2015-04-13 - Snow

There's snow on the high peaks. As we drive in the afternoon sun to Wakefield to await our heli lift, we can see far to the south the glowing white shards of dark marble thrusting far into the clouds. My heart sinks - we are not prepared for this. We always knew there was a chance that winter would come early this year, covering the mountain and our potential caves in snow. Our contact, Kieran, confirms that there is at least 20cm on the ground, the freezing level 300m below our proposed base camp and a huge storm sweeping in on Friday, promising more snow.

The mood was still high as we camped by the side of Highway 60, and ate a chickpea and peanut butter curry for dinner. I spoke up after a few bites, to point out how grim it would be on the mountain, and how difficult it would be to achieve anything up there. The silence was deafening as we sat and thought and tried to find a way round the inevitability of the obvious conclusion - we would not be going up Mt Owen as we'd planned and strove for over the last six months.

In the largest tent we clustered with maps and whisky. We read and reread emails sent by all our sources in NZ, looked at forecasts, going leads, campgrounds and roads, creeks and river beds that shouldn't be dry but were, and a plan formed. We looked to Takaka Hill, dark and brooding, covered with deep, old forest and razor blade crags of rock, made from the same marble as Mt Owen, ancient and shattered. We knew there were acres of forest untramped, with caves and sinkholes wreathed in trees and undergrowth. If we returned the next day, made camp and pushed hard, we'd have eleven solid days of caving, putting in long hours scouring the hillside and pushing deep into new caves as yet untrodden.

The expedition is remaining on Takaka Hill, due to continued poor weather on Mount Owen

Jack Hare