Winton trampers beat conditions
A 10-day springtime hike in remote Fiordland mountains last week turned into a soaking 13-day marathon of snow and ceaseless rain for two Winton trampers. Police praised the preparedness of Winton couple Sarah and Ben Bonner, who walked out on Monday as a search was about to begin.
The trip started on September 28 at Lake Manapouri's South Arm and ended at the same place. The route, over Percy Saddle, sections of the Dusky Track and mountain passes into the Florence and Grebe catchments, would be demanding even in fair weather, Sarah Bonner said.
However, Fiordland threw its worst at the pair from the outset. Intense rain flooded the track – where there was one – and heavy snow halted their progress over the tops.
They used climbing gear to cross the Kenneth Burn, where storms had smashed a bridge, leaving a single wire. Then the couple faced waist-deep snow to reach Lake Roe Hut, where they were storm-bound for two days.
Foiled by deep snow, gales and increasingly avalanche-prone snow slopes, they rationed food and weighed the merits of waiting in the highly visible hut against plunging onward into the densely forested Florence Valley.
On Saturday, slightly better weather let them cross the snow-clad pass.
After more than 13 hours of splashing down deer trails, their escape was blocked on Sunday by the flooded Grebe River. The diet was now reduced to dried potato flakes and the last few glucose sweets and energy bars.
Next day they found a crossing "only waist deep", and made it back to Lake Manapouri. Mrs Bonner said they were undeterred from future trips into untracked country, though she emphasised it was not for everyone.
They took the right gear, especially climbing gear and boots for long days in snow, and carried their own emergency locator beacon.
"We were surprised by what we could do – our resilience and our endurance under pressure ... but it comes down to common sense"