This is basically a photo essay of the trip. My previous entry was all about Temple Basin as a place. This entry is all about my trip there.
After purchasing the van, I quickly made a few modifications (put up curtains, dropped in a plywood floor (that isn’t at all fitted) and got her ready to go on a 6 hour drive, loaded with snowboard/ski gear and 4 guys. There are 3 mountain passes to go over to get to Temple basin, and with the 1800 cc petrol engine, I was more than apprehensive about how the pope mobile would preform and endure.
After 6 hours in the van, getting stopped at the entrance to Aurthur’s Pass to chain up because it was puking snow in the upper mountains, we finally pulled up to the goods lift at Temple basin right around sunset.
The Bird on the roof is called a Kea. They look a lot like a dull colored parrot. They are real cheeky little bastards. They will gnaw on anything shinny. This includes sports equipment and car emblems. A lot of the tourist vans and cars are all scratched up from the birds chewing on the chrome around windows and on the front grill.
Once we got our gear loaded into the lift, we drove the van back to the parking lot along the pass road about 1k away. We threw our packs on and began the 800 M (2600 ft) climb to the lodge. It was getting dark fast so we needed to high tail it. Luckily the moon was out and was very bright. We had a surreal snow covered, moon lite hike up to the lodge.
Once off the steep goat path, you start to see the lights of the lodge. A sigh of relief that where almost there. That feeling is shattered about 10 min in when I realized that we are walking on a ridge with knee deep snow and are at least 45 min away. As we got closer, we could see people skiing. The main run had 2 flood lights on it, but at the top of the lift there was no light. All we saw where small beams of light jittering down the hill. I shit you not, people where skiing with head lamps on! I guess powder is powder and you ride it when ever you can, day or night. I knew at that moment this place was unique.
Once we got up to the lodge, we had to grab all our gear out of the goods lift shed and carry them up another 300 meters of deep snow to the lodge. I was completely exhausted. We had a quick dinner, unpacked, got our bearings around the lodge, and I passed out. This whole time I had a wicked chest cold. Hiking long distances was not very enjoyable.
The next morning the weather was crap. It was cloudy and completely socked in. On the plus side it was snowing….always a good thing. So we decided to do a little avalanche transceiver training. Most of the guys in our group had one, but only a few of us where trained on them. I had rented one from a ski shop in Queenstown, and had no idea how to work one. Luckily one of the guys had a friend that was up at Temple and had just taken a 3 day avalanche course.
Monday afternoon there was a short break in the clouds, and we began to see the potential of the mountain!
They opened the lifts in the afternoon for about 2 hours, and I got about 8 full on fresh track pow runs in. They where short but sweet.
There are all these cool low lying roofs and wind lips surrounding the lodge and buildings. Even though the weather was pretty bad for the first 3 days there was plenty of objects to play on and build things off of.
After a day of waiting for the weather to break and some jump building, we settled in for some dinner and drinks. I did a little design work. Nothing like designing snowboard equipment when your held up on top of a mountain someplace near the bottom of the world.
The next 2 days where pretty similar. Bad weather, mixed with pockets of quick clearing. On the 4th day (Thursday) however the sky opened to reveal heaven.
Today was the day, bluebird and about a foot of powder waiting for us. The third lift at the mountain is off the main lift and around a steep mountain side. It is located on the north facing basin wall of Temple Mountain. I hadn’t been over there yet, and was chomping at the bit to check it out. We knew that a walk path needed to be dug, and heard that if we helped they would close the path once made while they where getting the lift operating and they allow the diggers to get about an hour to themselves on the run.
We waited by the start of the walk path with shovels in hand, waiting for the ski patrol that open the lift.
We finally dug the walking path, and got down to the lift. They would have closed it off for us, but since pretty much everyone at the mountain was helping to dig (or at least acting like they where) we just all waited for the patrol to get the lift operating and started making runs down the steep.
Mark, the skier in our group had some heart, and was in it to drop some big terrain. He didn’t have to go far to find it. This is just to the lookers right of the lift.
Probably one of the best parts of the New Zealand club fields is that there just aren’t that many people up there skiing with you. We were there with 85 people, and 25 of those where there for an avalanche course and not riding. 85 – 25 = 60. We where riding a mountain the size of a medium western US ski resort with 60 people! No need to race to get fresh lines. Relax, rehydrate, have a smoke (although I don’t recommend that) no rush here. Only thing that will track out the snow is the weather. Awesome!
Thursday was possibly one of the best days on a board I have ever had. Just incredible!
Mother nature didn’t let me down and put a show on all day. She didn’t even let up as the day ended, it just got better and better.
I was shooting the mountain from outside the lodge. I had my tripod out and camera bag open. Guess who showed up, those cheeky little bastards, attracted by my shiny expensive gear.
Friday was due to be another epic day. They where to open Bills Run. This is part of the mountain that faces west and is protected from the morning sun. To access this area you have to go up the main lift, walk the path that we dug out, strap up and ride down to downhill lift. Take that up, traverse across the temple basin and hop to the ridge separating the two areas.
