5 Passes Route Mount Aspiring National Park

This trip had been on my list for a few years. I had been on the Routeburn a few times recently and did a Rees Dart family tramp as a teenager.

I had met a few folks who had done the route, all raved about the amazing country. After reading Geoff Spearpoints “The Great Unknown” a gift from my father in law I was inspired to reach deeper into the backcountry. The 5 Passes doesn’t come close to Geoff’s incredibile trips but we all have to start somewhere. 

We booked this trip in 11months out so had a long time to enjoy the planning and anticipation which is one of the things I enjoy about adventuring. I read lots of trip reports, talked to a few folks, watched trip videos, studied google earth and used my father in laws Moir’s guide book. It was great fun 🙂

I even had to do some map coordinate conversions from NZMS 260 map reference to New Zealand Geodetic Datum 2000 to record the exact locations for the rock bivi’s at Park Pass and on the Olivine ledge. If you need to do the same here is a link to help https://www.geodesy.linz.govt.nz/concord/index.cgi 

Here is the trip planning information Google Earth project

At one stage we had 6 of us confirmed to go but this shrunk to 2 due to broken ankles, a lawn mower vs finger, pregnancy and a cycle adventure. In the end 3 of us jumped on the plane to Queenstown with our COVID masks on. We had a quick stop at the airport village Torpedo 7 store for the smallest gas bottle available and the $40 fly.

The weather was looking ok with a small clear window that might fit the time we would be most exposed on the tops, but it was going to get a little cold which turned out to be a little uncomfortable 😦

We headed to the Routeburn shelter past a group of local tourists enjoying a swim in Queenstown, it looked lovely.

As soon as we got to the road end we were attacked by the sand flies, did anyone bring any repellent? Some nice ladies turned up after a day’s walking and gave us some spray, we didn’t see any more insects until a few hours before getting back.

This was a fast packing trip so we were travelling light, aiming for about 8kgs so we did the last minute car pack cull of things we didn’t need to double up on. We took Grant’s fancy new Jet Boil and gave mine a rest. One of the heaviest things in my pack was my supply of cossients full of avocado, cheese and salima. I can justify heavy yummy food.

I had estimated travel times based on the planning and allowed 5 hours to get to Theatre Flats for our first night. We left the road end at 4.30pm and headed up over the Sugar Loaf Pass 1154m, I was surprised how rough it got once we dropped into the Rockburn. It was a lovely afternoon to be heading into the mountains and soon we arrived at Theatre flats and saw the big rock bivi that would provide some sheater for us. Anthony made a huge boom fire and we lay on the grass and admired the mountain and speeding cloud theatre.

Theatre Flat Rock Biv

This was my first night on my fancy new sleeping mat, normally we have huts for our multi day adventures so I bought a mat. Actually I bought two mats, one was an impulse facebook ad purchase for a cheap mat the other a well researched purchase from my favorite Bivavoic store. It felt uncomfortable paying the extra money for the thicker 10cm mat but it was worth every cent being comfortable and warm that night.

As forecast we got some light rain in the morning, the rock bivi kept us out of the rain just. The dips were starting to reach us as we packed up and headed for Park Pass. It was good conditions for tramping, light rain but clear skies so we could take in the country. We were now off track and following the route, sometimes we saw a few markers and cairns sometimes we just headed up the valley. It got cold going over Park Pass 1176m, we spotted one of the good rock Bivi’s that are a great feature of this country. Going down to hidden falls was a good challenge, we found the route to the bush line but lost it soon after. We bush bashed for a while and tore our legs on the ferns. The sun came out as we climbed to Cow Saddle and then it started snowing as we hit the snow slopes below Fiery Col 1546m. The Fiery rock in this area is super grippy and good to travel over.

Park Pass Biv

As we travelled down from Fiery Col the sun came out again and we got views out over the Olivine ledge river and surrounding country. It was impressive. The day was starting to drag on and travel on the Olivine ledge was hard work, lots of rough travel and a few more rain showers. I wanted to check out the rock bivi at the end of the ledge so we didn’t head up the short route to the Fohn Lakes. The rock bivi was amazing and the sun came out again. We sat there and pondered what to do, option 1 stay in this dry warm safe bivi, option 2 climb another 400m to the amazing alpine lakes and sleep under the stars. Option 2 was risker but potentially offered next level mountain vista’s. It was 5.30pm and the forecast was good so we headed up.

Olivine Ledge Rock Biv

The vista’s were next level, it was gorgeous. I went for a quick dip in the lake and enjoyed my hot raro watching the sun set over the lake edge with the Durans in the background.

The wind was blowing a bit, Anthony set up the fly but it was taking a beating from the wind and didn’t last long into the night. It was forecast to be cold and made for a long uncomfortable night, a set of sit ups and a set of star jumps at 4am wasn’t enough to get warm enough. We had frozen shoes and drink bottles in the morning.

Because we were making good progress we wondered if a visit to the Unknown Lake was possible. I led us off in the wrong direction which gave us a good view of the Merkl Glacier at the head of the Beans Burn.

