Doubtful Valley, from the car park
***Note – this one is not about bees.***
I have a man-cub. He has been striving to be a man from the moment he could walk. He could perform a flawless 3-point turn on his ride on scooter buggy bike trike thing when he was one year old. He took his trainer wheels off his bicycle when he was barely 4 (his brother was 3!). He wants so hard to be a big strong man, like his dad and his uncle (a 6’4″ Firefighter, with a muscle car and a commendation for bravery – about as manly as manly gets). After constant inquiry about when he could go hunting with me (not begging, as that would not be a manly thing to do), I finally allowed him to come along. After all, he is 10.
The plan was to spend 3 days in the mountains – one day in, with hunting the following morning and evening, and then a day going home. I have been exploring an area lately in the midst of the Southern Alps, in the Doubtful Valley. April is the time of the roar, when Red Deer stags go a little mental over the hinds, and at each other. So the date and venue were set. One night I found the little guy asleep (as he should be) but with his pack and gear all ready, and the map clenched in his fist from studying it until he fell asleep. I could hardly say no, could I.
The drive in was a couple of hours, and instead of complaining, the man-cub soaked it up. He loved the scenery, the stories, the sights, his dad using some only slightly inappropriate language at the insane muppets who were invariably driving either camper vans, hire cars, or low slung tinted Japanese import turbocharged missiles which make a deep ‘uuntz uuntz uuntz’ noise from an overworked subwoofer. We also stop along the way to visit the boys room and buy copious amounts of junk food – he likes this also.
It was a challenge to get ready for the first hurdle – a fairly decent river crossing. The challenge was to expose as little skin for as little time as possible due to copious clouds of carnivorous critters – sandflies, biting and sucking blood. The more you smash, the more seem to appear. After even a minute exposed and stationary, your efforts become manic in desperation to escape them.
The legend of where sandflies came from make for interesting reading:
the god Tu-te-raki-whanoa had just finished creating the landscape of Fiordland, it was absolutely stunning… so stunning that it stopped people from working. They just stood around gazing at the beauty instead. The goddess Hine-nui-te-pō became angry at these unproductive people, so she created the sandfly to bite them and get them moving.
The river crossing was far from gentle, with thigh deep, fast flowing, very cold water with a slippery boulder and rock base. Poor man-cub was significantly shorter than me, so had some delicate parts immersed in the ice-bath, so to speak. Not that he could speak, with the soprano-inducing cold. We crossed the river locked together, with an arm behind the other’s back, gripping the opposite pack strap.
Another fun gift of the gods is a plant known as matagouri. Two inch thorns try to pierce you as you push through, often drawing blood. My son is not a fan of matagouri.
Matagouri, note the evil, nasty, horrid prickles.
As we walked, I was able to instruct my young padawan in bush lore, and he soaked it all in. He knows where to find water, how often to drink and eat, where my emergency locator beacon is AND how to activate it. He could list off where his headlamp and batteries, the first aid kit, map and compass, and cooker could be found. Impressive. We also talked about those topics which are restricted to when there are no ladies around, as well as a few raw jokes which were pertinent to the topic. The one which tickled his funny button the most is loosely (minus explanations and definitions) as follows:
**********Caution: Rude Joke, viewer discretion advised. ***********
A man who recently converted to Judaism learned that he needed to be circumcised. He approached a mohel for the operation, and was told it would be $600. “That is a rip-off!” he exclaimed, and went away. A second mohel told him $480. “That is a rip-off!” he exclaimed, and went away. A third mohel told him “I can do it for $20”. He agreed, and lay down on the operating table. Less than a minute later, he ran, screaming and bleeding, from the room. It turned out it was a rip-off.
**********Rude part over**********
The young fella paused a moment, then understood. He physically yelled out and crossed his legs in sympathy, and then laughed and laughed and laughed, saying “A rip-off” over and over again between cackles.
There are many huts in the New Zealand bush and mountains, used by trampers and hunters, and maintained by DOC, tramping clubs, and organisations like the DeerStalkers Association. The hut by the Doubtful river (known as Doubtful Hut), was a nasty, run down little hovel. Or at least it was, but the deerstalkers had got in, ripped out the broken beds and window and fire, and replaced it with new timber. We ran into a couple of them on the way out, painting and repairing. It is now quite a pleasant little 2 bunk sanctuary from the murderous sandflies.
This is the old version of the hut. What a disaster of a hut. It was broken and dirty and full of bugs. Now, it is bright orange, bug proof, and the grass has all been removed.
