I know what you’re thinking - do we really need another trip report for Roys Peak? The answer is probably not but it seemed a shame not to put something on the website, particularly considering that we pop up Roys Peak pretty much anytime we are in Wanaka. Regardless of how popular it is no one can deny that it is a great little trip and therefore we think it's worthwhile writing about it.
The Roys Peak car park is reached on the road from Wanaka to Glendhu Bay about 10 minutes out of town. It is well signposted and pretty much impossible to miss (look for the myriad of campervans and rental cars parked up). This track is extremely popular so I highly recommend arriving early to find a car park. If you’re a bit of an earlier riser try turning up in the dark with your headlamp to give yourself time to summit and watch the sunrise (which can be spectacular) from the top.
The four wheel drive track is wide and easy to follow all the way to the summit. The steepest part of the track is actually right at the bottom so if you are finding the first part really bad don’t panic - you are doing the worst bit. After this steep beginning the track traverses around the side of the mountain then begins to climb steadily again toward the summit ridge. If you are travelling up this part of the mountain in the dark it is not uncommon to see a string of head torches above you slowly making their way up, reinforcing just how popular the trip has become. Upon reaching the summit ridge you will notice the crowds and queues formed looking to the north. This is the now famous instagram spot where the masses flock to get that perfect snap looking out over Lake Wanaka towards Mt Aspiring. The important thing to realise at this point is that you are not at the top yet! The track continues to climb and skirts the western flank of the mountain before popping out at the summit. Don’t expect to be alone by this stage, I think I counted more than 80 people on the final part of the ridge watching the sunrise the last time I was up there.
If you’re up for an extra challenge (or want to leave the crowds behind) try traversing along to Mt Alpha. It is possible to continue all the way out to Spots Creek via Mt Alpha but you will need to organise someone to pick you up at the end of the track which finishes about 10km out of Wanaka on the road through to Cardrona and the Crown Range. Doing this is definitely a more significant undertaking than Roys Peak so make sure you are well equipped and are comfortable with your navigation skills.
Anytime I head up Roys Peak I try to embrace the crowds of people. As kiwis we are spoilt by the myriad of different tracks we have access to and the relative lack of people around. Most trips I do we hardly ever see anybody so it’s a bit of a novelty to share a track with tens if not hundreds of other hikers. You will see people heading up Roys Peak in sneakers and skinny jeans, and others who appear to have enough gear for an expedition to the Himalayas. As long as people stay safe then I think it is awesome to see so many people out there enjoying the outdoors. As per all our trips we recommend you take plenty of warm gear as it will be cold at the top - this trip is definitely an alpine excursion and shouldn’t be taken lightly (regardless of what the people in their jeans may think…). In winter there will be snow so best keep this trip as a summer option unless you have the skills and equipment to be up there at that time of year. Also, take plenty of water as there aren’t any good places to fill up once you're on your way.
The return trip to and from the summit of Roys Peak is about 16km with a total elevation gain of about 1230m. The time taken to complete it varies significantly depending on your fitness levels. Most people will complete a return trip in 5 - 6 hours, if you are fit and running it will take a little over 2 hours. Alternatively, if you are keen to just plod and your fitness isn’t what it used to be then budget on 7 - 8 hours total and take plenty of snacks.
When one of the lads put out the call for company on a cheeky trip up Mt Bruce we couldn’t help but jump at the chance. Mt Bruce is by no measure a large mountain at a modest 1630m ASL but it offers great views in all directions and the easy access makes this a stunner of a day trip in the Arthurs Pass region. Without snow it would be suitable to take beginners and those with less off-route experience up. The track begins at the Bealey end of the Cass-Lagoon Saddle track, with ample parking at the DOC signposted car park at the end of Cora Lynn road.
The day was clear with blue skies and light winds as we made our way from Christchurch towards Arthurs Pass to the start of the track. Our mate had spent the night at Bealey Hut, five minutes up the track. When we reached the hut he had already started up the track towards Mt Bruce so we wasted no time in chasing him down. The well formed track initially climbs steadily through a mixture of beech and pine forest for the first couple of kilometres and gains about four hundred vertical metres before the bush line is reached. Here the forest makes way to wide open tussock slopes which can become quite muddy after rain.
