Sunday, July 7, 2019

Peel Range Roaming


The weather was perfect so Brendan took Friday afternoon off work and we drove up the Cobb Valley. A short 15 minute walk brought us to our accommodation for the night: the cosy 4-bunk Myttons Hut. This wee hut, discarded by DOC in 1994 and now maintained by Friends of Mytton Hut, turned out to be one of our favourite huts we have ever stayed at. A couple of beech trees which had been felled beside the hut provided ample firewood.


Saturday was blue skies and hardly a puff of wind. An easy hour up the track to Peel Ridge then we turned right and continued up the ridge to Mt Peel, which turned out to be easier than it looked. Munching our sandwiches on the summit we decided to make the most of the amazing weather and continue exploring Peel Ridge (the opportunity was too ap-peel-ing to pass up). Dropping off the back of Mt Peel what looked like a nice runnable 150m high scree slope turned out to be semi-frozen and required care to negotiate. We carried on 3.5km northwest along the tops hoping we might be able to drop down into the Cobb near Chaffeys Hut. It was incredible gazing out over Kahurangi and seeing ridge after ridge in the distance. Too much country to explore! Just past Mt Mytton the ridge got pretty gnarly so it would have taken a lot of time and effort to get any further (although it looked possible) so we opted to save the route for a future adventure.


Instead we turned around and headed back to Balloon Hut, which had been our original destination for the night. To our dismay this meant retracing our steps back up the 150m scree slope to Mt Peel, which by this time had thawed out. From Mt Peel it was an easy amble along the ridge southeast of Lake Peel to pick up the track to Balloon Hut. We had successfully managed to make the most of being out on the tops in such glorious weather, extending a 8.5km 3 hour trip into a solid 17+km over 7 hours.


The stars were brilliant when we went to bed but by morning the hut was in the cloud, and we woke up to a dusting of snow falling and a strong icy southeasterly wind. It was a cold, windy walk back past Lake Peel, where we had an obligatory stop to attempt to break the skin of ice. Despite heaving the biggest rocks he could find Brendan only managed to crack the ice at the very outlet of the lake, which proved to be over an inch thick!


As we descended through the beech forest to the Cobb Valley the bellbird song gradually increased until the air was filled with golden notes, reaching a crescendo five minutes above Myttons Hut. I don't think I've ever heard such a chorus in the middle of the day on mainland New Zealand! That is yet one more reason why Kahurangi is my favourite national park.


Saturday, June 29, 2019

Beeby's Hut

An 800m climb sounds daunting for a Saturday afternoon, but spread over 8km the walk up to Beeby's Hut was actually relatively gentle (relative to other tracks in the Richmond Ranges anyway). Meandering its way up through open beech forest Beeby's track is interesting both underfoot and around about, with road noise and farm sounds quickly dying away into the distance. Rich earthy-smelling brown humus, black honeydew-covered beech trunks, vibrant green leaves, melodic bellbirds; a soothing feast for the senses.

Intriguingly we came across a white post and a newly formed track marked with orange flagging tape leading off into the bush at 900m. Curiosity got the better of me so we dropped packs and followed the trail for 300m to investigate. From this junction up to the 4WD track there was fresh trail work and flagged deviations leading me to deduce (correctly) that a new mountain bike trail was being put in. There was one steep pinch two-thirds of the way up, gaining 100m altitude in about 300m, but after that it was a lovely gentle stroll through stunted, mossy beech.


Emerging onto the 4WD track the temperature plummeted as we were hit by the icy southwesterly wind. Wooly hats and extra jerseys were hurriedly donned before we briskly strode along the road, glad that the sun was shining. Turning around we were treated to panoramic views of Lake Rotoiti and the snow-capped peaks of Nelson Lakes; Mt Owen and Mt Arthur dominated the skyline to the west, while eastward lay the Red Hills and a cheeky glimpse of the Inland Kaikoura Range. The 3km of 4WD track to Beeby's Hut was pleasant enough despite the biting wind and the views were definitely well worth the walk. In terms of the Effort-to-Interest-to-Views ratio this track would have to rate pretty highly!