Along the way, we met a young fella, named Blake, heading out as we walked in. My lad learned that in the mountains, you may not see a person for a very long time, and so you stop and chat with any who you cross paths with. Blake had been up in the same place we were headed, and gave us track information, as well as the low-down on the deer. He didn’t find the trophy he was after, so just used the camera instead – showing us some stags who were holding a number of hinds each. His count was around 32 different animals. He had not heard any roars, so possibly we had missed it already.
A helicopter spent a few hours buzzing around the valleys and tops – this was very frustrating. We were in a recreational hunting area, and so helicopter hunting was not permitted. Having to explain to my son, after many hours of hard tramping with heavy packs, that some pillock can just fly around until they see something good, scare the hell out of everything else for miles, and then buzz back home for dinner, despite the rules saying otherwise – heartbreaking. As evening approached rapidly, I saw the offending helo (black, beyond that, I am not sure) with a deer on a sling underneath, and a person riding the sling too. This was well after evening civil twilight – a CAA rule breach this time. Cowboys.
As evening hit, we were climbing. Up, up, up. My little man is tough, and gracious, as he often waited for his old man, puffing and panting like something from Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. My heart rate was high, but the little guy was amazing on the uphill. As it got darker and darker, we switched on headlamps – there was no moon, and it was DARK under the canopy. The little guy coped well, and asked for me to lead, as he found it too tiring to use the lamp to walk and search for track markers at the same time – I was impressed with his mature decision making. When we were both just about ready for tears, I stopped us and made a hot cup of sweetened tea. “But Dad, I don’t like tea”, “That’s OK son, drink it anyway, it isn’t about the flavour.” He understood, and even seemed to enjoy it. That drink kept us going long enough to reach the hut – a very, very welcome sight. It also saved us from having to pitch tent in the dark, in an area somewhat devoid of flat spaces.
The Lake Man Bivi was in good, clean condition, with a couple of pots, two canvas bunks, and a few candle stubs for lighting. Shame on me – normally I would add candles to my pack, and leave some extras for others, but I was neglectful this time. For those not in the know, a bivy, short for bivouac is a little dwelling even smaller than a hut. The lad adapted well to hut life, learning the rules, keeping it clean, and even cooking lunch the following day. He enjoyed hot chocolate, with plenty of sugar and marshmallows. He especially enjoyed being able to fart long and proud, without apology, or any other repercussion other than his old man cranking out a louder, longer, or smellier version.
Lake Man Bivi
Above the tree line
Man-cub cooked this. Pasta and salami
The morning and evening were used for hunting – getting above the bush line before dawn, and coming back after it was too dark to shoot. The middle of the day was for sleeping. We needed it.
Very little in the way of game was visible – I blame the helicopter – however, the man-cub (and I) was pretty excited to see a chamois deer, high up on the face near Lake Man. There were also a pair of red deer – a hind with her fawn from last season. Unfortunately, all were too far away to stalk in the time available. The man-cub asked if he could carry the rifle. Sure. After 5 minutes he didn’t want to carry it any more.
For that day we were the only people on the entire mountain range. It suited me just fine.
About Lake Man – what a place. Normally you would think of a lake as being something you find in a valley, or similar sensible place. Not Lake Man. It sits on the top of a mountain range, up above the bush, even above the tussock and snow-grass. Honestly, who thought of putting a lake on top of a mountain. Silly lake.
Our walk out was pretty swift compared to the walk in, already the man-cub’s muscles had hardened and grown. I let him lead, which was good for both of us. He set the pace, and I was able to see the track clearly above his head, and enjoy the scenery. In fact, his pace was the same as my normal pace, so we really moved. I have taken many school parties tramping, and he was better than most of the students I have led, though they had about 4 years or more seniority. Actually, I have noticed more and more over the years, that many young lads and lasses who ought to be exploring the mountains have never been further from home than an x-box console. Many of them these days do not even know how to walk – that is, if the ground is any rougher than a mall foodcourt, they do not know how to place their feet and maintain momentum. Quite tragic really.
At Doubtful hut we met a couple of very experienced hunters who were busy repairing and painting the hut. As we were approaching the hut, me and the man-cub were singing (the colour song, by SongDrops), and as we saw the orange of the hut, my son sings the line ‘I open the door hinge’, and I follow by VERY loudly singing the line ‘When I see ORANGE!’. Just as I see the men at the hut. Not very suave, and goodness knows what they thought. They were very good guys, and were quite interested in the chopper sighting. Deerstalkers association are also not very keen on chopper cowboys where they are not allowed to be.
Overall, this was a great trip, with 29Km logged. I had trouble walking the following day, and I imagine the man-cub felt the same. Not a shot fired, but lots of snacks eaten, and a very happy boy. He is growing, faster than I would like, to be a mighty, strong, wise, but gentle man.