Ruahines Expedition April 2017
Extended Trip - Friday 14 April 2017 to Monday 24 April 2017 (11 days)
The day after Cyclone Cook tickled up a fair swathe of the country, four intrepid ATC members swept down the North Island and launched into a cracker of a 10 day tramp in the Ruahines.
Our journey comprised three phases.
1. The Grunt: From Rangiwahia around to Sunrise we laboured under weighty packs with occasional tantalising glimpses of surrounding landscape but mainly poor vis traversing the ranges, dropping down to huts at night and sweating back up to the tops again next morning.
2. The Fun: From Sunrise down the main range we revelled in the majestic scenery, better weather and amazing varied terrain. This included the trip highlights of Sawtooth and Broken ridges. Of course there were a couple of coolish nights camping in there as well ...
3. The Wind Down: Post-Howletts we skipped along the rolling tops in relaxed fashion, enjoying the sun, see-forever views and light packs, in no hurry to return to the Big Smoke.
These are the essentials of our encounter with that ripsnorter of a range:
Clag, clag and more clag
Apparently the Whanahuia, Hikurangi and Mokai Patea ranges all offer wonderful expansive views. We’ll take your word for it. All we saw was clag.
Thus our routine for the first few days:
- Take GPS position
- Check map and get bearing
- Extend arm in required direction
- Ad nauseam
And funny how visibility was always at its worst when navigation was trickiest. Still, with probably the world’s best clag-on-the-tops navigator guiding us, all went well and, remarkably, despite the conditions we kept to what seemed an ambitious schedule.
Wind and ice
Of all the times to be hit with 80kph wind gusts!
There I was hanging on to my ridgepole for dear life, trying to stay on my feet and avoid being flicked off into the tussock below. No time for wind like that when you’re trying to get your tent up.
And Andrew next door had already had his tent pegs pinged and was clutching the corner of his tarp with fierce determination to prevent it from being whisked away and deposited in downtown Hastings.
Just up the hill by the tarn the girls seemed to be faring better - we reckon it must have been because they were closer to the ground.
This was our first night camping, and the storm that blasted through certainly provided a stern test of our respective shelters. So much for the supposed sheltered eastern side of the ridge ... Somehow we all survived intact.
The next afternoon saw us camped high on Broken Ridge in a dress circle position near a small tarn, relishing the views and late afternoon light. And so we retired to our tents in high spirits - only to experience a freezing, blustery night that Scott’s Base would have been proud of. So a second stern test of gear and systems.
We emerged from our cocoons next morning to ice everywhere, bitter cold, and Brocken spectres projected on the mist below. You don’t see that every day. Cool! Literally.
It wasn’t really the swimming through wet, waist high tussock. Or the inching across marble scree slopes with no runout below. Or even the down-climbing crumbly rock on Sawtooth. Not even the 50m drop, sidle and climb over tricky tussock and scree to skirt one particularly gnarly section. Or the descending steep, slippery scree slopes.
No, it was the bloody leatherwood that most did our heads in. Masses of the stuff, with no apparent way through and lots of skirting, re-assessing, scraping, scratching, and eventually brute force, blasphemy and belligerence to force our way through.
The stretch between Sparrowhawk Biv and Sunrise Hut was the worst. Surprising, given it’s on the main range between two well-frequented areas. For the record, DOC’s sign said 3 hrs, we took almost 5.
Sawtooth Ridge has the fame, but it wasn’t the trickiest section for us. It’s said there’s a sidle around each of the Sawtooth "teeth". We found some of these, and are pretty sure we missed other easier options. But crossing Sawtooth was a blast, challenging enough without being downright scary or formidable. And gorgeous - firstly those rolling humps then pinnacle after pinnacle stretching away seemingly endlessly ahead. And very impressive in profile too coming off Tiraha and approaching Howlett’s Hut.
No, the crux of our trip was gaining Paemutu and Broken Ridge from pt 1715. A mere kilometer and a half as the falcon flies, but 3 hours of awkward, cautious toil for us. This section had it all - steep scree, knife-edge ridge, down-climbing, up-climbing, dead-ends, backtracking, detours, sidles. Somewhere we were definitely glad to have got across - and with Sawtooth still to come, fervently hoped we wouldn’t have to go back!
Of course, in between these pleasures we had some easier travel across the tops through sparser vegetation, even a light ground trail to follow at times, and a rare cairn or two. And tracks to follow down to valley huts, and back up the other side. In short, a grand mix of a bit of everything.
Yep, clag makes you wet. So does rain. So getting the fire going in the huts was a significant objective.
