mobbed by sandflies, and set about deciding what to do next.  The Top Hope hut, our intended destination, was another 7km of, theoretically, nice riding up the valley, with the hotpools another 40 mins walk beyond.  It was about 6pm and there was plenty enough light to get there but enthusiasm was on the thin side.  After much umming and ahhing and slapping of sandflies, it was decided to stay the night where we were and make a quick dash upstream in the morning to check out the hotpools.  Bikes were dropped, gear unpacked and de-yogurted, bodies washed and feet, aching much more than they should have been, put up.  A quick chat with a resident tramper confirmed that walking the track would have been far more sensible than biking it when it turned out that she had walked it an hour faster than we had "biked" it.

I had recently bought a new tent, so shunned the hut in favour of more salubrious accommodation outside under nylon.  Dinner was an extravagant affair of tomato (slightly yogurty) couscous, washed down with port.  And was followed by an excellent (if not slightly damp in my slightly condensatory tent) night's sleep.

The morning dawned bright and clear but still with little enthusiasm for biking up to the hotpools.  Admittedly, there was little enthusiasm for "biking" home again as well. Now, there is a farm track along the southern bank of the river but, having not asked permission to use it, we were reluctant to take the easy route home.  But we were more reluctant to take the hard route home.  So we cheated.  And we got caught.  And were made to go back the way we came.  But, oh the glorious non-stop riding we did before we got caught.  The farmer was very courteous and we were very apologetic and he did say that we could ride the track when he didn't have cows in the paddock but we had better ask permission first.  So, when there are no cows and we are allowed, we plan to bike this glorious piece of rideable farm track and zoom into the hotpools in a ridiculously short period of time.  It shall be fabulous.

But it was with heavy hearts that we crossed back across the river (by foot, not terrifying swingbridge) and set off back along the track.  There was more frustrating pushing of bikes but it did seem a little easier on the way out, perhaps because it was slightly downhill and therefore easier to ride.  It did still take forever and end in a swingbridge.  But wasn't entirely an unpleasant day.

Now, it may seem that I have made this out to be a horrendous trip.   I must admit that it wasn't an ideal place to take mountain bikes, particularly if this is your first mountain bike trip as it was for poor Elizabeth.  Luckily, she has yet to learn fear, so rode things that I was sceptical about.  But overall, it was a fun trip.  However, do not believe anyone who tells you it will be a nice ride.  It might be a nice tramp but is better if you leave your bike in the shed.  Consider this a cautionary tale.

Sunday night was spent consuming enormous burgers and watching NZ narrowly beat France to win the Rugby World Cup in a random pub in Hanmer.  That is, we were in a random pub, not the All Blacks.  And then a quick blat around the mountain bike tracks in Hanmer on Monday.  Oh what a novelty to be able to ride more than 100m before being forced off by some obstacle.  It was fabulous.  Then back to Christchurch for a superb dinner of experimental homemade pizza with Patrick and Maaike.

*We talked to the third member of Patrick and Steve's trip and his response was "Why would you want to go there?  It was horrible!". Interesting how different people remember trips.  

No comments: