Douglas to Arthur Range Traverse 2011
An eight day tramp in the Douglas and Arthur ranges of Kahurangi NP
Party Members: Dennis Brown, Peter Waworis
A planned week long trip in the north of Kahurangi NP threw out a few challenges before we even started. We planned to start at Bainham and travel over the Douglas, Peel and Arthur ranges. However the road bridge over the Aorere river at Bainham was washed away in a huge flood in Dec 2010. We then planned to access Boulder Lake from the Lead hills but a week before we started DoC built a swingbridge across the river. Back to Plan One. Sally, the third member of our party pulled out the day before we were due to leave due to the Christchurch earthquake so it was just the two of us.
The hills were shrouded in clouds as Trish from Nelson Lakes Shuttles dropped us off at the Aorere river swingbridge mid afternoon on Saturday. The weather forecast wasn't flash so we expected a reasonable amount of rain over the next week. We hiked up into the foothills on an easy gradient and after two and a half hours decided to camp for the night. Water along the route into Boulder lake was scarce so we conserved what we had. With no views to look at we hit the sack after dinner and enjoyed the sounds of the bush as we drifted off to sleep.
We awoke to an overcast sky and were back on the track by 8am having quickly re-established our tramping routines. At Beathams Clearing we attempted to find some water by descending the dry streambed for 300-400m before giving up as it got steeper. Views of the surrounding countryside become more frequent as we climbed towards Cow saddle. We didn't see any cows but passed a Kea grazing on the slopes of Brown Cow ridge who wasn't in the least concerned about our presence. Views back to Golden Bay and Farewell spit beyond appeared thru the clouds on reaching the saddle as well as a clearer view of the Lead Hills. This imposing weather beaten range proved to be an excellent example of the terrain we would be travelling over during the next week. A quick sidle around Brown Cow gave us a spectacular view of Boulder Lake and Dragons Teeth in the distance.
After descending we enjoyed the cool waters of Kiwi creek after having run out of water a few hours before. The lake level was reasonably high considering the lack of rain the area had seen over the previous few months. A lazy afternoon was spent at the hut with a quick dip in the waterfall behind the hut before enjoying a few beers that had been left in the hut before dinner. A glass of red wine with dinner completed a great day and we soon after retired for the night.
A fine day with strong winds on the tops provided some stunning views as we first threaded our way through the tall tussock and then climbed up to Green saddle. From there the route was reasonably well defined along the ridge tops permitting us to take in the views. We had plenty of time to enjoy the great weather, stopping to take photos whenever a scene presented itself. We climbed up a gut to thread the Needle where we had lunch and enjoyed the views before crossing the saddle and descending to Adelaide Tarn nestled under the flanks of the Needle.
The 3 bunk hut is a classic but for Dennis the bunks a tad too short to accommodate his 1.9m frame. The weather remained fine so he pitched his tent in a sheltered spot below the hut. An afternoon walk up the slope to the north of the hut permitted us to recce tomorrows' route into the Anatoki river bypassing the upper Dragon's Teeth route. After the wind dropped that evening we had some great photo opportunities to get some reflections on the lake. With the weather forecast to deteriorate tomorrow I drifted off to sleep picturing the route in my mind's eye.
An overcast sky and a cold wind stopped us from overheating as we climbed under the flanks of Mt Douglas and dropped down into the Anatoki river catchment. The Dracophylla leaves on the grounds provided a slippery descend before picking up the stream and dropping down to the valley floor. Rock falls from the Dragons Teeth have littered the valley floor with boulders the size of large houses. The trail zigzagged around these as we made our way to SP 744 where we had an early lunch. The rain started to fall as we started climbing up the spur leading to Drunken Sailor. A few minutes in and we encountered a party of four Australians descending the spur before heading down the river to Anatoki Forks. We swooped notes before we clambering up the steep slope, luckily there where plenty of tree trunks to provide leverage on the slippery surface.
The wind had picked up and rain lightened as we broke out of the bushline and made our way around Drunken Sailor climbing up to the saddle in the swirling mist. The cloud momentarily lifted providing us with a view of the lopsided Drunken Sailor towering above us before disappearing once again as we descended a track that resembled a stream. The hut is some distance from Lonely Lake hidden in the bushline out of the wind. As we changed into dry clothes the heavens opened up and continued to inundate the mountains for the next 24 hours. We hunkered down collecting water from the stream of water pouring off the roof and enjoyed a hot drink as a family of Wekas investigated the hut surrounds. Late in the afternoon the wind started rattling the hut while we sat content reading from a good supply of magazines thankful we weren't camping.