We chose to follow the track around towards Lagoon Saddle before leaving the track and following the broad northwest ridge towards the summit. The going is straightforward but it is definitely a gut buster at times. We had the odd area where we skirted large areas of steeper snow in order to stay on the rock and tussock as we were wearing our trail running shoes rather than boots. Having negotiated the worst areas we popped out onto the final part of the ridge and covered the last few hundred metres to be rewarded with magic views and an icy snow covered ridge. The obligatory summit photos ensued.
We continued traversing the ridge before dropping down the northeast slopes making a beeline for the point where the track emerges from the bush. The going again was fairly straightforward and the route finding was very easy back to the track. A relaxed wander back to the cars topped off a great day trip.
Allow about 2.5 - 3 hours to the summit, and 1.5 - 2 hours to get back down again. Distance ~11km total.
3am Monday - Poulter Hut.
The rain has been hammering down on the roof non-stop for the past 9 hours. Coming down the valley in great waves, easing slightly every now and then. When it does ease the sound of the rain on the corrugated iron roof is replaced with the roar from the river. The river we rock hopped across yesterday trying to keep our feet dry. The only way home. The forecast was for 20mm of rain overnight - we probably got twice that in the first hour. Shit.
3:30pm Saturday (two days earlier) - Mt White Road car park.
We were blessed with an absolute stunner of an afternoon as we started to mountain bike up the 4WD track alongside the true right of the Poulter River through Mt White Station towards the national park boundary. The track climbs gradually (and sometimes less gradually) all the way up the valley and it wasn’t long before I felt that perhaps I had left my legs and/or fitness back in Christchurch. Just over 2 hours saw us pedaling over Rabbit Flat in fading light before the obligatory stop to don our head torches. With the temperature beginning to drop off and the kilometres starting to take their toll we were well pleased to hear the lads who had started earlier that morning yelling from the Trust-Poulter Hut. The fire was cranking and the beer waiting for us was cold. Legends.
The next morning dawned overcast but dry and we ditched the bikes and commenced the short wander roughly 2km upstream to the Poulter Hut. Having decamped our remaining gear here we took a 45 minute side trip up to Lake Minchin for a gander. We were well rewarded with stunning views further up the valley to the snowy peaks above. Once we returned to the Poulter we went for a cheeky run up river to check out the rather spacious Worsley Biv, still shedding snow off its roof from the falls earlier in the week. By this stage the cloud was building up thick and fast on the main divide so we retired back to the warmth of Poulter Hut and waited for the arrival of the forecast 20mm of rain.
The river is in flood. I get drenched in the ten minutes it takes me to get to the river edge and see the torrent that the river has become. Definitely not crossable. Back to bed.
We send another person out to scout the river. Not a chance.
It has stopped raining but the sky is still threatening. We put our packs on and attempt to ford the river higher up the valley but we are stopped almost immediately by Minchin Stream. Yesterday it was almost dry. Today it has grade 3 rapids. One of our party was meant to start work at 1pm. We are now overdue.
Our last roll of the dice before it gets dark. We slowly head downstream for almost 2 kilometres, checking every braid as we make our way down river. Nothing looks crossable. We are getting very close to the confluence of the Poulter river and Thompson Stream when finally we find an area where the river has four braids. If we can ford the second braid we should be okay. The river is swift and brown and we spend some time planning our intended route and ensuring everybody knows the plan.
The first braid is crossed simply enough. The second braid - the one I’m worried about - is carrying a lot of water. We begin to make our way out into the flow as the water creeps up towards my thighs. We are stepping calmly and in time. We pass the worst of the flow and can feel the weight being lifted off our shoulders as we hit dry land and the first round of congratulations start up. We have made it roughly 50 metres from the true left bank to where we are standing and yet I don’t think I have ever been more thankful for having made it such a small distance. The following two braids are swift but now easily manageable and 10 minutes later, having crossed roughly 300m from bank to bank we are having a cookup in the Trust-Poulter hut. Noodles - the first thing I had eaten for the day. I managed to knock them off my stove and onto the table. Meh. I’m just happy that we found a spot to cross.
The ride out was dark but considerably quicker that the ride in. Funny that. Damn gravity. As we dropped to the river flats just before the car park we were greeted with the sight of the Poulter River in full flood - easily 100m of bank to bank swiftly flowing water. Imagine what the Waimakariri looked like.
