A Spring tramp in the Nelson Lakes Oct 2001
An11 day, solo tramp of the Travers, Sabine & D'Urville valleys commenced after a rather long, wet motorcycle ride down from Auckland the day before. First off, a quick trip to the Park headquarters to check out the track conditions & fill out an intentions form. Reasonable weather forecast and avalanche risk at high but should reduce quickly in the next few days
Day 1 – St Arnaud to John Tait Hut, 8hrs, 400m climb
After a good night's sleep in the Yellow house at St Aunard, I was on the track early enjoying a beautiful fine day. Snow down to 1500m was forecast for that eveing and memories of our Christmas 2001 tramp were still fresh in my mind and I hoped I wasn't going to have a repeat of a week of rain, floods and snow. The trip up the lake provided glimpses of Mt Roberts thru the trees and the occasional sound of an boat engine as those not so energetic were ferried to the head of Lake Rotoiti. From the lakehead it is an easy 4hr walk to John Tait hut . Getting used to the 30kg pack proved to be the biggest challenge of the day, but my back soon molded itself to the pack.
Day 2 – John Tait Hut to Cupola Hut, 2.5hrs, 500m climb
The next morning there was snow down to the treeline (1300m), but with only a light drizzle outside I decided that conditions were favourable enough to continue up to Cupola hut to stay the night. The 500m climb up to the hut ended when the hut came into sight with 150mm of snow still on the roof. Spectacular views across the valley to Mt Hopeless had me captivated for a good part of the afternoon.
Day 3 – Cupola Hut to Upper Travers Hut, 5hrs, 500m climb
Fine conditions the next morning had me back down to the valley floor and on my way up to Upper Traver Hut in short order, a far cry from yesterdays ascent. As the valley narrowed, the track climbed up to the head of the Travers valley where the hut (now replaced) sat beneath the towering shadow of Mt Traver. Finally I had companions to spend the night with, 3 trampers who had came over the Travers Saddle. They had cut their tramp short after experiencing avalanche hazards up by Blue Lake.
Day 4 – Upper Travers to Sabine Forks Hut, 8hrs, 500m climb
Conditions over the Travers saddle the next morning were great, an icy crust on the snow making conditions ideal for crampons. Once at the top I enjoyed a quick break to take in the panoramic views and then down the seemingly never ending scree slope to the valley floor. Much easier doing this route from the Travers as you only have a 500m climb instead of 1100m. Sabine Forks hut provided me with a great sunny deck to air my gear and to dry myself off after a cilly bath in the river. Luckily, a Japanese couple who were to be my companions on and off for the next few days arrived later in the afternoon and not when I was streaking back from the river.
Day 5 – Sabine Forks to Blue Lake Hut, 4hrs, 530m climb.
The weather was once again fine the following morning as I left the hut and to travel up the Sabine valley to Blue Lake. A large avalanche blocked my way and I had to climb down and walk thru the river before I made the final climb up the forested hillside to Blue lake. The scenery just seems to get better as the trip progresses & I spend an enjoyable afternoon wondering around the country-side checking out Moss Pass & south to Lake Constance and Waiau Pass. The photographs don't do the landscape justice & I had intended to spend another day here and climb up to Waiua Pass. But as the climb over Moss Pass required fine conditions I felt I couldn't afford to risk not making the most of the continuing brilliant weather. I spent an entertaining evening playing cards with our Japanese travelers, before drifting off to sleep wandering about tomorrow’s climb.
