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Olivine Ice Plateau

Alpinist Alex Hillary Olympic Kayaker Mike Dawson

Lost In The Wilderness

Somewhere in the jungle of West Coast New Zealand bush, we were lost in the wilderness. Well, geographically, we knew where we were. The challenge was finding our way through the countless bluffed outlines, landslips and relentlessly brutal bush that seems to be never ending. It was tough going --- We crashed through the forest, our pace slowed to a mere 0.5km/hr. It’s brutal. We’re dehydrated and hungry but stoked. We’re out here in our element getting amongst the very best of what New Zealand has on offer as part of our ‘Extreme Tramping’ trip.

The time had come for a Covid-inspired NZ adventure, a journey into the backcountry, an attempt on The Olivine Ice Plateau. The 2 of us, myself – Mike Dawson was joined by Alpinist Alex Hillary on a bit of a mission – to journey to the hallowed ground of New Zealand adventure in the heart of the remote untouched and isolated wilderness zone. A place filled with incredible adventure opportunity.

“The time had come for a Covid-inspired NZ adventure.”

- Mike Dawson, 2020

The Route

Choosing the right route can make or break an expedition to the Olivine. It’s wild and unrelenting country out there. Short distances turn into ordeals and the ‘should be all good from here’ never quite eventuates.

Our route headed in from the edge of the Routeburn track, over the Sugarloaf Pass and into the back country. We followed slowly diminishing trails up past Theatre Flat, over Park and Cow Passes before dropping into the head waters of the Olivine River.

From here we began to feel remote as we floundered around attempting to follow the Olivine river, as it disappeared into gorges, rapids and deep pools. We found ourselves negotiating some difficult terrain and working our way slowly to the confluence with the Forgotten River some 13hrs later. We began into the Forgotten – and the higher up we wandered into the Forgotten River Valley, it was evident this place had in fact been forgotten. The sheer magnitude of the place, it’s beauty and remoteness. Truly untouched.

The steep mountain ranges began to surround us, climbing steeply into the sky before being engulfed in rain and fog as horrific weather slowly descended into the valley and set in for the night. We’d arrived at our destination, but all we could do was wait. Camping out at the base of the Olivine Ice Plateau in a historic Bivy was a well need respite from the raging storm outside. A giant boulder wedged into the side of the mountain creating a dry and sheltered ‘bush hotel’ We ate, relaxed and recovered from our previous 3 days constantly peering through the clouds to try and make out the Plateau some 1000m above.

Climbing up the Forgotten Col on to the Ice Plateau was amazing. The silence of nature occasionally pierced with the sounds of avalanching ice. Climax peak to our East towering over the Thunder Glacier, the Memorial Icefall ahead & our route North-West down the plateau towards Futurity Rock.

Crossing the Plateau slowly, roped up & constantly on watch for hidden crevasses. With the weather threatening to deteriorate we dropped off the edge and began working our way down towards the bush line and the wild West Coast, all the time in the presence of the most incredible view of Lake Williamson and the Andy Glacier.

From here it was a slog fest in the unrelenting West Coast bush down the Williamson River and into the Arawhata River and the arduous portage around 10hr Gorge before jumping in pack rafts and kayaking out to Niels Beach and with it civilisation.

Nutrition

Getting to the Olivine is as much of the challenge as getting across it. Its’ sheer remoteness & with access only permitted by foot our expedition was faced with a real problem – weight. On a trip like this the bare minimum of equipment required to stay safe and energized is phenomenal. Climbing gear, ice gear, rescue equipment, camp equipment, camera kit, emergency equipment – and that’s all before we get to the essentials such as food.

We needed a product that could provide high quality, high performing nutrition to function in an exposed, remote and energy sapping environment. Radix was the perfect addition. The highest of quality nutrients combined with an incredible weight: calorie equation.

We needed performance out of our food and the expedition range provided. 30+ meals were packed into the bottom of our packs bringing our total pack weight to just over 33kgs – It was going to be tough going.

Risk Exposure

On a trip of this magnitude, surrounded by high exposure situation constantly, safety is no accident. It’s important to be prepared for whatever can happen. You’re remote and isolated traversing through some of the most rugged and wild big country of the New Zealand wilderness.

Our journey saw us traveling by water, over ice, abseiling through rivers, using a roadmap of alpine creeks and fighting our way through the bush. It’s vital to carry the right equipment, keep hydrated and constantly fuelled.

Our daily routine included ensuring we broke for a Radix lunch to keep the energy up but make sure we didn’t become clumsy or make mistakes late in the day. Weather adds to the mix. Any travel in the NZ Alpine is constantly battling the ever-changing weather situations and this trip was no different. Crossing the Ice Plateau our eyes were constantly watching the changing skyline to beat the encroaching front.

This trip was multiple days of beautiful but tough trekking, enjoying the best NZ has on off, miles from anywhere. Just getting out there and being in nature. In the end we solved the puzzle of the plateau with a solid plan, a very lucky weather window, some stamina and supplies, and it was all time.

– Written by Mike Dawson

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