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