Nelson Lakes, 5 passes D’Urville to St Arnaud

After finishing our Travers Sabine circuit we started planning our next visit to Nelson Lakes. There was talk of St Arnaud to Lewis Pass, after a few conversations and some map study that route seemed an under utilisation of the beautiful alpine country on offer. I plotted a route from D’Urville hut up the valley over Moss pass, over Waiau pass then heading east on to the St James range, along the ridge that includes Clarence pass, then south to Paske saddle, through to the Begley then over the high ridge at Cotterell peak, down to John Tait in the Travers, out to St Arnaud. It made a great looking loop.

I started searching for trip reports and couldn’t find anything for the middle section from Waiau to Paske, I reached out to the Nelson Lakes backcountry group and got some good intel but still no reports. I sort the advice of Danny G, he wisely suggested ridge travel in the area is tricky, best to stick to the passes.

Our flights were booked for early December, the snow had been melting fast which was good news for our high route but the weather was not looking flash. The day before our flight the water taxi phoned to say it wasn’t running due to high water levels, DOC staff were unable to travel up the Sabine due to flooding. Suddenly our trip was postponed. We headed north to Ruapehu and found good conditions for some mountain time and rescheduled our trip.

Rebooked for the end of January this time the forecast looked excellent. We flew early Friday and were getting eaten by sand flies at lake Rotoroa waiting for the water taxi to speed us up the lake. We shared the taxi with a nice couple from Nelson, Nigel and Michelle, they were also heading to Blue Lake up the main Sabine route.

Travel up the D’Urville was beautiful, Anthony led us up the river to avoid the track sidles, then used his deer hunting skills to follow tracks across the river flats. It was hot so being in the river was perfect.

We made good time up the valley and were at the bottom of Moss Pass within 4.5 hours. I had read a few reports about Moss since Danny G had recommended it as a detour to our Travers Sabine circuit last year, the climb is 1,100m and after our experience of the 800m West Sabine to Travers pass climb I expected the worst. The climb started steep with a bit of time on all fours, soon the slope eased and we were rewarded with superb mountain views that took your breath away. On the pass we saw the many different mosses that give the pass its name. From the top we had great views across the park, Cupola stood out high on the Travers range to the North.

We climbed down the steep shute and across the very slippery grass to our first views of Blue Lake, the afternoon sun was creating huge shadows in the valley.

There was a good group of Te Araroa hikers and a couple of others doing smaller trips, after a good explore around the lake and a wash down stream in the river we grabbed our mattress to sleep under the stars.

On Saturday we had the first of our off track sections, after Waiau pass we headed east up the eastern headwaters towards the northern part of the St James range, we had a bit of bush bashing to get above the scrub then the travel was nice right upto the last 100m of climb on to the ridge. The ridge was gnarly and the planned route looked questionable for the North heading ridge section, the lower east heading section looked good, exposed to the south but a path on top. Looking back we should have had an explore but it is always better to be safe in these areas. So we headed south on the ridge looking for a place to drop down into the Clarence via the scree slopes. We found a good route down and did a bit of scree surfing.

The headwaters of the Clarence are a wonderful backcountry area, I wonder how many folks travel in here? Down the river we found a steep gut heading upto to Paske saddle. This was the third and last of our big climbs of the day. It was nice to get to the top and eat another of my fabulous croissants filled with avocado and salami. We had been going for 9 hours so we were getting tired, we headed down to the river via the bush towards the east. We lost the cairns before the bluff section. After the hut the travel was easy to the Begley and up the pretty track on the true left. The sun was setting as we passed the valley heading up to Begley saddle, looks like more wild country to explore there. We arrived at the hut after dark, washed in the river and were greeted by Ben who had been baking fresh bread on the fire, warm bread was a nice treat with dinner.

We needed to get to St Arnaud by 5.45pm to make our flight so we set off early the next morning, the day was beautiful again, three days in a row. It was 26 degrees at 7.30am, straight into regular filling of the hat to cool down. Travel up the Begley was good, at the top of valley we turned left to follow the creek towards Cotterell peak. There is one 30m waterfall that has a good route up on the true left (the left hand side of the flow of the river, right hand side looking up towards Cotterell) to get around it.

Then the travel is easy on the alpine plain, the headwall at the top looked pretty intimidating but was much easier than it looked. The rock was very grippy. There is a cool luna looking spot on top of the headwall, we headed south to the low point on the ridge just north of Cotterell peak. The view from here was again one of the classics all the way down to the lake.

