After a day of getting our expedition group together and packing we spent Sunday morning packing all the food for 6 days and final arrangements. Which included how much the youth had stuck to the equip/gear list. This list was the minimum however several students needed to borrow some items and were naively unaware of what lay ahead of us as far as preparing for any type of weather. While it is summer, snow down to low levels is not unusual.
We were shuttled to the top of the Haast Pass which annually receives 4meters of rain with its location sitting on the main divide and obviously gets slammed with lots of rain off the Tasman Sea.
We begin walking in light rain that did ease up as the day moved on. We crossed the main east/west road using a foot bridge to cross the Makarora River. Our packs were heavy and full. I couldn’t even close the lid of my pack correctly.
At this point our leadership model was for the 3 of us to share this role, however we quickly empowered the students with a long and lengthy debate unfolding over our first overnight location. There was lots of analysis paralysis which meant the students spent way too long debating on whether to stop at one place and have done a good first day (and get eaten by bugs) or push on with super heavy packs and have a short day tomorrow. After much debate it was “collectively” decided to push on. This exercise proved a helpful metaphor for many leadership conversations later on in the expedition.
Our eventual campsite was a good choice with great views and sightings of various native NZ birds, some of which are threatened or vulnerable.
Day 2 dawned clear and calm as we donned our STILL heavy packs on to some raw shoulders (we needed to eat more to lighten the load). A good opportunity to re-visit some of the facilitated teachable moments from yesterday. This was rounded out with the 1st of our 3 navigational map lessons.
We made our way up the Young Valley stopping for lunch and a lesson on macro invertebrates found in the streams. All while empowering a Leader of the Day to facilitate our movement up the young valley. As the week went on we had quite a few insights into how youth lead youth. But more on that later.
Our pace was quite slow, due in part to the big crisis section we had in students abilities. WE didn’t encounter too many other people which was nice. Our day ended at the confluence of the Young River South & North Branch camping out in the rain and singing surrounded by water falls. And brief and brisk swims in the river.
Day 3 was a beautiful day and wee quickly were out on the trail making our way up the North Branch of the Young River. The going was slow but inspired by still more bird life and even some BellBird chicks singing for their mother. Our slow but steady progress allowed us to have lots of great conversations with 1 or 2 students at any one time. Many of these centered around plans for next year after high school and how we see our experience our faith out in the wilderness. Often it was easy to let the experience speak for itself knowing we couldn’t do anything to improve the metaphors that existed all our us screaming glory to God.
We were always quick to remember that the NZ mountains and backcountry can be a dangerous place ensuring our Leader of the Day was making sound decisions with our presence very much in the background.
Our day ended in a stunning basin at the top of the Young River surrounded by sheer cliffs, waterfalls and rainbows. This would set us up well to go over Gillespie Pass the next morning with a few showers forecast, but generally the best weather window for the next few days.