On awaking it was still raining and the hut was surrounded by a lake. We decided to wait until the weather improved because the route along the tops to Fenella hut would be difficult to navigate in poor visibility. Around 11am the rain stopped and we were climbing back up onto the tops before midday. All the streams were overflowing and there were plenty of waterfalls evident as we looked back up to the north at the inflow and outflow of Lonely Lake. The wind was gusting to 50-60km with limited visibility as we clambered along the tops. I was thankful for my new Garmin 60CSx GPS providing us confidence that we were on the correct route. However, a few minutes inattention in very poor visibility had us wandering down a spur away from our intended route. Rather than retrace our step we clambered around some bluffs and luckily had a momentary clearing of the clouds provide us with a view ahead so we could make an informed decision on how to get back onto the cairned route.
It started clearing as we climbed up to sidle around Kakapo peak and view the way ahead to Waingaro Peak. Dennis stated there was no way he was climbing over that but luckily the route sidled under the eastern flanks. A belated 4pm lunch stop had us refueling in some sunshine out of the wind before continuing around Waingaro and dropping off the tops to Fenella hut which we reached at 6:30pm. There was one occupant in the hut but we were shortly joined by three others who had walked in from the Cobb Dam roadend. Our intentions for tomorrow were to climb onto the Peel range and work our way down these to Balloon hut. This would probably take us two days but the continuing poor weather and limited visibility had us reassessing whether this was viable. There was little information about routes on this range so we decided to take the low track down the valley and climb back up to the tops from Trilobite hut. With that settled we had a relaxed late dinner (by our standards) and chattered with our fellow hut occupants before retiring.
A fine morning presented itself as we descended from Fenella to Cobb hut where we had a yarn with the Ranger. He was aware of a few routes on the Peel range but all needed clear weather to navigate through. We had some confirmation of this in the Balloon hut book which recorded a solo tramper taking 12 hours to get from Lake Henderson to Balloon. Walking on a formed track enabled us to spend less time looking at foot placement and more enjoying our surrounding. As the sun rose above the Lockett range and shone into the valley it illuminated a lush landscape with the Cobb river meandering down it. There was plenty of bird song evident proving that the numerous traps alongside the track were at least keepers the rats, stoats and possums in check.
A relaxed lunch in the sun at the bottom of the Lake Peel track had us climbing at midday up to the track intersection before sidling to Lake Peel and then climbing up onto the Peel range and descending to Balloon hut. The hut was newly painted and we enjoyed been able to dry out our equipment and have a wash in warm conditions before having a snooze on the deck. That evening the weather closed in and it started raining again.
We were thankful that we were in a large well equipped hut the next day as we waited for the weather to improve. It never did so we whiled away the hours discussing future trip options, finding additional functionality in the GPS, reading and playing cards. Dennis found he could recycle his coffee bags so enjoyed numerous cups of coffee while discussing the pro & cons of various pack designs.
The cloud cover still lingered as the morning progressed but by 10am we decided to proceed and investigate the rock shelters on the Salisbury track. On reaching Salisbury hut the cloud was lifting somewhat but rather than take the risk of climbing over Gordons Pyramid in the cloud we decided to stay low and reach the Mt Arthur hut from the Flora hut. However as midday approached the cloud cover reduced so by the time we got to the Cloustons Mine track over Gordons Pyramid we decided to give it a go and see what happened. We managed to get to the summit of the pyramid by 4pm and were hopeful that we could summit Mt Arthur and get back down to the hut by nightfall. It was slow going negotiating the ups/downs on this route and the broken rock of Horseshoe Basin reaching the Arthur summit track intersection just after 5pm. We took a punt that the approaching cloud banks would stay away long enough to get to the summit and unfortunately we were only out by about 15 minutes.
On reaching the saddle between the Winter and Main Peaks the cloud was obscuring everything above so we turned back satisfied that we had given it our best shot. We chilled down quickly on our descend to pickup our packs at the track intersection and we sped down the lower track to the hut beating the rain, just! We had a rude introduction back to civilisation that night in the hut when we were subjected to attempts at death by asphyxiation and fire by other occupants of the hut. To further disrupt our sleep a party of research scientists turned up close to midnight and bashed around for some time before finally settling.
The following morning we were up early and on the track by 7:30 for an early pickup by Peter from Nelson Lakes shuttles at the Flora carpark. The weather continued it's unsettled trend by snowing in the ranges later that morning. Despite the unsettled weather this had been a great trip with some fabulous tops travel and spectacular scenery.
Roll on the next trip!!!
I used a light weight pair of La Sportiva shoes for this trip and I'm impressed with their durability and grip on wet, slippery surfaces. I also appreciated the reduced weight I needed to lift with each step. Also used a Aarn Featherlite Freedom pack for the first time on an extended trip. Again appreciated the reduced weight and also the pockets on the front. Rigged up a drinking tube for the drink bottles in each pocket and these worked perfectly. There was a noticably difference in my walking stance with the more balanced load but front pockets were a pain clambering around rock outcrops where you needed to be close to the rockface. A tradeoff that I can live with. Garmin 60CSx GPS worked a treat and use of Open Source maps worked well.