Monday, February 20, 2017

A Friday Haiku

Leave work Friday night;
Camp in the bush, talk with friends.
Rain on fly. Ah, bliss.

Inspired by Ricky Baker (Hunt for the Wilderpeople)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Going Solo in the Kaimanawas

Waitangi Weekend 2017

Day 1
Left Auckland at 5:30am for the 4 hour drive to Te Iringa campsite (Clements Mill Rd). Started walking at 9:35am. Easy going along Te Iringa Track, which is mostly a well-formed path. One view of Mt Ruapehu but otherwise just beech forest. 3:15 hours to Tikitiki Stream, where I had lunch. Another 45 minutes to the Kaipo swingbridge. Found a tranquil gravel bar beside the Kaipo River to have a rest for half an hour. Kept my eyes peeled for a swimming hole but found nothing suitable that I could get to easily. Pretty hot! Reached Oamaru Hut in 6:26hrs. There were 3 young mountainbikers there, and two guys out fishing. It was only 4pm so I decided to carry on up the Oamaru Valley. Very hot across the grassy flats. Head high grass and thistles in places. Just as well there was a worn path as the markers weren't visible from a distance. Stopped at a nice campsite 1 hour up valley beside the Ruatea Stream. Had a wash to cool off. Delicious dinner of muffins and scrambled eggs. Drank 2.25 litres of water over the 7.5 hours of walking. Didn't bother using a bivvy bag - simply put my sleeping bag and thermarest straight on the ground under young beech trees.
Campsite beside the Ruatea Stream

Day 2
Didn't get much sleep last night. Was disturbed just after midnight by a possum a metre away from me and eyeing up my pack. Chased it off three times before it finally moved on. After that I was on alert for further invasions. Warm night until 2am, when I finally put a hat on. Was using my puffer jacket as a pillow so didn't put that on even though I wasn't warm. Glad to see dawn breaking. Breakfast in bed at 6am, on the road at 7am. Waded the Ruatea Stream barefoot to keep my shoes dry. Lovely walking up the Oamaru Valley. There is another campsite 45 minutes up from Ruatea Stream. 2:15 hours to Boyd junction.

Spot the track
Long, steep 500m climb onto the ridge. 4 hours to pt1254 (first high point). Had lunch on pt1319. Very hot and no breeze so had frequent rests. 7 hours to Maungaorangi. Found geocache at the summit. Long way down the other side! Feeling tired & stumbling a bit so ate 1/2 and Em's Power bar which set me right. There was a lot of debris on the Maungaorangi track so route finding demanded concentration, constantly on the lookout for the next marker. Rationed 1.5L of water for the 7 hours along the ridge - ran out just as I reached the first side stream near the Cascade. The cool water was bliss! Found a spot in the Cascade to have a refreshing dip. Spooked a sika deer on the far bank.

Open tops over Maungaorangi
The track down valley to the Kaipo Saddle junction was difficult to follow due to treefall. Past the junction is an amazing smooth, sculpted gorge with a waterfall which sounded like a helicopter. Reached Cascade Hut in 10:20 hours. A father & son were cooking dinner on the porch, although they camped down on the river flats to hunt. Soup followed by couscous and salmon for tea. Hut to myself for the night, which is not what I expected on a long weekend. I was hoping for some pleasant company tonight but there are not as many people out as I expected. Oh well, I guess no company is better than bad company. Cascade hut is surrounded by bush and has no view. Can hear the stream but can't see it. Lots of native wasps and flying insects although not many sandflies. Hut is a bit dingy inside but at least it ought to be more comfortable than my thermarest last night.

Cascade Hut
Day 3
Slept the sleep of the weary! Woken at 10:30pm by a deer walking on the deck. Set off at 7:30am and immediately got wet feet crossing the Cascade Stream. Saw a blue duck at the confluence of the Cascade & Tauranga-Taupo River. Half an hour along the flats to the start of the climb. Thin mist was hugging the hills, keeping things nice and cool. Steady climb but nothing difficult. Glad to be tackling it in the cool of the morning. Lots of spiderwebs! Enjoyed being able to stride out along the relatively good track over into the Hinemaiaia. The track along the stream had a surprising amount of uphill considering it heads downstream. A few very steep climbs in and out of gullies. Reached the end of Clements Mill Rd in 4 hours. 5 minutes break before heading off down the road. Walking the gravel road through the forest actually wasn't too unpleasant as most of the time there was shade and a little breeze. Hard on the feet though. After 1:45 hrs, and an estimated halfway along the 12km stretch, I had just decided to find a spot to rest when a ute came around the corner. Hitched a lift the remainder of the way back to my car with a friendly hunter from Auckland. Very pleased to skip the last 6km of road which was sunnier and hillier.

