Summer in the Southern Alps is a time of generally stable weather, a much higher snowline, long days and most people can usually get a little time away from their day job. All this 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. To then set up camp, drink more water than you thought possible, and start glassing those likely looking places.
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, head back down to the road a completely different way to how 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, usually getting back to the ute completely rinsed. After having bitten 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. It pays to really do your homework with route selection, as even a few simple unforeseen obstacles can substantially increase your trip time or worst case even turn you around.
Realistically, this style of trip is best done with a buddy for obvious safety reasons, but you can also be much more efficient and cover more ground by sharing the load. Between you, taking one rifle, tent/fly, cooker, spotter etc you really can cut down the weight. It might even make those uphill’s more enjoyable, not to mention the downhills for those of us who spent their younger years wrecking their knees.
But as we all know, there’s just something about solo hunting. I often find myself taking off with just the dog for company, which certainly 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. Chatting to your mates or other hunters can often provide some valuable insight.
Having a good grasp of your fitness and knowing how much vertical you can realistically climb per hour is pretty essential in your planning. As is being conservative and having 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 areas to hunt. Given its summer, water is a major consideration and I’ll usually carry a bunch 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 stuff that’s super breathable and covers you up like a lighter weight merino.
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. Often these one-way trips are more affordable than you might think, especially between two. 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 then 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.
The flipside to this instant introduction into the backcountry is that you’ll of a sudden find yourself a long way from civilisation, and quite committed to your intended route home. Be prepared, have good gear systems that you know well, and be meticulous with your gear packing. And of course, that PLB is a no brainer.
One such trip targeting chamois last summer had us taking a short flight up to the tussocks, with the plan being to spend the evening glassing not too far from where we landed. This made for a relaxing evening, spotting numerous chamois. But unfortunately, of the 6 or so bucks we looked over none were worthy of the effort to close 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 several animals but again not the mature buck we were hoping for.
Setting up camp up high by an alpine tarn is always a pleasure. After killing a bit of time, it was back to looking over in the neighbouring two catchments for the evening. We had a good leg stretcher to make sure we had glassed the place as well as possible, then it was back to the tents for the usual dehy 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.
After an early start it was off to look into our final creek and the same creek we planned to drop into to get back out to the road.
After a long time glassing the best part of the day, and with the day now heating up, we made the move to drop the 800m vertical down into our exit creek, with the hope of seeing something on our way down and out along the creek. We did see a few more animals but by this stage most of them were now well above us and lying down on the snow drifts to escape the summer heat.
Conceding defeat, we started the long trudge back down the creek, finding ourselves having to climb up the steep sides to skirt around multiple gorge sections in the creek. 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 an enjoyable trip exploring some new country and seeing a few animals, and 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