Cover image @ Vin Elliot
Summer in the Southern Alps is a time of long days, generally stable weather and a much higher snowline.
Most people can usually get a little time away from their day job during summer too, which means it’s an ideal time to actually explore some of those places you’ve been eyeing on the map all winter and spring.
There’s nothing better than breaking out onto the tussock tops after a long, hard grind through the bush to get there. It feels good to finally set up camp, drink more water than you thought possible, and start glassing those likely looking places.
Joseph Peter exploring new chamois country in summer
For me I’m always trying to find myself a “roundtrip”, where once I’ve gained the altitude, I can link up multiple creek heads or valleys to look into. Then over the course of a few days I’ll head back down to the road a completely different way to where I climbed up, so as to always be looking into fresh country. Often this involves strategically stashing a vehicle near where you intend to pop out, or sometimes putting the thumb out and stinking out some unfortunate persons car.
It always makes for an interesting mission and I usually get back to the ute completely rinsed. After having bit off more than I can chew more times than I care to remember, I’m slowly getting better at picking those objectives and figuring out what’s feasible from looking at maps and google earth.
Vin Elliot with an early summer buck, image @ Matt Vincent
Realistically this style of trip is best done with a buddy for obvious safety reasons and you can also be much more efficient and cover more ground by sharing the load. By taking just one rifle, tent/fly, cooker, spotter etc between you, you really can cut down the weight and make those uphill’s more enjoyable. It also makes the ‘downhills’ easier for those of us who spent their younger years wrecking their knees.
But as we all know there is something special about solo hunting and I often find myself taking off with just the dog for company - which does bugger all for sharing the load.
Easy ridge travel with the snow backing off
The obvious thing to look for when trying to pick a line to the tops is a ridge in the bush with a somewhat gradual gradient. Maps and Google Earth are great, but it really helps to have an idea of what the bush is like and how easy the travel might be. Having a good grasp of your fitness and knowing how much vertical you can climb per hour is pretty essential in your planning. Its also good to be conservative and keep some time up your sleeve for those unexpected bluff sections or energy-sapping crawls through the sub-alpine scrub.
A good example of a gradual ridge to the tops
I try to plan my route around where I want to set up camp, based on getting the best access to where I think the animals will be, whilst being mindful of not scenting up the best hunting areas. Given that its summer, water is a major consideration and I’ll usually carry quite a quantity if I’m heading somewhere new and can’t rely on melting snow. Once up high there’s often zero chance of escaping the sun for that early afternoon siesta, so it’s a good idea to pack the sunscreen and wear clothing that’s super breathable and covers you up like a lighter weight merino.
Zero shade, lightweight merino is by far the best option for keeping cool
Another great approach to this style of trip is to take a bit of a shortcut by burning a few fossil fuels to initially get your altitude, dropping you instantly into good country where you can hunt your way out to the road over a few days. These one-way trips are more affordable than you might think, especially between two hunters. Depending on your plan you can often get to eyeball your route from the machine, and it opens up a heap of options as you’re not trying to plan a round trip. You can also afford to take the odd extra luxury as well.
Shaun Monk & Craig Direen using the awesome service of Wanaka Helicopters
One such trip targeting chamois last summer, we took a short flight up to the tussocks, and planned to spend the evening glassing not to far from where we landed. This made for a relaxing evening, spotting numerous chamois. But unfortunately, there were no bucks worth the effort of closing the gap for a closer look.
Up stupidly early, as summer hours require. We made our way fairly quickly up and over the head wall, with a plan of glassing the neighbouring two valleys from a central high point. Getting there in good time we then spent a long-time glassing, picking up a number of animals but again not the mature buck we were hoping for.
A Hugh Bagley image
Setting up camp up high by an alpine tarn is always a pleasure. After killing a bit of time, we were back to looking over in the neighbouring two catchments for the evening. After a good leg stretcher to make sure we had glassed the place as well as possible, it was back to the tents to re fuel with a Radix Nutrition meal.
With the long daylight hours, summer hunting can take its toll. Often, you’re not back to the tent till well after 11pm, then up again at 4.30am to pack down camp.
Another Hugh Bagley image
After an early start on our last morning, we headed off to look into our final creek - the same one we planned to drop into to get back out to the road.
After a long time glassing the best part of the day before the temperature got up, we made the move to drop the 800m vertical down into our exit creek, hoping to see something on our way out. We did see a few more animals but by that stage most of them were well above us and lying down on the snow drifts to escape the summer heat.
Chamois in the early summer snow, image @ Sam Manskin
Conceding defeat, we started the long trudge back down the creek having to climb up the steep sides at times to skirt around multiple gorge sections. By this time the day had turned into a 30°C scorcher, so it was relief to finally get back into the shade of the bush and find the track for the final 5 hours out to the road.
Vin Elliot with an awesome old bull, image @Matt Vincent
Overall, we had an enjoyable trip exploring some new country and seeing a few animals, agreeing it would certainly be worth a return trip.
Regardless of whether you walk the whole thing or fly in and walk out, there’s something special about scheming up a plan, then carrying everything you need on your back and hunting your way through new country. It never seems to get old.