Breast hill

Alex Gen­dron and friends ex­plore Breast Hill in win­ter.

Adventure - - Contents - Words and Images by Alex Gen­dron

As I am cur­rently cycling un­der the heat of the Aus­tralian out­back, I'm try­ing to re­mem­ber the feel­ing of be­ing in a cold en­vi­ron­ment. One vivid mem­ory I have was win­ter on Breast Hill. This ad­ven­ture was filled with ex­cite­ment to say the least. It started out breath­tak­ing and ended with a dark night at the base of an icy wall. Let me take you back to the be­gin­ning… At this time last year, end of Septem­ber, my friend Le­an­dro, or Leo, was vis­it­ing me in Wanaka as he had to re­new his Aus­tralian visa. Since there were some com­pli­ca­tions he ended up stay­ing two months in New Zealand, which meant he could join me on my ad­ven­tures. With us, there was also a cou­ple, Matte Von­née, Cana­dian and very tal­ented por­trait pho­tog­ra­pher and his French girl­friend So­nia. Our plan was to reach Breast Hill sum­mit to shoot some amaz­ing pho­to­graphs of the beau­ti­ful views of MT As­pir­ing over Hawea Lake. Lit­tle did we know what that was go­ing to take! Be­fore we could start our jour­ney it was im­por­tant to find out the con­di­tions and weather. Is it snowy? Icy? What is the fore­cast for the next cou­ple days? Google is great way to find in­for­ma­tion but the guide com­pa­nies and tourism cen­ter usu­ally have a bet­ter idea of con­di­tions. How­ever, no one knew ex­actly how it was up there since some said it's snowy and we need ice axes and cram­pons, while oth­ers said it was fine to hike nor­mally. We didn’t have the tech­ni­cal equip­ment and were on a low bud­get, so we de­cided to take the lat­ter ad­vice and go with our hiking shoes, gaiters, all the usual camp­ing equip­ment and our pho­tog­ra­phy gear. Which for Matte in­cluded a huge Ro­talux Oc­tog­o­nale soft­box and a Bron­color Move 1200 L bat­tery for his flash unit. Once we had ev­ery­thing packed we met down­town Wanaka in the morn­ing and fol­lowed each other to Hawea Lake. It al­ready got off to a bumpy start since the first place we ar­rived at was not the cor­rect spot. We had to hike back down to the cars and drive back un­til we saw the very dis­creet sign. Now we could start the hard climb up. The sun was strong and it felt warm in our t-shirts and shorts, even though it was the end of win­ter. Dur­ing our hike up we met a mother with her kids who told us that if we were to keep go­ing it might start to get icy in some parts. We were de­ter­mined so we con­tin­ued on to the ridge. The view was breath­tak­ing! The first patches of snow started to cover parts of the track and a bit fur­ther along the snow started turn­ing to ice. This is when the tech­ni­cal gear would have been use­ful! The sun­set was near­ing so we stopped to get some pho­tos at the golden hour. It was a lit­tle bit of a chal­lenge to get the big flash set up in the wind. I was able to get some be­hind the scenes shots of Matte and So­nia

