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Brodrick Pass

Brodrick Pass: Day 06 Report

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So there was a problem with our Raft Guy. Paul had brought along a sat phone (aka “satellite phone” for those unfamiliar with expedition parlance) and our raft guy wasn’t picking up. This was a big deal, like a major deal, because if we were going to go over the pass the raft guy needed to be there to meet us. It wasn’t like it would simply be inconvenient if he wasn’t there, a nicety that we could do without. As rudimentary as the trail was going up to Brodrick Hut, and it was rudimentary, all of our research showed that it was a freeway when compared to the non-trail on the other side of Brodrick Pass. Google, paper maps, and lore said that the trail stopped on the other side of the mountain, that there was no trail on the Landsborough River. This meant that if our guide didn’t show up, we would have to come back over the pass and out the way we came in.

“No one was interested in doing that. NO ONE.”

We really tried to get at our raft guy, we really truly did. He never picked up. We would only find out a week or so later that he had actually scheduled our trip for the following month and at the time of our expedition was enjoying a nice vacation to the States with his wife to familiarize himself with normalized orientation driving, white picket fences, and all-day parties. I hope he found them.

As we were in a pretty tight bind, Paul (#maybeacyborg) called his wife (read: tap into his server system) to find a list of Helicopter services out of Wanka. It turns out that helicopter service on the southern part of New Zealand’s South Island is a really easy thing, like ordering pizza easy. The call went like this:

  • Paul, “Hey I need a helicopter pick up.”
  • Lady, “Where are you?”
  • Paul, “Middle of nowhere.”
  • Lady, “Uh huh. Does a 3 PM pick up work for you? You can catch a little sun in the meantime.”
  • Paul, “Suuuuure, yeah that works fine.”
  • Lady, “Sweet as.”

So at 3 PM sharp a whirly bird swooped down out of the sky. We had spent the majority of the day tanning our bodies and our gear while a certain amount of excitement built for our upcoming extraction. What a difference a day makes you know; one day you are up to your tits in glacial runoff carrying a bike over your head as you hike up a sliding, shifting, rushing river while buckets of water dump down on you, and the next you’re milling around in the alpine sun waiting for one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s futurist visions to come and swoop you back to civilization. So maybe you shoot a lookbook or go skinny dipping, maybe you just hang out in the forest, who knows, the point is you have the time, the leeway, and the luxury, which luxury isn’t something that you planned for, which makes it even more luxurious.

We take off and the helicopter climbs quickly, gaining altitude to escape the vertical gendarmes of the Southern Alps. From the cabin we can see the top of Brodrick Pass [See the big photo at the top of this page? That’s Brodrick Pass, up on the right. This is as close as we would get.] arching away from us into the next valley. On this trip we will not see over the other side. Given a little more time there is no doubt that we would have made it over the pass, but that isn’t really saying anything is it?

“A challenge is working within a given set of constraints, that’s what makes a problem interesting, however contrived, and this expedition like so many events in our modern world had a time limit, a hard out, and absolutely no give.”

Pulled way back, in retrospect and annotated for brevity, the story of our ride would read: we came, we tried, we did not succeed. But that’s the problem with generalizations, with synopsis; all the nuance, the insight, the subtlety of the experience is lost. If you shift your focus, read the subtext, you might recognize that ultimately the point is making moments into memories, and if that is the point, we more than met our goals.

A Partial History of Brodrick Pass

By Dr. Rosara Joseph*

For much of the populated history of Aotearoa/New Zealand, access to the remote West Coast of the South Island was by sea. Overland was difficult, the chain of the Southern Alps forming a barrier crossed at only a few points by lofty passes. Before 1865 only a smattering of European explorers and surveyors had investigated the interior passages to the West Coast, rediscovering the routes used in former days by adventurous Maori who knew the mountain passes and rivers from their trips to collect pounamu (also known as greenstone or jade). Like Maori, they found that the only practicable highways into the interior were the shingly beds of the rivers which flow through the dense bush.

The Brodrick Pass between the Huxley and Landsborough valleys was named after a British nineteenth century surveyor; it was first crossed many centuries prior, however, by the legendary Maori explorer named Tamatea-Pokai-Whenua. Tamatea is said to have extensively explored the South Island in the fourteenth century, and on one of his trips he travelled from Lake Ohau to the West Coast via the pass now known as Brodrick Pass. The Maori name for the pass is “te Tarahaka”, an expression meaning ‘thief who steals without qualms or care for thoughts of others’.

It was many centuries later, in the summer of 1857, that a government surveyor named Thomson set out from Dunedin to explore and map the headwaters of the Waitaki and Clutha rivers and the peaks of the Southern Alps. He drew sketches in his notebook of Lake Ohau, which he observed was surrounded by high mountains on all sides except for a pass to the south. He noted then that the pass appeared to be “the most practical route to the west” (although it later turned out that he underestimated the distance from it to the western coastline).

It was not until 1890 that Thomas Noel Brodrick crossed the pass over the main divide between Lake Ohau and Lake Paringa and claimed both its first European crossing and its name. Mr Brodrick was the District Surveyor for the South Canterbury Crown Lands Department. Born in London in 1855, he travelled to Auckland with his parents in 1860 by the ship “Nimrod” and spent much of his time conducting triangulation and topographical surveying in the mountainous districts of Canterbury and Otago. Gold fever was the impetus for Brodrick’s exploratory passage. The gold rush was hitting the West Coast, and all of Canterbury was anxious to find a direct route across the Alps between South Canterbury and the West Coast so they too could get in on the action.

