Long road to freedom

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Troy Mattingley

This year’s La Niña weather pattern resulted in a wet and windy summer, leaving many New Zealanders feeling short-changed. But few would have been affected as badly as Paul Hersey, Shelley Hersey, Jamie Vinton-Boot and Troy Mattingley, who were attempting a bold month-long traverse of the Southern Alps.

Conditions were appalling for much of the trip, and in a number of cases the planned route proved technically impossible. Their crossing of the Mt Scissor slabs was so thick with snow—even at the peak of summer­ that the team was forced to detour many kilometres to the south to an alternative pass into the Dobson and Hopkins valleys. Even then, snow meant that the pass took three times longer to negotiate than usual.

“It was harder than any of us had expected,” says Paul Hersey. “It was never bad enough to stop, but neither did we ever get a stretch of weather fine enough to feel settled.”

Despite the team’s succeeding in two ascents of previously unclimbed routes up Mts Hooker and D’Archiac, the highlight of the trip was finally seeing the Landsborough Valley—the wide road to the West Coast­ and finding their food cache. (They were so short on food that they had been scavenging from huts along the way.)

“We were exhausted, wet and frustrated,” says Hersey. It was only late in the trek that it all seemed possible. “Seeing the Tasman Sea from the top of the Upper Otoko Pass was actually quite emotional. For the first time we knew we were going to finish the trip,” he says.

It was the end of a tough year for the quartet, all from quake-ravaged Christ­church. The Herseys’ house had been “totalled” by the February 2011 earthquake, and though they were living in it, they were still waiting to learn the fate of their home from the government. Their lives, Hersey says, were “on hold”.

Hersey was also recovering confidence from a bad climbing accident last year. Between that and the quake, South Westland offered a reprieve, he says, from “two close calls in one year”. And in any case, “in terms of ablutions, it wasn’t much different from the facilities we had left in Christchurch”.

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