Macaulay & Godley Overnight Trip: July 22-23, 2023
Report by Keith
Saturday 22 July welcomed us with a light frost and crystal-clear blue skies. I met Noel and Adelle May, my friends who manage Macaulay hut, to help them load a trailer and my truck with firewood as the hut was running low.
9 of us in 6 trucks were in good time meeting in Tekapo and we travelled up the road, aired down and had lunch at the first crossing. Travel up the valley was easy going with very low rivers and some good tracks to follow. A group from Canterbury pulled out and passed us at a speed that may not have been healthy for their trucks but like us they may have been wondering how full the hut was going to be. It transpired that the hut was full but everyone had a bunk.
We stopped mid valley to take in the views and have a cuppa . After unloading the firewood we went for a walk up the valley and some got to see Thar for the first time (at a distance, through binoculars).There was an interesting mix of people in the hut, all with a love for the backcountry.
At one point during the night a Piper could be heard outside as he did a circuit around the hut. He then came in and piped up a storm for us (thanks Clifford). A storm he did bring as by then it was snowing steadily.
We woke in the morning to light snow falling with approximately 40cm of dry snow on and around our trucks, a bit more than the 15-20cm forecasted. The Canterbury group left before us. They were keen to try and get out as they had two passengers that had had recent leg surgery and had difficulty walking.
When we got to the riverbed we saw that they had only got approximately 150m and most were already stuck, it was an hour before they got moving again. They were on the track I had plotted on the NZ Topo 50 app so Mark trail blazed a route across a runner towards the island. We chained up at this point and discussed what was best .Some felt it was going to be too difficult or dangerous to carry on with the chance of getting stuck part way down valley. We decided to push on for a short distance and if the going was too slow and hard we could still get safely back to the hut. I also talked to the other group and told them what we intended and they could follow in our tracks but that we were best to work as two groups. I kept contact with them on their channel all the way out.
The snow was not much of a problem for high clearance trucks with good tyres and chains on the flat. The near whiteout conditions were tough as it was very easy to drive off a bank or try to climb one that was vertical and very easy to hit a big rock covered in snow. Progress was slow but we had a strong team that worked very well together. We had 4 very experienced passengers that were at the front who helped find the way, shift or scrape snow off big rocks to make them visible. At the back they were helping with directions and recoveries of which there were plenty. What took about 1.5 hrs driving up valley on Saturday took us about 5 hrs to get out on Sunday.
Johnny, the Lilybank manager, had snow ploughed the road to the Lilybank boundary . The Canterbury group thanked us very much and said that they would not have got out without us. It was quite ironic to see all the drama near Tekapo, behind the grader clearing the road, with people stuck and fitting chains etc. We had taken ours off approximately 20km before them. Little did they know what we had driven through. We had debrief, coffee and food at Tekapo. Someone commented that we got out roughly at 3 o’clock which was the intended time. I replied that was pure luck as if the Canterbury group was still having trouble when we got to the start of the track we would have sent a couple of trucks back to help them. Also if we had a breakdown or a truck fell off a bank onto its side we may have had to leave it if the fix was going to take too long.
All in all, an epic trip.