Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Midwinter Nelson Lakes Tramping

July rolled around once again, the university had its holidays. This is usually the time when an engineering student has a chance to catch up on the many assignments due after the holidays. However, this time was different; I didn't have any classes after the holidays. I didn't have a job lined up. I didn't have any commitments for the foreseeable future. So needless to say, with my new found freedom I decided to go tramping.

Plans were hatched over a few beers at the Dux. Matt and I were quite keen for a longer mission. Kirstie was about to leave New Zealand and would like to get out on one last tramp, Becky was also keen for a trip - but ideally only a few days out. Fiordland was considered, but Nelson Lakes was deemed to likely have better weather. Pouring over guide books and online route descriptions told us that the route from Saint Arnaud to Lewis Pass was usually only attempted in summer, but shouldn't pose too great a problem in winter. I was talking to my brother, as one is bound to do occasionally and I determined that he was also on holiday, albeit in Te Anau, he didn't take much convincing to drive for 8 hours up to Christchurch and join us for the next 10 days up in Nelson Lakes.

How could we go past Lake Rotoroa without some inner reflection?
Our plan was to make some sort of short circuit with all five of us, then the girls were going to ditch Matt, Neville and I, who would have to find our own way south to Lewis Pass! We had been going less than a day when we came across this amazing vista at Lake Rotoroa. The spectacle awed me into quiet contemplation. Matt still had energy abound at Sabine hut, he performed cartwheels down on the wharf.

Matt still has the energy for acrobatics at sunset on the wharf by Sabine Hut.
A night time stroll revealed 11 very large eels swimming around the wharf, if I turned my headlamp to beam mode they seemed to follow the spot. With rope or string I'm certain catching one wouldn't have been too difficult - some were absolutely massive!

Leaving the shelter and heading for the tops!
Neville decided we were all walking too slowly so he took off ahead of us on the way up to Lake Angelus via Mount Cedric.  This was clearly his own special way of telling us that for the big trip he would like to carry the most!

Winter wonderland of Lake Angelus Hut
The day after arriving at Angelus hut we decided would be a nice relaxing pit day. We had plenty of books and it was all going rather well until Neville and I went for a scramble around the ridge above the lake. It was just so nice out, we had to get everybody out tramping - decided that climbing Mount Angelus would be our goal for the day. On the summit a bit of cloud came in, that was the worst weather we had in 9 days of tramping!
On the summit of Mount Angelus

Returning along Robert Ridge was a pleasant experience, we had the company of an older gentlemen who kept taking videos of us! For once returning to civilization after a tramp was only a temporary measure; we got a pie and had an ice cream. At this point the party split ways, Becky and Kristie departing back to Christchurch, Kirstie was actually flying back to England the next day! Saying goodbye to a friend was as hard as ever - it will probably be years before I see her again. Still Neville, Matt and I had a frantic time repacking our packs for the week+ long mission ahead of us. We were leaving immediately so the girls could shuttle my car, Big Brown, south to Lewis Pass. After stuffing more than we each thought could fit into a pack, we discovered more and more gear that must be taken - the tent was almost overlooked and was added in as an afterthought!

Heading up the Travers Valley
I would highly recommend going tramping to Blue Lake & Lake Constance. Such a gorgeous place! We didn't try, but it looks like you could just scramble around Lake Constance down at the water level. We instead opted to follow the cairns guiding us up and through the bluffs.

On the way up to Blue Lake I was tramping along behind Matt, I was watching him struggle slightly with his shovel. He had the rather long device mounted horizontally to the bottom of his pack, causing great difficulty in navigating around dense patches of trees. I bid my time, enjoying the entertainment before pointing out that the shovel unscrews in the middle and would even fit inside his pack if he so desired.

Navigating around the bluffs on the side of Lake Constance 
We were a bit apprehensive about the avalanche conditions for the multiple passes we had to cross on this trip. We had probes and shovels but no transievers, as the club had ran out. The first, Travers Pass was probably the most dangerous in terms of snow conditions - by sticking to spurs we were comfortable enough crossing over. And conditions seemed to improve as we went south.

Neville contemplates putting gloves on. 
Maybe we were weak, or our bags were too heavy... but climbing up to Waiau Pass was rather exhausting! We started walking on this day about 7am, our plans were to go nuts and cross as many passes as possible.

Down one side and back up the other. Neville taking the final steps to Thompson Pass.
One long day of plugging steps through deep snow later we ascended Waiau Pass, descended right down to nearly snowline, ascended Thompson Pass, sidled around into the D'Urville, sun has set now, ascended to NOT Upper D'Urville Pass, descended back down the same side from the fake Upper D'Urville Pass before deciding to stop for the night on the side of the mountain.

Neville and Matt skirting around the rocks from Thompson Pass
Camping on the snow is always interesting, it also helps to know where you are. After reaching the obvious (but incorrect) pass as the sunset we decided to descend off the pass to set up a quick camp. We had to dig out our tent site; we were on the side of a mountain so nothing was flat. Having to dig also meant creating walls, which worked wonderfully as windbreakers. For the first time Matt and I disregarded our menu, instead choosing the quick option of boiling water for a freeze dried meal. A rather long and cold night followed, I opted to put my boots in a plastic bag and keep them in my sleeping bag between my legs - Brrr!

Heading towards the (wrong) pass at dusk
In the morning we got our bearings back and made our way up to the real Upper D'Urville pass. Looking down the opposite side of this pass didn't make us quake in our boots like our fake pass had!

Neville is pleased to reach the real Upper D'Urville Pass
I got my foam sleeping mat out and slid on it almost all the way down into the valley - so much fun! Having spent all day yesterday then the night out, all our water had been boiled slowly and painfully from snow, getting down to a source of water that wasn't entirely frozen was most exciting for us!

Chilled water anyone?
Bob's hut was our destination for the evening, as we approached the smoke from the chimney got us excited at the prospect of seeing other people. The size of the hut then made it clear that it could be a bit of a squeeze! The other party was from the Victoria University of Wellington Tramping Club, it was funny talking to them as we knew quite a few people in common including Dave and Giselle. They had been hard at work having a rest day but told us all about the Three Tarn route that we would be doing the following day. I think we managed to impress with our culinary skills; despite this being near the end of our trip we still had fresh broccoli, frozen carrot, feta cheese and couscous followed by chocolate self saucing pudding. Mmmm!

Matt using my pliers to untie frozen laces. Makes me feel slightly better about having my boots inside my sleeping bag with me.
Three Tarn Pass was pretty easy, a long way up the valley from Bob's Hut but we made it down the other side and joined up with the St. James walkway for a late lunch. We met another party from VUWTC at Ada Pass hut, they were also having a rest day! They were making a mulled wine/whiskey mix and had the hut soo nice and warm! I remember them asking if we knew Terra from their club who had come to CUTC - saying she would have had them up at 4am off climbing mountains! We didn't stop for that long, we were only two huts in from the road end and there was at least another hour or two of light... Hot pools were calling us!

"I want to die here. Not right now, but one day" - Matt at our stopping point near Three Tarn Pass
I'm pretty sure we almost jogged to Cannibal Gorge Hut - taking about 45 minutes. During this final section Matt and I were busy planning our next big mission - there were thoughts of a Fiordland traverse or getting into the Olivine Ice Plato... or both! Our walk out to my waiting car ended just after it got dark (with shouts and whoops of delight).

The final route for the second part of our journey.

We covered ground faster than anticipated, and we actually ended up finishing two days earlier than expected. Six alpine passes down, time to head to the hot pools at Sylvia flats for a long soak with a beer - I swear Beer has never tasted better!