Following Rainbow Footprints

Mount Tapuae-o-Uenuku

Following Rainbow Footprints

Words: Connor Clements
Photo & Video: Ant Green

“An earthly chief sought his spiritual wife and child by climbing up to heaven via the rainbow of their ancestor, Uenuku, a tribal war god. Nga Tapu Wae O Uenuku are ‘the sacred steps of Uenuku.” Marlborough’s Rangitane Tribe

Like most of our adventures, this one was dreamed up on a whim. We eventually settled on the date before autumn fully kicked in. The weather was fickle. Elliott reassured us that Blenheim was always sunny and that the weather would clear up. This would quickly become a theme. After a short drive from Blenheim to Kaikoura, we met up with gatekeepers the Pitts. The local legend Alan was not sure that an attempt was a good idea. We went anyway.

On the trail, we saw that the river we were about to cross countless times was quite full from the previous nights rain, and, after almost missing the goat track to the river, we all made the first crossing. Then we linked arms and made some more. And more. We snaked our way up the valley, beauty on all sides of us, waterfalls cascading, clouds coasting. We focused on dodging the rolling boulders and strong currents we battled constantly. We meandered, we dodged and jumped our way to the hut, six hours and 1400m of slight incline that culminated in a final scree climb to the hut. We gratefully made our way into the hut and savoured being the only ones there. After a delicious boil in a bag meal, some tunes, chocolate and plenty of yarns, we kipped out in our bunks hoping to summit in clear weather the next morning. We were shaken awake by an earthquake that startled me enough to swear, but that Ant brushed off, “its only a small one bro”. It stopped a second later.

We couldn’t even see Tappy. It had rained more in the night and the river was even louder and wider. “It’s clearing up” Elliott said. Scree scrambles, Billy Goats and stabby grass. These were the next few hours of our journey. Then the weather closed in. Layers were added as we got wetter and colder. Ant and I struggled in cheap jacket and warehouse pants respectively. Our stop for lunch was short, and the ice came at 2200m. The climb became steeper and steeper. The scree looser and whiter. The wind whipped up and the cloud closed in. Beanies and hoods were pulled down as we forced our way upwards. 2500m, snowy, steep, boots soaked, clothes cold. Summit window was 3pm, it was 2pm and the summit was 400m away. I looked at Ant, voicing my concern. “It’s pretty extreme” he replied, as he put his foot forward and continued the climb. I shouted out to Elliott, charging up above and ahead as usual. His voice was strained – he didn’t want to quit. We agreed to give it another 20 mins to get to the pinnacle. We called it at 2600m at around 2:30pm as the clouds closed around us and the wind chilled our soaked clothes and our skin in turn.

The descent was a hasty, slip scree slide down the steep mountain. We were defeated but were already making plans to come back. We talked about the movie Everest on the way down, and about sometimes making it back intact is more important than risking it all. The rest of the trip was spent philosophising on trips, mountains and friendship. We flew down the mountain, our journey downhill much faster than the uphill slog. Every glimpse of the valley or surrounding mountains in fleeting sunlit moments was enjoyed intensely. The cloud swept in quickly to make these moments short, but when they came they were all the better.

The hut was a welcome relief, we poured through the history of the place, signed the guestbook, and Ant burned some of the old papers and smoked us out. Another boil in a bag meal went down well and we settled into our sleeping bags. There were no earthquakes this time, except for the rustling of sleeping bags as we turned over in uncomfortable attempts at sleep.

Putting on wet clothes, socks and boots the next morning we readied ourselves for the trip downhill. The river was a raging dirty torrent, at times proving difficult to cross. We linked arms and crossed and skirted the banks. At one point I stumbled and smashed my thigh on a rock. At another Elliott slipped in the river torrent and was held up by anchorman Ant. We kept the crossings going, holding out for the next turn around the corner into sun-drenched bliss. We were soaked, dried and soaked again. Squelching and sloshing we made the final crossing and up the goat track (now a dirty waterfall) and back to the 4WD track. We visited Allan again and he was very pleased to see us. We had decent yarns and resolved yet again that we would be back next summer to finish what our whim had started. We will be back to summit Tappy. Let’s hope that we can see the mountain next time.