Day 6 – Blue Lake to Ella Hut, 5-8hrs, 600m climb, 1100m descent
The following morning had me sneaking out of the hut at 6.00am for an outdoor breakfast. I was on the track by 6.45am. The very steep, snow filled gulley to the pass seemed to go up forever and I had worked up a good head of steam by the time I finally reached the top at 9.30. The views both sides of the pass were awesome. Moss Pass proved to be the most challenging obstacle of my journey, the climb up was bad enough but the steep, icy traverse to the south from the pass was hair raising. My crampons made little impression into the rock hard, icy slope and it was a very slow, methodical shuffle that got me safely off the ice. Lunch was enjoyed on a tussocked bluff where I had great view back up to the pass and down to the at time cloud covered Dur'ville valley. The descent after lunch was not much better, a very steep, dried stream-bed covered in mossy rocks had me very cautiously clambering for hours down to the valley floor. Once across the swing bridge the hut was reached in no time. An old coal range provided me with ample hot water for a hot shower and it was a very clean, relaxed traveler that drifted to sleep that night dreaming of icy slopes and slippery rocks.
Day 7 – Ella Hut to Sabine Hut, 8-11hrs
Light rain greeted me the next morning and I reluctantly steeped out into the merk. I was thankful for my long legs and managed to half the time to the lakehead, getting there in approx 4.5hrs. The ford across the D’Urville was an anti-climactic after my Christmas swim, it barely reached my knees. Passing showers forced me to give up my lunch time nap and continue on to Sabine hut. The view from the bridge over the Sabine provided the highlight of the afternoon and the hut was reached soon after. Once again, I shared the company of my Japanese friends and continued our battle at cards.
Day 8/9 – Sabine Hut to Angelus Hut via Mt Cedric, 4-6hrs, 1200m climb
Light rain was my constant companion the next morning as I climbed up the steep slopes of Mt Cedric. Several, very vocal Keas kept me company while I battled with the slippery conditions underfoot.
The weather as forecast, cleared as the morning progressed and by the time I climbed out of the treeline I only had to content with an occasional icy southerly shower. A few extra layers were required to keep the chill out whilst travelling up the exposed ridgelines. Several interesting photo opportunities presented themselves and as I crested the ridge before making my way down the snow covered slopes to Lake Angelus The ice covered tarns gave you the impression it was the middle of winter and not late October. I was very thankful for the plentiful supple of wood & coal in the hut and several pots filled full of water in case the taps has frozen solid, thanks guys, much appreciated. As the weather had worsened I settled down with a hot drink to enjoy the fantastic view out the window of a frozen lake, swurling clouds and passing heavy showers. I did venture out in this to make a cell-phone call home after putting every layer of clothing on I could find. By the time I got to the ridge top above the hut there was horizontal sleet. A very quick phone call was followed by a very rapid cramponed descend back to the hut. The weather was the same the following morning so I spent a very relaxed day reading a book someone had left in the hut. After 800 pages and a very interesting plot I found someone had removed the last few pages, probably to light the fire.....arggggg!!! Anyway, the rest day couldn’t have been in a more breath taking place and as I had the hut to myself the solidtude gave me plenty of time to reflect and to really appreciate the fantastic country we live in.
Day 10 – Angelus to Bushline Hut
What an absolutely great day, clear skies with a gentle breeze from the south. After putting the crampons on and making a slow ascent to the top of the ridge it was then a very straight forward trip along the ridgetops, some of which still had a generous covering of snow.The views in all directions were breath taking but as the southerly was getting stronger I hurried along to get off the exposed ridgeline. After about 2.5hrs I reached my destination for my final night, Bushline hut. I had a peaceful lunch and nap on the pouch afterwards. Later that afternoon the solitude of the last few days was shattered by a school party of third formers racing up the mountain.
Day 11 – Bushline Hut to St Arnaud.....
After a noisy night’s sleep I reluctantly started off down the mountain to civilization. A slow descent, mindful of the creaking knees had me back at the Yellow house in time for lunch., fish & chips from the local shop. The rest of the afternoon was spent preparing for the trip back up to Auckland the following morning. I also had time to reflect on the wonderful time I had enjoyed over the past 10 days, the weather was better than expected, the scenery was magnificent and what few fellow travelers I meet were friendly & considerate, what more could you ask for??