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
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.
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.