Morning mist
If I had to sum up the route in one word it would be 'non-descript'. Sure, the river valleys have lovely spots, but the track is mostly through beech forest and there are not many particular points of interest en-route. Maungaorangi is the only place where you get a decent view (and that was so hot that I didn't tarry). Maybe I didn't enjoy it as much because I was on my own. This trip was an experiment to see how I find solo tramping. I really enjoyed the freedom to start and stop at will, look at things, rest, and swim without consulting or inconveniencing anyone. On the other hand, with no one to share things with it all seems a bit pointless. No discussions, no one to encourage or to give encouragement.

Enjoying the Oamaru
Birds seen: whiteheads, tomtits, robins, riflemen, kereru, kaka, whio, grey warblers, fantails blackbirds.
Not huge numbers of birds and there was no dawn chorus. Notable by their absence were tui and bellbirds.

Click here for map

Thursday, February 2, 2017


Hunkering down in a hollow out of the howling wind, the hustle and bustle of Auckland which we had escaped a mere 6 hours ago was a distant memory.

A short flight from Auckland, a van ride, and an hour and a half of walking brought us to Mt Arthur Hut, perched high up in the mountains northwest of Nelson. After quickly settling in to the eight bunk hut, a couple of us headed up the mountain. Gale force wind and low cloud put paid to the idea, and after battling to stay on my feet for forty-five minutes we dived into the shelter of an old sinkhole before turning tail and retreating to the hut.

With a norovirus outbreak in nearby Nelson Lakes, and unconfirmed reports of people becoming ill in Kahurangi, I was rather uneasy about staying in Mt Arthur Hut. Reports from passing trampers of a sick boy at Salisbury Lodge, our next destination, did nothing to quell my nervousness. All benches got wiped down, water boiled, and hands thoroughly washed many times. Thankfully our group emerged unscathed.

The wind did not abate overnight, and with the cloud base lowering further our original plan to cross over Gordons Pyramid to Salisbury Lodge was abandoned in favour of the low route via Flora Stream and Balloon Creek. On the bright side, this gave the opportunity to investigate the four rock shelters en route. These would make wonderful overnight destinations in their own right, particularly the Upper and Lower Gridiron shelters.

Ray Salisbury, a descendent of the original Salisburys on the Tableland, had given us directions to find a few little-known points of interest on the Tableland. First up was Pillar Cave, half an hour across country from Salisbury Lodge. This cave boasts a magnificent wedding cake formation where stalactites and stalagmites have merged to form a great pillar. Names scrawled on the pillar date back to 1887. A few hundred metres further on is Richards Cave, where a level stream bed enters the hill. The cave is high enough to walk for quite a way in along the stream before eventually narrowing to a crawl space.

Five go Spelunking (apologies to Enid Blyton)

Rain drumming on the roof in the morning was a signal to snuggle deeper into my cozy sleeping bag. The weather gradually cleared and we departed for Balloon Hut. Most of this section is open tussock over the Tableland so there was little shelter from the wind & cloud. From Bishop's Cave at the head of Cundy Creek we attempted to find the grave of one of the old diggers, but couldn't remember the instructions so quickly abandoned the idea. All was not lost as I did manage to locate a geocache near the cave entrance. There are many fascinating tomos around this area and you could easily spend a long time exploring (and just as easily get disorientated).

An hour's lunch break at Balloon Hut was needed to fortify ourselves with hot drinks before braving the weather across the Peel Range. As we climbed higher the wind increased dramatically until a couple of people were struggling to stay on their feet. I relished the invigorating conditions! Turning the corner and descending to Lake Peel in the lee of the ridge provided a welcome respite from the gale. On a sunny day Lake Peel would be an inviting spot for a swim, but none of us felt the slightest inclination today. A steady climb brought us up to the ridge where we got our first misty view of the Cobb Reservoir. From here it is a long way descent to Myttons Hut and then another 1.5km to Trilobite Hut at the end of the Cobb Road. It was strange to be in civilisation again only halfway through our trip. We managed to score beds but there were a few people who resorted to sleeping in cars or tents. I drew the short straw and got a bunk with no mattress; even with two inflatable mats the wooden slats were still uncomfortable.