We reach the cars, drive back to civilisation and the world of vibrating cell phones, missed calls and mild panic. Thankfully everyone at home remained calm and had expected delays in light of the weather.The 20mm of forecast rain had turned out to be more than 100mm overnight alone (Carrington hut got more than 200mm). And all this in the part of Arthurs Pass generally considered to be one of the driest areas of the park.
Information to know:
The track up the Poulter River starts at a car park just before the Mt White Bridge Road crosses the Poulter River - about 25kms from the SH73 across on the true left side of the Waimakariri River.
The journey up the river to Trust Poulter Hut covers roughly 27km and took us just over 4 hours (the last 1.5 hours in the dark). From the Trust-Poulter it is only a further 2kms up river to Poulter hut although mountain bike access is only allowed as far as the Trust-Poulter.
From Poulter hut easy 45 minute side trips can be made to Lake Minchin or Worsley Biv.
The Travers - Sabine circuit is an undisputed New Zealand classic. Venturing through the beautiful Nelson lakes national park the track travels through lush forested valleys, over an alpine saddle and with a short side trip visits the clearest freshwater lake in the world - the stunning Blue Lake.
This 4-6 day tramp is on a well marked trail and is a very achievable goal for anyone with a moderate level of fitness.
We parked our car up at the Robert Ridge car park at about 10am and shouldered packs for what I knew would be our biggest day. We were intending to complete our circuit in just 4 days so as to make it back to a family celebration. This deadline meant that on our first day we needed to push well up the Travers valley in order to be able to make it over Travers saddle the following morning. We also had a slightly dodgy looking front coming in over the next couple of days so were eager to make it past the saddle before the weather packed it in.
We started out and headed down the Robert Ridge access road towards the start of the lakeside track car park. This involved backtracking where we had just driven but would save us having to walk the same stretch of road a few days from now. Reaching the track it was a short wander around the lake edge to Coldwater Hut where we slapped on the insect repellent and grabbed a bite to eat. We had passed a steady stream of people on their way out from Coldwater Hut, many of whom appeared to have stayed overnight. The sandflies were out in force and it didn't take long before we were all ready to get moving again.
From here the track climbs slowly up the valley passing both the Cascade Track (to Lake Angelus) and the Hopeless Track (to Hopeless Hut). The legs were definitely starting to feel the miles by the time we sauntered in to John Tait Hut for a well earned rest. John Tait Hut has ample room for tents should you be camping but our goal was to be further up the valley for the night.
After a short break we continued our relentless forward progress up the valley. I had picked out a small clearing on google earth just above the turnoff to Travers Falls that looked like a perfect camping spot. As we started getting closer to the campsite I started getting a bit anxious as to just what it would look like. I have to say I was pretty relieved to find it was a beautiful soft patch of grass at the rivers edge, plenty big enough for our two tents.
27km - 750m elevation gain - 9.5 hours
The next morning dawned clear and we set out early to make the most of the weather. The occupants of Upper Travers Hut were just getting ready to head out for the day as we filled our water bottles at the tank and started the climb up towards Travers Saddle. Having left the bush behind we headed towards the first small climb which led us up to a plateau at the head of the valley. I made a mental note that there were plenty of great spots to pitch a tent and water around as well should a high camp tickle your fancy. A further short sharp climb ensued before the gradient mellowed out a little for the final push to the saddle itself. Here the wind was starting to pick up so we hightailed it down the other side after just a short break.
The descent to the Sabine Forks is steep and took us more than an hour to lose the 1000m of elevation and get down to the Sabine River. I wouldn't want to be heading up to Travers Saddle from the Sabine side - it would definitely be type 2 fun.
Shortly after gaining the Sabine River we crossed over from the true right to the true left via a bridge over a nifty chasm. Here the river has gouged its way deep into the rock and the river is a good 30m below the bridge itself. From here the track meanders its way downstream before turning to the southwest just prior to West Sabine hut. We refueled at West Sabine then crossed over the swing bridge and continued up to Blue Lake Hut. The track climbs steadily from West Sabine Hut up to Blue Lake Hut, with a short sharp bit of climbing immediately before reaching the hut itself.