Some more scree surfing and a long bash down the ridge towards John Tait got us to the Travers for a much needed swim. It took 5 hours to get here and we had 25km to run out. We jogged, power walked and enjoyed the beautiful sections the valley has to offer, I had a swim every hour to keep cool, it was a fabulous way to spend the last hours of our adventure.

We had enough time for a swim, pizza and beer before heading back to Welly.

We covered 120km over the 3 days and traveled for 31 hours.

Day 1 30km to Blue Lake 7.40

Day 2 50km to Begley 14hours

Day 3 40km to St Arnaud 9.30

Thanks to the following for trip info

Nelson Lakes National Park Begley Saddle

Trip Report – Nelson Lakes 1 2012

Pass hopping to St Arnaud

Belvedere Pk

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1361399183905056/

https://www.instagram.com/tararua_mountain_running/

Les Molloy for maps intel and encouragement.

Route

SK Main Range 2019 report

Dear Swallow, on your commemorative weekend I finally completed a Main Range SK on my third attempt. A huge thank you for all your inspiration and guidance. It was four years ago that I first heard about SK from yours and others reports. I was captivated by the intense adventurous spirit. At the first SK talk night at the Cross I become more engrossed in the SK spirit. You generously provided your tips and encouragement to all of us regardless of our ability. I must admit I’m yet to find the second gear you described experiencing half way on your SK’s and BG, this might have something to do with our differing fitness levels 🙂 Watching you run on Tuesday nights or speed past at an event was a beautiful thing, you glide like a wild cat. You are a legend!Dear Anna my beautiful wife, thank you for supporting me to do crazy adventures and get the time in the mountains I love. You drove to Ponds Road to collect me from my first failed SK attempt and looked after me while my ankle healed. You consoled me after my second failed SK attempt when I lost the mental game and gave up on the challenge. The painting of you with the Tararua Range in the background is one of my most special treasured gifts. I often reflect on how much I love you and our life together when I’m in the mountains and hope it makes me a better husband when I return. You put up with a lot so I can chase my passion of being above the bush line with the wind in my face and views for miles. Thank youDear Ruba, Rose and Lila our three amazing daughters,On the weekend we went on a great adventure in the Tararua range, we completed a route called the SK main range. Trampers started trying to complete the route over a weekend many years ago, some of our running group have completed it with no sleep and in under 24 hours.We had an incredible adventure, hiking through the night on the spine of the lower North Island. We could see Mt Ruapehu, Mt Taranaki, Kapiti Island, Wellington harbour and Lake Wairarapa. The sunset was beautiful, it looked like the goblin forest was on fire.I love the time we get to spend together in the mountains. When you are not with me, I think about you and your future. I want you to be happy. For me happiness is living a full and inspiring life. Find the things that make your heart sing and do them. Push yourself to your limits, mentally and physically, your spirit won’t soar from playing safe and being comfortable. Doing the SK was one of the hardest and most rewarding adventures I have been on. I hope you get to experience something like it. Love DadTo my fellow adventurers Marta, Anthony and MichaelThank you for your company, support and adventurous spirits. We all enjoy the same drug of intense backcountry adventure. Without you guys, it would be a much less enjoyable experience. Classic quotes of the day were, Marta “once we get up Crawford we only have half a SMR and half a Southern crossing to go” and ” this part is new. Never been here before. It has to be an addition…” Michael “I think it is an advantage not knowing the route or ever being in the Tararua range before”. Looking forward to our next mission :)Trip breakdown

Location Time Weather Fun Factor
Putara 8.30am Magic 8
Arete 2.30pm Magic 10
Andersen 8.30pm Magic 10
Maungahuka 12.30am Magic 5
Kime 4.45am Cold 1 micro nap time
Kime 7.45am Magic 8
Alpha 10.45am Magic 7
Kaitoke 4.30pm Magic 3 very tired, sore feet
Travel time 28:58

Gear

Salomon 20L

packSalomon boots

Gaiters

Waterproof jacket and over trousers

Alpine Series hooded Alpha jacket

Woolen hat and gloves

Long top and bottom polypros

Merino long top

2 600ml water bottles and 2L bladder

Walking poles

Sun hat, sun screen

Emergency bag

First aid kit

PLB

Head lamp with spare batteries

Cell phone with view ranger and route gpx loaded

Map and compass

GoPro

Food 30 scoops of tailwind Backcountry smoothies 2 Bars 10 Cheese mini brie 10 Chocolate mini bars 12