Cobb Valley

After a bad night's sleep, we were eager to leave Trilobite Hut behind and make our way up the Cobb Valley. Strolling through the beech forest and river meadows was very pleasant as the sun was shining for the first time this week. It is neat to see that the historic Chaffey Hut and Tent Camp have been restored to their former glory. These rustic shelters have a lot of character and would be quaint lodging for a night. I made do with a half hour snooze at the Tent Camp while waiting for the stragglers to catch up. Lying back in the shade with a pleasant breeze and the gentle gurgling of the Cobb River only a few metres away was very soothing. Half an hour brought us to Cobb Hut, and in another 15 minutes our destination of Fenella Hut was reached. This hut has a reputation for being one of the best in the country, and it did not disappoint. Despite being over-full there was plenty of space and the gas burners made cooking a breeze.

First priority was a dash up to the tarn 400m away for a swim. Without exaggeration this is the most majestic place I have ever swum! Surrounded by mountains, with an infinity pool edge, the tarn was very refreshing and I stayed in for a good 10 minutes before sunbathing on the rocks. Upon returning to the hut an hour later Dad was gearing up to climb Xenicus Peak & Mt Gibbs. After wolfing down lunch and grabbing a few essentials it was back to the tarn and along the cairned route toward the mountains. Instead of following the recognised route around the north side of Xenicus to the saddle with Gibbs we scrambled directly up the western face of Xenicus. It was steep zigzagging up the rocky ribs but mostly fairly straight forward. The trickiest moves were actually descending off the back of Xenicus to the saddle. Well, they were tricky for short people. It was a stroll up and over Mt Gibbs before descending steeply down to Round Lake and then the track to Lake Cobb. Back at the hut we found that another group of 11 had arrived, so 3 people slept on the floor and about 7 people slept outside in tents or tarps. This group was from Operation Mobilisation and we enjoyed thier company for two nights.

Just after 5am I was awakened by a bright light shining in my eyes. Whoops, slept through my alarm! Turns out that earplugs are very good at blocking out noise. Four of us were heading along the Douglas Range to Lonely Lake for a day trip. At 11km and a track time of 6-8 hours each way, we wanted to ensure that we had plenty of daylight. In addition, the weather was forecast to close in that evening. The track starts off by immediately climbing 250m up to the ridge before sidling around the southwestern flank of Waingaro Peak. This side was sheltered from the wind, but once we popped up onto the main Douglas Range we felt its full force. The cairned route was mostly straight forward to follow even in the cloud, although there were a few places where it petered out and we had to scout around. At the bush line past pt1610 we met three people heading out from Lonely Lake who were surprised to see people so early in the day. Lonely Lake can bee seen from high up on the ridge over a kilometre away, the hut tucked out of sight, although it still takes a while to get to. The vista is majestic and the tumbling series of waterfalls flowing from the outlet is impressive.

After 4:15 hours we arrived at Lonely Lake Hut, resplendent in all its newly refurbished glory. There are 3 bunks plus a fold-down bunk above the door so would cosily sleep four, and you could squeeze a couple of people on the floor if necessary. There is also room for a couple of tents nearby. This is definitely a spot I would like to return and spend a night.

We ate a very early lunch and browsed the historical hut books for nearly an hour while watching the bad weather slowly rolling in. Just before we left a big billy goat trotted up from near the lake and stared at us nonchalantly. Reluctantly we started our retreat back to Fenella Hut, and by the time we were out of the bush near pt1610 the rain had set in. It only got heavier and visibility worsened. There is something invigorating about being out in bad weather. It makes you feel alive! At least we knew where the track went so didn't have to waste time scouting. Until now I had managed to keep my shoes dry - a new personal record of 4.5 days - but the water running down my legs into my gaiters soon put paid to that small comfort. Once back on the poled route at the saddle Dad and I hared off running down the hill to Fenella for a bit of a blast.

The rain really set in during the afternoon and didn't ease off until after lunch the following day. A rest day had been factored into our plans so this was a good place to use it. My second ever hut day. When the rain finally did ease a few of us strolled around the cairned track to Lake Cobb for some (very) fresh air. Helen and I even braved another dip in the tarn! Consensus was that it was definitely colder than two days prior. That night, our third at Fenella, we had the hut to ourselves as no one had come up the valley with the less than inviting weather.

Looking across to Xenicus, Fenella Hut is bottom left.