19.7km - 1895m elevation gain - 11 hours
Today was our "rest" day as we only had to make it down to Sabine Hut at Lake Rotoroa. The weather in the morning was clear and we were quickly retracing our steps back down towards West Sabine Hut. We soon reached the track junction with the swing bridge back across the river. A lunch stop ensued followed by a cruisey afternoon wandering down the track alternating between the bush at the rivers edge and the odd open river flat before a decent climb up and over a short spur, then a final descent to the bridge crossing the Sabine River. Within half an hour we had reached Sabine Hut and set up our tents on the lake edge. A refreshing swim in the lake off the end of the jetty was the perfect way to unwind after the last couple of days and the lake itself was surprisingly warm! Later that night we returned to the jetty with our head torches and watched with trepidation as dozens of large eels slithered out and around the very same spot....
20.8km - 207m elevation gain - 7.5 hours
On Day Four we awoke to the incessant buzz of bumble bees, wasps, and sand flies that had worked their way under the tent fly overnight. DOC have been running a wasp control operation in the Nelson Lakes national park but from what I saw the wasps had simply been replaced by bumble bees - I have never seen so many in my life! I was less than impressed at the thought of having to pack up the tent surrounded by all of the insects so decided to sleep in a little bit and let the rest of the party head on intending to catch up with them later in the day. After finally getting motivated I packed up camp and started on the track towards Speargrass Hut.
The track starts with a decent uphill grunt and I relished the chance to get the heart rate up and stretch out the legs. The track then passes by a cool tarn and continues to skirt the edge of the range on its way to the hut. I was treated to the sight of a Kaka flying and screeching overhead at this part of the track as well as a number of bush robins and fantails flitting about. Once you break out of the trees the track turns into a short section of boardwalk from which you are offered some magic views in all directions. Speargrass Hut itself is reached shortly thereafter and we met a number of parties heading back from trips to the ever popular Angelus Hut. From here the track descends steadily alongside Speargrass Creek back to the Robert Ridge car park.
16.81km - 950m elevation gain - 7 hours
If you're driving towards Arthur's Pass from the wide open expanse of the Canterbury Plains, chances are you've spent some time staring at the beautiful ridge line of mountains which mark the border between civilisation and rugged wilderness areas. The Torlesse Range features some great tramping mountains which are very climbable year round and easily accessible from the main road as it heads up to Porters Pass. While Castle Hill Peak is the highest summit in the range at 1998m, Mt Torlesse which lies a little further to the north east, is just as imposing at 1961m. You can link these up with a traverse of Foggy Peak, Castle Hill Peak, The Gap, Red Peak and then onto Torlesse or if you're after a shorter day out you can summit either of the peaks easily in a few hours.
Having already been to two of the above summits we decided to head up the Kowai River and climb Torlesse from the obvious spur to the south. We left Christchurch at around 6am to make sure we were walking just as the sun was coming up. Most trip reports had put the return journey at 8-9 hours and being August we wanted to make the most of the daylight in case we took any longer than that. A car park just off State Highway 73 has plenty of room to leave your car and the track starts just over the gate along a 4WD track. The track crosses private land to begin with and permission must be gained from Brooksdale Station (see details below) before passing through this way. The hut at the top of the valley also needs to be booked through the station and is a tidy 6 bunk situation with a fire and plenty of room to stretch out after the albeit short walk in from the road.
The track in from the road is indistinct in places but the terrain is easy to negotiate and you'll soon find yourself stumbling across it again if you stray from the main path. The journey up the river bed takes between one and one and a half hours and we brought running shoes for this first section knowing we would need heavier boots for our crampons later on. At the hut we switched out our footwear and had a chat to a couple of guys who had spent the night there. They had been up as far as the snow line the previous day but the conditions were a bit icy and they decided to stick to the lower slopes for the day. A track winds its way down to the stream behind the hut where the remnants of the University research project for which the hut was originally built are evident in the form of a concrete dam like structure.
We crossed here and followed a handful of equally worn paths in the general direction of the base of the spur. Having no idea if we would see water again (we didn't) we filled our bottles at the last point beside the stream before beginning the ascent up towards the ridge. A reasonably well worn track makes it easy to pick your way up through the scrub once you leave the flat. The point at which this track actually starts is more difficult to find so head for the middle of the spur and just start climbing, you'll find yourself on it without even seeing it to begin with. From here it's more than 1100m of ascent to the summit but the angle of the ridge is pretty kind to be fair. We gained height steadily without having to take many breaks before hitting the snowline at around 1300m. From here the snow was icy enough we had to use crampons almost straight away.