Beeby's Hut is a standard six bunk Forest Service hut but was recently refurbished so is nice and light inside. There are no views from the hut itself as it is tucked into the bush edge but it is only a minute up to the ridge. One little gripe is that the fireplace is extraordinarily smokey and unless both windows were open the hut filled up with smoke. At one point Brendan got smoked out from his perch on the top bunk, making a dash for the door with watering eyes.


It turned out to be "Local's Night" at Beeby's Hut. A few minutes after we arrived a group of four turned up, two of whom happened to live the next street over from us! They proved to be excellent company for the night. At 7:30pm a father and son turned up, and it turned out they they were also from Nelson. Despite having 8 people in a 6 bunk hut it wasn't crowded or chaotic at all. Merely pleasantly and courteously cosy.


One benefit of winter tramping is that you get to sleep in and yet still watch the sunrise. After a good sleep and surprisingly quiet night considering there were 8 potential snorers in the 6 bunk hut Brendan and I wandered up the hill to watch the dawn colour fade from the sky and the first rays of sunlight strike the mountains. First Mt Owen was lit up then Mount Arthur, soon followed by the Raglan Range. At 8:05am the sun peeped over the Red Hills. The breeze was still cool but had swung around to the east and was not quite so bitter as the day before. We were reluctant to leave this magnificent spot, but after a lazy breakfast of milo/coffee and half of a Chelsea bun each it was a quick stroll down to the car and out to Wakefield for a pie.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Death Valley

No, not THAT Death Valley.

Halfway along Wakatipu's Humboldt Mountains, Death Valley is a hanging valley which feeds into the head of Kay Creek. Previously I'd been up the track from the Caples Valley as far as Kay Creek Hut and had also explored up Scott Creek from the Routeburn Road as far as Scott Basin. But I hadn't connected the two. Now was the time to make the missing link.

Lydia above Scott Basin

Saddling up on the Routeburn Road I was unpleasantly surprised by the weight of my pack. Scott Creek Track has no gentle warm up; it is straight into one of the steepest parts of the track. We were spoiled by having our VIP (Very Impressive Porter) lug my pack the first 2.5 hours up to the bushline while Lydia & I had the luxury of taking turns with her pack.

The upper Scott was nice travel and pleasant going with a gentle breeze counteracting the blazing sun. Plans had been left rather open. but on reaching the saddle we decided to turn eastward, popping over the pass below Pt1960 to camp by Death Lake. It's not officially named that on maps, but being the only lake at the head of Death Valley it seems an apt moniker. The pass appeared dauntingly steep from a distance but lines of weakness in the ramparts became obvious as we approached. Still, it was plenty steep enough to lug overburdened packs up.

The pass into Death Valley.
We angled up left from the left hand end of the snow.
Picking our way down the loose rock (not quite loose enough to be scree) on the other side we were startled to hear voices. A couple was ascending and commented on the state of the track and how it was impossible to follow. "Hang on a minute" I thought, "There is no track up Death Valley." I'm not quite sure what they were expecting but they seemed a little out of their depth. In next to no time we had a serene camp set up on the shores of Death Lake and I dived into its sun-warmed waters.

Camp at Death Lake
Walking down Death Valley in the early morning was fun, albeit slow. We crisscrossed the stream a couple of times in search of greener shorter grass on the other side but managed to keep dry feet. On reaching the scrubline, the "strong animal trails" promised by Moirs Guide soon petered out into a vague nothingness but it didn't take too long to crash down to the trees, and from there it was easy down to Kay Creek Hut. Originally a musterers' hut, Kay Creek Hut was overhauled in 2016 by students from Otago University's Phys Ed department. Their humour is evident in the stone steps labeled "Stairway to Heaven"... leading to the long drop!

