Much like Edmund Spenser's epic "The Faerie Queene", from which the mountain takes her name, our attempt to climb Gloriana Peak was incomplete but a great weekend away none-the-less. In the Lewis Pass at the top end of the well known St James Walkway lies the Spenser Mountains. Evidently named by men who knew their English literature, Faerie Queene, Mt Una and Gloriana Peak overlook the track between the highway and the wide banks of the Waiau River. This is an area we have grown to love over the past few years but it was my first time on the easy going St James and I was excited to see how far up the mountain we might get with an average weather forecast and only two days up our sleeves.
We left our little four legged terror in Hanmer Springs with family before jumping in our old blue station wagon for an early morning drive to the start of the track. Sam and I stared dejectedly out the windows at the approaching rain clouds from the back seat as the two boys in the front seemed oblivious to the ominous weather conditions. It was a shock to the system when we disembarked into freezing temperatures and the overwhelming quiet of the bush - Metallica had until then been blaring out of the speakers all the way up the pass. We shrugged on our packs with little enthusiasm and began crunching across the snow covered boardwalk into the cold and damp of Cannibal Gorge.
Once we had warmed up and settled into the walk we made quick progress along the undulating track to Cannibal Gorge Hut where half a dozen fearless mice were cruising around on the floor hoping we might drop a scrap or two. It was far too early in the day to stop for more than a quick snack but the ice box of a hut and furry residents encouraged us to be on our way rather promptly. We had intended to walk to Ada Pass Hut and then leave the track in favour of bush bashing up to the first set of tarns on Gloriana to camp for the night. Then we would have an easier climb to the top the next day before legging it all the way back down and out to the car that same night. We knew all week leading up to the trip that the weather probably wouldn't come to the party but it was still disappointing to have rain and mist closing in heavily as we started out again from the hut.
Snow continued to blanket the track in many places and it was still uncomfortably cold when we arrived an hour later at the smaller (read better) Ada Pass Hut. This hut had been talked up to the stuff of legends based on a prior excursion by two of our party and I was expecting big things. Nestled just above a quaint little stream with a stunning view towards point 1911, it certainly seemed promising on initial inspection. The real selling feature was of course the coal fire which apparently made the hut so hot one needed to run outside for snow baths just to keep from heat exhaustion. This may have strongly influenced our decision to leave the mountain for the next day and hope the weather would improve in the morning. Unfortunately for us there was no dry wood for miles in any direction and getting the fire going took the better part of four hours.
It was a very social night with a crowd of European visitors arriving as night fell and throwing all their soaking wet gear on top of our almost dry kit above the fire. Cheers guys. We slept well although temperatures never reached the level of being considered "hot". The morning dawned a little cloudy still but we decided to break out the GPS and follow our dense bush expert across the river and up the first ridge. Being the only member of our group of four under the height of six foot two, I had to work a little harder to keep up once we hit the slope but we popped out above the bush line a little over an hour later without incident. From here we faced steep rocky bluffs that had to be skirted around to the right in order to gain the first of three plateaus. The snow was soft and the sky was clearing as we walked across rocks and then the thick ice of the river running down from the tarns above. It was easy going in most places with the odd bit of snow grass making life difficult on the steep sections. We made our way immediately between the two separate tarns at the second plateau before moving slowly up through deep snow to the large lake below the summit ridge. By midday we were standing at 1700m looking up at the col and trying to stay sheltered from an icy wind. We pitched our tent intending to leave the majority of our gear in it and head for the summit with just the basics. In the time it took to do this however the rain started again and we called it for the day. It was just too cold and windy to keep going.
We spent another 10 minutes taking photos and refueling before hightailing it back down to the valley floor and out. We pulled a 10 hour day to get back to the car for the sole purpose of getting dinner back in Hanmer before all the restaurants closed. It was an epic day of walking with some incredible views but we're already planning when to go back and actually knock off the summit. I always feel like a bit of a failure writing a post where we didn't get to where we wanted to but then again that's not really the point of tramping in the first place. I always learn something new every trip and this one was no exception - mini hot water bottles are the greatest thing in the world.
In New Zealand we don't go hiking, walking or frolicking in the wilderness - we tramp.