We saw the first people we had seen in a few days before first flat and soon after Grant rolled an ankle. The forecast was for rain later in the day and the climb to the lake looked gnarly. So we flagged that plan. Anthony thought we could make it to the pub to watch the AB’s starting at 9.30 so we matched on across the Beans Burn river, beside the Dart, across the Rock Burn and passed Lake Sylvan.

The beer at the pub tasted good and the breakfast the next morning was amazing. Our gear dried in the sun and we had some fun shopping in town before returning home. Looking forward to exploring more of this area soon.

Trip planning information Google earth project

Fire & Ice, Ball Pass Ski Adventure

What makes a great adventure?

  • A quest
  • An unfamiliar environment
  • An element of risk

I turned the big 50 in July and to celebrate I planned a ski touring adventure with my good mates Anthony and Andrew. None of us had ever been ski touring before but we have been on lots of great adventures in the backcountry.

Ski touring looked like a great way to explore Alpine country and spend time in the mountains. As with many adventures a bit of Youtube inspiration is a good starting point. I found a great clip showing a trip on Mount Sibbald, after a message to a mate in Christchurch a plan to stay at Macauley Hut and explore that area was hatched. We booked a week into our calendars and the excitement started.

I started to get a bit nervous about the plan so I signed up for an Alpine skills course, I also explored a few guided options. While my backcountry experience has grown we had never been ski touring and had none of the Alpine gear.

I found a few options that looked nice but most looked like they were aimed at a slightly different type of adventurer. 

I was looking for a quest, unfamiliar environment and some risk. I phoned Axel from Alpine Recreation to see what options he could recommend, after a short chat on the phone he suggested we could do a ski touring trip to Caroline Hut / Ball Pass. With this warning on the website it looked perfect for an adventure. “A solid level of fitness with aerobic training prior to the trip is expected. Ability to carry moderate to heavy backpacks (8-10kg) for 6-9 hours if required. Expect ascents of 800-1200 vertical meters. Some discomfort expected due to long days and exposure to elements. Prior multi-day hiking/trekking/tramping trips through rough untracked terrain are recommended” 

As we got close to our trip it looked like there was going to be a short window of clear weather after some fresh snow then all hell broke loose. 

We didn’t think much about the fire station alarm when it started in Tekapo on Sunday, nek minnit there was a huge forest fire on both sides of SH 80. This closed the road.

We came up with lots of options: do we fly to Mt Cook from Tekapo, do we get a chopper from the east side of the lake. We waited and waited, watched a great film by the Alpine Rec team  https://vimeo.com/ondemand/symphonyonskis that got us more excited to get into the hills. We watched a few instructional videos on how to do kick turns and then the snow arrived.

Tekapo transformed from a dry 20 degree summer holiday location to a winter paradise. We hit the road hoping for a mid day road opening. The focus now was the avalanche danger going to stop us from heading to the hut?

Wednesday morning we were on the move! This was one of those days you dream off in the mountains. Clear skies, no wind and heaps of fresh snow. The landscape is so extreme, it is mesmerising.

We had a full on day to get to the hut, 11 hours of walking, crawling, bush bashing and ski touring. After the first 5 hours Andrew announced he wouldn’t be attending my 100th birthday adventure. We did get time for one beautiful ski run in the fresh snow. A taste of what was to come tomorrow.

Caroline Hut is very cool and in a great spot. I have no idea how they got permission to put a private hut here, but pleased they did. The hut has everything which helps to keep the pack weight down given all the ski touring gear. We are fast packers so big packs are not our thing.

Thursdays is best summed up by our guide Mark’s comment, I think that was the best days ski touring I have had. It was awesome! The snow was perfect, weather beautiful, an excellent day in the mountains. We enjoyed a hot dinner and a whisky to celebrate.

The weather was forecast to change on Friday so we potted our route down to Cove stream, this is where we had a few scary moments. The wind picked up and we had to break out the ski crampons, after a few technical issues we were able to ski up the ridge and across the crust to safety. It’s interesting the mind game when you get in these situations, I keep reminding myself that we had all the gear and we just needed to keep calm and follow the plan. Hard to do when the adrenaline starts pumping.

As we got back to the car Andrew confirmed he was definitely not coming on my 100th birthday adventure and we reminisced about some of our mellower adventures.

Kaimanawa Kaweka traverse

When you look at the map of the North Island there is a huge wilderness area East of the desert road all the way out to Hawkes Bay.

A few years ago I tramped a magic loop on the edge of this area up the Waipakihi river and back over Umukarikari.

The Big Sunday Run crew had done a few missions in the area and there was chatter about a trip in February. We circled a weekend in the calendar and started to plan.

I found a route in my Classic Tramping book, a gift from my father in law that inspired our Tararua SMR trip two years ago.

The classic Kaimanawa Kaweka traverse has a big block of private land in the middle of it. Thanks to the generosity of the land owners there are permits available when the hunting blocks are not being used. https://wilderlife.nz/2017/04/kaimanawa-ranges-access/

We found an account of a tramping group that had done the trip and started to map out our plan.

My father inlaw connected me with one of his tramping friends in Turangi to find out about possible transport options. Kevin was incredibly helpful, not only did he offer to provide transport, his son Robert had done the trip a few months earlier and was able to help with the trip planning.

