Monday, September 20, 2010

Backcountry Snowboarding in The Two Thumbs Range

After the earthquake in Christchurch, we stuck around for a few days because the weather was sunny.  Eventually though, we got a fed up with the constant aftershocks waking us up at night and the lack of safe tap water. We headed a few hours south to the Two Thumbs Range.  Because the snow level was high, we drove to Mt. Dobson, home of the highest carpark in New Zealand. Our backcountry ski book didn't mention Dobson as a potential spot, but Scott had a sneaking suspicion.

Hiking back up after our first run down the backside
The expedition didn't start well. The snow in the muddy parking lot was slushy, and the mountain was a complete whiteout.  We decided to climb up just for the workout, but when we made it to the top, the clouds parted and the sun broke through ... cue the singing angels.  We really couldn't believe our eyes. It was absolutely breathtaking.  Massive mountains all around us!  As heavy clouds approached, we found a run down the backside of the ridge that was softened by the sun -- my first time riding on pure corn snow.  I'm hooked on the corn.  For the uninitiated, corn snow is snow that has gone through repeated melt-freeze cycles and is usually found in the spring.  In the morning, corn snow is an unforgiving hard crust, but with sun exposure, the frozen corn kernels separate to provide excellent boarding. If you can't have powder, corn is the next best thing!!

Great sleeping in the Mt. Dobson lot

To avoid having to drive back up in the morning, we asked the Dobson manager if we could spend the night in the parking lot.  He agreed, and we ended up staying for 3 nights.  The second day was a bust.
Hanging out in the snowpit
We climbed to the ridge just in time for the clouds to create a complete whiteout. Given the surprise clearing on the first day, we dug a snow pit and waited for 2 hours, hoping for a repeat.  No such luck. The clouds never cleared, and we got cold, so we headed back to the van.  Bummer.  Our final day made up for it, as we had some quality corn with sunshine all day. Scott said it was the most beautiful day he's ever spent in the mountains. The pictures don't do it justice.

Scott's "two thumbs" pose
A downturn in the weather forced us back to sea-level, where we headed to a small coastal town called Timaru.  Timaru deserves it's own blog post.  After a few days waiting for the weather to settle, we went back up to the Two Thumbs Range.  This time, we decided to access the range via Fox Peak skifield.  In the valley, as we started to climb towards Fox Peak, we encountered a small bridge. It was labeled "cars only", with directions for other vehicles to ford the river.  Um, not possible for our van.  The river was deep and the rocks were massive.  WTH?  The sign said the bridge had a load limit of 2500 kg with a maximum width of 1.9 meters.  Our van weighs more than 2500 kg and the wheels are 1.8 meters apart.
Loaded up, with a frown on my face
 Since we didn't know any better, we made the decision not to cross the bridge.  In all honesty, I would have done it in a heartbeat, but Scott is the one that keeps us safe, risk-free, and alive.  I willingly, but unhappily, went along with Scott's next idea, to put our snowboard, boots, clothing, and poles in our backpacks and bike up the mountain. This feat would be hard even without 60 lbs on our back.  We lasted about 10 minutes before we turned around.  We realized we couldn't keep our front tires on the ground, and I could barely balance with so much weight on my back.  That was our last-chance snowboarding opportunity before "the largest storm of the century" hit New Zealand. Blizzard conditions have been raging for over a week. Thank goodness for sunny Timaru!

1 comment:

David said...

Nice scenery. Carve some turns for me.....