Friday, April 10, 2009

Haast - The Divide (Feb/Mar 2009)


Day 1. Haast to Burke 7 hrs 5 kms

Day 2. Burke to Howe 7 hrs 6 kms

Day 3. Howe to Okuru 11.5 hrs 12 kms

Day 4. Okuru to Blue 8.5 hrs 8 kms

Day 5. Blue to Makarora to Young 11 hrs 36 kms

Day 6. Young to Siberia 7 hrs 9 kms

Day 7. Siberia to Wilkin 8.5hrs 23 kms

Day 8. Wilkin to Ruth Flat 10 hrs 16 kms

Day 9. Ruth Flat to Aspiring Hut 10.5 hrs 32 kms

Day 10. Rest/Wet Weather Day.

Day 11. Aspiring Hut to Dart Hut 6 hrs 14 kms

Day 12. Dart Hut to Dart Shelter 9 hrs 32 kms

Day 13. Dart Shelter to Routeburn Flat 9.5 hrs 47 kms

Day 14. Routeburn Flat to The Divide 7 hrs 25 kms

Wednesday 25 Feb (Day 1)

I managed to leave Richmond about 13:15 on Monday 23rd. That followed a hectic weekend of running, packing, and a harrier meeting. I drove to Hokitika and called in to see Stephanie and Kevin for an hour. Then off to Franz Josef for fish and chips and finally I arrive at Pleasant Flat at 2200 to camp the night.
On Tuesday, I headed off to Makarora to organise a food drop and intentions sheet with DOC, followed by a cooked breakfast at the café next door. Next stop was Cameron Flat up the Matukituki where I stashed another food drop. Back in Wanaka, I booked the Atomic shuttle bus to take me back to Haast from Queenstown in the morning. Then it was off to Queenstown to purchase some tent pegs that I had forgotten. I spent the night at the motor camp at Frankton.
The Atomic shuttle picked me up 0740 and I arrived at Burke Flat at 1100.
I crossed the Haast River just above the confluence with the Burke, then crossed the Burke at the confluence where the river pools. It didn’t look that deep, but it turned out to be chest deep! I lunched on the sandbank before departing up the Burke at 1145. I arrived at Strachan Creek at 1530, longer than I expected, but in hindsight I sidled too high through the bluffs. This creek is certainly spectacular. As per Moir’s guide, the old swing bridge site is not crossable, so I climbed 100m further up the spur and dropped down a gut that led to a better crossing. I marked this gut with pink flagging tape as there was no sign of the plastic discs mentioned in Moir’s. Once over the creek, I again sidled too high but eventually picked up the permolat that marked the old track. I stopped at 1900 and made camp on the river shingle, 1.2km below Twirligig. The weather has been fine and warm.

Thursday 26 Feb (Day 2)

Up at 0700 and away at 0820. I arrived at the Howe junction at 1200. The crossing here was also chest deep but with minimum flow. Getting here today was slow and did not involve as much river travel as I had expected. After a quick lunch, I was keen to get going and warm up again. Initially I started up the Howe riverbed but it soon gorged. I had to climb steeply and high on the TR to get onto a terrace. At this point I picked up a very good game trail that I was able to follow all the way to the first flat. I imagine it probably started at the Howe/Burke confluence! I suggest anyone heading this way to pick up this game trail at the confluence, and don’t bother trying to go up the river. I arrived at the first flat at 1530, and as it was raining lightly and I was tired and wet, I decided to camp here the night. Once again the fine river gravel provided an ideal tent site. The going is slower than expected.

Friday 27 Feb (Day 3)

Departed at 0800, stepped into the bush on the TL and low and behold, another deer trail. I was able to follow this to the 600m contour, arriving at 1015. I then followed the river/grassy flats to the forks, except just below the forks, pick up a game trail on the TR at the top of the flat. Follow this up through a ferny gut at which point it sidles out to the top flat. I arrived at the forks at 1130, in sunny conditions with a warm breeze. I departed the forks at 1200, taking the southern branch. I boulder hopped initially, then at the first obstacle cut up a stream coming in on the TR, before bush bashing back to the river. At the next obstacle, I cut up into the bush on the TL, where once again a good deer trail was found and followed all the way to the tussock. It was an easy climb to Douglas saddle, arriving at 1600.
In retrospect, the Howe is relatively easy if you stick to the well worn deer trails. Start on the TR to the first flat, cross to the TL till the 600m contour. Follow the river/grassy flats until just before the forks, pickup another deer trail on the TR. From the forks take the TL to the top flats
I dropped down a gut at the saddle which didn’t turn out to be as easy as it looked. However I managed to sidle across to the south and drop down a scrubby gut. As per Moir’s guide, I made my way across to the first creek and scrub bashed down the second. However instead of cutting left into the bush, I went right. I got down to the Okuru ok except I had to keep cutting across gutty creeks to stay out of trouble. On the TL of the Okuru, another game trail was found and followed most of the way to the top flat. I arrived at the head of the top flat at 1930. It has been a longish but enjoyable day today. Temperature dropping as night approaches. I’m looking forward to a good restful sleep as the body is feeling weary.