After getting all the info we could, we made a plan.

We would set off from Kaimanawa Rd on Friday afternoon and if the weather was good we would bivi next to the Rangitikei river est time 7 hours. Saturday we would cover the rest of the Kaimanawas including the the island range, the high point Makorako, the river valleys of the Mangamingi and Ngaruroro and spend the night at one of the huts in the Kawekas, hopefully Te Puke to keep Sunday as manageable as possible est time 15 hours. Sunday out to the road end at Makahu Saddle est time 9 hours.

We had a group of 4 adventurers who were keen and available that weekend. Marta was keen for some more god zone training, Al is a true explorer and loves new country, Anthony was very excited about the route, one of his relatives had trekked it when they moved to a Hawkes Bay school back in the olden days. I was stoked to be doing a big adventure in new country.

The weather thumbnails were looking promising as we did our final packing, cyclone gita was going to hold off until we finished. This was my first two night fast pack trip and getting our gear and food right was going to be helpful for a successful trip.

I found a freeze dried back country adventure food pack and added my normal muesli bars, chocolate bars, 10 Kransky sausages and lots of tailwind for my drink bottles.

We meet Kevin at the Kaimanawa Rd turn off and set off up the Umukarikari range. There were two school vans at the car park.

It was a beautiful afternoon to be on the volcanic alpine tops of the umukarikari range. We had views for miles. I caught my first view of the steep rocky cone shaped Makorako, the high point in the Kaimanawas that would dominate the horizon for the whole trip. The school group were at Waipakihi hut, they had traveled from the far north that morning and were enjoying the last of the sun from the deck.

The climb to junction top 1600m was one of the most awe inspiring outdoor experiences I have had. The sun was setting behind Ruapehu as we climbed the lovely alpine ridge, the vastness of the area was starting to make its presence felt. Standing on the top we looked down into the steep Rangitikei valley, it was dark and ominous, the lights of Taupo were our last glimpse of civilisation for two days.

This is the start of the private land we had a permit for and the end of the marked track. We had a gpx provided by Robert but he hadn’t followed this route due to hunting activities that meant his permit required he cross the Rangitikei further south. We dropped down into the valley under headlamps trying to follow the gpx path. It was rough and lots of scrub meant we were bush bashing quickly. Soon we were stuck in a creek and bluffed out by a 10m waterfall. We got on our hands and knees and crawled through the scrub until we finally got back onto the spur which meant we could stand up. Marta announced rule no1 for the trip, if we have to crawl we turn back and find a better path.

Bush bashing in the dark.

We continued to bush bash down to the Rangitikei it was hard slow progress and finally we got to the river. We could see a little island up the river that looked promising for bivi spots. We found a nice spot to sleep and boiled some water for a late dinner. Sitting there in the middle of nowhere after a tough few hours brought on the magnitude of the adventure we were on. Halfway into tomorrow (Saturday) we would be about as far away from civilisation as you can get in the North Island.

We didn’t get much sleep, it was cold and we were travelling light. My experiment of not bringing a sleeping bag was a failure. My Bivi bag was fine for a hut but not for being outside at 1,000m. I setup my camera in the night to capture the stars, when I got the camera from the river bank it had been moved by some animal and was sitting upright no longer facing the stars. I hope I got the shot!

We set off with the fear of more bush bashing, the river was beautiful, so clear and blue ducks playing in a magic looking swimming hole. No time for swimming yet. We wandered down the river hoping to pick up the sign of a route where the gpx left the river. All of a sudden Al appeared at the creek we had come down last night. Al had been delayed leaving town and was planning to sleep on the tops and catch us at some point this morning. It was great to see him arrive safe. We found a cairn and to our surprise a good route out of the valley on to the island range. Today we would cover the moist alpine island range, the range with Makorako the high point in the Kaimanawas that dominates the horizon, the sub alpine scrub areas of Mangamaire, In the heart of the area we have the river valleys of the Mangamingi and Ngaruroro. We would finish the day entering the Kawekas in the beautiful beach forest with moss edged trails and tussock covered valleys.

Anthony spotted a red deer looking at us from the next ridge, the tops section were spectacular, easier climbing than our Tararuas and nice wide runnable ridges. We got caught in a rough patch of scrub heading down to the Mangamaire, I had to put my over trousers on to stop the leg pain from the sharp scrub. I had a nice dip in the river before we headed up the next hill. Anthony stepped on a wasps nest that lead to a furry of Italian swear words and some sprinting to get away. A few stings later we settled into our afternoon rhythm of crossing rivers. It was about this time I realised I had been wearing my tee shirt back to front and inside out, the brain was clearly working slowly this morning!. I got to try one of my new smoothie packets, that was a real winner, note to self always pack those.

We reached the lovely Tussock hut at 6pm and pushed onto Harkness, Robert had warned me about how slow this section was, river cross after river crossing in thigh to waist deep water on slippery rocks was tough work. It was great to find Harkness was nearly as nice as Tussock hut. We ate and crashed it had been a big day.

It looked like we had 24kms to cover on the last day and were getting picked up at 3pm. It ended up being 31km lucky we left at 7am, thanks Al. My timing estimates are often optimistic which can be problematic.