If you're not confident in your ability to self arrest then the next section is dangerous and shouldn't be attempted with snow on it. In summer the ridge is completely exposed and won't pose any issues for anyone with a good level of fitness so maybe wait until it gets warmer before heading up here. If you have the right gear then the rest of the route is straight forward and non-technical. This would be a good place to work on your crampon technique if you're just starting out and looking to build some confidence walking on slopes and kicking steps.
In the end we took 5 hours exactly from the time we left the car to standing on the summit (including breaks). This would be a little faster in summer if you weren't messing around with putting crampons on but in places the snow was probably easier to walk on than the scree would be. It was reasonably cold at the top so we didn't hang around long before dropping back down out of the wind for a late lunch and some blister maintenance. I was breaking in some new boots which were super comfortable for the first 4.5 hours before they suddenly turned on me and started to eat away at my right heel. We had also run out of water at this point so I was pretty happy to skip down the spur as quickly as possible and back to the stream and my lovely worn in trail shoes.
The descent was fast with the track making our lives easy through the scrub on the lower slopes and we made it back to the hut less than two hours after leaving the top. A swarm of sand flies which hadn't been there on our first visit that morning had appeared out of nowhere and dissuaded us from taking another break here. Be warned if you do decide to linger, an over confident Kea is creeping on the place waiting for some unsuspecting tramper to leave it something valuable to destroy.
Total round trip: 8hrs 20mins
Brooksdale Station Contact: Stu Gunn 03-318-4748
Pro Tip: 1 litre of water for the climb was not enough on a clear sunny day.
Extra Pro Tip: Beware of the Kea, he looks shady
Not every trip need be an epic expedition into gnarly territory, full of hardship and suffering (although we do enjoy a good bit of suffering from time to time!). Sometimes you're just looking for a quiet weekend away from the city with a pleasant amount of exercise coupled with some beautiful views. The walk into Tribulation Hut from the banks of the Rakaia River certainly ticks these boxes and is a great introductory walk for anyone with limited experience or little legs. The hut lies on the edge of the Hakatere Conservation Area and borders a working farm on the far side of the valley. Drive south from Christchurch to Rakaia and then follow the river inland past Mt Hutt on the south side of the river. Blackford road will turn to shingle part way down and has some small ford crossings so a 4WD would be preferable especially after rain. Parking can be found through a gate on the left hand side of the road just before the bridge over Redcliffe stream.
DOC puts the 10km walk (one way) at 3.5 hours and this is pretty fair on the way in as the track climbs a fairly rough route for the first 4km up the river. Although this is a poled route the track has been washed away in places and a few of the detours may take you a couple of minutes to find. Throughout the whole walk you should either be on fairly obvious tracks or see poles every 100m or so. This is by far the most challenging part of the walk and although you will encounter a few steep climbs they're over very quickly as the track deposits you on top of a wide grassy plateau. Redcliffe Saddle will open up in front of you and the track meanders gradually through tussock along the boundary fence with the neighbouring farm. Follow the poles another 5km before dropping down into the river bed just before the hut. This will be easy to cross at a low flow but be wary after heavy rain.
Tribulation Hut is a tidy 6 bunk hut with a long drop and plenty of water access. It doesn't have a fire unfortunately so if you're heading here in winter you'll need a good sleeping bag. While the trip to the hut and back to the road end is pretty straight forward, some parties choose to climb nearby Rat Hill for a bit more of a challenge. The return trip to the car is a good deal quicker as you're heading mostly down hill or along the flat.
Total Distance: 20km
Total Time: 5-7hrs
Pro Tip: Head back to Methven on your way out and get the Large Nachos from the Blue Pub
In October last year I attempted to climb Maukuratawhai with my workmate, unfortunately we had to turn around due to some pretty terrible visibility so it was great to get back there this year and reach the top. Maukuratawhai (try saying that 10 times fast), is a prominent mountain sitting across the Clarence River just on the other side of Jack's Pass from Hanmer Springs. We had the four legged terror in tow as we drove up over the pass between Mt Isobel and Dumblane before parking at the turn off to Tophouse Road. There isn't really a track so finding a calm enough spot to cross the river involves a quick bash through the head high foliage to the bank and wandering along in the direction of the ski field for a couple of hundred metres. This river can become difficult to cross after heavy rain so take your time to check that it's safe before making your way out into the main current.