Looking up Death Valley from the scrubline
Having abandoned my original ambitious idea of pushing all the way through to Steele Creek we opted instead to relax at Kay Creek Hut for a few hours, knowing that we only had to drop down into the Caples Valley. Back in familiar territory I enjoyed Kay Creek and was unable to resist one alluring swimming hole we passed on the track. Arriving at Upper Caples Hut just before 5pm we lounged around for an hour in the hope of a rendezvous with my Dad, who coincidentally was planning to stay there that night. Without a key we were outside at the mercy of the sandflies so when 6pm rolled around and there was still no sign of Dad it was time to plod another 2 hours down the valley to Mid Caples Hut where we could be sure of a bed and a sandfly-free shelter. (we discovered later that Dad had also changed plans and didn't make it to Upper Caples).

Kay Creek
Feeling sticky from sweat, sunblock and insect repellent, I decided that a 9:30pm swim would be just the ticket - and it was! I didn't realise how tired I was until I lay down in bed and didn't so much as roll over for two hours.The forecast heavy rain never materialised overnight but nevertheless we were in no rush to get anywhere and spent the entire day sleeping and relaxing in the sunshine at Mid Caples Hut.

Caples Valley

The glorious swimming hole at Mid Caples

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Eyre Excursion

“Summer is here!” There was no denying this statement as we toiled up yet another bump on the ridge beneath a merciless sun. The eastern ranges of Otago’s Eyre Mountains are dry at the best of times, but with not a puff of wind or wisp of cloud to take the edge off the beating sun, the midday heat was relentless. 

The ridgeline of day 2, traversed from right to left.

The route had looked easy on the map: a couple of hours beside Irthing Stream to Mansion Hut the first night; straightforward, undulating ridge travel to Irthing Hut, and then a couple more days alternating between valley tracks and open tops, taking in Upper Cromel and Islands Huts, to complete the circuit. But now that seemingly easy ridge threatened to get the best of us.

The first day had gone to plan with a delightful meander up the valley to the tiny, humourously-named two-bunk Mansion Hut. There was not much living space inside so we opted to enjoy the calm, clear evening and soon had the campfire blazing outside. 

Mansion Hut

Brendan had gleefully promised lots of treats and surprises for my birthday and true to form he whipped up a delicious breakfast of pancakes with fresh strawberries and maple syrup! This was to be but the first of many little celebrations throughout the day. With bellies satisfied we waded across Irthing Stream and made our way up the spur immediately opposite the hut. The beech forest was relatively open so the going wasn’t too bad, although steep, and it only took about an hour to reach the bush line. Emerging into the open there was a bit of scrub to push through at first, before giving way to tussock and low shrubs. Point 1260, the first of five high points along the ridge, was soon reached only for us to immediately drop and regain 150m to the next peak. 

While munching on fairy bread for lunch (after all, “What would a birthday be without fairy bread?”) it became apparent that the relentless heat was taking its toll on us. We were both wilting, and before us lay the daunting looking 450m haul up to Pt 1450. Beginning on the climb, the first warning signs of heat exhaustion began to loom threateningly. The tiny shadow of a large rock presented a brief respite before I haltingly continued upward through the knee-high shrubs. The route itself was not tricky, but what had promised to be a nice ridge walk was turning into a real struggle. Brendan jubilantly found a lingering patch of snow which we put to good use in topping up water bottles and cooling ourselves down, shoving handfuls down our backs and under our hats. Still the climb went on and the sun beat down. A small bluff provided just enough shade for us to collapse in for half an hour before tackling the final 100m. Although we were still not at the highest point on the ridge, reaching Pt 1460 was a huge relief, both physically and mentally, as from here the gradient was much gentler and there was snow to provide a bit of cooling. 

Descending to Shepherd Saddle

After a brief break on the summit of Pt 1552 it was a straightforward descent to Shepherd Saddle, with a couple of small snow patches providing easy progress. From the saddle a nice scree shute dropped us 100m and then it was a descending traverse through tussock and shrubs down to the creek. What bliss to finally reach ice-cold, running water again! Half an hour through beech trees brought us out behind the bright orange Irthing Hut. According to the records in the hut book, only 12 people a year stay at this cosy two-bunk biv. A refreshing wash in the stream was first priority, and then Brendan proudly produced a bottle of sparkling grape juice! Just the ticket after a long, hot day in the open! We’d covered a mere 12.5km but had climbed over 2,000m. To complete the birthday celebrations Brendan decorated the hut with balloons and lit birthday candles on top of a steamed pudding. 

