7 days earlier, in a rush of logistics and gear we’d set out on an epic Covid inspired adventure into the heart of New Zealand backcountry. As the Air NZ bird descended into Queenstown, we got our first glimpse of the terrain we were heading into. Our trip was ambitious, but one that had been loosely spoken about although never planned & with the international travel ovff the cards we decided to look a little closer and explore our backyard. We were embarking on a traverse through the Olivine Wilderness Area and see us arriving in Neil’s Beach on the West Coast ‘when we arrived’. The 2 of us, myself – Mike Dawson joined by Alpinist Alex Hillary, out on a bit of a mission – to journey to the hallowed ground of New Zealand adventure in the heart of the remote untouched and isolated wilderness zone. A place filled with stunning scenery, steep terrain and home to many good adventures.
This trip had a few moving parts – Land in Queenstown. Pack as much Radix into our packs as possible. Sort pack rafts with Queenstown Packrafting. Get to Glenorchy. It couldn’t have been an easier start of a journey into the elusive Olivine. We’d barely bought a Ferg Burger before Huw and Harry from Queenstown Packrafting had tee’d up our logistics and kit and had us standing at the start of the Routeburn Track on dusk ready to get amongst it.
The Olivine is somewhat sacred. It’s the argued home to the mountains of the gods. It’s a place of wilderness and the wild terrain that goes with it. Home to big mountains, bad weather and many failed trips. Choosing the right route can make or break a mission to the Olivine. It’s a paradise out there, albeit, made up of brutal and unrelenting country. It’s a place where short distances turn into daylong ordeals and the ‘should be all good from here’ never quite eventuates into reality.
Off we went, clambering into the Beech Forest and quickly moving from the pristine Route Burn Track, over the Sugarloaf Pass and into the Beans Burn. Alex and I began to joke that just getting to the foot of the Olivine Ice Plateau with our brutally full packs would be a challenge. 33kgs in total slung draped on our shoulders. Laden down with gear for our multi discipline traverse. Climbing gear, Ice gear, Rescue equipment, camp equipment, camera kit emergency equipment – and that’s all before we get to the essentials such as food. Off we went, towards the Barrier Range.
From here we disappeared into the back country following the slowly diminishing track through Theatre Flat, over Park and Cow Passes before dropping into the head waters of the Olivine River and the Wilderness Zone.
Entering the Wilderness Zone made us feel instantly more remote as we floundered around attempting to follow the Olivine river. Up until now it’s been relatively easy going, but the river is elusive as it disappears into gorges, rapids and deep pools – For hours we swam, climbed and negotiated our way downstream constantly crossing It’s crystal clear but freezing cold water from side to side – For 13hrs we battled our way down, climbing around rapids and gorges or hike-swimming through the pools. The first tough section of the route we’d chosen. We found ourselves negotiating some difficult terrain and working our way slowly to the confluence with the Forgotten River and an epic little camp spot right on dusk. Early the next morning we started the journey into the Forgotten – and the higher up we wandered into the valley, it was evident this place had in fact been forgotten.
The sheer magnitude of the place, it’s beauty and remoteness. Truly untouched. The steep mountain ranges began to surround us, climbing steeply into the sky before being engulfed in rain and fog as horrific weather slowly descended into the valley and set in for the night. Up ahead the Olivine Ice Plateau tried to break through the thick cloud. We clambered through the wet, slippery and steep tussock sections just enjoying the place! Finally we’d arrived at our destination, but all we could do was wait.
The food Ordeal.
Getting to the Olivine is as much of the challenge as getting across it. Its’ sheer remoteness & with access only permitted by foot our expedition was faced with a real problem – Weight. On a trip like this the bare minimum of equipment required to stay safe and energized is phenomenal. We needed a product that could provide high quality, high performing nutrition to function in an exposed, remote and energy sapping environment. Radix was the perfect addition. The highest of quality nutrients combined with an incredible weight: calorie equation. We needed performance out of our food and the expedition range provided. 30+ meals were packed into the bottom of our packs bringing our total pack weight to just over 33kgs – It was going to be tough going.
On a trip of this magnitude, surrounded by high exposure situation constantly, safety is no accident. It’s important to be prepared for whatever can happen. You’re remote and isolated traversing through some of the most rugged and wild big country of the New Zealand wilderness. Our journey saw us traveling by water, over ice, abseiling through rivers, using a roadmap of alpine creeks and fighting our way through the bush.
It’s vital to carry the right equipment, keep hydrated and constantly fuelled. Our daily routine included ensuring we broke for a Radix lunch to keep the energy up but make sure we didn’t become clumsy or make mistakes late in the day. An Inreach or Spot is a must if you’re heading out on the mission. It’s also important to make sure you have a first aid kit, emergency blanket and sleeping bag. Weather adds to the mix. Any travel in the NZ Alpine is constantly battling the ever-changing weather situations and this trip was no different. Crossing the Ice Plateau our eyes were constantly watching the changing skyline to beat the encroaching front. To battle the weather it’s important to have the right gear especially when you’re heading out into the bush.
This trip was multiple days of beautiful but tough trekking, enjoying the best NZ has on off, miles from anywhere. Just getting out there and being in nature. In the end we solved the puzzle of the plateau with a solid plan, a very lucky weather window, some stamina and supplies, and it was all time.
This trip was supported by Radix Nutrition, Pivotel Satellite, Ortlieb, Queenstown Packrafting, Hillary Collection & Canon.