Haast Pass to the Wilken

Arriving on the tops above Haast Pass we had our first view of the spectacular main divide we would traverse. It was more dramatic than I had imagined. 

3 months and many hours of planning had come together, an excellent forecast gave us a chance to follow our A plan.

The A plan was inspired by the Alpine kids, they had covered this section on their epic journey from Arthur’s Pass to the Divide.

We filled up with water at the tarns on the way to Mt Cross and enjoyed the views across the peaks we were planning to traverse. Lindsay peak, The Keystone, Mt Burke and Mt Cameron. 

Looking from Mt Cross, the huge rock walls from Lindsay peak all the way round to Mt Burke are an amazing sight. Further round Mt Cameron is a very steep looking cone.

In our planning we had seen a photo of a route heading to Lindsay peak in December covered in snow, it looked like a place you would need your ice axe. Luckily for us by April the snow had disappeared. 

Tōrea, one of the Alpine kids, had let us know the ridge provided rope free travel. That doesn’t mean it is without a few gnarly bits.

Marta and I made good progress up to Lindsay peak, there were 5 of us booked to come on the trip, in the last 24 hours Adam and Josh became household covid contacts and Paul hadn’t recovered from his covid. Marta was just starting to feel better after her covid, she felt stronger each day of the adventure. 

As we got to the northern side of Lindsay peak the route opened up and we found more tarns and great camping spots. We hoped to get to Mt Burke for the first night after starting at noon. The first of the gnarly bits was on top of the Keystone, a rough rocky narrow ridge, from there we headed south and up Mt Burke, it was a great afternoon for travelling on the tops, very light wind and clearing skies. Heading over Mt Burke we spotted a big tarn on the western side of the ridge, that would be exposed to the cool breeze that was picking up slightly so after negotiating a couple more gnarly bits on Mt Burke and a bit of clag on the top we headed down to the eastern side in the dark and found a good flat spot above the fish valley. 

We decided to travel light with just a fly and footprint, it was lovely to eat a warm meal and crawl into my sleeping bag. 

Being April we heard the deer roaring from the valley, the sun rose and we ate fresh snow berries as we wandered back up to the ridge on to Mt Cameron. We found a great camp spot right on the ridge with a small tarn which would have saved a climb.

Mt Cameron looked steep from the ridge line, a few clouds swept on and off the top, it looked like there was an ok line but there were also some steep bits. We dropped our packs and did a bit of route finding. It was better than it looked at first so after considering a few other options we gave it a try. It was OK, a few steep bits dropping down the south side.

From there we got our first views of Mt Stuart and the amazing rock face to the east, we would descend on this down into the northern branch of the Blue. The Alpine kids had stayed on the ridge and descended into the Blue from before Mt Bertha, despite their Intel we had concerns about the gnarly factor of that route. Moirs guide has a route description for the northern branch. The description and DOC warn about this route and they are well founded, once we got to the Bush line it was tough Bush fighting travel, we didn’t find the prominent deer trail and climbed across a few vertical moss walls, we did find the steep moss gully, that was very steep with lots of waterfall like terrain on either side.

Then Marta slipped in the river and broke her finger! From the river we had another Bush flight to get on to the NE spur to descend into the Blue. There is much to love about off track backcountry Adventure and there are a few downsides. At the bottom of the spur the beautiful Blue river waited bathed in sunshine, to rub it in there was a nice big track sign at the bottom of the spur. This is obviously a very old sign.

After a swim we decided our plan of heading up Hunted spur was likely to lead to more Bush fighting that we were over. We headed down the Blue and on to the Gillespie Pass circuit. It was wonderful to be on a track. We camped near the mouth of the Young and had a magic next day climbing the Pass and visiting Lake Crucible. The day was as beautiful as the day before, we could see for miles from the top of the Pass and enjoyed cheese and crackers on the top.

We arrived after dark at the Siberia hut, a work group had country music playing on the speaker including my wife’s favourite song Picture by Kid Rock and Sherly Crow. It was nice to see a few people after 3 days. 