The 24 September 1890 edition of the Ashburton Guardian reported that Mr Brodrick described the scenery on the Huxley valley side of the Brodick pass as “very pleasing and in endless variety”. He commented however that the descent on the other side of the pass was “steep and rather difficult”, and ruled out the pass as suitable for anything but a “passable footpath”.

*Rosara Joseph has both law and history degrees from the University of Canterbury, NZ, she then went on to gain her masters and PhD in constitutional law and history at Oxford university as a Rhodes Scholar. Her erudition applies to the physical arts as well. She raced Cross-Country mountain bikes professionally for eight years, representing New Zealand at the World Championships and the Beijing Olympics before “seeing the light and taking up Enduro” where she competed and podiumed in the Enduro World Series (EWS). She aslo introduced us to Paul Smith, our spirit/physical guide while we were in New Zealand, and when we asked her to help us put together some brief histories related to our trip her response was simply, “I love this shit!”

Stranded at Brodrick Hut


We really tried to get at our raft guy, we really truly did. He never picked up.
When Prometheus stole fire from the Gods he no doubt stole some quality dry wood too. I say that because water and fire, like oil and water and consumer electronics and water, don’t mix. So if, say, the Gods were having a nice little tryst on a godly water bed and one of them got a little too frisky with their godly nail extensions, or too bitey with their godly teeth, or too reckless with their godly staff and poked a hole in their godly waterbed, a godly waterbed that happened, (due to celestial orientation/earths rotation/ etc), to be directly above the Huxley River Valley throughout the duration of DAY-5-Yonder-Journal-Dead-Reckoning-Brodrick-Pass-Southern-Alps-New-Zealand, and the godly water from the godly waterbed spilled out in great godly torrents down on the humble earthly valley below, all of the flora and fauna in the valley would be saturated with obscene amounts of godly waterbed water, to such a degree that anything in the humble earthly valley would take days and weeks to dry out. Well the Gods must have been having that tryst, because we couldn’t get a fire started even though we had this legit stove, that stove looks legit right? A legit bic lighter, one that worked and everything. A stack of legit 2007-8 Guns and Ammo mags for kindling and working knowledge of fire needs (Air, Fuel, Heat) and a semi-pro level of fire structure and ignition skills. In short our wood was wet, so, so wet. The day was nice, like the opposite of the day before which was not nice, but you know when all your gear is really wet, like your shoes, and socks, and back up socks, and all your clothes, and back up clothes? A fire is a fine way to dry them off. So we tried, lord did we try. In the end we would begrudgingly resort to gear tanning.
You read the intro to this day right? So you know about the raft guy, and the chopper, and the evac situation. At this point, with a chopper on its way, we had the go ahead to eat our remaining food. This was not quite a Thanksgiving situation mind you, but here is the list anyway: Granola and powdered milk x2. Mountain House Turkey Tetrazzini x1. Generic vial filled with Tapatio. Remaining coffee x5, maybe 6. Gummy Candy x2. Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate (plain) x3.
Gear Tanning 101.
For this trip Patrick decided to use a bivy sac. Totally a good move, like on a lot of levels a personal storm shelter makes a ton of sense… but like other architectural structures a bivy sack relies on some specific architectural features to make it do its thing; in this case a few short collapsible poles give the bivy its body. Short recap: yesterday we woke up to an ocean moving in above us where the sky should have been, and in his haste to move out Patrick forgot one of these crucial little collapsible jobs. Fast forward to the end of the day yesterday, when the atmospheric ocean had moved on and the sum total of our distance traveled was 3.72823 miles (6 kilometers). Time to set up camp… uh ohhh... no little collapsible job. So if you’re smart, and Patrick’s smart, you just walk into the bush and do a little Brothers Grimm woods rig. Just like you see here.
This is Daniel Pasley. He took all the pictures seen here that you are so thoroughly enjoying. He is the founder and creator of Yonder Journal. He doesn’t have a gram handle, he runs his game like that. He is great at jokes, fantastic at drinking coffee, and defaults to adventure. At times like these, like in this photo these, he is joy to be around, because again, he is so good at jokes.
If you don’t own a pair of slides, buy some. If do own a pair, congratulations—you’re an elevated human being. Thank you for doing your part.
"The Acaena species in New Zealand are known by the common name bidibid. The word is written variously bidi-bidi, biddy-biddy, biddi-biddi, biddi-bid and a number of other variations. These names are the English rendition of the original Māori name ofpiripiri. The plant is also called the New Zealand burr.” Hey, remember in Day 02 of this adventure when we met those two hunters, Tahei and Jeremy? So they were wearing these ill camo gaiters. Turns out those weren’t just for style. Turns out these ill gaiters keep bidi-bidis out of your socks, and boy do they love to get in your socks. They love, LOVE, getting in your socks. Its like your socks are the Beatles and bidi-bidi’s are adolescent girls. They will smother your socks to get a piece of your socks, and just like a Beatles groupie they mean well. Like most everything else in New Zealand the bidi-bidi isn’t out to hurt you. It’s not sharp or scratchy, it’s just irritating, it piles up and you look down at your poor socks, the nice wool guys that have done you soooo right, keeping your feet warm throughout snowstorms, New Zealand tailwinds, biblical rains, glacial floods, etc. and they are just getting mobbed. So you take your knife out and scrape them off, and ten minutes later you do it again. Or you just bring gaiters. Because they look so right, and they serve a purpose.

Aerial Salvation

It turns out that helicopter service on the southern part of New Zealand’s South Island is a really easy thing, like ordering pizza easy.

A Helicopter Ride from Brodrick Pass to Dunedin

Check please!
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