Thursday, 2 June 2016

A walk on the wildside

Yesterday I got paid for going for a walk - now that's not a bad gig, is it? OK, best I explain before you get upset that I am being paid for pleasurable activities ...

There is an old (mining stopped there back in the 1930s) gold mine site up the Snowy River Road near Ikamatua (well, there are a few but one was our focus yesterday). It is on the list to be cleaned up and I am tasked with doing a bit of planning for that so the Governance Group can make some decisions about it.

We were meant to do this walk back in April but had to re-schedule because I went home early when David's mum started going downhill. But yesterday was a stunning day to do it - it was blo*dy cold when we set off (3 deg C) from the DOC office in Greymouth and I am sure it was colder when I left Hokitika an hour earlier than that in the dark- I'd had to throw a couple of kettles of water over the windscreen and side windows to remove the frost.

Getting to the mine (ex-mine) is an hour's drive from Greymouth into the hills through farm land and then into beech forest on a single lane gravel road. Once above the bushline we had to stop a few times to move fallen branches off the road. Jim and Dean did the first three and I said I'd help with the next - of course that one was more of a tree trunk about 8 inches in diameter! Fortunately it was rotten so broke up easily and I didn't have to get back in the van without having helped move it. That would have severely dented my pride!

Mountains on the drive from Greymouth to Ikamatua

Frosty scene as we drove up the Snowy River Road - just before we got to the bushline

Jim is the fundi about the historic features around this area - he is a historic ranger at DOC and has been the driving force for getting some of the sites cleaned up, as well as being instrumental in a whole heap of restoration projects as a volunteer. I posted about him here back in February

John is the Engineer to Contract in the Waiuta Remediation Project that I am currently working on and Dean is its Primary Contractor. (Dean and I turn out to have previously been related through my former marriage to Dean's mum's second cousin - I remember going to his mum and dad's wedding, and I also seem to remember dandling Dean on my knee when he was a little baby... Spooky, eh?)

John returning from having a pee. Note that he peed quite a distance away from his pack ... He's the youngest of the four of us and wore shorts for the trek.

Dean setting up the GPS - I thought it was an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) so we could be found if we got lost.

I was going to caption this as Nearly ready for the Off, but John's clothes are still not back in the van, Jim's not ready and the GPS is still getting itself sorted. I am posing for a photo though, so I am ready! Look closely, you can see my shorts are over my longjohns - classy or what?

Once we had parked and got kitted out - me with boots and puttees, (merino) long johns and shorts over them (such a cool look) and thermal top, sweatshirt and fleecy, plus silk scarf (OK OK I know silk may not be standard bushwear, but it is light and very warm) - Jim did our JSA. That's the Job Safety Assessment where he briefed us on the hazards and how to avoid them, what to be careful of. It was blo*dy cold, as I say, particularly when standing still in the shade ... Then off we went, heading for the river so we could cross it a few times - well, why not?
That white stuff isn't blossom - it's ice! And you can see the frost on the ground too.

Jim and John. Jim has a proper gnarly stick, John is using one of mine that he confiscated as I was finding two sticks were more of a hindrance than a help.

There were meant to be 4 river crossings on the way in and four on the way back - well, Jim lied! Unless of course he wasn't including the streams in that count. I am sure I must have crossed about 30 waterways each way. OK, I exaggerate but only slightly. I was dreading crossing the rivers a) because it was going to be cold, and b) because I was unsure how I would cope walking on rocks.

Just another mountain in the background - one of the lower ones

I rather liked the patterns on this rock - plant life
 So the water was very cold, but my fabulous woollen workman's socks (in the smallest size available) are amazing at being wet but warming up with my feet as the heat source and making the water inside my boots lovely and warm - my feet were the warmest parts of me at times. So that fear disappeared. And given I was wearing merino longjohns, my legs kept warm even though I was up to my thighs crossing some parts of the river - of course, it was merely up to Jim's knees then ... The man is excessively and unnecessarily tall, in my opinion.

And I wouldn't have been able to cope crossing the rivers with fast-ish moving water and rocks underfoot. But John suggested at the first crossing that he and Dean should link arms with me and help me across. That was modified to holding hands and it worked an absolute treat. One of the dis-benefits (I know, crap made-up word, but it's in use in projects for some reason) of getting older is the loss of surefootedness/balance on uneven surfaces. I used to leap about rocks and muddy slippery places up at the bach in Taranaki - but over recent years I have become so much less good at that. Without the guys either side of me yesterday I would have been sitting down in freezing cold water on numerous occasions, I know for sure.