Fondly farewelling Fenella Hut it was time to tackle the Lockett Range. So far we had been staying on the beaten track, but now it was time for an adventure. A steep climb up Waingaro Peak track brought us once more to the saddle where this time we turned south and onto the Lockett Range. The first kilometre was through a delightful hanging valley on top of the ridge. It was windy and there were occasional showers coming in from the west. From pt1310 the going got rougher and the cairns got few and far between. Lots of ups and downs and a few scrambly bits soon got us to the sidle below the south side of pt1503. This traverse was easy enough, but looking back from the eastern end it looked rather steep and daunting! Here the real grunt began. Steep scree led up towards pt1672, and our party got split due to the wind making it impossible to communicate unless standing right beside each other. Three headed for the high point while four of us decided to sidle. After a while we saw the other 3 at the top and decided that we better regroup so headed straight up the rockslide. Helen and Millie were rather out of their comfort zones but stoically kept going. In hindsight it would have been a much better route to keep traversing around to the saddle with Mt Benson. There was no apparent easy route off pt1672: either an exposed rocky clamber down the ridge, or drop down a chute into the bowl north of Mt Benson and then around to Ruby Lake. The vote was for the latter as several people were not keen for more rock scrambling. Again in hindsight we should have kept to the ridge, shuttling packs and using a rope for confidence if necessary. One nerve-wracking hour later, after descending snowgrass then sidling back up to the saddle, we were back on the ridge only a couple of hundred metres away from where we started.

pt 1503 (right). The route sidles from the left hand notch

By this stage the sun had come out but the wind was still very strong. David's pack got blown off the ridge and he had to scramble a long way down to retrieve it. Originally we had thought of camping at Ruby Lake but we decided to push on to Diamond Lake to make the last day much shorter. Once back on the ridge it was relatively straight forward, but still with a few careful pitches. At one point I turned around to point out an easier route to Helen only to see her lose her footing and somersault twice down the mountainside. My heart leapt into my throat as I helplessly watched, visions of injuries and helicopter rescues racing through my mind. Amazingly Helen landed relatively unscathed, with only some big bumps and bruises to show for it. Not even any blood as she was layered up in all her storm gear. After a few minutes to calm rattled nerves we tentatively carried on. By this stage everyone was getting more than a little tired.

It was neat being able to look all the way up and down the Cobb Valley, with Chaffey and Trilobite huts visible far below. At the 1,400m saddle between Mt Benson and pt1631 we dropped straight down slowly through the lumpy tussock to pick up the bush edge which provided easy going down to the valley floor. Thankfully we stumbled upon an old campsite at the very bottom eastern corner of the bush which we claimed as home for the night. Two weka were already in residence, and although they were not in the least shy they weren't interested in our shiny paraphernalia which is usually very attractive to those weka who have become used to humans. Helen was in a bit of shock from her fall and retreated to her sleeping bag to rest and warm up. Over lots of hot drinks and a big dinner we gave thanks for a challenging but memorable day. Oddly enough this day proved to be the highlight of the trip for many.

I lay in my tent contentedly listening to the morning birdsong. Bliss. This is what I love about camping - the fresh air, the smell of the bush, the sound of the birds, and the feeling of freedom.

Diamond Lake was reached after an hour of strolling through the open tussock valley. A rough track leads along the southern shore to the end of the lake where there are many picturesque campsites. Yet another place to add to my list of spots to re-visit. From what we had read, we expected there to be a track from here up through the bush to Lake Lillie, and indeed there was a big cairn and a piece of permolat indicating where to turn off. Either the track no longer exists or else we lost it within 50m, as we ended up picking our own way up through the open beech forest. Once back in the open it was a short sidle around to Lake Lillie. We were glad we had not decided to camp here as there were no inviting tent sites and no shelter.

Diamond Lake
A discussion ensued as we tossed up where to go from here. One option was to ascend the ridge to Iron Hill and follow the ridge along to the Sylvester Lakes. The alternative was to traverse around to Iron Lake, reports indicating that there was an old Forest Service track near the bushline. The idea of climbing the ridge was vetoed as it involved going uphill. A cairned route was discernible leading east from Lake Lillie so we followed this until it got to the bushline. Here there were a couple of tiny cairns and a blue triangle leading into the bush directly down the spur but as this was not the direction we wanted to head and we didn't know where this track went, we elected to continue traversing at the same altitude. Progress was easy at first, with obvious deer trails to follow but the going soon got frustratingly slow with more rocks and obstacles to avoid. Ensuring that the whole group maintained contact meant travelling the at the pace of the slowest people. Balancing the abilities and needs of everyone was not easy. Today we also had the added time pressure of meeting our shuttle on time at the Cobb Dam.