Saturday 28 Feb (Day 4)

I woke to fine but breezy conditions, and red cloud out to the east. I thought Maori Saddle was going to be quite windy but it turned out not to be. Mist was slowly building on the tops but never quite got as low as the saddle. Departed at 0830. The initial scrub bash was a bit frustrating, but once to the grass the going was easy all the way down to the scrub zone in the Blue. I arrived at the crossing point at 1100. The saddle itself is not used due to bluffs on the Blue side and you actually cross at the next saddle to the south. The mist was lower in the Blue so I didn’t get to view the mountains at its head. I arrived at the river at 1215, where I stopped for lunch for ½ an hour. Started down the Blue on the TR initially, but was forced to cross to the TL where the going was easier. At the first finger of bush that comes down to the river, I picked up a newly cut DOC track which I was able to follow all the way out to the main road! At the first flat the track crosses to the TR and stays on that side to the north branch. Passed pt744 flat at 1445 and made camp further down at 1700. As I was erecting the tent it started to spit, then turned to steady rain as the evening progressed. The rain eased in the middle of the night to intermittent drizzle. Having travelled south on the west side of the divide, I am now travelling north on the east of the divide! Not the most direct route south! Very little deer sign in the Blue compared to the west.

Sunday 1 March (Day 5)

Away at 0840 in drizzly weather. Arrived at the forks at 1000, and the main road at 1240. A very good crossing point to the TL at the forks. I then had an 8km walk down the road to Makarora. Picked up my food drop here, left my intentions with DOC, then wandered over to the café for a hot lunch with lots of meat. Rang Pam to let her know I was OK. DOC gave me a weather update, which forecast 4 fine days followed by heavy rain. I had intended resting up at Makarora for the rest of the day, but with the heavy rain coming, I wanted to be over Rabbit Pass before it hit. This meant that I would have to keep going to achieve this, with a safety margin of one day if the front came earlier. I got a lift back up the road to the Young access point with a couple who wanted to see me cross the river! They were thinking about crossing the following day. The Makarora was up slightly, but I crossed without problem just upriver of the Young. The Young track is well formed, so I was able to make good progress. Instead of camping at the forks as I had originally intended, I continued up the south branch to the hut, arriving at 2140. (the last hour with a headlamp) The south branch rises steeply for quite a while above a narrow gorge. However, it had only taken me about 4 hours since crossing the Makarora. At least I will enjoy the luxury of a hut tonight, as well as now being 1 day ahead of schedule.

Monday 2 March (Day 6)

I rose at 0630 and left the hut at 0830. The pack seems heavier today, probably a reaction to the longer day yesterday. Both the uphill and downhill have been a struggle today. Gillespie Pass starts with quite a steep climb and I got to the pass at 1130. The track down into Gillespie Stream is quite hard on the knees. I arrive at Siberia Hut at 1530. I had thought of a side trip up to Lake Crucible as I passed, but in the end, decided for the hut and a restful afternoon. It really has been hard work today. Although the day started out drizzly, the sun came out when I started for the pass. There was enough breeze to prevent me getting too hot on the climb, but then I found it too cold at the top to want to stop for any length of time. The Siberia Valley is beautiful, warm and sunny, so spend the afternoon relaxing and drying out wet gear. I had a quick splash bath in the creek. The hut has a good group of people in it tonight from all parts of the world. I’m off to bed early tonight.

