Snow. I don’t know what it is, what it looks like, or what its relevance to our day is, but Ian seemed very excited about the prospect of seeing it. On our drive towards Craigieburn ski field that’s all he went on about. Snow this and snowboarding that. As I vacantly stared out of the rear window of the truck, my view obscured by his mountain bike slung over the tailgate, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he’d accidentally brought his bike instead of his snowboard. It was going to be an interesting day.
As you may have already worked out, the team were back in Craigieburn. Ian manning the circular thing at the front of the truck, still banging on about snow, and Rusty stretched out on the back seats, once again insisting on using up every available bit of space. And me, wedged into my corner, getting by, one day at a time.
As we turned onto the Craigieburn Ski Field access track, I was mindful that another car was following close behind, with what appeared to be another fellow canine in it. We came to a stop, Ian released us from the confines of the truck and Rusty and I were introduced to Zeus, and his human companion, Scott. Zeus is an affectionate black Labrador Collie cross. Seeing as I was half Collie, and Rusty was half Labrador, we had plenty to talk about. Zeus had been living with Scott for several weeks, and had a lot of experience running in the hills, so was full of enthusiasm for today’s adventure. As for Scott, as far as I could tell, he and Ian were friends, and he definitely didn’t share Zeus’ eagerness for heading up a ski field access track.
Introductions out of the way, the five of us headed off and up. Rusty, Zeus and I led the charge, with Ian and Scott bringing up the rear on their rotating machines. The rocky access track is cut into the side of the tree covered slope, and gradually ambles its way up to the ski field over several kilometres. Although initially starting quite dull, small glimpses of the mountains ahead kept morale up as we endlessly climbed towards the sky. We remained within the cold shaded confines of the canopy for the majority of the ascent, until finally breaking through the tree line and into the warmth of the morning sun.
Six kilometres and 450 metres climbed, we eventually arrived at the base of the ski field, and Ian’s face turned from excitement to disappointment, as it quickly became apparent that there was none of this mythical snow that I’d heard so much about. An imposing grey scree field extended above us, dotted with small patches of trees or rocks stubbornly clinging to the mountain side. Ian futilely encouraged the group to look harder for any patches of white. Up at the peaks, out of reach, there appeared to be something, but the observation was slightly undermined by the fact that we canines only see in black and white, so not entirely sure how well suited we were for the job. In any case, it was time for lunch.
As the humans tucked into some horrible looking processed food, we canines dined on some Bitchin Beer Treats – available at all good stores – and soon we were fuelled up for the descent… which is where things got interesting.
The trail we embarked on is called The Edge, and for good reason. Although sections on the 3.5km track are reasonable, winding through the moss covered, skinny trees on a solid, well-formed path, there are also sections consisting of large drops, large exposures, a large number of tight corners, lots of large rocks and a complete lack of large margin for error. At times the track reduces to, at best, a thin crease across an otherwise steep and bare scree slope. The four of us looked on unconvinced as Ian disappeared down the track, waving us on and shouting something about ‘it’s fine… whoa! Just mind that rock…’ as he cycled across an entire mountain side covered in rocks. The canine group bounded on after Ian, as Scott set about picking his way down the track.
Several crashes later, things hadn’t got much better for Scott. Zeus had sprinted off ahead to catch Ian, displaying an interesting version of loyalty. Rusty was between me and Zeus, bouncing along the trail in the uncoordinated way that he does. I remained towards the back, constantly running between Rusty and Scott, in a futile attempt to keep the pack together, in spite of its obvious disintegration.
Eventually, after about 15 minutes of every canine for himself, we arrived at a junction where we could either continue to Helicopter Hill, or descend back down to the car. As Scott composed himself, Rusty, Zeus, and I discussed our route options. We turned to get Ian’s input, to find he had already set off, whooping and hollering with joy, down the track. The three of us rolled our eyes, Scott sighed, and we were off again.
In contrast to The Edge, the return trail to the car park was 1km of downward facing awesomeness. With a lack of scary, rocky, exposed sections, and at an angle that was perfect for allowing you to go at whatever speed was comfortable, we chased after an elated Ian. The brown, earthy track curled its way down the mountain side, and too soon it had spat us out onto the ski field access track we had scaled earlier that morning.
A short trot back to the car park provided us with a final chance to stretch our legs and cool down after our sprint session. By now the sun had climbed over the height of the surrounding trees, and we bathed in sunlight as the humans drank some horrible tasting, golden liquid from glass bottles. Scott was starting to smile again. Ian was attempting some sort of half-arsed apology for riding ahead, while at the same time excitedly talking about how great the final trail was; his gestures and facial expressions becoming more exaggerated the more liquid he drank, as the disappointment of not seeing any snow faded into obscurity. Aware that Rusty and I were going to have to listen to this all the way back to Christchurch, we busied ourselves exploring out of ear shot, while Zeus curled up next to Scott and zoned out.
Bidding our farewells, we drove back to Christchurch. As predicted, Ian continued to ramble on, as I fought for seating space with a ‘pretending to be asleep’ Rusty. It was going to be a long drive.
Approximate Track Stats
Height Gain: 450m
Time: 1.5hrs (cycling), 2.5hrs (walking)
Comments: There are plenty of streams and water sources along the route
The route is an excellent introduction to going out on an adventure and is just as good walked as it is biked
Note that the Edge is a shared use track with mountain bikers and walkers
The scree slopes will be snow covered during the winter months
Map courtesy of www.topomap.co.nz