I've never seen Izzy swim in a proper current before so I was pretty impressed with how easily she motored across to the other side - webbed feet seem to be the secret here. We regrouped on the opposing bank before frolicking (the dog) and trudging (us) our way to the base of the obvious spur. You can head straight at point 1086m from as far down as your legs can handle - the gradient is more gentle on the ridge than walking straight up the sides here. There is no great navigational challenge for the rest of the climb but you will need to skirt around some of the rockier sections of the ridge. For the most part going right or left at these sections is of equal gain although if you follow a dog up they'll probably find the easiest route up before you even get to it.
Things were going really well for us until we encountered snow from about 1300m. Areas of the mountain that hadn't seen much sunlight were icy and hard to walk on which left us wishing we had brought crampons with us. Thankfully there was plenty of exposed rock to keep moving safely but we would have been noticeably faster if we could have just stormed straight up the snow with spikes on our boots. Izzy feared a little better having inbuilt show shoes and had to keep waiting for us to catch up. From point 1362m to the summit is steep in places and provided more of a challenge with the snow and ice than I had anticipated having been up there in warmer months. We ended up taking around 2 hours from the river to the top at 1615m and 1 hour 15 minutes on the return journey. We were back in Hanmer with plenty of time to still enjoy the day but pretty happy with our efforts on a pretty cold and windy day.
About two hours south of Christchurch and directly inland from Hinds lies the Mt Peel Conservation Area. Popular with families for the variety of day walks around the forest park, the mountain is a great introduction to day hiking in Canterbury and like all of the foothills boasts beautiful views across the Plains all the way to the coast. We were taking a couple of friends out for the day to give them a break from farm life after making the transition back from living in London and even the threat of a 30 degree day wasn't deterring any of us.
You may need a map to guide you to Blandswood Road as the area is not well sign posted from the Arundel-Rakaia Gorge Road. Turn right straight after crossing the Rangitata and follow the river back towards the hills. There are two carparks and a formidable long drop at the beginning of a gravel road which leads to the track proper. We took Deer Spur track to the summit which was a steep but well-maintained path initially winding through some really gorgeous native bush.
The track then breaks through the tree line and out on to an open ridge line and up to the trig. The last section caused a bit of puffing towards the end but we were cracking into lunch after only 98 minutes with a good number of stops along the way. Having conquered the easy track we set out for a slightly more adventurous descent down the overgrown south ridge. If you're in shorts prepare to have your legs scratched up a bit negotiating this path as it obviously sees a lot less traffic than the Deer Spur side. All of us managed to slip over on the loose gravel early on the way down so take a walking pole if you're like me and are balance challenged on even relatively flat ground. Once back in the bush the track gets wider and easier to walk along as you near the car park again. Just before the end we deviated straight into the creek - just get wet feet rather than trying fruitlessly to rock hop along here - you will fall and embarrass yourself.
Total time - a leisurely 3 hours return
Family friendly but a good level of fitness will make the trip more enjoyable.
Much like Edmund Spenser's epic "The Faerie Queene", from which the mountain takes her name, our attempt to climb Gloriana Peak was incomplete but a great weekend away none-the-less. In the Lewis Pass at the top end of the well known St James Walkway lies the Spenser Mountains. Evidently named by men who knew their English literature, Faerie Queene, Mt Una and Gloriana Peak overlook the track between the highway and the wide banks of the Waiau River. This is an area we have grown to love over the past few years but it was my first time on the easy going St James and I was excited to see how far up the mountain we might get with an average weather forecast and only two days up our sleeves.
We left our little four legged terror in Hanmer Springs with family before jumping in our old blue station wagon for an early morning drive to the start of the track. Sam and I stared dejectedly out the windows at the approaching rain clouds from the back seat as the two boys in the front seemed oblivious to the ominous weather conditions. It was a shock to the system when we disembarked into freezing temperatures and the overwhelming quiet of the bush - Metallica had until then been blaring out of the speakers all the way up the pass. We shrugged on our packs with little enthusiasm and began crunching across the snow covered boardwalk into the cold and damp of Cannibal Gorge.