Video flyover of the route

Travers Sabine Circuit plus Blue Lake Nelson Lakes

20181125_172237I first visited Nelson Lakes in 2012, I was amazed by the beauty of the lakes and mountains. I knew I would be back but didn’t expect it to take so long.This circuit had been on my list for 3 years. After a Tararua mission in September I received some encouragement to arrange a trip.I referred to my trusty Classic Tramping book to kick off the planning. We booked flights to Blenheim for the Friday afternoon and planned to do the first leg to Angelus Hut on Friday evening. Hopefully we would get a starry clear night.The route we were taking was the same route Tim had run a coupe of summers ago with the addition of a side trip to Blue Lake (the clearest fresh water lake in the world). Tim had smashed this trip out in a day 14.5 hours!!!!! The tramping times said it was about 35 hours, I estimated we would take about 22 hours given we were travelling light and able to jog some sections.Friday night was the leg on Robert ridge to Angelus, Saturday dropping down to the Sabine valley, up to Blue Lake then back to and over Travers Saddle to the Upper Travers Hut. Sunday would be down the Travers valley and out to the Robert Ridge car park.I saw the legendary Danny G (the holder of many Tararua fastest know times) who recommended an alternative route for the Saturday of going up the D”Uvillie valley and over Moss pass to Blue lake. Danny has spent a lot of time in Nelson and knows his stuff. I shared the suggestion with Ant and Marta and went searching for more info. I found a recount with some epic photos of Moss pass. Wow the passes in this part of the world are huge and very steep! I quickly emailed the crew to say cancel the upsizing plan, Danny G is a legend and I’m not. Stick to the plan.The forecast was looking a little wet and a cold front early in the week was going to dump snow on the tops. We packed our micro spikes and walking poles to manage the white stuff.Squeezing ones gear for a two night trip into a 20 litre running pack requires some good packing and only taking the basics. We wanted hot food so needed the cooker. We got a snow update on the way to the airport from the DOC visitor centre, no need for micro spikes, that would lighten our loads. Friday night was clear and calm, Robert ridge deserves it’s reputation as a fine trail run, lots of great run able sections. We run out of light for the last half an hour and arrived at the hut under lights.Angelus Hut is world famous for it’s incredible location, we woke to a beautiful morning . The section running down to the Sabine was one of those pinch yourself moments, we live in an extra ordinary country!We meet a couple of dads at Sabine hut who had boated in with their kids for a weekend of water skiing. Cool spot to stay for a water ski weekend.We saw a few trampers and fisherman in the Sabine valley, the valley made for good travel, some nice run able bits. We dropped our overnight gear at West Sabine hut and headed up to Blue Lake. Not long into this bit I lost my footing and face planted into a bolder. My tooth puncher-ed my lip and there was lots of blood. After some expert first aid from Marta I was ready to keep heading to Blue Lake.Blue lake is spectacular and a must visit spot. I was getting tired by this point and after getting back to West Sabine we had the big climb of the day. 1100m most of it over 4km so 31%, this is steep! The pass was misty and cold and rough going on the Travers side, we got to the lovely, empty Upper Travers hut a bit before 8pm. Hanging out in these parts of the mountains is what makes these adventures for me. A huge day in the hills where you have feasted on the best nature has to offer followed by hot food, warm hut and comfy bed for the night!On Sunday we ran out down the Travers, the day got clearer and hotter as we descended the valley. There were lots of folks out running around Lake Rotoito. After a nice cold swim we cleaned up before a cold beer and burger. Good times.

20181125_172659

Fresh crayfish, ocean swims and unbelievable sunsets!

Fresh crayfish, ocean swims and unbelievable sunsets! It’s not what I expected from my first multi day adventure event.

I have been on an adventure journey for the past ten years, it started with the Tararua Mountain Race, that got me into the Tararua’s for the first time since a school tramping trip. During the course of my journey I have meet an extraordinary group of adventurers. Every week someone is out exploring our hills and sharing inspiring photo’s and tales.

Last year I heard about the A100 event, I saw a photo of 9 folks leaving Eastbourne on a Friday morning, I felt like I was missing out on something.

My run group mates are often doing ultra events up and down the country, I hear about the Kepler, the Goat, Taupo ultra, Northburn, the Shotover marathon. A couple of the group have competed in some of the famous overseas events and spoken about them at the pub after a run.

I haven’t done a lot of events. I prefer to do big missions. The A100 had a big mission feel to it.