The next morning we wandered out to Makorako and ate toasted sandwiches at the Cafe. It was a glorious few days in the mountains. 

Route Flyover

Photos taken by Marta

Kaimanawa Kaweka traverse packrafting the Mohaka

The count down was on for our second try at the famed dragons teeth route in Kahurangi-national-park, the covid out break was starting to sweep the country. 

The forecast was looking good for 3 days but it was going to rain 40mm on Saturday afternoon. We should be past the high route by the time.

After toiling with it for a couple of days we decided to go for a plan B.

Marta suggested a Kaimanawa Kaweka traverse pack rafting down the Mohaka. Within 24 hours we had transport and our permit sorted. Thanks to the generosity of AJ I was able to borrow a raft for the trip.

The plan was to start at Kiko Road and tramp to Cascade Hut, then across to Oamaru Hut via the Kaipro saddle and stream. From Oamaru we could access the top of the Mohaka and raft down to McVicar Rd.

We set off on a beautiful hot afternoon fully loaded with our pack rafting gear, I hadn’t carried a load like this since a 5 day family tramp in Nelson Lakes. The raft is fine but the paddle, helmet and life jacket all adds up.

We plodded along the ridge and down to Cascade Hut, it was lovely to be out in the hills. There was a good group of people at the hut, mainly hunters who were very friendly. It was a perfect night, I slept out under the stars protected by the canopy of the beach forest. 

The next day we explored Kaipo saddle and stream, this route is apparently being discontinued and sections were pretty rough. Further down the river it starts to open out and we saw a few camping spots used by hunters and fisherman. 

After getting to Oamaru early we decided to push on and get started on the river. Unfortunately we had a leaking value on Marta and Paul’s raft that required some of Paul’s engineering skills. We stashed the rafts and headed back to the hut. 

Second time lucky, we set off in our rafts down the beautiful Mohaka. The river was so much fun. The rapids were lively enough to pump the adrenaline but not scary 😬. There are so many sets of rapids, it was like being at the water park with a fast pass to the best ride. In between the rapids we saw heaps of Blue ducks and enjoyed the hot pools.

We arrived at Te Puia lodge nice and early and got to enjoy an afternoon nap before a short trip upto Makino Hut and one of the most beautiful bits of forest I have seen.

The last day we cruised down the river enjoying more rapids and the relaxing pace of river travel. We dried ourselves and gear in the sun before Kevin arrived with the car.

What a great journey, cheers to Marta, Paul and to Kevin for helping with transport. 

Here is some information on the packrafting section https://www.packraftingtrips.nz/upper-mohaka-river-ii-from-poronui-stn-to-sh5/

Route Flyover

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

Angelus Snow Trip

On the Friday night we ate like kings – tortillas warmed on top of the cast iron fire, filled to overflowing with hot sticky beans, carrots, cheese, greens, even sour cream had made its way in! No weight saving de-hy to be seen.  One of our members had forgotten his spoon and proceeded to chisel himself one straight out of wood. The two long evenings were spent chatting about past adventures, future dreams, and entertaining ourselves with the cathartic process of melting snow to water above the fire (better than any TV show I know of). Chocolate, flickering lights, low murmurs, and a few sips of whiskey lulled us into a deep sense of relaxation, disrupted only by the occasional dash through wind and sleet to the loos. 

Without a doubt, the summiting of Mt Angeles on the Saturday was a highlight for me, as this was my first experience of what really felt like “real alpining”! Clag had settled as we made our way up the mountain. Wind was blowing hard and all I could see was the slope in front of me, which was becoming increasingly steep. Right when we needed it, we found a sheltered area of rock to sit down in, eat some goodies, and figure out where we were. Andy determined that the summit was within reach, just one gruelling traverse across a wide open slope, and then straight up a steep slope (don’t look down at the bluffs below). As I trudged the final steps to the summit, dolling high-fives out as I went, I felt an incredible sense of achievement and awe at the spectacle of mountain tops around me. 

