The Red Hills Gang

11 Feb

The day started like any other day – a long climb through tussock to reach a saddle. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it was just cool enough to be comfortable while climbing but not too hot.

David and I had been ruminating about this spot since way back when a section hiker insisted that we MUST take the Red Hills Ridge instead of the trail. He insisted that it was a shortcut. He insisted that it was better than the actual trail.

We’d told Zach and Amy about this shortcut. We’d even looked at the maps together and considered the possibility of doing it. In the days before, we ruled it out due to timing, lack of information, etc etc.

BUT, it was so beautiful and so early and looked so simple when we got to the saddle that morning, the four of us decided we’d go for it. We’d hike the Red Hills Ridge.

As we stood there in the saddle, David assured us that we had already done most of the work. This turned out to be one of those statements that never should be uttered on a trail.

We started out of the saddle and up to the ridge top. The walking was easy at first-just a mixture of tussock and small, flat scree fields. The higher we got and the further we pressed, the more bouldery and rocky it became.

We sidled around some of the small peaks on screw fields. On others, we scrambled over boulders ranging in size from a breadbox to a fiat. It was already tougher than we presumed it was going to be, but we could see that not too far ahead, just past a saddle that the ridge was going to flatten out again and be less rocky. If only we could see what that saddle looked like…

Well, it turned out that there was no saddle. There was only a significant narrowing of the ridgeline into a jagged boulder strewn maze that fell off steeply on each side.

We’d come far enough along the ridge that none of us wanted to turn back and back track to the trail. Nor did Amy and I really want to attempt that precarious looking section. So, we were left with one choice…climb down a scree field into the bowl below us and then descend from there to the river valley below – a route that would still take us where we wanted to go.

So, down we climbed. This picture hardly provides perspective of what we were descending. The slope was steep and covered in loose rock of varying sizes. We picked our way down slowly with David in the lead, helping us find the best path down. We were spread out at an intervals and stepped gingerly so as not to dislodge rocks that would tumble down on the person below us.

It sounds dramatic. And, it was a little. After all, we were tramping where people don’t often tramp, and though there was evidence of others on the ridge, it was very sparse. (Side note: yes, I realize this was risky and could have been better planned but I also know that the four of us were capable of making good decisions when we put our heads together.)

Since Amy and I were definitely the two more anxious members of the gang, we took a moment to celebrate coming down the scree field  and into the bowl successfully.

From there, we continued down out of the bowl and into river valley. This descent was longer but certainly less steep and tempered by the tussock grass growing down the mountainside.

The valley, like the ridge, showed little trace of other human visitors. I am almost 100% sure that we were the only people in that whole valley and that it will be weeks if not months before some one else visits.

The river was full of beautiful blue pools. There were rocks of all sorts of unusual colors – orange, red, green, purple. The water was cold and crystal clear. We walked down the valley for several kilometers enjoying the ease of the walk after all the climbing.

Before long, the river valley started to narrow and we found ourselves having to make another difficult decision- keep heading down the narrowing, deepening and faster moving river or climb up to the ridgeline or sidle along the mountainside.

After some frustrating sidling through dense scratchy bush and scree fields, we decided to climb the 200 meters back to the ridgeline. By this time, it was getting late in the afternoon, and we were all getting tired.

However, the climb was worth it! When arrived back on top of the ridge we had 360 degree views, wide flat ridge and tussock to walk on.

We were able to follow the ridge all the way to the plateau where we planned to descend down to a hut. We were slowed down only briefly by unexpected swampiness.

Then, it was just a gentle descent down to a hut and the 13 hour epic adventure of the Red Hills Gang came to a close.


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