Something out of place caught my attention: on old map dropped by previous wanderers. We were not the first to pass this way. Eventually bluffs in front of us forced us to drop steeply down to the stream, which for those with dodgy knees was no easy feat. From the stream it was just a bit more scrub-bashing and clambering up to the outlet of Iron Lake. For this last section I was double packing to help out a couple of those who were getting rather tired. A few minutes' respite at the lake and then we headed along the cairned route down to Lake Sylvester. All day Helen and I had been looking forward to a swim, so as soon as we found a suitable spot we launched into the water. It was rather chilly! The large lake was noticeably colder than the wee tarn at Fenella Hut. Still, it was very invigorating. Reluctantly we shouldered our packs for the final stretch to Sylvester Hut and down the old metal road to the Cobb Dam.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Waipakihi Wanderings

Labour Weekend is always a good excuse to head for the hills, so this year I dragged a few friends down to the Kaimanawa Ranges (east of Ruapehu).

Day 1 was up and over the Urchin track, then picking our way up the Waipakihi River for 3 hours. To start with this was nice tussock flats, interspersed with deer trails through the scrub, but as we got further upstream it turned into more of a scrub bash. At 6pm we found a spot on the river bank for our bivvy bags and settled in for the night. It was clear and cold - there was frost forming before we went to bed. Lying in my sleeping bag gazing up at the stars I had a sense of contentment and satisfaction.

Camping beside the Waipakihi River

Reluctantly we donned our frozen shoes and socks in the morning to continue up the river for 1 1/2 hours. We were soon in the sunshine and cold feet were forgotten. Turning off up to Middle Range signalled the next stage of our trip. A stiff climb up on to the tops then several kilometres of rolling ridge travel. Cloud was brushing the high point at 1660m as we ascended, but dispersed before we got up there. This was my first time leading an off-track trip so I was glad to have good visibility to navigate. Progress was fairly quick, and it was satisfying to be able to look back and trace out the route we had come. Reaching Thunderbolt was a non-event as despite the name it is merely another rounded bump on the ridge. Motutere marked the beginning of the steep descent through the beech forest down into the Waipakihi River. On the flats opposite the track end we found a campsite in the edge of the bush, where there was also a hunter's bivvy and more good tent sites nearby. We got a campfire going and enjoyed the evening. Much warmer than the previous night!

We had come along the ridge from the high point on the left

At the end of Middle Range (Motutere)

Waking up under the beech trees to melodic birdsong and the rich smell of forest was very peaceful. A relaxed breakfast and then we strolled half an hour down the river flats to the Urchin track. From here it was just a stiff climb up and over the Urchin and down the other side to the car. A very satisfying weekend adventure!

Camp 2

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Mt Ruapehu is well known as the highest mountain in the North Island, but the volcano actually has 12 prominent peaks not just a single summit.

I climbed my first of the peaks before I was 10 on a family summer-time scramble up to Dome. The true summit, Tahurangi, was achieved in 2009 and at the time I found it pretty scary. Te Heuheu was memorable as my first solo alpine ascent, and my favourite climb was Girdlestone last year. Gradually the various peaks were ticked off the list until only one remained: Ringatoto.

The east ridge of Ringatoto

Escaping from work at lunch time on Wednesday, it was a long drive down to the eastern side of Ruapehu and halfway up the 4WD Tukino Road. The last flush of twilight faded as we set off through the snow towards Rangipo Hut. It was a glorious clear night with only the faintest mountain zephyr and a bright moon illuminating the landscape. The snow was soft and deep so crampons weren't required. Dad took on the unenviable role of breaking trail through the at times knee-deep snow. It was exhausting work doing repeated one-legged squats with a heavy pack.

Rangipo Hut

From previous tramps I expected to reach Rangipo Hut in 2 hours, but it was an extra 45 minutes before it finally appeared. Snow was piled around the hut and it took 10 minutes to clear snow from in front of the door. Once inside it was straight into our cozy sleeping bags, hoping for the snow to freeze overnight.

Still soft. Abandoning our original plan of traversing over Ringatoto to Tahurangi, around the crater lake then down to Whangaehu Hut we instead opted to leave our sleeping gear at Rangipo and simply tackle the east ridge Ringatoto. This meant lighter packs and far less post holing through the soft snow.