A challenge for me is learning about the organisational side of alpine trips, particularly how to read the weather conditions in advance, navigation, and identifying risks and alternative plans and routes. On the Sat night we gathered around and Andy, trip leader, took us through the steps he had taken in organising the trip. I learnt a lot from this and now am looking forward to organising some small trips myself where I can build my confidence in the areas of planning, weather forecasting, and risk assessment. Zoe

One highlight for me was coming over the ridge to see frozen Lake Angelus, the hut, and the surrounding terrain all cloaked in snow: “a winter wonderland” in the words of our wise leader. Climbing Mt Angelus was also a highlight and a challenge for this newbie: not physically so much as mentally – more so on the descent as you are constantly looking at the trajectory of a potential slide.
The weather was amazing: got to experience a full palette without any unpleasantness: Winds were never headwinds; the clag gave a slight sense of disorientation then cleared at the most opportune moments; sleet and rain came when we were back cozied in the hut; a bit of snowfall, a bit of sunshine…  Simon

The whole trip was absolutely banger but the highlight for me was that feeling when my borrowed crampons from the Apline Club (the ones with ice cream containers on the bottom) stuck, and knew I wasn’t gonna slip down a slope in whiteout conditions and plummit to my doom. That was a good feeling. Jacob

Route Flyover

Ruahine Tops 1,600s and 1,700s: Saw tooth instead of Dragons teeth.

We had planned our Dragons teeth Adventure, spending hours researching the high traverse.

Flights were booked based on a good long range forecast and the excitement was building. This trip has been on the wish list for a few years.

Then the forecast took a turn, 77mm of rain for Friday night, not what we needed.

Time for plan B, going back to the Kaimanawa’s and doing a high loop of the 1,600s, the 3 peaks in Tongariro or a loop of the 1,600s in the Ruahine.

The forecast looked ok in the Ruahine so we researched Al’s mission in January where he covered all the 1,600s and 1,700s over two days!

We packed for two nights, three days and headed north. The Renfrew Road end entrance to the park is fabulous, very nice access to the tops. We had clear skies and warm conditions, perfect for being on the tops.

This is roar season so we expected to see a few hunters. We bumped into our first near Mangamahue, they were loaded up with a big stag trying to get it out.

As headed east to saw tooth we heard our first roars from what we later named the zoo. It was amazing to hear what sounded like a few stags roaring for hours.

We reached saw tooth and headed north. The roaring continued from the valley below. Soon darkness feel and we marched on under head lamps.

Saw tooth ridge

Hoping to get to Waikamaka hut for a sleep, we had a few 1,600s to cover to get there. The ground was familiar from our Sunrise to Limestone trip last year. We decided to drop straight off pt 1635 to the hut. This route is pretty gnarly in the dark and we did a bit of crawling 😦

After a hut experience with the loudest snorer ever we woke to rain and changed plans, heading to Waterfall hut, this was great travel over the Rangi saddle and down the Rangi creek, at Waterfall hut we meet hunters scraping the meat off large sets of deer antlers, they had seen 35 deer over there week and were taking 4 home. This was alot better than the guys at Waikamaka who had seen 1 deer!

Whio in the Kawhatau River

The hunters suggested a route up the spur on the north side of Trig creek to get up to Mangaweka and the Hikurangi range where four 1700’s were waiting. This was good travel after the first steep bush bash.

Marta on top of the Ruahine

We bagged the peaks on the Hikurangi range and pt 1632 above Pinnacle creek then we had the long downhill to Pourangaki Hut which hurt my knees. We followed deer tracks for the first half that had run down in front of us.

Pourangaki Hut is fabulous well worth a visit, the next morning we headed up our final hill to Maungamahue 1661m to finish our loop and headed back to the Renfrew roadend. A great few days in the hills 🙂

Pourangaki Hut

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

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.