"Summer in the Southern Alps is a time of long days, generally stable weather and a much higher snow line"
Most people can usually get a little time away from their day job too, which means it’s an ideal season 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.
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 how I climbed up, so I’m always be looking into fresh country. A round trip 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, usually getting back to the ute completely rinsed. After biting 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.
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 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 knee’s.
Golden hour in some nice looking chamois country.
But as we all know, there’s 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.
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 realistically climb per hour is pretty essential in your planning. It’s also good to be conservative and have some time up your sleeve for those unexpected bluff sections or energy sapping crawls through the sub-alpine scrub.
I try to plan my route around where I want to set 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 its summer, water is a major consideration and I’ll usually carry a quite a bit 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.
Impossible to find any shade, so the lightweight merino was key.
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 can be 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 because you’re not trying to plan a round trip. Not to mention the odd extra luxury that might find its way into your pack as a result.
Image @ Hugh Bagley
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. Unfortunately though, there were no bucks worth the effort of closing the gap for a closer look.
Up stupidly early the next morning as summer hours require, we made our way fairly quickly up and over the head wall, planning to glass the neighbouring two valleys from a central high point. Getting there in good time we spent a long-time glassing, picking up a number of animals but again not the mature buck we were hoping for.
Setting up camp 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 for the usual dehyd meal.
Campsites don’t really get any better than this. Image @ Neil Kerr
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.
After another 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 begin the 800m vertical descent into our exit creek, hoping to see something on our way out. We did see a few more animals but by this stage most of them were well above us and lying down on the snow drifts to escape the summer heat.
Luke Potts shifting camp. Image @ Tom Overton
Conceding defeat, we started the long trudge back down the creek, having to climb up the steep sides to skirt around multiple gorge sections. By this time of course the day had turned into a 30 degree 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.
Overall we had an enjoyable trip exploring some new country and seeing a few animals, deciding it was certainly 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.