Wednesday, January 9, 2013

High Country Adventure Riding With Bike and Snow - Rock Peak and Roaring Meg Pack Tracks

After scouring various Topo maps of the Wanaka area in search of a suitable adventure, I settled on a route that began just off the road at the top of the Crown Range and sidled it's way up and into the distance. The map told me that the route looped out into the Pisa Range and then linked up to the Roaring Meg Pack Track descent, one I barely remember from a heli-trip years earlier. I love maps. Much to my partner's disgust, I can spend hours with maps spread across the floor, mapping courses, then re-mapping them when I find another trail to add. Sometimes, I spend so much time late into the night fantasising over the route I have plotted, that when I finally come to ride it, there is this bizarre link that automatically forms between the images I see, the things I feel, the experiences I have, and the map... Right now I could run my finger along the track that traverses the ridge up to the highpoint and show you exactly where the snowed-in road lay, and the magical rocky descent, and the strange aviation navigation equipment on the mountain peak. I could point out the spot where I felt lonely, or the exact moment a broad smile appeared on my face as I hammered down a descent, realising this was the most fun I'd had in ages.
So I set off at a very respectable hour. My partner's mum had very kindly offered to drop me off at the start of the track and pick me up at the end, but I insisted that the extra 25km each way from Wanaka to Cardrona would be good training (just quietly, it is a pretty boring stretch of road, but I really didn't expect my partner's family to shuttle me around for the sake of a mere 25km in each direction). The road ride on my mountain bike from Wanaka to the top of the Crown Range saddle took me about 2 hours, and apart from the final 2-3km, where the gradient pitched up a little more steeply, was a relatively mellow climb to about 1000m.It was then time to head off the road, away from the traffic and tarmac, and towards the real hills, the dirt... and the snow.
As I climbed Rock Peak track, the road disappeared into the distance, as did the stunning view of Queenstown which sat behind me. The climb was significant... Quite steep, unrelenting, rocky and loose. Occasionally, I would get some respite from the climb as the gradient eased and then pitched up again. Rock Peak became a very visible landmark in front of me, and before long, I arrived at an intersection with a sign pointing one way towards Tuohy's Gully, and the other towards the Rock Peak summit. I figured that I had come far enough that it would be silly not to climb the final 100m and see the summit, so I rode/hike-a-biked up the final steep section of track to the Rock Peak summit, 1530m above sea level to find an array of  aviation navigational equipment sitting atop the hill. One of the devices had a rather large sign on it that said "Navigation aid critical to aircraft safety". I thought it a little odd that such important equipment would be positioned in a place so easy to get to, and completely unfenced... But then reminded myself that I had just climbed another 600m off the road, to a place not accessible by vehicle, and realised that anyone interested in causing trouble would likely not be bothered with the grueling climb along the rough gravel road and would probably find an easier place to make their mischief. I nestled myself out of the wind, sheltered by a rock to enjoy my lunch with a view, watching planes float past as they came in to land at Queenstown Airport.
The previous day, a rather nasty front of weather had passed through to see in the New Year, and Wanaka and Queenstown had enjoyed (or endured) a large, unseasonal dump of snow down to about 900m. The hot Summer sun had melted the snow away to all but a few patches from what I could see, which was reassuring given my route had three more substantial peaks to traverse... Mount Allen, at 1492m, Quartz Knoll, at 1593m, and Queensberry Hill at 1581m. It was a relief to be out on my bike again, enjoying the outdoors after the previous couple of day's bad weather.After finishing my lunch, I descended Rock Peak, and continued on towards Tuohy's Gully. Credit really does have to be given here to DOC. Whilst I was carrying a map, I rarely needed it. Every intersection was signposted and marked. On a bit of a side note, too, another great thing about the Wanaka/Queenstown area is that most tracks are dual use (which encompasses the majority of tracks worth riding anyway), which makes for some exceptional back country trips by bike.
As I made my way further into the Pisa Range, the climbs became steeper, forcing me off the bike on occasion, but totally worth the effort. As I rounded the summit of Mount Allen, I was able to see across the range down into the valley where Wanaka lay. I doubt there are many opportunities in the area to enjoy views of both Queenstown and Wanaka. The wind howled around me, and the combination of climbing and descending meant I was in a constant state of indecision as to whether my jacket stayed on or off.
As I peered across the range, I could see a very visible line of snow which followed the ridge line up to the peak next closest to me. I remember thinking to myself "I really hope that isn't the road I am meant to be following". As I drew closer, I realised it was. Evidently, this side of the range didn't receive as much sun as the other, and the snow from the previous day had not yet melted... Furthermore, as I reached the snow, I noticed that it seemed to follow the lay of the road the whole way up (I guess that because the road has been built in such a way that it is protected from the elements, it also meant that the snow was protected from the elements as it lay on the road). Attempts to follow a line up the edge of the track, where the snow wasn't so thick, were occasionally successful, but often foiled by steep embankments off the edge of the road, or times when the snow would drift off to the side, drawing me 100-200m off the track before realising I had to cross the (often quite deep) snow drift to rejoin the track so I didn't become lost.
It was all a bit novel at first, and I spent some time taking photos and making snow angels, but it made climbing these final two peaks super hard work. The road was a metre deep in snow (deeper in some places), and as I climbed higher, I was forced to plow my way through the snow on a couple of occasions, sinking in up to my waist as I dragged my bike behind me. On one occasion, my legs went numb from the snow against my legs, and I wished I had spent less time mucking around in it lower down. Those things aside, though, it was stunning... And I was in no rush... But there was a certain degree of somberness surrounding me. I felt like I was miles away from anywhere, and as the wind howled across the peaks and the grey clouds skirted across the blue sky, it felt eerie been up there by myself. Like I wasn't supposed to be there... A distinct uneasiness that I tried to dismiss by basking in the pleasure of experience itself.
I was forced to descend most of Quartz Knoll on foot, too... Any opportunity I did get to ride was stopped short by my front wheel burying itself in a deep patch of snow. Finally I crested Queensberry Hill and started descending the other side. I was at about 1600m and there was little in the way of climbing from this point on. As I worked my way down the mountain, the snow gradually gave way to a slurry of mud created by snow melt and dirt, and the air started to warm up. The snow melt finally disappeared, laying in front of me about 1300m of dry, rocky descent to enjoy. The final rocky descent into Tuohy's Gully was great fun, and then on to the Roaring Meg Pack Track, which travels over rough, rocky steep DOC land and farmland to arrive in the Cardrona Valley. The Ninja chewed up the descent with ease as I glided over rocks, through gullies and rivers. It was, in all honesty, the most fun I'd had on my bike in a loooong time, and I couldn't wipe the smile off my face, nor dismiss the disappointment that washed over me when I finally popped back out onto the highway.

I cruised the 25km home to Wanaka for a well-earned feast and a bath, stoked to have experienced another memorable adventure.

No comments:

Post a Comment