West Matukituki Valley - with French Ridge Hut and Liverpool Biv

Aspiring Nat'l Park, New Zealand

December 27 - 30, 2008

Dave and Jill, Sarah and Russell


That's Dave, Jill, Russell, and Sarah posing in front of the French Ridge Hut.

On Jill's previous trips to faraway places - the Middle East and South America - she let greater powers, namely tour guides plan her trips.  Personally, I can't stand the thought of someone else planning my trip.  So, I guess it's natural that when we set off for New Zealand I would be the tour guide.  While Jill fed her cancer-stricken mother through a tube I pored over topographical maps of New Zealand's south island.  By the time we left for New Zealand I could name mountains and valleys that most Kiwis had never heard of.

Of all the things I wanted to see, the icy pyramid of Mt Aspiring was tops.  Climbing was out this trip, but I figured views and superb photographs of the peak weren't too much to ask.  My pre-conceived love affair with the mountains involved using it as an internet password and even imagining how I might sneak "Aspiring" into my first-born's name.  Pre-trip research involved flying through the Matukituki valleys on Google Earth trying to find the best angle on Aspiring.  The West Matukituki showed the most promise with guidebooks talking about the "excellent", "suberb", and "breathtaking" views of Aspiring.  After four days in the area I can tell you it was a lie.  This mountain, that is such a focal point in the south part of the island can, for all intents and purposes, be seen only from a plane.  It's surrounded on all sides by steep walls that make crisp views all but impossible.

Ranting and whining aside we still enjoyed our foray into the valley.  Mostly because we were joined by Christchurch friends Sarah and Russell.  The infusion of new companions was particularly appreciated by Jill who gets tired of only being around me.  Those less familiar to Jill are more likely answer her random questions like, how do dolphins breathe when they sleep?  We stayed the first night at French Ridge Hut and again the second due to weather.  Sarah wasn't keen on New Zealand's idea of a trail - no switchbacks - so we took our time, but made it to the Liverpool Biv for the final night.

At French Ridge a couple of the parties were planning an ascent of Aspiring, which got my climbing juices flowing until I looked out the window and couldn't even see the railing on the deck.  The Liv Biv will be remembered for friends gained and enemies made.  Jill, Sarah and Russell ended up cleaning up the mess left by a young group of Israelis from the previous night at the hut.  Trash, bloody tampons and a steaming turd were some of the highlights.  Luckily this unpleasant experience was offset by meeting a Dutch couple - Arnoud and Suzanne.  The frisbee twirlin' duo smartly elected to sleep outside the crowded hut, but still ended up becoming fast friends.  The following day the three couples plus an American from Montana hiked through the valley and back to the car.  At the Aspiring Hut we saw an Asian lady from Wanaka snapping photos - little did we know that we were among the last to see her alive.  Apparently she chose to take her chances with the weather and was never seen again after leaving the hut the next day for her planned crossing of Cascade Saddle.  The seven of us dirty trampers crammed into a motel room in Wanaka - the last available - to have a post-tramp celebration and ring in the New Year the following evening.

Again, apologies for yet another poor trip report.  I asked Jill to write it for me, but she said, sorry she was too busy playing solitaire.  Please view photos and refer to captions for any real information on this trip.

- written January 2009

One last gear sort at the trailhead.  It was gorgeous before we even started hiking.


Hiking through the West Matukituki Valley.  The trail follows the river for the first few hours through gentle sheep and cattle pastures before rising abruptly on French Ridge.  By the way, Jill's going to have the last laugh about her chest.


On the second day we took cover during a storm inside the hut.  Unless you have a deck of cards and a few mates a day like this could be... uhem, boring.


In the evening the storm cleared providing me some opportunities with the camera.  This is looking down French Ridge and into the West Matukituki Valley.


On the second morning I woke up early to take photos and enjoy what most people miss while sleeping.  Once everyone else was awake we hiked down the ridge, across the valley and up the other side to Liverpool Biv which appears as a tiny dot beneath the mountain in this frame. 


Picturesque French Ridge Hut and Mt Barff in the background.  Skies cleared for a few hours, and even though clouds blew in, our third day was good.



The hike down French Ridge was enjoyable until we dropped into the bush line where...


.... things got a bit steep.  Trails in New Zealand can feel more like climbing than hiking.  We descended slowly back to the river and back up an equally steep trail to the Liverpool Bivy, a less-accommodating hut on the opposite side of the valley.


Taking a break at the river before hiking up to the Liverpool Biv.


Having dinner and trying to find a break from the wind.  We met Suzanne and Arnoud (pictured in back) here at the Liverpool Biv.  Sarah, Russell, and Jill look tired - maybe from picking up trash left by the inhabitants of the hut on the previous night.


Here's the great view everyone raves about of Mt Aspiring.  Aspiring, one of New Zealand's most beautiful peaks - at least from an airplane - is the pyramid illuminated by the sun in this frame.


On our final night we enjoyed the best light and cloud formations of the entire trip.  Unfortunately I could not find the perfect foreground to compliment this photo, so this will have to do.  Mt Rob Roy is the glaciated peak opposite and the W Matukituki River can be seen on the right.  The ridge descending on the left above the cliffband is French Ridge where we had come from during the day.  One of the photos above, taken from French Ridge shows where I was standing for this shot, from the opposite side of the valley.


Obligatory bridge crossing photo.  Jill on the way back to the car and a New Year's celebration back in Wanaka.


Taking a quick break at the Aspiring Hut in the valley.  Arnoud and Suzanne on the left and the American on the right.  All these people, plus the photographer crammed into a tiny Wanaka motel after the tramp.

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