The tops sections in the western Kawekas are a nice mix of greywacke and alpine scrub.

Finally the barren loose rock of the Kawekas range that looks like another planet. In between are the beautiful beach forest trails lined with pretty moss verges.

The only people we saw from Waipakihi hut to the end were a Dad and his sons who had helicoptered in to do some hunting. We ran lots of the ridges and had our breath taken away by the views.

There is a special feeling that comes from an adventure like this, a mountain adrenaline that makes you feel fantastic.

Huge thanks to Kevin and Robert for their help and to my fellow adventurers.

The trip took us 28 hours hiking time including the odd quick water stop. We started Friday afternoon and finished Sunday afternoon.

Gpxhttps://drive.google.com/file/d/1nUDXya0IUo3khNzO0mfcsgEDao7N0ayv/view?usp=drivesdk

Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku | 3-day Hike | Marlborough Walks | NZ

At 2885m (9,645 feet), Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku is the highest New Zealand peak outside the Southern Alps and is a popular three-day hike for experienced groups with good navigational skills.

Tappy, as the locals call it, was the springboard for legendary mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary’s climbing career that took him to be the first person to reach the summit of Mt Everest.

Full Moon on Tongariro

Chasing the perfect full moon mission we headed north on August 4th and had a cool adventure starting at 10pm and finishing the next morning at 7am.

Get away from the crowds on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, do it under the Full Moon. This trip we did a loop of Tongariro. With the moon reflecting off the snow we barely turned our headlamps on.

Ruahine CL Main Range route

The Ruahine Range is the largest of several mountain ranges in the North Island of New Zealand that form a ridge running parallel with the east coast of the island between East Cape and Wellington.

The CL Main Range route starts from Comet Rd at the Northernmost point of the range and follows the main range tops all the way down the range until Otumore 1519m where you follow the Ngamoko Range to Toka 1519m and down Knights track to Limestone Rd. This route links together many of the highest sections in the range. 

Here is some of the background information available

Background info https://tramper.nz/1648/walking-the-length-of-the-ruahines/

GPX https://drive.google.com/file/d/18ECfIhp7_5zpoLPy_04UUVV5R6Dqu-k5/view?usp=sharing

We have completed this route over two separate missions here are the writeups

Ruahine Traverse Comet Road to Sunrise Track

On my first trip to the Ruahines I was treated to beautiful sunrises, dramatic landscapes and towering snow capped peaks. My father in law pulled out an old DOC park map showing the whole range on one large bit of paper. Al had made a few attempts at traversing the range and it looked like some cool country. Come summer time at the beach my tramping books come out and adventures start to get hatched. I invited a few adventurers to join me and we had a crew of five keen to go. I found a write up from MadPom who had done a full South to North tramping trip in 2007. I wanted to do a 2 night trip and just do the tops section of the main range. Looking at the map starting at Comet Rd in the north and finishing after Longview hut 2/3rds of the way down the range looked like a great plan. I found the Ruahine tramping club and got some helpful information from Rob including another write up of a group who had travelled south on part of the route we were planning.

Sharing the GPX of the whole range with crew got some worried replies, the whole range is massive. Once I pointed out our finish point everyone felt a bit better. We planned out gear, food and logistics. With 200km separating the start and finish points taking two cars was going to create a very long Sunday night picking up cars so we hired a friendly student to come with us from Palmerston, drop us off and pick us up on Sunday. Eleanor was fantastic and even washed my car!

As the days counted down the weather thumb nails were looking good for a calm clear weekend perfect for being on the tops. I had been on the tops when the Norwester was blowing hard and it is not a safe place to be. The wind had shorten Al’s trips twice before.

Friday afternoon we left town and got to the road end in blazing sunshine, as we set off at 5pm it was 27 degrees and beautiful. To start you climb up to 1,000m and then drop straight down to the Taruarau River at 330m. The river is beautiful and has some excellent camping spots. We were straight up the otherside to 1150m. We passed the historic Shutes hut built out of stone in 1920.

Once on the ridge we made our way to the Dianes Hut turn off. Originally we planned to stay at Dianes on Friday but after getting hold of Peter Steedman we had permission to stay at No Man’s Rd hut and follow the ridge over the private hunting block. The old tracks on the ridge had not been maintained for many years but they had been reopen a couple of years ago. We could see Kawaka J to the North and for miles all around as the sun set with a pink sky. We followed the ridge and found a few markers to start with but slowly the route got less and less defined, soon we were bush bashing, something we were going to do a lot of over the next few days.

At the Dianes Hut turn off we had 3 options, stay at Dianes, stay at No Mans walking via the ridge or stay at No Mans walking down the hill via Dianes and up to No Mans. After a few hours of bashing our shins and wading through scrub we wished we had gone via Dianes. Luckily it was a lovely night with amazing stars.

As we reached the far end of No Mans Rd we found a quad bike stuck in the mud and figured it belonged to hunters who were up on the blocks, a short while later we came across White hut with a ute outside and said hello to the only person we saw until Sunrise hut.