Tuesday 3 March (Day 7)

I had a good night’s sleep last night, the best so far. The day dawns fine with a light frost and morning mist. I left the hut at 0900 after the latest weather forecast. Nothing has changed since Makarora. A young Canadian chap called Jerimiah had made an impromptu decision to join me this morning for the next leg over Rabbit Pass to Cameron Flat. He manages to scrape together enough food from the hut to keep him going for a couple of extra days. We meet at Kerrin Forks for the river crossing. The walk to here is on a good benched track and takes only 1 ½ hours. We cross at the jet boat landing and the water is not much deeper than the bottom of my shorts. We suss out an old musterers hut before moving on to Kerrin Forks Hut. We have a bite to eat here before heading off at noon. Some food has been left in the hut by a couple called Carolyn and John for use on their return today. We leave it alone. A couple of hundred metres up the track, I realise I have left my walking stick behind, so I jog back to get it. Jeremiah must be a distraction, as I would not normally forget it! Further up the track we ran into a couple coming the other way. I assume them to be Carolyn and John. I say “Hello Carolyn, how are you today?” She pulls off her sunglasses to have a closer look at this person that supposedly knows her. I say “You don’t know me, I saw your packet of food at the hut” But in actual fact I did know them, having spoken to them on the Atomic shuttle heading up to Haast! After chatting for several minutes, we carry on up the Wilkin. The track proves to be easy and we arrive at Jumbo Flat (named after a horse) after 2 ½ hours. We stop for a cuppa and some food. Off again at 1530, and to our surprise we arrive at Top Forks Huts at 1730. Top Forks huts are located opposite the North Branch of the Wilkin and looks out over a lovely view of Mts Pollux and Castor. All up it’s been a fantastic day, fine and warm, and a stark contrast to how I felt yesterday. I think the Wilkin is the nicest valley that I have been in so far this trip. The river has lots of deep turquoise coloured pools in it. In hindsight I wished I had taken some photos of them! There are 2 huts at Top Forks, I stay in the old one and Jeremiah stays in the newer. We each have a hut to ourselves. I have another splash bath this evening, 2 in 2 days! A good day as I have had today makes me tend to forget all those bad moments of previous days. Tomorrow, I will get to see what all the fuss is all about with respect to Waterfall Face and Rabbit Pass.

Wednesday 4 March (Day 8)

I didn’t sleep quite as well last night, but it was enough. Up at 0600 and away by 0730. A very pleasant but steep walk to Waterfall Flat with some great views along the way. Arrived there after 3 hrs. Waterfall face was not what I expected at all, much easier in fact. There were good rocky footholds and tussocky handholds, the only thing needed was care and a head for heights. It took me 35mins to climb. The valley above the falls climbed gently around to Rabbit Pass, but as we approached the pass, the wind picked up big time. It was actually quite dangerous as we walked along the ridge adjacent to the line of bluffs. At times I had to crouch down on the ground to avoid the worst of the gusts. I certainly wasn’t keen to look over the side with the wind at my back! Once we got to the drop off point, we were out of the worst of the wind, but still felt cold. The drop down the rocky gut should have been straight forward as well, if we had stuck to the track! I’d had a look down there and didn’t like the look of it at one point, so I had decided to abseil down a short section. While I was setting up, Jeremiah had gone ahead and ended up slipping 3-4 metres. Luckily he didn’t do too much damage, but did take a chunk of skin out of one hand, as well as small gash just below his knee. As I was patching him up, he pointed out a marker over where we should have gone. I went over there and found that the track down to there was actually quite good, and at the same time was able to recover the abseil anchor tape. We were very cold by then, so were only too happy to get down into the East Matukituki. We stopped at 1530, near the bottom for a bite to eat, before heading off again to Ruth Flat. We were both fairly tired by the time we got there, as it had taken 10hrs all up. We spend some time searching for a bivvy rock, to no avail. It was not until I got home that I found out that the bivvy rock was further up valley! After I had cooked tea, I realised that the “O” ring on the MSR had leaked the remaining fuel out of the bottle. Now I won’t be having any hot food or drink until I resupply, which luckily will be tomorrow. It is a good thing that I have a repair kit with me. These bloody cookers seem to require constant maintenance, especially since it doesn’t seem that long ago that the “O” ring was replaced. I wonder whether I would be better off with an old Optimist. At least they are reliable because they are so simple. (KISS) Jeremiah is going for an early start in the morning so he can hitch a ride out to Wanaka. I’ll sleep in.