Leading into the A100 a few friends were signing up and then I saw a post promoting the last of the 30 spots for the event. I jumped off a cliff and signed up. I had never done a multi day event before and had never covered 100km’s in three days. Signing up gave me that scary nervous feeling you get when you have bitten off more than you can chew.

Once signed up I was on the journey, my friend Marta had a plan to add even more adventure to the three days. She was going to mountain bike the sections between the runs. I thought this sounded like an amazing idea! I was in. It was as easy as upsizing my order at McD’s.

As the weeks went on I started to worry that my upsizing was going to end with me in a pile of pain, in the dark requiring rescuing. I pulled up google maps and did the calculations, the biking legs were 300km’s! After that reality check we needed a different plan. Maybe we could bike to the train station on the last day and take 80km’s off the ride.

An event is fantastic for getting you out training, I found a new hill section to hike/jog reps on. It was brutal, 15mins of hard climb, 7mins straight down and another 15mins straight up. I got a two day Tararua mission under my belt and some magic mountain time on a trip to Hanmer. I settled into 10 days of rest before the start at Eastbourne. To my relief Marta had to pull out from the bike plan. So I just had to find a way to finish 100km’s with 5,000 metres of climb to win a new pair of undies.

The few days leading up to an adventure are filled with excitement and nervous anticipation. There is gear to pack, supplies to buy and stuff to organise. A three day adventure with my plan to camp had a big gear list. Need sun screen, it is always sunny in the Wairarapa, need two sleeping mats, (hope I can sleep ok after day 1 and 2, my legs will be sore) need lots of food, big breakfast’s, lots of dinner and snacks to replace the energy burnt. Thursday night I was ready to go, alarm set for 5am, cab ordered to get me to the railway station.

The next three days were a wonderful mix of running wild coastline, river valleys, hill top trails and hiking steep undulations this area has in abundance. At the end of the running and hiking we were greeted with screams of support, cold beer, busy bbq and the very important massage tent. We spent hours hanging out chatting about our adventures, eating and hydrating. A few of us found the cold ocean and stream pools to relieve the legs. The volunteers were amazing, we had great burgers and crayfish on day one and excellent sausages complete with table service for those of us too lazy to walk the 10 meters to get another sausage. Thanks guys!

Day one is the great journey from Eastbourne to Lake Ferry via the 545m Mt Matthews saddle. We are so spoilt in Wellington to have this on our doorstep. The Orgongorgono valley is a special place where we have enjoyed lots of family tramping trips. This was my first time entering the valley from the coast. The sandblasting we got for the first 10 kms was a good test. It was lovely to get the saddle climb for some hiking after 35kms of hard running. The wind was howling on the top nearly blowing us over. Once over the saddle we made our way down the Mukamuka valley, boulder hopping at the top and smoothing out as you get to the bottom. Then the final 7kms on the four wheel drive track along the coast.

Day two is the classic Undulator course through five valleys and four undulations among the mountains of the Aorangi Forest Park. This is a very rough route with challenging river valleys and super steep climbs. The last two undulations are soul destroying climbs of over 500m with bits that require pulling yourself up and stopping yourself on the way down with anything you can grab onto. We were protected from the wind in the valleys on a beautiful day, each river crossing provided a chance to fill water bottles and wipe the sweat from your face. We check in at each of the three huts we pass, Kawakawa Hut, Pararaki hut and Washpool hut. At the end we wind down the pinnacles track to the campground to be greeted with cheers, cold beer and hot food and the very important massage tent where Pablo is working his magic to get everyone moving.

Day three is an excellent four wheel drive track from the finish of day 2 north east on the Haurangi crossing to Sutherland hut and out to Waikuku Lodge. I was told to bring my hiking poles for this leg and they were fantastic. My legs were in some serious pain after the previous two days. We arrived at Waikuku lodge to cold beer, hot sausages and streaming sunshine. We all bathed in our glory of completing our three days and winning our undies that proclaim we kept going for three days.

The race for line honors was a humdinger with Simon Willis and Andrew Thompson going toe to toe. Simon grabbed a 8min grap on day one with Andrew getting 6 of those mins back on day two. It all came down to the last day, Andrew needed to win by more than 2mins to win. At the last marshall Simon was 3mins behind and managed to close the gap to 2mins for a dead heat after 12 hours and 27 mins. This result sums up the vibe of the event, adventurous spirits enjoying the magic country.

