Arthurs Pass | 3 Passes + Newton Saddle

At the end of our first day I was thinking we were going to have an easier than planned three day adventure in Arthur’s Pass, but by the end of day two I was wrong. 

Anthony eyed the steep snow covered scree slope from Park Morpeth hut, it looked very intimidating. We had a perfect clear morning heading up to Browning Pass, a bit of low cloud started to seep over the range as we got close to the final slope.

All it took was one small foot slip and Grant started sliding, lucky he managed to stop himself and only broke a pole and removed some skin from his leg. Marta had him patched up in no time. It is a frightening experience to watch a friend fall. We all were a bit shaken and were happy to be at the top of the pass with a Kea providing us welcome distraction. 

The DOC ranger and route info recommended crampons and axes, we only needed them for a short section but we were very pleased we had them. Anthony discovered how helpful the axes were on the steep rock and dirt leading to the final snow slope. Being able to plant our axes into the snow slope provided the added confidence our adrenaline filled bodies needed.

The remote huts website had been a great help preparing for day 2, where we left the 3 Passes route and travelled to Dunn Creek Hut via Newton Creek Hut and Newton Saddle. The travel down the Harman and Arahura on the old mining trail was fantastic and lulled me into a sense of the good travel we had seen on day 1. I was impressed by the wonderful condition of the huts, Harman, Mudflats and Newton Creek are all fabulous huts at excellent spots. I like a nice hut with lots of windows and skylights, these were ticking all my boxes. I was hopeful Dunn’s was going to be similar after the planned upgrade I had read about. After our quick side trip to see Mud Flats hut we chatted that it could be another 6 hours of travel after our 7 hours to this point, hopefully shorter based on the good travel so far.

Getting to Newton Creek hut went pretty well, it is a bit of a slog down and up to cross the Arahura and getting up to the creek. But that is nothing compared to the adventure matrix of Newton Saddle. The sign said 2 hours to the saddle, based on our travel so far that day we should be faster. Straight away we were into our full body workout of crawling up the steep slippery creek bed. It was full on. Marta thanked me for the God Zone bush bashing training. I felt like we were in a very remote, seldom visited part of the backcountry when we bumped into 4 young folks coming the other way. We were shocked, they were the only other people we saw over the 3 days but right in the remotest spot. I love meeting other folks out in the backcountry, everyone has the same wild look in their eyes and big smiles. They had tales of more tough travel ahead and a hut book dating back to 1987.

We got to the saddle in 2 hours and got a view of our next section, a very steep slope into another creek bed. Poles mark the saddle and then it is full on creek travel again. The slope was so steep I opted for a bit of bum sliding which was going well until a rock kissed my tailbone. I got a good purple bruise from that!

In the creek I lost my footing and fell head first down a bank. Siting up to do a quick check, I had got away without any serious injury. I had a good hole in my hand, a few sore bits and was a bit shaken up. We got to the hut right on dark, close to 6 hours since Mud Flats. I was wrecked. The Dunn’s Hut upgrade hasn’t happened yet so we settled into our humble accommodation. Anthony got the fire going with the help of Marta’s fire starter and some rubber strips with the fire supplies. I have to add rubber strips to my kit for winter trips.

The energy in the hut was low, four tired, wet folks after a long day, including the toughest stretch of backcountry travel I have experienced. After dinner and a quick read of the hut book dating back to 1991, I wondered if Alastair our route creator had been over Newton Saddle? He had said he attempted the route and bailed out at Styx last summer, did that mean he had travelled the saddle at another time?

It’s nice to get an adventure recommendation when you are looking for inspiration in a new area. 

I messaged Barrett from the Big Sunday run group who moved to Christchurch a few years ago, he said to go directly to the source of alpine adventures, Alastair. Sure enough a quick message later and we had a plan. 

Day 1 Waimakariri harman whitehorn park morpeth hut

Day 2 browning pas harman hut arahura newton pass dunns hut

Day 3 taipo kelly range otira, hitch hike to start at klondyke corner

About 70k or more?

Just 1 idea, i tried it in a day couple summer ago but ended up just going out styx. So 3 days would be cool

Will be snow over whitehorn but probably manageable with just microspikes

It turns out Alastair hasn’t yet visited Newton Saddle but is now very excited to check it out 🙂

Day 3

We took the route down Dunn’s Creek to the Taipo and enjoyed the river travel with deer and Whio sightings. After an attempted shortcut that resulted in a very steep climb near the new 3 wire bridge, I got out voted on continuing over the Kelly range and we headed out down the Taipo.

As we started hitching the rain started to fall again, we had to keep moving to stay warm. Car after car went past, many of them with 1 or 2 people in. I phoned the DOC centre who kindly put a message out to the town WhatsApp group for someone to pick us up for some cash, Nek minnit Ed a school teacher from Christchurch pulled over and delivered us back to Klondyke. Cheers Ed.

We drove back to the airport in 20c+ temperatures in our puffer jackets until our bones were warm again. This is my first adventure into one of the book ends to many Southern alp adventures and has me thirsty for more.

Cheers to Alastair for the route and to Marta, Grant and Anthony for an adventure!

Route fly over

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