Irthing Hut
Stiff, weary bodies were still feeling the effects of dehydration the next day so it wasn’t until mid morning that we finally crawled out of bed. Originally the plan had been to head to Upper Cromel Hut and then over the tops to Islands Hut, but by the time we reached the Cromel Stream junction the decision had been made to take it easy and cut down to the nearby Cromel Branch Hut instead. The track over the low bush saddle between Irthing and Cromel was nice and interesting; re-marked and cut last year it was easy to follow despite some recent windfall. Cromel Branch Hut is nicely situated on a (slightly swampy) river terrace with firewood in abundance. Unfortunately the sandflies were also in abundance and we soon retreated inside. With plenty of time on his hands Brendan decided to knock up a seat out of old planks, a log, and some rusty wire and nails.

Feeling much refreshed after a good sleep we tramped back along the clearing to the Cromel Stream forks and then straight up the spur to Pt 1203 on Bee Ridge. The bush was steep but clear and we zigzagged up old deer trails. Once above the bushline there was a band of thick, head-high scrub to fight through to gain open rocky clearings. We spooked a deer and watched it bounding down the slope to shelter. Two hours after leaving the hut we crested Bee Ridge and joined the old 4WD track. From here it was a cruisy walk south to the Mount Bee Bunkrooms, with great views in all directions. This hut is quite unique, built from tongue and groove cladding, and is more reminiscent of a 1950s bach than a tramping hut. A relaxed afternoon ensued, lazing on the lawn and rehydrating with plenty of hot drinks.

Mt Bee Bunkrooms

“No way!” I rolled over in bed to look out the window to discover that it was snowing! Brendan sprang out of bed like a little kid with a beaming smile on his face and rushed out to enjoy the experience. We sat eating breakfast mesmerised by the whirling flakes. Although wet and heavy, the snow was settling on the ground. Two days ago we had been suffering from heat exhaustion, and now it was snowing. By 10am the snow had stopped so we quickly packed up and set off toward Irthing Stream via the spur just north of the hut. The tussock and scrub was all dusted with snow so we were soon completely drenched, but the bush was mostly fairly open and easy going although it still took two and a half hours to reach the stream. Back on the main track, a brisk pace was set as we tried to warm up. Walking the last section of gravel 4WD track from the campsite in light drizzle we reflected on what had been an enjoyable, yet under-estimated, tramp in a little-known part of the country. With unfinished business and so many other routes that caught our eyes along the way, another excursion into the Eyre Mountains is definitely in order.

Leaving Bee Ridge

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Mt Rolleston

3:20am Headlights on as Dad and I begin wandering up the Otira Valley under a sky glistening with stars, the surrounding mountains faintly glowing in the moonlight.

4:50am Crampons donned at the base of the Otira Slide.

6:50am The first rays of sunlight stream onto our faces as we crest the col at the top of Goldney Ridge after a long, calf-destroying climb up the firm couloir.

7:50am Time for a second breakfast on the Low Peak of Rolleston (2212m) to replenish energy levels.

9:00am A short step of ice and snow-covered rock has me asking for the rope.

9:30am We break out the celebratory chocolate on the summit of Mt Rolleston (2275m). It’s rush hour - two other trios arrive before we head back down. With not a wisp of cloud and nary a breath of wind we take our time to enjoy the views.

11:15am A leisurely lunch on Low Peak before descending the sun-softened slopes.

12:00pm The snow is very soft, with each step plunging us in up to our knees (occasionally floundering up to the hip), so we resort to bum-sliding. Even this proves difficult except in the path of previous sliders.

2:00pm We linger beside the bridge across the infant Otira River, reluctant to leave the mountains behind.

3:20pm Relief as boots are removed at the car park after a thoroughly satisfying day.