Guy was our navigator and did an amazing job with the map and compass. It was great to have his skill in the group. It was a good reminder of the value of printing the map in sections and laminating them to use in all conditions regardless of the forecast.

We got to No Mans hut at 1am ate and crashed. No Mans is a comfortable 6 bunk hut with a carpeted floor!

In the early hours the forecast 2mm of rain fell and we set off in our jackets expecting it to clear, it never cleared and we had a huge day in the rain and clag. Ant and I put on our overtrousers to protect our cut shins from the night before. Before our trip I had checked in with Al about the need for leg protection, he said it was open and no protection was needed, clearly he had blocked out the hours of thick scrab, tussock, leatherwood and spainyard!

We made our way to Aranga Hut via the pole and marked route. After Aranga we are following the Main range route which has a trapline on the route and was tough to follow in the clag. We got to the turn off for Kylie Biv at 1.45pm and were feeling good about our progress. The sign to Sparrow Hawk said 4 hours surely we could go faster with our lite packs.

This is where the really tough bit started, massive fields of spaniard and leatherwood, we got smashed and lost the route a few times in the clag, finally we got to SparrowHawk at 6.30pm and the call was made to squeeze 5 of us into the 2 person biv for the night. The biv passed Marta not too scuzzy to sleep in test. We were cold, wet and it was likely to take another 3 hours to get to Sunrise hut. Even with Marta singing to us it was going to be tough.

This was one of those moments when the safe call was hard to make but the right thing to do. Dr Murray our head of health and safety guided us to the right call. It was disappointing to be so far short of our target but that’s part of the adventure, doing stuff that you don’t know if you can achieve.

We cranked up the cooker for our dinner, put dry clothes on and got into our sleeping bags. We hatched possible exit plans as we had no chance of getting as far down the range as planned. Hopefully the weather would clear and give us some more of the views we got on Friday. It didn’t take long for us to fall asleep.

There was a bit of one bear rolled over and the other four bears had to roll over, but it was warm with 5 bodies. Ant used an old hut bowl to create a pillow under the mattress, clever lad.

The wind from Saturday had died but the clag was still around, we decided to head to Sunrise which is marked as 3hours on the signs. The range gets more undulating for this section and the saddles are very thick with bush and leatherwood, we were bashing our way through these sections and climbing on all fours. The higher bits were open and made for better travel. The clag cleared for a few brief moments and we got to experience the grandeur of the Ruahines. We found some reception above Armstrong saddle and arranged a pickup from Sunrise track.

The warden at Sunrise Hut was the first person we had seen since Friday and chatted with us about our trip. The journey down the beautifully open and graded trail made for a pleasant and stark contrast to the last few days.

Hopefully the route on the main range south of Armstrong saddle is better than what we encountered. I have read about the challenges of land access and the reduction of resource in the Ruahines I expect these are contributing to overgrown route we saw.

Thanks to Marta, Anthony, Andrew and Guy for a great adventure.

Ruahine main range Sunrise to Limestone Rd

After 2 months of lockdown that had us running circles around our homes we were allowed to travel and stay overnight in the huts.

We had planned to go back and finish our Ruahine main range trip early April, the weekend was a cracker, 5km winds at 1700m on Mangaweka! But we were in lock down 😦

Marta put out the call for a visit to Saw Tooth ridge and quickly we had a full car, our wonderful Palmy based driver Elinor was available to do the drop off at Sunrise track and pick up at Limestone Rd. This trip would complete the Ruahine CL (Comet Rd to Limestone Rd) main range route. Our first mission got us down to Armstong saddle where we escaped after 2 days of travel, much of it in the clag, route finding and bush bashing. Our legs took a beating. I had visited Armstrong Saddle and we did a winter trip up to Howletts hut that created hope that this section of the range would be better to travel on than the northern section.

The forecast looked good, unfortunately it was going to be a new moon so no moon light for Friday night. The plan was to start 7pm at Sunrise track and hike up to the Sunrise hut and Armstong saddle, over Te Atuaoparapara 1687m then down to Waikamaka Hut to rest for a few hours. My guess was this would be 4 hours. It was freezing when we started, no wind and clear skies. Sunrise hut was closed for maintenance. The hut warden was surprised to see 6 of us arrive at 9pm, he told us we had taken the wrong route to get to Waikamaka. Guy had recommended the shorter route up and over the Waipawa saddle, while this would have saved time it was a way less interesting route and would mean we had missed a section of the main range. The climb to Te Atuaoparapara went nice and smoothly, we got though the rough unmarked saddle section without to many issues, we had been warned about a few gnarly sections heading down to Waipawa saddle, 

“The east side is too steep to traverse, and the west traversable on all fours, or briefly, with momentum. Even that friendlier face steepens to cliffs 50m below.  The only option appears to be straddling the steeply climbing ridgeline itself, dropping to the west only to avoid the two bluffy outcrops; keep moving to win the fight with gravity, sending showers of small rocks into the valleys below.  To say that reaching the summit was a relief is an understatement: fifteen minutes of rest on the summit was not enough to calm trembling knees, due only in part to the effort of the climb.  The ascent of Te Atuaparapara from Waipawa Saddle was a highlight of the trip, but not one I will be repeating in a hurry.  I recommend the ridge 1km downstream of Waimakaka Hut as a safer alternative, and would never recommend the saddle route in anything but perfect weather.”