Our scorecard: raging success at Kelly Knight, dismal failure (despite much coaxing, pleading, profanity and supplication) at Crow, sensational result at Maropea Forks (could this be the perfect Doc backcountry hut??), and success but with a barely noticeable uplift in temperature at Howlett’s due to the crappy coal and burner.
Oh, and the planned bonfire at our Iron Gate campsite spluttered to an early death, dammit. We’ve concluded beech isn’t great firewood, and damp beech is hopeless. Guess there’s a reason you don’t hear of many forest fires in beech forests ...
Morepork x 1
Falcons x 3
Whio x 1
A variety of bush birds, noticeably more abundant near trapping lines
Deer x 14
Hunters x 7
We were surprised not to see any other humans from Easter Saturday when we left Rangiwahia Hut till we hit Sunrise Hut at dusk 4 days later. We’d expected to be regularly eating venison back steaks courtesy of magnanimous hunters. Oh well ...
This tramp was an absolute cracker - simply brilliant.
Andrew "If trampers were vehicles I’d be a tractor" Murdoch, leader, inspirational navigator, chief photographer, perpetual enthusiast, the one wearing the boots and carrying all the little extras the rest of us needed/appreciated;
Kathy "My feet are still frozen" Engelbrecht, the super-uber-ultra-lightweight tramper personified, alias Pyro Girl and dealer to monster coal;
Willi "There’s another deer" Williams, aka "The Spotter", with eagle eyes and a developing aversion to further camping out on freezing, exposed tops;
Dennis "Did I take my pill?" Brown, aka Turbo Lungs, driver, scribe, point man, the (only) one with a double skin shelter (chuckles to self).
Day 1. Left Auckland 7am for Renfrew Rd carpark, 1 hr 50m climb to Rangiwahia Hut.
Day 2. North along Whanahuia Range to Pourangaki, descend to Kelly Knight Hut. Clag all day with challenging route finding, slow travel. 6.5 hrs.
Day 3. Climb to Hikurangi Range, cross Wooden Peg, Iron Peg, Mangaweka, Hikurangi. Clag all day on tops with rain and sleet, but weather improves as we hit the McKinnon turnoff, so we change earlier (unspoken) decision to skip past "Kathy’s Lake" and descend to Crow Hut as planned. 10.5 hrs.
Day 4. Climb to southern end of Mokai Patea Range, gain Rongotea and descend to Wakelings Hut for lunch. Climb steeply to pt 1209 and continue on track along ridge and drop to Maropea Forks Hut. Another claggy, wet day. 9 hrs
Day 5. Head upstream 200m and take track to bushline, over pt 1450, nice sidle to saddle below Maroparea, head S over Orupu to squeeze into Sparrowhawk Biv out of the rain for lunch. Easy climb to Maropea, slowed by our first batch of leatherwood in saddle beyond, flounder up to pt 1476, tackle the main ‘orrible Olearia torment, finally gain pt 1499 in fading light, sprint down to Armstrong Saddle and a wonderfully warm Sunrise Hut. Dry our gear and get a promising forecast - yeah! 10.75 hrs.
Day 6. Wonderful sunrise, and fine day on tops!! I repeat, fine day on tops! Cool wind though. Amble around to Te Atuaoparapara enjoying the day. Clouds building so quicken pace to pt 1625, down to Waipawa Saddle and up and around to pt 1635 now in full clag. Locate tarn on eastern side of saddle and set up camp in increasing breeze. Blowy night. 7 hrs.
Day 7. Easy climb to Rangioteatua and on to pt 1715. Challenging descent to saddle over crumbly ridge and steep scree slopes, finally gain Paemutu and Broken Ridge. Easy travel to S end of ridge. With insufficient time to cross Sawtooth and reach Howletts Hut decide to camp high near a tarn. Frigid night. 5.5 hrs.
Day 8. Early start, very cold but fine. Brocken spectres projected on morning mist above saddle. Reach Ohuinga by 9am, cross Sawtooth (4.5 hrs), descend from Tiraha to Howlett’s. 7 hrs
Day 9. Perfect day. Descend Daphne Ridge to Otumore, cross northern end of Ngamoko Range and descend to Iron Gate Hut. Other people! Hunters and trampers, who we leave to Willi to charm and the rest of us camp under beech by the river. Fire lighting failure. 7hrs.
Day 10. Take track over spur and up Oroua river. Cold but wonderful, with sun filtering into the gorge, one whio flies by. Lunch at Triangle Hut, up to Whanahuia Range to complete our circle, down to Rangiwahia Hut. 7hrs.
Day 11. Out to road end and back to Auckland.