"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you" - Isaiah 55:12

14 February 2013

Hawdon Valley, Arthurs Pass National Park - 11-12 June 2011

June 2011...and the Oxford Baptist Church mens tramping group was off on its first trip. We chose the Hawdon Valley for our first tramp together, as it involves easy walking in a picturesque valley in eastern Arthurs Pass NP. Five of us had arrived at the Hawdon Shelter, eager to set off having driven through steady drizzle all the way there. On arrival, the skies were grey with cloud hugging the tops but thankfully the rain was behind us.

 It was mid-winter, snow had fallen overnight, so as we laced up boots most of our thoughts were of the first river crossing, about 5 minutes into the tramp, and how cold it might be.

Off we went and finding the river low we plunged in, crossing at only mid-calf but enough to chill the feet. We made our way towards the flats above where Sudden Valley Stream emerges from the hills and meanders to join the Hawdon River. One of our party had the clever idea of following a bush track, an idea that as it turned out was not one of our better ones - after about 30 minutes, and just as we were starting to question whether we were off route, the track turned uphill and away from the river. A short scramble down the hillside through easy undergrowth soon had us back in the riverbed, plodding on over gravel mostly.

Our little exploration into the bush meant we had come out above the marker poles in the riverbed, so our gravel bashing route made travel a little slower than it needed to be - as we discovered on our return the next day the poles would have led us to easy, grassy flats on the true left bank.

After about 90 minutes we reached the confluence with the East Hawdon Stream, and the front-runners had a nice rest while those of us (myself included) who had lagged behind due to the desire to take numerous photos caught up. After a quick scrog stop we set off again, it was late afternoon now and we were mindful of getting to the hut before dark since none of us had visited the new Hawdon Hut in its new location above Discovery Stream.

The upper Hawdon River was much more wild and rugged than what we had experienced in the lower flats. The valley narrowed considerably, boulders became larger, and the water flowed with quite some force through the more gorge-like terrain. For us trampers though this caused no issues, as shortly above the East Hawdon we had crossed to the true right where we would stay until our arrival at the hut.

Travel was now a mix of tracked (and marked) bush walking and some boulder hopping along the edge of the river in places. In one open clearing we saw the remains of the old Hawdon Hut, burnt down in 2005 when visitors failed to fully extinguish their ashes from the fire. About a foot of burnt piles is all the can be seen now. This spurred us on, knowing we were about 20 minutes away from the comforts of the new hut, a 20-bunk palace built by DOC in 2007.

The new Hawdon Hut is a beauty and, being the middle of winter with not great weather, we had the place to ourselves. We quickly had it feeling warm and cosy with the logburner roaring. This did create the unusual problem of it being almost too hot in the hut due to the fact the windows are double-glazed.

We chatted by candle and torch light long into the night, one of the joys of the backcountry hut experience. Morning brought with it the splendour of fresh snow on the tops and a crisp, sunny winter's dawn. With little to do but eat breakfast, tidy up the hut, and bring in wood for the next party, we were quickly on our way back to the car.

Speedier progress was made on the way out, and plans were made for our next trip into the hills.

Wet feet to start the trip

The gentle flow of the Hawdon River in its lower reaches

The upper part of the Hawdon is a more rugged experience

Gorge in the upper Hawdon River

Night life at Hawdon Hut

The interior of Hawdon Hut

Rugged Peak and Trudge Col, from the terrace in front of Hawdon Hut

Meaningful discussion as another side stream is about to be crossed

Side stream in the Hawdon Valley

Looking down the Hawdon Valley, with Savannah Range in background

View up-valley from the riverbed, with Pt 1742 dominating

Easy tramping along grassy flats - missed these on our way up

The Craigieburn Range provides a superb backdrop as we approach the end of the tramp

Sudden Valley and peaks on the Polar Range

Back at the carpark at Hawdon Shelter, with Mt Binser on show

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Drive on SH73 from Christchurch towards Arthurs Pass. Turn right at the marked turnoff to the Hawdon Valley and Mt White.
Time: Allow 3hrs to the hut
Map: BV21 Cass
Hut: Hawdon (20 bunks)

7 February 2013

Foggy Peak, Torlesse Range - 7 February 2010

An early start was the order of the day, and all indications were that it would be the perfect morning with fine weather and a full moon expected to provide me with ideal conditions. One look outside was enough to change that thought - thick fog lay on the Canterbury Plains, not exactly what I wanted given that I was hoping to catch a sunrise.I decided to press on, hopeful that I could climb above the fog.

I was heading for the Korowai-Torlesse Tussocklands, a conservation park in the eastern foothills of Canterbury bisected by SH73 which takes you from Christchurch to Arthurs Pass. South of the highway lies the gentler, tussock covered Ben More and Big Ben Ranges, while to the north sits the rock and scree slopes of the Torlesse Range.

My goal on this morning was a pre-dawn climb of Foggy Peak, a 1741m summit on the Torlesse Range. At 3:30am I was parked at the top of Porters Pass, ready to go and, to my relief, above the fog. At 942m, Porters Pass provides the ideal launching pad for the climb, but I still had 800 vertical metres to the summit and I figured about 90 minutes until sunrise - time to get moving. There was just one more obstacle to overcome - darkness. The full moon had cleverly hidden itself behind the very mountain I was about to climb.

The climb itself was straightforward, the ridge is broad and a well-worn foot trail winds its' way steadily upwards - not that I could see it until my descent! I also discovered (in daylight on the way down) that numerous cairns mark the trail, which would be useful if caught returning in poor conditions.
The route is steep, with little respite, but this worked to my advantage, enabling me to gain height quickly in my race against the sun.

At 5am I had reached around 1650m and the glow of dawn was upon me. I set up camera and tripod, stunned by the beauty that was slowly being revealed below.
The Canterbury Plains lay blanketed in fog. Hills and peaks rose above it, like islands in a white ocean. To the south, Lake Lyndon shimmered in the early light while beyond, the Coleridge basin and Rakaia valley were filled with fog also.

Although wanting to linger, and revel in the majestic surrounds, I needed to make a hasty return home to make the Sunday morning church service and so, with a promise to return another day, I made my descent.

Foggy Peak is aptly named, for the ridge is often cloud covered by afternoon, but fortunately for me the fog resided far below on the flats on this morning.

First light illuminates the fog below

Lake Lyndon, with Rakaia valley & Hutt range beyond
Lake Lyndon shimmers in the morning light

Sunrise from 1650m on Foggy Peak

The scene is slowly revealed

Canterbury Plains blanketed in fog

Another pre-dawn shot

One of many cairns marking the route

Kowai River & road snaking up towards Porters Pass

Looking up from Porters Pass after the descent

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Start from the top of Porters Pass on SH73 from Christchurch to Arthurs Pass.
Time: 2hrs to the summit
Map: BW21 Springfield
Huts: None
Other notes: In winter the ridge can be extremely icy, ice axe and crampons required.