Bills is amazing. Big open semi steep powder fields, wind lipped heavenly gullies, big vertical rock cliff faces and rollers all over the place. the snow was waist deep and lighter than anywhere else due to the shade the face has most of the day. After slashing the pow for half the day, the boys decided to build a gap jump over one of the gullies. It ended up being about a 30 foot gap with a solid 40-50 foot air to a slightly flat landing, but with 3 feet of powder to land in no one was complaining!
This was my first real attempt to correctly shoot action, and particularly snowboarding. I have been around snow photography a bit in the past at Windell’s but never really dove into the technical side to learn. I need a lot more practice. I missed a lot, and my timing needs to get better. Picking angles is difficult too. You pro photogs out there, I have always admired you guys, but I now have a new deeper respect for the skills you have.
Ohh ya, there where 2 of us named Phil up there. This is Phil Dominick. They call him Philthy….funny as that name became my nickname while I was at Reef. Interesting coincidence.
I haven’t really been on snow for a season in a long time, almost 6 years. In that time I really got away from snow sports as I was in Southern California and took the time to learn to surf. I learned that after that much time away, a lot of the technical riding I used to be able to do has left me. I also learned a lot about myself, and how age and the experience of past injuries effects my decision process. I slowly accepted that I can’t do the big, risky things like I used to. After a week of being annoyed that I wouldn’t push myself, I finally excepted, and then started to appreciate the fact that I really just enjoy riding fast, making turns and picking out lines I want to hit. But I had to go for broke one last time, and decided to hit the powder jump and spin one last big 3.
I didn’t land it cleanly, and I have to admit it felt good. With a head full of steam and blood boiling with adrenaline I stormed back up to hit it again and land it. I strapped on my helmet cam and dropped in. This time I stupidly speed checked and slipped off the runway about 15 feet before for the lip. At nearly full speed I got bucked. All I remember in the air was “ohhhh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii” I just wanted to clear the gully. So I tucked my knees up and put the board perpendicular to the landing area in front of me. I cleared the other death side of the gully by a few feet and landed to an abrupt stop. My face slammed into my knee, and the whiplash action had enough force to break the mounting points on my helmet cam. It seems that I can’t get away with anything without getting hurt or breaking equipment, which in effect ends up costing me lots of money.
As I was sitting icing my eye, a local Kiwi skier slid up and scoped out a drop.
I wanted to hit the cliff just to the lookers right of this, but sometimes is so damn hard to know exactly where to drop looking from the top. how do those crazy big mountain riders know where to go?
One of the guys in our group, Jesse (his blog on temple:http://jessesimons.blogspot.com/2009/08/temple-basin.html) is going to Otago University for photography. He had his camera out more than I did. It was nice having someone that knew what he was doing up there. He is shooting Phil D here. If Phil was an animal he would be a mole. He seriously averaged building 3 jumps a day. At any given time you could find him digging by himself someplace on the mountain. He is dedicated, you have to give him that.
Another all time day coming to an end…..and another amazing sunset.
The Next Morning, Saturday, we had to pack up and prepare to head down and back. We where going to try and get a half day of riding in since we heard they where opening the top of the mountain. We got most of our gear rounded up and got it to the goods lift to be carried down early in the morning.
Where not done yet. One last day of hiking and riding. Today we head to the top!
The ride-able terrain at Temple seems to never end. This is a whole other mountain to ride above Bills. Unfortunately the sun baked the hell out of the snow the day before, and the cold morning froze the top layer making the face an icy crusty mess. Not good riding at all but incredible views!
Everyone else was traversing across the open face, but I decided to try and walk the ridge line. I had to climb a chute that turned into a vertical wind lip the last 20 feet before the ridge, it was hairy to climb, but I made it with just frayed nerves. I was rewarded with some amazing views.
I started to walk the ridge, and found that is was not an easy hike. It was very steep on either side and not much of an even path to walk. At one point I was straddling the ride, with my board sunk in as an anchor, and my hands painfully clenched around the heel loops of my bindings. On one side my leg was hanging over a 100 ft sheer vertical cliff wall, and on the other side was a pepper rock chute that was impossible to exit through. I could have tried to continue on, but it would have been one foot in front of the other, and no fall zones on either side. Plus there was a semi gusty breeze that pretty much frightened me back. I wish I had the “where with all” to take out my camera and get a picture of that scene as it must have looked ridiculous, but I was a little nervous at the time. Probably the most precarious position I have been in on a mountain.
I headed down an easier exit point and hiked across the basin to meet up with the rest of the crew. We made one final hike up to the peak and had a snack. The ride down was icy and a good indication it was time to head out.
On the way home, driving back through Aurthur’s Pass, I snapped a picture of a mountain that just hangs over the valley below.
I’ll be back in this area come spring. Its an amazing mountain land, and I can’t wait to return.
I took the boys back to Dunedin and crashed there for a night. I got home, unpacked, did laundry immediately and showered and shaved. My black eye was really coming in now, and goggle tans always look ridiculous. Just souvenirs of a remarkable trip!