Dawn on the Otira Slide

On the Low Peak of Rolleston, with the High Peak behind

Descending the Otira Slide

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Moonlight & Roses

“I think that’s our track.”

Two bluffs rose imposingly above the road along Lake Hawea and a line was visible zigzagging up the steep face between them before disappearing into the cloud. No gentle warm up here! From the car park up to Breast Hill is a climb of 1200m in about 6km. We settled into low gear and began steadily plodding upwards, soon stripping down to base layers. 300m up, at the top of the first face, we met two descending trampers who unbeknownst to us would be the last people we saw for 72 hours.

We crunched along the frosty narrow ridge, ever climbing through the cloud, until at last emerging above the inversion layer. A whole new world lay unveiled before us. To the west an unbroken chain of majestic snowy peaks filled the horizon. On the cloud below us danced a brocken spectre, and above us the ridge climbed even higher before meeting with the gloriously blue sky.

A brief detour to investigate the well-insulated but fireless Pakituhi Hut before swinging northward to Breast Hill. The snow started in earnest now, often being knee deep, but fresh boot prints to the summit made the going fairly easy. The snow was extremely light and fluffy so our crampons and ice axes remained superfluous weight on our packs. Oh well, better to be prepared.

 
Several kilometres of untrodden snow lay between us and our bed for the night, Stodys Hut. Occasionally when stumbling through a deep patch I almost wished I was wearing longs. We were still plodding along the tops when the sun sank below the mountains and the horizon was painted with pastel pink and purple. The last light was fading as we dropped down the track to Stodys Hut. In what was to become a nightly ritual, the very first task was to gather plenty of wood for a roaring fire.

At first light we were off again, dropping 500m straight down to the Timaru River, where the valley was white with frost. We followed the track downstream for 3km through bush and across grassy terraces until being spat out on the gravel river flats. From here on we were venturing into untracked terrain. Let the adventure begin! Immediately we were faced with the first of countless stream crossings; only shin deep but icy. Once the feet were numb it was quite pleasant splashing down the river bed as it gradually became more confined. After an hour and a half it was time to turn up the side stream leading toward Moonlight & Roses Hut. On modern topo maps this creek is unnamed, but historically it was called Deer Spur Creek (in conflict with the current naming of the neighbouring stream). The next two hours of stream bashing were freezing but fun! The first hour was spent almost constantly wading across or through the stream before reaching the more open flats halfway up the valley. With hoar frost on the banks and icicles hanging from wet boulders it was a beautiful, albeit chilly, place. Thankfully there was not too much ice coating the rocks to make the going treacherous.

 
Upon reaching the point where Moir’s Guide said to leave the stream a steep, slightly sketchy scramble up a frozen scree bank took us onto easy deer trails up the spur. Emerging above the bushline the stand of trees we were heading for was visible, although Moonlight & Roses Hut was tucked well out of sight. A few hundred metres of traversing around the slope soon had us stomping through the snow to the door. Moonlight & Roses is owned by Dingle Burn Station but is open for public use, although according to the hut book there are fewer than 10 visits per year (and the hut book goes back to the early 1980’s!). Firewood was in abundance so we had fun gathering more than enough to keep the fire blazing well into the night. I propped my feet up on the hearth to thaw them out, only to discover later that I managed to scorch holes in my socks – while wearing them!

Moonlight & Roses Hut
Overnight the temperature inside the hut dropped below -3°C so frozen boots had to be thawed by the fire in the morning before putting them on. A stiff 300m climb through snow up to the saddle was a tough way to start the day but the view from the top was an excellent reward, and we spent a good quarter of an hour sitting in the sun soaking up the scenery. Dingle Peak loomed large above us with an alluring ridgeline. That will have to wait for another time when snow conditions are more favourable. Descending into Junction Creek (called Deer Spur Creek on the topo maps) we were soon in the shade and as we ploughed down through deep snow I once again found myself wishing that I was wearing longs. The route down the stream was surprisingly easy and we barely got our feet wet crisscrossing the creek. However we had to be very cautious as there was ice coating the rocks along the stream. At one point we sidled high to avoid a waterfall but a poor judgement call saw us tentatively clawing our way down a frozen shingle slide. Not the smartest decision of the weekend. The sun was still shining when we popped out onto the bottom river flat so despite being merely minutes away from Junction Hut we stopped to boil the billy and have a picnic.