Once we had warmed up and settled into the walk we made quick progress along the undulating track to Cannibal Gorge Hut where half a dozen fearless mice were cruising around on the floor hoping we might drop a scrap or two. It was far too early in the day to stop for more than a quick snack but the ice box of a hut and furry residents encouraged us to be on our way rather promptly. We had intended to walk to Ada Pass Hut and then leave the track in favour of bush bashing up to the first set of tarns on Gloriana to camp for the night. Then we would have an easier climb to the top the next day before legging it all the way back down and out to the car that same night. We knew all week leading up to the trip that the weather probably wouldn't come to the party but it was still disappointing to have rain and mist closing in heavily as we started out again from the hut.
Snow continued to blanket the track in many places and it was still uncomfortably cold when we arrived an hour later at the smaller (read better) Ada Pass Hut. This hut had been talked up to the stuff of legends based on a prior excursion by two of our party and I was expecting big things. Nestled just above a quaint little stream with a stunning view towards point 1911, it certainly seemed promising on initial inspection. The real selling feature was of course the coal fire which apparently made the hut so hot one needed to run outside for snow baths just to keep from heat exhaustion. This may have strongly influenced our decision to leave the mountain for the next day and hope the weather would improve in the morning. Unfortunately for us there was no dry wood for miles in any direction and getting the fire going took the better part of four hours.
It was a very social night with a crowd of European visitors arriving as night fell and throwing all their soaking wet gear on top of our almost dry kit above the fire. Cheers guys. We slept well although temperatures never reached the level of being considered "hot". The morning dawned a little cloudy still but we decided to break out the GPS and follow our dense bush expert across the river and up the first ridge. Being the only member of our group of four under the height of six foot two, I had to work a little harder to keep up once we hit the slope but we popped out above the bush line a little over an hour later without incident. From here we faced steep rocky bluffs that had to be skirted around to the right in order to gain the first of three plateaus. The snow was soft and the sky was clearing as we walked across rocks and then the thick ice of the river running down from the tarns above. It was easy going in most places with the odd bit of snow grass making life difficult on the steep sections. We made our way immediately between the two separate tarns at the second plateau before moving slowly up through deep snow to the large lake below the summit ridge. By midday we were standing at 1700m looking up at the col and trying to stay sheltered from an icy wind. We pitched our tent intending to leave the majority of our gear in it and head for the summit with just the basics. In the time it took to do this however the rain started again and we called it for the day. It was just too cold and windy to keep going.
We spent another 10 minutes taking photos and refueling before hightailing it back down to the valley floor and out. We pulled a 10 hour day to get back to the car for the sole purpose of getting dinner back in Hanmer before all the restaurants closed. It was an epic day of walking with some incredible views but we're already planning when to go back and actually knock off the summit. I always feel like a bit of a failure writing a post where we didn't get to where we wanted to but then again that's not really the point of tramping in the first place. I always learn something new every trip and this one was no exception - mini hot water bottles are the greatest thing in the world.
This post was intended to be a trip report on the Lathrop Saddle/Zit Saddle circuit on the west coast of the south island. That's not the case but we had a lot of fun and ticked off a few firsts for the memoirs. The trip started late on Friday night as we left work with a car full of gear and drove over to the coast. Arthurs Pass was blanketed in snow on our way through and by the time we parked up at the start of the Styx Track temperatures were below zero. What would have been a relatively peaceful sleep in the car was interrupted about 1am when some enthusiastic locals arrived for some four wheel driving and light refreshments. Alas, I wasn't feeling on top of the world as we set out at first light the next morning across the frozen muddy fields before the track proper.
Having walked out of the Styx only a few months earlier, we were well familiar with the first four hours of the terrain into Grassy Flat Hut. The ice covered rocks and frigid river made for a more technical walk than our previous experience but we were feeling good upon reaching the hut for some lunch with the sun finally warming the valley a little. With the climb up to Browning Biv still ahead of us we only stopped for five minutes before finding the turn off and starting up towards the saddle. The path is great all the way to the river and then things get harder very quickly. A rock scramble ensues for the better part of an hour until the track veers away from the water and up, up, up. Think nature's stair master meets low level rock climbing and you'll be questioning having left the beautifully flat Styx Valley in the first place. After 45 minutes of sucking air and convincing myself I was almost there, I was greeted by a home made sign at the side of the track. "Browning Biv. If you're just about buggered, you're just about there."