Thursday 5 March (Day 9)

Man did it blow last night, but the tent stayed intact. Jerimiah was gone when I got up at 0700. Departed 0815. I walked down valley for an hour, then the climb started over Bledisloe Gorge. The track ascents to the grass, before sidling, and then drops directly to Junction Flat. I arrived there at 1145. From the tops I got good views of Cameron & Aspiring Flats but not of Mt Aspiring due to cloud. I lunched at Junction Flat in the warmth of the sun. Departed there at 1240, and arrived at the Otago Boys High School swing bridge at 1525. I sorted out the supplies I needed and left behind the things I didn’t. I think I ended up with a lighter pack overall. I was away again at 1615 and arrived at Aspiring hut at 1900, via the road and 4 wheel drive track. The weather is fine so I decide to camp @$5 per night. (Lodge is $25) They provide running water and a shelter. Rain is predicted tonight so it might turn out to be my first rest day tomorrow. I am 3 days ahead of schedule.

Friday 6 March (Day 10)

It rained steadily through the night and the river is in flood. It is my rest day and everyone at the lodge has departed so we campers move in and play cards most of the day. The sky clears at 2100, but it starts raining again at 0200 Saturday morning.

Saturday 7 March (Day 11)

It drizzled on and off in the morning. The weather forecast is not looking good for the next couple of days either so I decide to head away over Cascade Saddle to Dart Hut. With it only drizzling, I’m hoping the side creeks in the Dart will be crossable. My thoughts are on the Japanese lass who went missing recently. They only found her day pack downstream. Departed 1115 and I reach the pylon at 1415. Conditions are not so pleasant from here to the saddle, with misty wind-blown rain striking my face. No need to stop at the saddle so I carry on down the Dart. I even break into a jog in places where the track is good and the gravel soft. I arrive at Dart Hut at 1715. Conditions here are better, no wind or rain and a great spot for a hut.

Sunday 8 March (Day 12)

I wake up to more drizzle and leave the hut at 0830. The track from here is graded and benched, so it is easy and fast. I arrive at Daleys Hut at 1300. The sun came out about noon. The sandflies forced me inside the hut for lunch. Away again at 1400 and I arrive at the track end shelter at 1745. The weather remains fine except for the odd light shower. The Dart is very nice with big river flats, bluffs and the “Slip”. I saw one large boulder rolling down the slip and heard several others. I met a couple of hunters heading in on a whitetail hunt. They said the slip is a good area for the deer, but would you risk it with huge boulders rolling down? I camp at the shelter and head to bed early as I am a bit tired. Tomorrow will be a long day as the river is up and I will have to walk down to the bridge to get across to the Routeburn.

Monday 9 March (Day 13)

It drizzled in the night and it was a bit cooler, otherwise it has been a fine day. I got up at 0700 and headed away at 0830. I walked down the road to Mill Flat, then cut across to the river. The river appears to have dropped overnight, so I attempt to cross it. I find a braid and get across the first channel ok. However the second and main channel proves to be too deep and swift so I back-track and carry on down the road and all the way around Mt Alfred to the bridge. I arrive at the new Routeburn Shelter at 1645, but carry on to Routeburn Flat, arriving there at 1815. I setup my tent at the camping area but after the warden tells me it is going to cost me $30 to stay there, I move to the North Branch and camp over there for free. (It normally costs $15, but as I didn’t prepay, it costs double) My feet are very tired after the long walk (estimated at 47km) so I’m in the sack at 2115.

Tuesday 10 March (Day 14)

It rained in the night and there is more fresh snow on the tops. Up at 0700 and away at 0830. I reached the Harris Saddle at 1045. It is wet, windy and cold. I have a quick bite to eat in the shelter, before heading off again. I passed Lake McKenzie Hut at 1300 and Lake Howden Hut at 1500. I was impressed by the Earland Falls as I passed by. I arrived at the Divide at 1545, it was cold but not raining. The Routeburn was rougher than I expected in places, though still to a very high standard to what I am used to. The bus was due at 1745 so I filled in the time by cooking up some hot food and changing into dry clothes. There were some strange looks from the bus as I climbed onboard in my camo clothes and bare feet. I stayed at the Te Anau motor camp for the night and caught the bus to Queenstown the following morning.

Wednesday 11 March (Day 15)
It is even colder today, and we strike snow when on the bus to Queenstown. I enjoy a nice hot coffee at Frankton before heading off in the car to Wanaka. I pick up the gear left up the Matukituki and at Makarora, before heading up to Franz Josef to stay with Stephanie for the night. I arrive home on the evening of the 12th March. It’s all over for another year. I have already decided not to traverse west of Lake Te Anau at this stage, so next year I will do the Greenstone, Lake Mavora area instead.

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