I was a bit nervous about this section and the hut warden had added to this with his warning to keep to the right going down this section.

Once we got over the top we started down the scree slopes, there were some nice sections where we could move well. I got a little carried away and dropped down 200m lower than we needed to be, we sidled for a bit and then had a nasty climb back onto our planned route. Anthony was pissed. The rest of the route to the saddle went fine and my stuff up had bypassed straddling the ridgeline.

Coming down from the saddle into the river is rough and steep, once we got into the river we were welcomed with a beautiful hoarfrost, it was a winter wonderland sparkling with lce everywhere. A couple of us had some slips on the ice but didn’t get too wet or hurt. At 12.45 we arrived at the lovely Waimakaka hut. Anthony had the fire going in no time and we were fed and ready for a bit of sleep.

Nightsky from the roof of Waikamaka Hut

Armstrong to Waimakaka Hut about 4 hours with a detour

Marta had us up and going by 7.45am, we followed the valley south and then headed up to Rangioteatua 1704m, it was a perfect day, blue skies, very little wind and views for miles. We got our first views of Ruapehu which had good snow cover on it. The ridge line is very broken and jagard over this section, some steep climbs and descents.

I thought we might be able to get to Howletts Hut around lunch time, turns out lunch was going to be late. It was magic being on the ridge with the amazing views, the landscape is soo dramatic, I love this shot of the Black Ridge, it captures the feel of the place.

Saw tooth was not as crazy as it looked last year when we decided not to cross it in snowy conditions, but days like this don’t happen very often. The section from Howletts to Longview is lower altitude so you are back in the scrub and it gives your legs a bashing even with gaiters, we arrived at Longview after 10 hours and were stoked there were 6 bunks free for us. After dinner and some hut chat with a few young hunters we were fast asleep before 8pm.

Waimakaka to Longview 10 hours

Marta told me to get up and take a photo, why I asked as I snuggled into my sleeping bag, take a photo she repeated. The sky was full of amazing red light from the sun rise, those are the memories that keep me coming back to the mountains.

Sunrise from Longview Hut

We had planned to get picked up at 2pm so we had over 6 hours to get back up to Otumore 1519m and then head south to Toka 1519m and down the Knights Tracks. This is a lovely section, nice open ridges, lots of runnable bits. We phoned Elinor and asked her to pick us up 2 hours earlier and we arrived at the car park at the same time. On the way down Knights we meet two hunters who had shot a nice looking stag. That was the only deer we saw.

Longview to Limestone 4.5hours

Total moving time was 20 hours, Andrew’s gps said it was 65km and 4800m 

We had an amazing trip, beautiful weather, excellent huts and good adventure time in the mountains. Just what the doctor ordered after 2 months of lock down.

Some info from missions on the route

Al 

First attempt https://www.strava.com/activities/1393593264

Second https://www.strava.com/activities/1917373485

Third attempt https://www.strava.com/activities/2867815455

Andy, Marta, Anthony, Andrew, Guy 

First half https://www.strava.com/activities/2122981601

Second half https://www.strava.com/activities/3501151312/overview

Chris Sanson

First half https://www.strava.com/activities/2999772940

A,M,A,A,GAlChris
Comet to Old Man7.50 via tops7.10 via Dianes
Kylie Biv14.2012.20
Armstrong Saddle2216.20
Waimakaka Hut4
Otumore9.30
Limestone Rd4
39.30

Total kms 140

Vert 8,800m

Comet to Armstrong
Armstrong to Limestone Rd

Ruahine main range Sunrise to Limestone Rd

After 2 months of lockdown that had us running circles around our homes we were allowed to travel and stay overnight in the huts.

We had planned to go back and finish our Ruahine main range trip early April, the weekend was a cracker, 5km winds at 1700m on Mangaweka! But we were in lock down 😦

Marta put out the call for a visit to Saw Tooth ridge and quickly we had a full car, our wonderful Palmy based driver Elinor was available to do the drop off at Sunrise track and pick up at Limestone Rd. This trip would complete the Ruahine CL (Comet Rd to Limestone Rd) main range route. Our first mission got us down to Armstong saddle where we escaped after 2 days of travel, much of it in the clag, route finding and bush bashing. Our legs took a beating. I had visited Armstrong Saddle and we did a winter trip up to Howletts hut that created hope that this section of the range would be better to travel on than the northern section.