As night was be­gin­ning to fall the snow got deeper and more icy. It was im­por­tant to put all our weight into each step to crush the ice for a good grip. The night be­came dark. Very dark as there was no moon to light the sky. We fol­lowed the trail poles that were ris­ing above the snow but soon ar­rived at a point where we couldn't find any more. They were ei­ther com­pletely buried or too far away to be seen with our head­lights. Ac­cord­ing to the map, the hut was sup­posed to be on our right, but all we could see was an icy cliff. If one of us would have slipped, it would be nearly im­pos­si­ble to res­cue or find them. This real­iza­tion caused some of us to panic. We had to be so close to the hut but just couldn’t see it! It was time to make a de­ci­sion to ei­ther keep search­ing for the hut path or hike back to the car in the dark. The fact that we were tired and cold made it hard to make a de­ci­sion. Af­ter be­ing stuck for at least 30 min­utes I de­cided to find a flat spot for ev­ery­one to rest while I climbed over a rock face to see if there was any­thing on the other side. The snow was deep mak­ing it hard to make foot­prints. We were def­i­nitely the first to come here af­ter the last snow. Upon reach­ing the top, I could see a fence in the dis­tance! This was a good clue to help us find the track again. I came back to the oth­ers to mo­ti­vate ev­ery­one to keep go­ing be­fore get­ting too com­fort­able in our sleep­ing bags. We started hiking up the rock face and as we reached the fence we saw other poles in­di­cat­ing the track. It mo­ti­vated all of us! But af­ter walk­ing on the track for 20 min­utes we still couldn’t see the hut. Ev­ery­one was tired. Mak­ing wrong steps and slid­ing on the ice, we didn’t have enough strength to crush the ice any­more. We needed to stay pos­i­tive and keep go­ing. A few min­utes later we made it back to a cross­ing where we saw the mis­take in our ear­lier foot­prints. We had fol­lowed the wrong poles and went to Breast Hill in­stead of to the hut. Af­ter 50 more me­ters down­hill we fi­nally saw the hut and ev­ery­one felt re­lieved. We be­gan run­ning and slid­ing on the ice all the way to the hut. The hut felt like par­adise af­ter our chal­leng­ing hike in the dark. It felt good to or­gan­ise our­selves, cook a nice warm din­ner and soon af­ter ev­ery­one fell fast asleep. Ex­cept for me, I wasn’t done with the day just yet and wanted to see if I could get some pho­tos of the aurora aus­tralis. There were some very weak green and pur­ple lights but not enough for a mem­o­rable photo. How­ever, the moon was be­gin­ning to rise which made for some great pho­to­graphs of the hut. Too bad the moon wasn’t out ear­lier to help us find our way!

Af­ter our short night of rest, I got up to hike the ridge for the sun­rise. It was un­be­liev­able! The view was as­ton­ish­ing and soon Matte and So­nia joined me in my ex­cite­ment. It was the per­fect lo­ca­tion for Matte's por­traits! We spent half the morn­ing up here tak­ing pho­tos. Af­ter a suc­cess­ful ses­sion on our moun­tain top stu­dio, we went back to Wanaka for a much needed burger. The best meal af­ter a hard hike! We all rem­i­nisced about our crazy ad­ven­ture and we were all glad to make it safely back to town. As a pho­tog­ra­pher, it’s re­ward­ing to go on ad­ven­tures with your peers. I see how they work and gain new in­sights and per­spec­tives. It in­spires me to keep tak­ing pho­tos, try new com­po­si­tions, and ex­plore dif­fer­ent set­tings. When go­ing on hikes like this, where the tem­per­a­tures can dras­ti­cally change, I like to wear and pack multi lay­ers. Most im­por­tant is the base layer. It’s good to have it be Merino wool. Prim­ino is the best... it has all the ad­van­tages of Merino wool and it dries fast. Then a mid layer. This could be a fleece or a flan­nel shirt. Fi­nally, a good jacket. Some­times I will layer a wind­proof jacket un­der a rain jacket if it's rain­ing or re­ally windy. Other­wise a nice Gore Tex will help keep you warm and dry from the el­e­ments. I use Mon­tane clothes. They make very light­weight and pack­able gear. If I had to choose one, I would def­i­nitely rec­om­mend the Prism jacket, great for all con­di­tions and it packs down to the size of a pil­low. You can find it on­line at www.Fur­therFaster.co.nz To fol­low my biking ad­ven­ture and pho­tog­ra­phy you can find me on In­sta­gram @ag­photofr and on my web­sites www.ag-photo.fr or www. pixn­bike.com I'm also cur­rently work­ing on a pho­tog­ra­phy ebook so stay tuned on in­sta­gram for the re­lease date. If you want to know more about Matte Vonne, check out his work and bio here www.von­nee.com

Moon ris­ing over Pak­i­tuhi hut and Hawea con­ser­va­tion NP

Portrait of Alex by Matte Von­née

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