Junction Hut

Being more accessible and more frequented, the firewood supply at Junction Hut was a lot more scarce than the previous nights. Nevertheless we managed to source enough wood for two nights (although we were only staying for one). The temperature profile inside the hut that night was quite steep: 25°C where we sat in front of the fireplace, 8°C a metre back, and 0°C and the far end of the hut. The hut book had many comments about resident mice so it was no surprise to hear rustling in the corner by my pack. A bold wee mouse kept coming out to investigate so we set a couple of traps under the bunks. Sure enough, half an hour later the population decreased by one and we were not bothered for the rest of the night.

Our last morning was very relaxed as we didn’t have far to go. An hour of brisk walking down the Timaru River track, with a few swift crossings, saw us to the road bridge. From here it was a gentle 6km stroll along the gravel road to complete the loop.

Who would have thought you could have huts to yourself on a long weekend within an hour’s drive of one of New Zealand’s most outdoorsy towns!




Times:
Car park -> Pakituhi Hut 3:15 hours
Pakituhi Hut -> Stodys Hut 4:15 hours
Stodys Hut -> Timaru River Track junction 1:10 hours
Track junction -> Bottom of Deer Spur Creek 1:40 hours
Up Deer Spur Creek 2:20 hours
Deer Spur Creek -> Moonlight & Roses Hut 1:15 hours
Moonlight & Roses - > Saddle 55 minutes
Saddle -> Junction Hut approx 3 hours
Junction Hut -> Road 1:10 hours

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

McIntosh Loop

Rising steeply up from Lake Wakatipu, Whakaari Conservation Area is open high country which was mined for scheelite in the 1900s. Old pack tracks and bulldozed roads crisscross the hills and a few historic miners’ huts remain, three of which are available for overnight use. 


The Mt McIntosh Loop Track begins less than 2km from Glenorchy; there is no sign by the road, only a goat track leading up the hill immediately before the Buckler Burn bridge. Following the boundary fence and an old water race, the track skirts around to Chinamans Flat before climbing very steeply up the end of the spur to the transmitter. Being on the sheltered side of the range it was warm going despite the frost and sprinkling of snow underfoot. Once past the transmitter the going was much easier along the ridge on an old road to Long Gully Saddle. There are excellent views across Lake Wakatipu and down to Glenorchy, as well as up to Mt Earnslaw and the Dart Valley. Reaching the McIntosh Huts in 2:45 hours I stopped for lunch and drank in the gorgeous view. These huts are a couple of old miners’ huts, one of which has been restored and is a basic DOC hut although it is obviously not completely weather tight as there were small snow piles inside. 

McIntosh Huts with Mt McIntosh behind
Mt McIntosh (1701m) was beckoning from behind the huts so I decided to go for a scramble. With frozen scree and patches of thin snow on tussock and rock I had to be careful not to climb myself into something I couldn’t get out of. The breeze was rather keen on the summit otherwise I could have happily stayed up there for hours. Looking out to Black Peak, and further into the Richardson Mountains, I wanted to keep on exploring. Another day. On the descent I worked my way down the sunny side of the ridge where the scree was unfrozen and much safer going.

Reluctantly leaving the McIntosh Huts I took a shortcut down an unmarked bulldozer trail instead of backtracking down to Long Gully Saddle. It was fun running down the old road, quickly dropping 800m to the Buckler Burn, with a brief stop to check out McIntyre’s Hut. A short climb brought me on to the main Mt Judah Track and the final descent past the Glenorchy Scheelite battery back to the Whakaari car park.

Looking back to Mt McIntosh (right) from the Mt Judah Track.
The old bulldozer tracks are visible zigzagging down the face.