Twin Stream: the Bad and the Ugly

In case you haven’t read Twin Stream: The Good, I just want to mention that this was a totally awesome trip, and I have no regrets. Despite this there were a few setbacks, certainly enough to warrant this entry and warn others of a few things before heading in.

First of all was the walk in. We’d been told it was hard, but we’d also been told it wasn’t too bad. We were relying on the directions written on climbnz.org.nz and in the South Island Rock guidebook, which we found out are totally useless. Neither mention the climbing is at the head of the stream and they talk about climbing ridges and following spurs, so we assumed the climbing was up high in the hills. After 4 hours of sniffing out trails and following sheep tracks we had done plenty of backtracking and not made it far, so we headed back to Glentanner defeated. We caught a $225 helicopter (ouch!) which taught us just following the stream would have gotten us there.

A few of the 13 Keas hanging around

We put up the tent and jumped into bed, only to learn about our Twin Stream nemesis – the Keas. The first one was a slight bother, then at about 10pm the other 12 turned up. A pack of 13 terrorised us the entire trip, leading to us developing a military-like plan to beat them.

Each morning we had to get up at 3am to chase off a single kea, then could generally get back to sleep until 6am. This was when the mob arrived so we had to pack EVERYTHING up and hide it in holes spread around the camp, before covering it in big rocks. Our morning kea-proofing took about an hour, and about the same again in the evening to unpack. Because they loved trying to destroy the tent we decided to erect a bivvie. Ingenious use of finger tape, our two rope bags, rocks, and the guy-ropes from the tent meant we had build a vague cover that protected us from the weather, yet we didn’t care too much if the keas got at it. We slept in this most nights (unless our spidey-senses thought rain was coming) and one kea happily perched about 30cm from my head far too often for my liking.

Our bivouac to hide from the Keas

We learnt after the first night that turning on a headlamp means the keas will be around for two extra hours, and putting up a tent or bivvie before dark causes them to hang around. We had to sit in the cold most of the night, before blindly fumbling to assemble our evening lodging as we were going to bed.

The cold we sat in was not just your regular evening chill. When we arrived it was a nice sunny day leading us to believe the environment we were in was pretty mild. How wrong we were! Constant, constant cold. We had each taken 7 layers of clothing, which we were wearing 90% of the time. It was merino t-shirt, two merino long sleeve shirts, merino sweater, light windproof jacket, down jacket, and outer jacket pretty close to 24/7. Camp was in the base of a valley which barely saw the sun.

Sitting out the mornings

Every day we would wake up at 6 (thanks Keas) and start on our plethora of daily hot drinks. We had breakfast in the morning mist which only got worse – the sun heating the stream lower down the valley would thicken the mist even more. This sitting mist would make everything wet, and stick around until well after lunch if not all day. We’d finish lunch at 12ish, and head to wherever we wanted to climb (up to a 2 hour walk). Each day was a gamble – if we were lucky the mist would lift about 1.30pm and we would see the sun, strip off down to only 3 or 4 layers, and climb. There were only two of these days on the whole trip, the rest we never saw the sun or it was raining. Bad days meant we dejectedly wandered back to camp to occupy ourselves for the afternoon however we could.

The scree slope to Shindig Gully

The ‘walk’ to the climbing each day was a hard slog. Scree scrambles for sometimes over 2 hours, which were back-breaking and nearly ankle-breaking work. In hindsight we should have headed to the closer walls more as they were only about a 20 minute walk. Some of the boulders we were scrambling over and around were huge and loose, so it was constant caution to not get squished. We really wished we had hired the PLB for this trip, as if anything went wrong there was not going to be any help for a long, long time.

Since beginning our roadtrip we have become conisseurs of long drops, experiencing the whole spectrum from totally odourless modern facilities, to dingy horrible cesspools. After Twin Stream the worst longdrops are a lot more appreciated, as any longdrop is better than pooping into a container. With only rocks around it is a carry-in carry-out EVERYTHING protocol, so we were armed with an abundance of good sealing plastic bags and containers. I have since learnt the NZAC sell poop-containers, and no matter what the cost I can guarantee they are definitely worth it.

The other warning we could have done with before heading in is the abseils. Most lines only have hangers on the top, so you need to bring your own tat or tape for abseiling. Luckily the lines we climbed had walks (scary scrambles) off the back, because I was not game enough to trust any of the old bits of sling tied off on the top of routes and would have had to sacrifice gear. Take plenty of tape or cord, and take a knife to cut off the old tat at each set of anchors.

After dreaming of various methods of slaughtering keas for a week it was time for the walk out, which the guidebook called 2-3 hours. Apparently the trail has overgrown well since then, as it was a 5 hour grovel through spiky Rotokauri, and rockhopping down the stream. Here the description was slightly useful, but still could have been a lot clearer.

The trip was draining – hardly any sleep, a life in freezing cold, scary and mentally draining climbing, and total isolation. The return to civilisation was great. It is hard to comprehend how my mind works, but the culmination of so many horrible things with hardly any high-points somehow lead to one of the best trips of my life.  It is now time to head south to Dunedin and it’s nearby climbing.

How our gear spent most of the trip - sitting in a pile waiting for the mist to clear

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