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

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

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.

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.