The view was worth the climb as we stopped for a quick drink at the tiny Biv and surveyed the river now some distance below us. So far our times were well within what we had read on other trip reports and we thought we had plenty of time to pop over the saddle and down to Top Crawford Hut on the other side based on other people's times. Unfortunately that was not to be the case as we would find out a few hours later. It was another hard slog up the spur through a reasonably overgrown but easy to follow track that took a straight line to the saddle itself. We didn't hit snow until almost 1500m and it wasn't until we were well on the saddle that we needed to pull out crampons and axes to keep moving. We had been another hour and a half at this point and the chances of making it down the other side before dark were becoming increasingly slim. As we dropped over the south side of the saddle we found that the snow on this side was sitting a lot lower down the slope and created some steep, slippery slopes to negotiate before hitting the bush again.
The route heads right from here with sparsely placed poles (a bit of a contrast from the Styx side which is really well marked) and we sidled around and down the slope rather carefully on the frozen snow. From here we front pointed straight down for three pole lengths as the sun started disappearing behind the mountains. We could see the hut down on the flat but the track winds down and through some bluffy terrain which was slow going in the snow. By the time it was totally dark we could no longer see any markers but had dropped into the safety of the bush line. I hadn't really appreciated the lack of lumens my head torch provided until I was trying to navigate down this section of the route. We were both a bit reluctant to keep moving as it was clear that our overall goal of making it to Zit Saddle and back to the car in only 48 hours was unrealistic with so much snow so we found a flat spot to camp instead.
We didn't have a tent for the trip so we had brought along a bothy bag in case we needed some emergency shelter. The night was clear so we ended up sleeping on the bag and the rest of our gear and packs rather than inside it but it was nice to know if we got cold we could throw it over ourselves again. After melting some ice and snow for dinner we settled in for a romantic night sleeping under the stars in between the tussock. I had a new appreciation for how warm my Fairydown 20 below sleeping bag was after sleeping soundly for 10 hours only to wake and find every piece of gear frozen solid - including the outside of our sleeping bags. Having realised that putting frozen boots on is near on impossible we set about defrosting them over the open flame of our cooker - probably voiding the warranty and doing permanent damage at the same time.
We had decided the previous night that in the interest of not worrying my Mum it would be best to turn around rather than keep going and be a day overdue at the other end. Trying to do a four day tramp in three days was always going to be 50/50 so we weren't entirely surprised to be trekking back up to Lathrop Saddle that morning. Conveniently our steps had frozen overnight creating a perfect staircase back to the tarns and over the other side. With nothing but time for a change we made a leisurely journey back past Browning Biv and down to Grassy Flat Hut where we demolished most of the food we hadn't gotten around to eating the previous day.
With no one but us in the hut for the night we made the most of the varied reading material and fire before turning in for our first sleep on an actual mattress in three nights. The walk out the next morning was, as always, motivated by thoughts of a hot meal back in Hokitika. But first we had to slip and slide our way back down the river and all of the frozen rocks along it. If you're looking for 101 ways to break an ankle - head this way in winter and have fun. Back at the car it was disappointing to know we'd have to be back with more time to complete the whole circuit but it was nice to have a cheeky night spent out in the open just to test the comfort ratings on those sleeping bags for a change. If you're thinking of heading this way in winter you'll need to be confident with your ice axe and crampons and give yourself extra time to get over the saddles through the snow. The route is well marked to Lathrop Saddle (and then not so well from there on) but expect a certain degree of bush bashing along the way. We were 10-11 hours to where we camped and would probably recommend 13 hours from start to finish if you're trying to do this in one day in winter.
Car park to Grassy Flat Hut: 4 hours
Grassy Flat to Browning Range Biv: 1 hour 45 mins
Browning Biv to Lathrop Saddle: 1 hour 30 mins
Crossing Lathrop Saddle: 30 mins
Daylight in winter: 9-10 hours