The Old Ghost Road

Four months of lead up and planning came unwound with a notification from my Air NZ app. Your flight to Nelson has been cancelled please contact the help desk to rebook.

After the Tararua Mountain Race last year I joined the Ridge Runners facebook group. I saw the odd post but a post about a West Coast running trip caught my attention. After reading the details I was pretty excited about the routes planned, The Old Ghost Road, Moonlight Croesus and the challenge of running four days back to back. I hadn’t even done two days back to back yet and overnighting on the trail added to the attraction.

I invited a couple of mates to join me but there was silence, so I signed up and booked my flights. Over the next few months I meet one of the guys going so at least I knew someone!

I went to the Wellington launch of the The Old Ghost Road book Spirit to the Stone and got my autographed copy. Reading it, I got some appreciation of the awesome ness of the trail.

4 min video


Of the group of 19 I was the only person on that flight, most had flown earlier and the balance were on the later flight. The wind was howling as it does from time to time in Welly. The help desk could get me on a flight the next day but I would be too late to join the main group I would have to join the crew doing the 85km Old Ghost Road in one day!

I was getting picked up by Colin and meeting Bill and Billie at the airport none of whom I had meet before so I was on the lookout for mountain running folk, athletic, outdoor looking with very small back packs. We headed to Murchison for dinner and rest. As it turned out Colin was injured and was happy to join me doing a two day mission. Bill, Billie and Tim were going to need an early start to cover the trail in the day.

We started right on 6am with our headlamps, we had light drizzle but were dry in the bush. Billie lead the pace up the beautifully graded trail. Mountain bike trails are my favourite uphill trails. After a few recent Tararua trips I was really looking forward to be able to run most of the way. We hit Lyall Saddle not long after 8am and I was feeling good. My fast pack was feeling ok, I had worked on getting it as light as possible with a lite sleeping bag and freeze dried meals for dinner (chicken curry) and breakfast (muesli and yogurt) which were yummy. Colin was carrying a tiny stove and ¼ filled gas can, enough for 4 brews so we would need the hut fire to cook dinner.

It was clouded in for the first of the tops sections between Lyell and Ghost Lake which looks incredible on a good day, as we passed the Lake the sky cleared and we got amazing views out East towards Murchison and could see the trail winding across the Skyline ridge. I managed to stay in touch with the one day crew until 34kms where a little bit of uphill broke my jog to a walk. Colin and I were meeting at Goat Creek 22kms away so it was going to be a solo adventure from this point on. The trail is excellent, I can see why it took 9 years to build, it winds through some very wild terrain and has been built to a high standard to handle lots of bikes and lots of rain.

Running over the tops section was magic, the trail snaking it’s way into the distance helped keep the motivation high. As I slipped down the Skyline steps into the bush the legs started to get sore. The waterfalls and the bush are some of the best I have seen. I could see the beauty Marion Boatwright and his team wanted to share with others. I loved the trail signage, Johnny Cake Creek was the highlight, I’m looking forward to the story about that one.

I got to Stern Valley at 11.40 and had 13kms to get to Goat Creek hut, I hadn’t seen a soul for a couple of hours and I didn’t see anyone until Colin arrived at Goat Creek at 3pm. His smiling face and chat was a welcome sight after a long last slog over the bone yards and a cold Creek crossing. I had just managed to get the fire started after my fourth attempt. Note to self you need heaps of dry fern when the fireplace is wet.

The Hut was built in 1957 and the only the floor had been replaced. It is a classic 4 bunker, with our very own hut Weka who popped into to say hello a few times. The hut is very different from the flash new huts. After finishing the trail I’m looking forward to going back and staying at Lyell, Ghost Lake and Specimen, these are stunning locations.

We boiled some water over the fire and the smoke kept the sand flies away so we could keep the door open, this was the only real light source as the windows are tiny. We had fun night chatting about adventures and learning mountain racing tactics. It’s not everyday you get to hang out with a mountain racing legend.

I was pleasantly surprised the next morning my legs felt good and we got to Specimen Point quickly. The gouge was a real highlight for me, the waterfalls, sheer cliffs, bridges and views down the river are fantastic. Lucky this wasn’t turned into a hydro lake. We reached the end of the trail at lunch time and were warmly greeted at the Rough and Tumble lodge with cold beer and chips.

The Old Ghost Road is a magic piece of trail, I’m looking forward to returning on my bike. If you haven’t visited it yet, book your trip and enjoy.

The next day we went for a jog on Charming Creek