An intense orange glow spread across the horizon as we headed up the ridge behind the hut. Layers were soon being peeled off as the sun warmed us up and there was no cooling breeze. After an hour we donned crampons as there was a hard layer under the surface snow in places. The vista was grand: white-capped Kaimanawa Ranges to the east, to the north Ngauruhoe was cloaked in snow with Lake Taupo beyond, and Te Heuheu, Cathedral Rocks, Pyramid and Girdlestone forming the eastern ramparts of Ruapehu.

The easy ridge walking gave way to steeper terrain with a few sidling traverses and short mixed rock steps but nothing too difficult. We used the rope twice for security where there was loose snow on steep rock. The final pinch up to the shoulder of Ringatoto was up a steep firm gully - the only decent snow on the whole climb! We soloed up and I was reasonably comfortable, albeit tired by the time I topped out onto easy ground. A short stroll led to the summit. Peak number 12 accomplished!

On top of Ringatoto with Tahurangi behind

The weather was still perfect so we spent half an hour soaking in the grandeur of the mountain before retracing our steps. Dad belayed me down the gully, and then apart from a very short abseil down a rock step it was all straight forward back to Rangipo.

7 hours from Rangipo hut to Ringatoto
3.5 hours down

The 12 peaks of Ruapehu

Tahurangi (2,797m)
Te Ataahua (2,757m)
Paretetaitonga (2,751m)
Te Heuheu (2,732m)
Tukino (2,720m)
Dome (2,672m)
Cathedral Rocks (2,663m)
Girdlestone (2,658m)
Pyramid (2,645m)
Glacier Knob (2,642m)
Ringatoto (2,591m)
L Peak (2,580m)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Kaweka Ranges

The forecast promised 4 days of calm, clear weather over Queen's Birthday Weekend - perfect for my first foray into the Kaweka Ranges. As it turned out, the weather was even better than we could have hoped. Blue skies and no wind for the entire weekend!

Day 1
The Lakes -> Manson Hut

A temperature of zero degrees at the carpark was a good incentive to get going quickly and tackle the 500m climb up to Kuripapango. Within 10 minutes we were well and truly warm! We were excited when the first patched of snow appeared near the top. For a short time cloud came in but soon dissipated to become a glorious day with not a breath of wind. All of a sudden we rounded a corner to see Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe standing majestically in the distance.

I was reveling in the adventure and couldn't stop smiling all day. We took the Cameron track through the bush, skipping Kiwi Saddle Hut. It was a thigh-trembling 600m steep descent down to Kiwi Mouth hut. Luckily for us the exposed clay slopes were slightly sticky - it would be nasty going down when wet (or dry and crumbly). It was only 2pm when we reached Kiwi Mouth so we decided to push on to Manson Hut for the night after a rest in the sunshine to brew coffee and tape feet. Up on the tops there were some lovely alpine meadows.

Nearing Manson Hut

 Just as we turned off the ridge toward the 6 bunk Manson Hut the grin was wiped off my face the thud thud thud of an approaching chopper. Hoping against all hope that it would carry on to Kiwi Mouth we watched as it homed in on Manson. Breaking into a trot we raced to the hut, coming to the clearing just as the helicopter touched down. We snuck in to claim our bunks as 4 men climbed out of the chopper - and then announced there was another load coming! We debated whether we should sleep outside (Amanda wanted to test her new tent) but opted to stay inside as we reasoned that being trampers, not hunters, the blokes wouldn't be too bad as hut mates. We were wrong and later regretted it.

After exploring the historic musterers' hut nearby we returned as the remaining 3 'trampers' got dropped off. It was their annual reunion tramp and they were doing it in luxury, having done a food drop for their second night as well. It was crowded with 9 people inside the small hut and soon got pretty hot and stuffy with the fire going. After a couple of beers each, they were then into their whiskey - each had brought a 700ml bottle for the weekend. The conversation soon got pretty loud. Amanda and I were ready to hit the sack before 7pm as we had been up early and done a hard walk. Thankfully the party stopped at 9:30pm - in the morning one of the guys boasted that he couldn't remember getting out his sleeping bag or why he was out on the deck. This would have to be one of my worst hut experiences so far in the backcountry and left a sour taste. (okay, I know it's not that bad compared to what some people put up with but it still wasn't pleasant!).