The forecast looked good, unfortunately it was going to be a new moon so no moon light for Friday night. The plan was to start 7pm at Sunrise track and hike up to the Sunrise hut and Armstong saddle, over Te Atuaoparapara 1687m then down to Waikamaka Hut to rest for a few hours. My guess was this would be 4 hours. It was freezing when we started, no wind and clear skies. Sunrise hut was closed for maintenance. The hut warden was surprised to see 6 of us arrive at 9pm, he told us we had taken the wrong route to get to Waikamaka. Guy had recommended the shorter route up and over the Waipawa saddle, while this would have saved time it was a way less interesting route and would mean we had missed a section of the main range. The climb to Te Atuaoparapara went nice and smoothly, we got though the rough unmarked saddle section without to many issues, we had been warned about a few gnarly sections heading down to Waipawa saddle, 

“The east side is too steep to traverse, and the west traversable on all fours, or briefly, with momentum. Even that friendlier face steepens to cliffs 50m below.  The only option appears to be straddling the steeply climbing ridgeline itself, dropping to the west only to avoid the two bluffy outcrops; keep moving to win the fight with gravity, sending showers of small rocks into the valleys below.  To say that reaching the summit was a relief is an understatement: fifteen minutes of rest on the summit was not enough to calm trembling knees, due only in part to the effort of the climb.  The ascent of Te Atuaparapara from Waipawa Saddle was a highlight of the trip, but not one I will be repeating in a hurry.  I recommend the ridge 1km downstream of Waimakaka Hut as a safer alternative, and would never recommend the saddle route in anything but perfect weather.”

I was a bit nervous about this section and the hut warden had added to this with his warning to keep to the right going down this section.

Once we got over the top we started down the scree slopes, there were some nice sections where we could move well. I got a little carried away and dropped down 200m lower than we needed to be, we sidled for a bit and then had a nasty climb back onto our planned route. Anthony was pissed. The rest of the route to the saddle went fine and my stuff up had bypassed straddling the ridgeline.

Coming down from the saddle into the river is rough and steep, once we got into the river we were welcomed with a beautiful hoarfrost, it was a winter wonderland sparkling with lce everywhere. A couple of us had some slips on the ice but didn’t get too wet or hurt. At 12.45 we arrived at the lovely Waimakaka hut. Anthony had the fire going in no time and we were fed and ready for a bit of sleep.

Armstrong to Waimakaka Hut about 4 hours with a detour

Nightsky from the roof of Waikamaka Hut

Marta had us up and going by 7.45am, we followed the valley south and then headed up to Rangioteatua 1704m, it was a perfect day, blue skies, very little wind and views for miles. We got our first views of Ruapehu which had good snow cover on it. The ridge line is very broken and jagard over this section, some steep climbs and descents.

I thought we might be able to get to Howletts Hut around lunch time, turns out lunch was going to be late. It was magic being on the ridge with the amazing views, the landscape is soo dramatic, I love this shot of the Black Ridge, it captures the feel of the place.

Saw tooth was not as crazy as it looked last year when we decided not to cross it in snowy conditions last year, but days like this don’t happen very often. The section from Howletts to Longview is lower altitude so you are back in the scrub and it gives your legs a bashing even with gaiters, we arrived at Longview after 10 hours and were stoked there were 6 bunks free for us. After dinner and some hut chat with a few young hunters we were fast asleep before 8pm.

Waimakaka to Longview 10 hours

Marta told me to get up and take a photo, why I asked as I snuggled into my sleeping bag, take a photo she repeated. The sky was full of amazing red light from the sun rise, those are the memories that keep me coming back to the mountains.

Sunrise from Longview Hut

We had planned to get picked up at 2pm so we had over 6 hours to get back up to Otumore 1519m and then head south to Toka 1519m and down the Knights Tracks. This is a lovely section, nice open ridges, lots of runnable bits. We phoned Elinor and asked her to pick us up 2 hours earlier and we arrived at the car park at the same time. On the way down Knights we meet two hunters who had shot a nice looking stag. That was the only deer we saw.

Longview to Limestone 4.5hours

Total moving time was 20 hours, Andrew’s gps said it was 65km and 4800m 

We had an amazing trip, beautiful weather, excellent huts and good adventure time in the mountains. Just what the doctor ordered after 2 months of lock down.

Fast Pack Gear Info

Here is my gear list for a 3 day 2 night mission. I try to keep my pack to 6kgs before water so I can jog sections of the route and fast walk the rough and steep sections.

Gear

25L Fast Pack

Shoes I wear Salomon XA Pro 3D or the Salomon X Ultra 3 MID GTX boot in winter or very rough country

Sleeping bag lightweight 550g

High end Waterproof jacket and over trousers 

XT hooded alpha lined soft jacket

Woolen hat and gloves

Long top and bottom polypros

Spare socks

Merino long top

2 600ml water bottles and 1L bladder

Walking poles

Sun hat, sun screen

Emergency bivi bag

First aid kit

PLB

Head lamp with spare batteries

Cell phone with view ranger and route loaded

GoPro usb Battery charger

Andy cooker and gas

Map compass

Food

10 scoops of tailwind per day 2 scoops 200 cals 

Back country dehy meals, 2 muesli and yogurt, 2 dinners (Saturday night 2 serving size)

Back country smoothies 2

Sesame seed snaps

6 coussinets with avocado and salami

Bag of crispy bacon

Cheese mini brie 5

Chocolate bars 9

Bag of choc milk 2

Russin fudge

Ginger cubes

Here is my gear for a winter trip

Nelson Lakes, 5 passes D’Urville to St Arnaud

After finishing our Travers Sabine circuit we started planning our next visit to Nelson Lakes. There was talk of St Arnaud to Lewis Pass, after a few conversations and some map study that route seemed an under utilisation of the beautiful alpine country on offer. I plotted a route from D’Urville hut up the valley over Moss pass, over Waiau pass then heading east on to the St James range, along the ridge that includes Clarence pass, then south to Paske saddle, through to the Begley then over the high ridge at Cotterell peak, down to John Tait in the Travers, out to St Arnaud. It made a great looking loop.

