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.
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!
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Routeburn Shelter to Theatre Flat 3.45 https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/5887437658
- Theatre Flat to Park Pass 2.30
- Park Pass to Fiery Col 5.30
- Fiery Col to Fohn Lakes via rock Biv Olivine ledge 3.30 https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/5887442204
- Fohn Lakes to Split Rock Biv 3
- Split Rock Biv to First Flat 4.30
- First Flat to Rock Burn shelter 3
- Rock Burn to Sylvan campsite 1.45 https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/5887446340
- Total travel time 27.30
Trip planning information Google earth project
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.
With a clear forecast for the night we headed up hoping to catch some photos of the night sky. I lay under the star lit sky for a few hours until it got too cold.
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.
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.