Manson Hut

1:05 hrs to Kuripapango
3:44 hrs to Cameron Hut / Kiwi Mouth junction
5:19 hrs to Kiwi Mouth Hut
8:19 hrs to Manson Hut

Day 2
Manson Hut -> Mangaturutu Hut

Up and out of the hut in the morning as quickly as possible; I was desperate to get away from the noise of the 7 guys. It was frosty along the rolling open tussock with a dusting of snow making for pleasant going. This was my favourite part of the whole trip!

Manson Tops

A very steep descent down to Rocks Ahead stream. The cableway across the stream is not built for short people - I could barely reach the winch handle at the top of its swing, let alone exert much force. Luckily there is also a winch handle inside the cage, so with one person winding from the bank and the other assisting from the cage we managed to get safely across. An excellent arm workout! Had lunch in a warm little spot of sunshine in front of Rocks Ahead Hut. An icy 3 wire bridge to cross and then it was up, up, up to Venison Top. The 2 hour climb was steep and relentless, seeming to go on forever. As we got higher there was lots of snow on the ground making it look like a scene from Narnia. I wouldn't have been surprised to see a faun trotting out.

The main Kaweka Range

We reached Venison Tops Hut (aka Kelvinator Lodge) to find Chris Townley asleep in the sunshine. He had run in from Makahu Road to meet us for the night. After a sit-down in the sun it was time to carry on for another hour and a half to Mangaturutu Hut for the night. Chris ran ahead and had the fire going by the time we arrived. The hut was nice and cosy with the fire roaring. I stood outside stargazing for a while before retreating to bed at 7:30pm.

1 hr to Manson
3:22 hrs to Rocks Ahead Hut
6:20 hrs to Venison Tops Hut
8:09 hrs to Mangaturutu Hut

Day 3
Mangaturutu Hut -> Studholm Saddle Hut

The eastern horizon was blazing orange as we headed out the door before 7am, headlights on for a while until the sun came up. A long descent down to Makino River, where I saw a pair of whio by the walkwire. A nice flat section along the river brought us to the first of many climbs for the day up to the Makino Hut turnoff. Chris caught us up just before the top, then turned left to head out to his car. We turned south towards the main range through nice open beech forest. There were several kereru along here and there seemed to be more birds than elsewhere in the park. Perhaps because of the predator trapping going on in this area? After 4 hours I was glad to get out into the open as with such glorious weather it seems a pity to be down in the trees.

Ascending Whetu

The climb up to Whetu was steep and loose, the hard work making us eager for lunch. There was no snow on the northern face, but descending off the back of Whetu we struck the first snow for the day. It wasn't much and most of the time we broke through the crust. There was a sketchy bit sidling under Kaweka North were the track crossed an icy gully so we climbed up higher using the plants for purchase to avoid the ice. Reaching Kaweka J, the highest point in the Kawekas at 1,725m, was an anticlimax as it is barely a bump on the ridge. There was a cool breeze and by this time we were eager to get off the snow so after the obligatory photos we carried on south.

Kaweka J (1,725m)

We met up with two guys, Brian & Richard, who were heading down to Studholm Biv so we joined for a while. Dropping off Mad Dog was icy and slippery. Our ice axes were put to good use, and in hindsight I should definitely have put my crampons on as well. When planning the route I hadn't considered that traversing the tops from north to south would mean descending the icier southern slopes. Farewelling Brian & Richard at the biv we had a false start when I turned the wrong way at the stream. Things didn't look right and I soon corrected my error when I remembered that the track is marked wrongly on the map. We found the hut tucked away in the snowy bush just on dusk. A warm fire, hot drinks and a hearty meal made for a pleasant evening.

1:30 hrs to Makino River
3:05 hrs to Makino Hut turnoff
5:10 hrs to Whetu
7:56 hrs to Kaweka J
9:21 hrs to Studholm Biv turnoff
10:05 hrs to Studholm Saddle Hut

Day 4
Mangaturutu Hut -> The Lakes Carpark
A nice lazy morning involving breakfast in bed (a benefit of claiming the bunk next to the bench) and multiple hot drinks. With long hours of darkness we got plenty of sleep on this trip! After replenishing the wood supply we headed off, meeting up with Richard & Brian as we passed the biv. Half an hour of climbing saw us back atop the main ridge. From here it was undulating south along the ridge and over the tits, from where we dropped down the marked route through Cooks Horn Basin. This was pretty steep; frosty scree among pine trees at first, then changing to nice beech forest. The track from the old Kaweka hut site had me a little puzzled as the track is marked incorrectly on the map. 2km before the carpark my personal record-breaking streak of 3 days without getting wet shoes came to an end at the Tutaekuri River.