I started searching for trip reports and couldn’t find anything for the middle section from Waiau to Paske, I reached out to the Nelson Lakes backcountry group and got some good intel but still no reports. I sort the advice of Danny G, he wisely suggested ridge travel in the area is tricky, best to stick to the passes.

Our flights were booked for early December, the snow had been melting fast which was good news for our high route but the weather was not looking flash. The day before our flight the water taxi phoned to say it wasn’t running due to high water levels, DOC staff were unable to travel up the Sabine due to flooding. Suddenly our trip was postponed. We headed north to Ruapehu and found good conditions for some mountain time and rescheduled our trip.

Rebooked for the end of January this time the forecast looked excellent. We flew early Friday and were getting eaten by sand flies at lake Rotoroa waiting for the water taxi to speed us up the lake. We shared the taxi with a nice couple from Nelson, Nigel and Michelle, they were also heading to Blue Lake up the main Sabine route.

Travel up the D’Urville was beautiful, Anthony led us up the river to avoid the track sidles, then used his deer hunting skills to follow tracks across the river flats. It was hot so being in the river was perfect.

We made good time up the valley and were at the bottom of Moss Pass within 4.5 hours. I had read a few reports about Moss since Danny G had recommended it as a detour to our Travers Sabine circuit last year, the climb is 1,100m and after our experience of the 800m West Sabine to Travers pass climb I expected the worst. The climb started steep with a bit of time on all fours, soon the slope eased and we were rewarded with superb mountain views that took your breath away. On the pass we saw the many different mosses that give the pass its name. From the top we had great views across the park, Cupola stood out high on the Travers range to the North.

We climbed down the steep shute and across the very slippery grass to our first views of Blue Lake, the afternoon sun was creating huge shadows in the valley.

There was a good group of Te Araroa hikers and a couple of others doing smaller trips, after a good explore around the lake and a wash down stream in the river we grabbed our mattress to sleep under the stars.

On Saturday we had the first of our off track sections, after Waiau pass we headed east up the eastern headwaters towards the northern part of the St James range, we had a bit of bush bashing to get above the scrub then the travel was nice right upto the last 100m of climb on to the ridge. The ridge was gnarly and the planned route looked questionable for the North heading ridge section, the lower east heading section looked good, exposed to the south but a path on top. Looking back we should have had an explore but it is always better to be safe in these areas. So we headed south on the ridge looking for a place to drop down into the Clarence via the scree slopes. We found a good route down and did a bit of scree surfing.

The headwaters of the Clarence are a wonderful backcountry area, I wonder how many folks travel in here? Down the river we found a steep gut heading upto to Paske saddle. This was the third and last of our big climbs of the day. It was nice to get to the top and eat another of my fabulous croissants filled with avocado and salami. We had been going for 9 hours so we were getting tired, we headed down to the river via the bush towards the east. We lost the cairns before the bluff section. After the hut the travel was easy to the Begley and up the pretty track on the true left. The sun was setting as we passed the valley heading up to Begley saddle, looks like more wild country to explore there. We arrived at the hut after dark, washed in the river and were greeted by Ben who had been baking fresh bread on the fire, warm bread was a nice treat with dinner.

We needed to get to St Arnaud by 5.45pm to make our flight so we set off early the next morning, the day was beautiful again, three days in a row. It was 26 degrees at 7.30am, straight into regular filling of the hat to cool down. Travel up the Begley was good, at the top of valley we turned left to follow the creek towards Cotterell peak. There is one 30m waterfall that has a good route up on the true left (the left hand side of the flow of the river, right hand side looking up towards Cotterell) to get around it.

Then the travel is easy on the alpine plain, the headwall at the top looked pretty intimidating but was much easier than it looked. The rock was very grippy. There is a cool luna looking spot on top of the headwall, we headed south to the low point on the ridge just north of Cotterell peak. The view from here was again one of the classics all the way down to the lake.

Some more scree surfing and a long bash down the ridge towards John Tait got us to the Travers for a much needed swim. It took 5 hours to get here and we had 25km to run out. We jogged, power walked and enjoyed the beautiful sections the valley has to offer, I had a swim every hour to keep cool, it was a fabulous way to spend the last hours of our adventure.

We had enough time for a swim, pizza and beer before heading back to Welly.

We covered 120km over the 3 days and traveled for 31 hours.

Day 1 30km to Blue Lake 7.40

Day 2 50km to Begley 14hours

Day 3 40km to St Arnaud 9.30

Thanks to the following for trip info

Nelson Lakes National Park Begley Saddle

Trip Report – Nelson Lakes 1 2012

Pass hopping to St Arnaud

Belvedere Pk

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1361399183905056/

https://www.instagram.com/tararua_mountain_running/

Les Molloy for maps intel and encouragement.

Route