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

1 comment:

  1. This looks like such a cathartic and inspiring journey...I shall add this to my hiking bucket list :)