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Trip Report – Blast from the Past: Kakanui in the 60s

By: Pete Strang

The Kakanuis on the Pigroot were one of the places where the Otago Section and the Otago University Mountaineering and Tramping Club went on winter trips as it was reasonably close to Dunedin and saved the long drive over very rough corrugated gravel roads all the way to Mt Cook or Homer. In the early 60’s snow caving was taking off and you had to practise somewhere!

We would leave on a Friday night, and drive through to the high point of the Pigroot in a rental truck with a tarpaulin over it with a couple of hired Kombi “buses” as well. We would sleep out and head off the next morning into a crackling frost or inclement mist and rain and sometimes snow.

These photos hide some seriousness and learning points for those of us who were running the trip and that was “officially” yours truly. It was a shambles as I was a bit gung ho and being involved in lectures all week I did not screen people enough and there some real novices turned up. Someone else had said it was ok for them to come… and it wasn’t. As it was we survived, but Richard Stewart, Ken Tumlinson and I beat a retreat after we were sure everyone was secure up on the summit [1528 metres] thinking we might need to be in contact with SAR for reinforcements if the weather got worse. We came up again very early the next morning and were in a position to help some very exhausted people get fed properly, get warm gear on, break camp, dig themselves out, and help carry the frozen tents, wet sleeping bags and people’s gear down into the valley and back to the road. Hypothermia and exposure was something that climbers were just becoming aware of and indeed it was the beginning of some research which was published some years later in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

Other people who will not forget this trip were Graham Bishop, Richard Evans and George Edwards, who were real power houses in helping to sort people out up on the hill. Subsequent trips have been going up on ski in winter in perfect weather with my brother Jim, snow caving on top and ski touring out to Pisgah further along the range. This was part of gaining his Adventurer badge in Scouts! The next trip was with my son Tim and we were caught in a blizzard but bivvied intentionally. It was a bit of an epic getting out the next day in very deep snow lying over the top of matagouri. We went up again some months later in perfect spring weather, kicking steps in perfect and firm snow after we left the tussocks behind.

The Kakanuis were where I learnt the now forgotten art of heating rocks in a fire (yes, we lit fires then!), wrapping them in an old towel or flour bag and putting them in your sleeping bag for warmth. They were usually biffed out in the early hours into a crackling frost.

Posted: 08/04/16

Posted By: Narina Sutherland