3:30 hrs to The Lakes carpark

Mangaturutu Hut

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Mt Aspiring

The brave man is not he who feels no fear,
For that were stupid and irrational;
But he, whose noble soul its fear subdues,
And bravely dares the danger nature shrinks from.
~ Joanna Baillie
Often referred to as New Zealand's Matterhorn, Mt Aspiring has a distinctively aesthetic profile. At 3,033m it stands as one of NZ's 25 highest mountains and is also one of the more achievable 3,000m peaks. Ever since another climbing / tramping expedition 2 years ago, where we camped in sight of Mt Aspiring, I have harboured the desire to reach the summit. 

It was getting a bit late in the season but we pencilled in late-February for the climb. A close eye was kept on the weather forecast so when Metvuw showed a few days of settled weather arrangements were hastily made. Dad and I soon found ourselves in Wanaka ready to head into the mountains.
With a limited weather window and work constraints we opted to helicopter in to Bevan Col in order to save two days of arduous tramping. From the col it took 2 hours to cross the Bonar Glacier - another new experience for me. I took the time to peer down into a few crevasses but most were fairly small and easily stepped across. Colin Todd Hut stood out like a beacon up on Shipowner Ridge. The hut windows look straight out at the summit of Mt Aspiring and the Northwest Ridge, so we were able to get a good look at our planned route.

4am. Time to get up. With clear skies and a full moon it was quite light outside and the mountain stood out clearly. Geared up and out the door before 5am, it was half an hour up the rocky path to the snow slope above the Iso Glacier. Crampons on for a nice plod up to the NW Ridge. Dawn broke and the red moon set as we abandoned crampons for the rock on the main ridge. Immediately there was an airy ledge to traverse so the rope came out (and stayed out until this spot on our return). Dad short-roped me for most of the climb; simulclimbing in a few places and belaying on the sketchier bits.
I was really noticing the exposure on the ridge and was not too happy with having nothing on either side for a couple of hundred metres below! Inching across a ledge with your heels hanging over mid air and fingers clinging to small pockets in the rock it a little terrifying. Halfway along the ridge I got pretty petrified on a traverse and almost decided to turn back. Only the thought of everything we had poured into this trip, and the desire not to fail, kept my moving forward. A few moments on solid ground clinging to a rock to regain composure and I resolved to carry on. I was here to climb the mountain - I had to trust Dad and his judgement. With perfect weather conditions we had to give it our best shot.
I wore my tramping shoes along the rock ridge for better grip and manoeuvrability but it meant that my pack was heavy - carrying boots as well as crampons and iceaxes. It also meant that we had to avoid the small snow pockets on the ledges. Switching back to boots and crampons for the summit snow cap I was much happier to have solid snow beneath my feet. There were still several hundred metres to climb, including plenty of mixed snow and rock which meant whipping crampons on and off as well as walking on rocks with crampons. The final steep slope up to the summit was hard but steady work.
Finally, after 8:35 hours we reached the top. My first 3,000m peak! The weather was so clear and calm that we spent 20 minutes taking photos and resting, picking out other mountains such as Earnslaw, Tutoko, Sefton, and Mt Cook in the distance.

We still had a long way to go. Coming down the snow was relatively quick, and once back on the rock of the NW Ridge we took a slightly different route in places to what we came up. I kept my boots on instead of switching to shoes in order to make use of the ledges with snow on, however this meant that I was even less confident on the rock slabs. A true climber would have been horrified at my technique - plenty of knees and bum shuffling - but it got the job done (albeit slowly).

We did one abseil off the buttress, which I actually enjoyed after the first few metres of learning to trust the rope. It was now getting late and I was tired but focused on getting off the mountain safely. I was hoping to get off the rock section while it was still light and it was a huge relief to finally reach the snow just as darkness fell and the cloud swirled in. With footprints to follow it was an easy plod back to the hut but it took a lot of concentration to stay awake and not make any stupid stumbles.
At last the hut appeared. 17 1/4 hours after setting out we had returned victorious!
The 'walk' out via Bevan Col the next day was itself an adventure, with steep exposed rock slabs and 4 abseils!
Two questions which I have encountered frequently since the climb are:
  1. Was it fun?
    In short, no. I am glad I took on the challenge but I can't really say I enjoyed it. Definitely type 2 - 2.5 fun (definition).
  2. What is next?
    At this stage I don't have any other big expeditions in the pipeline.