(I am really lucky to be working with such a great project team - great guys everyone of them, and each with their own strengths to bring to the work. Besides which they are kind and helpful - that was borne out yesterday in spades.)
The first river crossing - Jim went first to check out the depth. This is where the young guys decided to help the old woman across each time - good call, I say! What a fabulous team I have working with me!
And when we weren't crossing rivers or streams, there was lots of surface water to slosh through. The West Coast has had the rainiest May since 1877, and last week's rain hadn't fully soaked away or evaporated in the sun that has been shining since Monday. So my new boots are still looking good but no longer pristine - they are drying out at the moment. A bit of a big ask as they are goretex on the inside, so they don't leak, except over the top and that water doesn't come out so easily as it goes in.

Beech forest with minimal undergrowth - very different from Taranaki bush, that's for sure.
It took an hour to walk in - I know the guys would have done it in about 40 minutes without me, but hey! As Jim said today the slower pace gave him time to look at artefacts on the way in, check the state of the old roadway we were following and make mental notes of what needed attention.

Jim, not quite in my shadow ...

We stood around in the sunshine eating lunch - I had to sit as I hadn't made sandwiches and had to construct my rice crackers with ham etc. So I got out my emergency heat blanket - a giant sheet of aluminium foil - and spread it on the ground to sit on. Necessary as the frost had melted into dew and it was very wet.

At the battery site in the lovely warm sunshine. That is a warning sign you can see notifying people that the area is contaminated.
There was much discussion over lunch of how the remediation could occur then we went further into the bush to check out the roaster. Jim and Dean disappeared off to take water samples from a few locations up and down river of the mine site. While we waited we checked out the roaster, John took lots of arty photos plus lots that would inform the decision-making process.
Some kind of moss stuff growing in the middle of the old road - Jim will tell me what is really is.
I liked the look of these feathery seedlings ... (and he'll tell me what they are)

and of these red berries (and he'll identify these too)

It was damn cold standing around waiting for the water samplers to come back, so we took the first opportunity to head back to the battery site to stand in the sun and warm up. Gosh, the sun felt lovely on our faces.

Then back we headed the way we came in. Seemed quicker going back than the trip in somehow, but that always seems to be the way, in my experience.

It was definitely getting colder even though it was only about 2.30. John and Jim changed clothes but Dean had left his change of socks in his car at Stillwater, and I had left my entire change of clothes in the car at DOC's office in Greymouth - doh!! So while John and Jim changed I took photos ...
John getting his jeans on - brave man as he was barefooted in this photo and the ground was pretty chilly.

Jim wringing out his socks
The heater went on full bore on the way back, and once we'd discussed and organised a planning session for next week, so I can quickly pull a short scoping document together for the Governance Group, it got rather quiet in the back seats.

On arrival at Greymouth I really couldn't be arsed changing my clothes so I drove back to Hokitika still feeling warm and with sloshing boots.
On my drive back from Greymouth I had to stop near the Blue Spur Road and take photos of the mountains.

I tell you, the West Coast is NZ's best kept secret - a stunningly beautiful area that I reckon overseas tourists know more about than we do as NZers.

Wet boots, puttees and longjohns - sitting outside the motel room

Puddle #1 from one wrung out sock

Puddle #2 from second wrung out sock and a pair of now chilly feet exposed to the air.

Then it was into the shower and off out for dinner with Katrina and June - plenty of wine and chicken tikka marsala. Then back to the motel and into bed for an early night for some reason.

Not going to be long out of bed tonight either - all the excitement is catching up with me! The motel unit looks like a laundry - socks, longjohns, shorts all drying around the place. Most importantly, my boots are drying upside down on my walking sticks above the wall heater - chilly night means heater stays on - I am getting old and soft!


Jim Staton said...

Hi Marilyn,

Yes, a great trip up the Alexander River valley to the old mine sites, the (gold) mine operated between 1925 and 1944.

The plants are; sphagnum moss, next two photos are a small leaf coprosma, what type I do not know, if it rusts, rots or needs protective coatings I can tell you a lot more about it.

Jenny said...

Wow - that trip must have been a bit difficult for an old girl - lucky you had a pair of good keen men to help you with the river crossings. But you certainly looked the part, all dressed up in your boots and long johns.

Lisa said...

Hi Marilyn,
Can you send me your email address? I have found something and thought instantly of YOU!

Lisa said...

I've never hiked in sodden clothes, it must be such fun.....

Marilyn McDonald said...

Lisa, It was fun and surprisingly warm. Possum fur and merino make for fabulous insulation and heat retention. And of course, Hokitika is just the place to buy that stuff. I bought a fabulous p&m jacket at the Saturday market in Nelson - so luxurious and classy, but of course, it's not often cold enough to warrant wearing it here in NZ ...