Twenty-four hours ago we waded, almost thoughtlessly, across the calf deep McCoy Stream, climbed the stony embankment and walked to the small hut on the north side of the creek. Our boots, soaked through from 90 minutes of waist deep crossings and gravel bar travel, slosh and gurgle with each step. Up on the bench, the small, cream colored hut beckons while Sean helps put the finishing touches on the erection of a Keron 4. It billows violently in the wind. All day rain has sprinkled, rainbows have sprouted and faded, and snow capped mountains have poked out of low clouds into deep blue skies. We traveled excitedly, with a sense of purpose. And all day the wind has blown. It paused us, it pushed us sideways, it drove us back down valley but we leaned forward and struggled on. Crossing the braids of the Clyde River, we went waist deep. Much like the wind, the current pushed us backwards too, but we strained onwards, sideways to the opposite shore.
At the hut we drop our packs and enjoy the respite from shouldering our loads. We wring out our socks and install our camp. The Clyde’s various crossings consume our thoughts of the day and the McCoy is but an afterthought, a small calf-washer, en route to the hut.
As we settle in for the night rain falls harder and heavier on the tent. The wind picks up and casts it down in torrential sheets. Flashes of lightening and thunder rolling down the canyon keep our attention. In the distance the roar of water gradually overtakes the sound of the wind with rocks rumbling as the turbulent water pushes them downstream.
The morning light offers only a reprieve from the dark. Outside the green tent the wind continues its hurried rush down from divide, lightening flashes, rain pulses harder on the nylon fly and thunder still echoes down the valley. It is the white noise of the McCoy though that draws my eyes out of the vestibule. Sean affirms my suspicion “Yep, stream’s up”
Now, 24 hours after our nonchalant in clear water, the McCoy has engorged itself. Chocolate milk froth spews downhill cutting new channels across hundreds of meters of gravel and rock. Cut banks fall prey to the swift current; rocks churn and tumble towards the sea and the real McCoy bares its teeth, seemingly daring us to venture into its lair.
So we did. A day later we packed our bags, poked our noses to the northeast and wandered upstream. We pushed upward and established our temporary homes on a moraine at the toe of the McCoy Glacier.
The wanting is strong, the desire high, 24 hours after arriving though, we are weather beaten. The winds howl and rage and lift our tent. I pour clumpy brown sugar into a bottle of chamomile tea and think of bracing, but I can’t do both. With supper done Sean and I settle in for a long night of bracing, pole fixing and guy line tightening. Rain and hail pound hard on our Hilleberg home and we cast doubtful glances at each other, silently wondering what is next.
It comes in waves. Wave upon wave. They are unrelenting waves of wind and water which wipe clean our thoughts of past and future, allowing us only the present. Its roars and yells at us: “PAY ATTENTION TO ME. PUT DOWN YOUR PEN, CAP YOUR HOT DRINK. LOOK AT ME, I AM A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH.” It stomps and slaps angrily on our nylon nests. “DO NOT THINK YOU ARE WELCOME HERE. YOU MUST EARN YOUR KEEP.” So we do. We wait. We brace. We fight the good fight. We wage a war of, as Gregory Crouch writes, attrition. We wear down our physical and mental supplies. Again and again the real McCoy huffs and puffs, blowing hard against our flimsy abodes determined to once again show its dominance as it did days earlier with walls of water.
The temperature drops and our breath condenses into small clouds. We are vulnerable to Aotearoa’s whims, perched here as we are just below the divide.
The cold shower comes now from all directions. I turn my head and my headlamp beam illuminates a dizzying array of pounding drops. The cold liquid runs down my sleeve and over my hand. Beads creep up my cuff. I stand, fingertips curled into my palms for temporary warmth, waiting for Andrew to exit the red tent. The poles are out of their cups and the windward guy lines flap uselessly in the wind. He crawls out into the driving gale, his large frame uncurling, standing erect, and fighting its way into a flapping rain jacket. I clench the windwards guy line in my wet fist and wait for hime to walk over. Both his arms find sleeves and he zips the jacket. “The poles are out of the middle cup” I yell, hopefully loud enough to be heard over the unrelenting roar, and point because that is a message that won’t get blown away in the wind. He nods. “You fix that, I’ll get these guy lines” I add indicating to what is in my hand.
“Okay” I hear.
As I tighten the guy line toggles against a shoddy pile of small rocks, my eyes and headlamp do a quick scan of the ground for a “proper” rock. I see one and apprehensively drop the guy line and make my way cautiously over the the wet, lichen covered moraine to its location. I scoop up the wet, microwave sized chunk of greywacke, cradle it in my arms and deliver it to the windward side of the red Hilleberg. A few slip knots and toggle adjustments has the proper rock anchoring the tent place. It is 0015.
The good fight continues all night and into the following afternoon. Once again the McCoy Creek is raging full bore, cutting us off from advancement or retreat. All night headlamps bob up and down across the moraine as we sew tears, move rocks, tie knots and get blown around. The wind and rain do not relent, the gales push against us harder and quicker. We dig in. We hold on. No one sleeps, we just sit and wait for the next gust and for the next round of the hunker games.