"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

30 March 2013

Double Hill - 24 October 2009

I chose Double Hill to introduce the family to tramping in the Canterbury high country, although to call it tramping probably over-states the nature of the trip. Standing at just 699m, Double Hill is a mere bump on the south bank of the Rakaia River, but its isolation from the surrounding peaks means it offers decent views of the area.

The drive into the area is worthy of mention in its own right. Having turned onto Blackford Rd just south of the Rakaia Gorge the road winds its way along the foot of the Hutt Range, which rises up over 1500m from the riverbed to the principle summit of Mt Hutt (2185m). The seal ends shortly after leaving the main highway (this also triggers a change in the road's name, which now becomes Double Hill Run Rd) but the surface was superb, despite being unsealed, and the 45km drive to Double Hill itself was uncomplicated.

It was very hot on the day of our visit, and while it was great to stretch our legs after the long drive we quickly discovered that climbing to the summit wasn't going to happen with the kids today. Instead, we chose to take a more direct line across the rolling slopes to find a picnic spot on the northern side of Double Hill, looking over the Rakaia and, thankfully, out of the sun. There was plenty to keep the eye wandering and the mind dreaming of trips deeper into the backcountry around us. Directly across the Rakaia lay the Rolleston Range, the peaks snow capped after a recent spring storm, while looking upstream the Mathias valley opened invitingly, urging one to come and explore. Behind us to the south rose the Palmer Range, with the green terraces of Glenariffe and Double Hill stations at its' feet. It was a day for relaxing and enjoying being amongst a spectacular landscape so easily reached.

If you're looking for an easy family outing in the hills, then Double Hill is well worth a visit.

On the road to Double Hill, Hutt Range on the left

High country farming, with Peak Hill in background

Hot work! - rest stop after about 10 minutes

Looking across to the entrance of the Wilberforce valley

Back down the Rakaia, terraces of Glenariffe on the right

Rakaia River and the Rolleston Range

Palmer Range

Mt Oakden

Rakaia River, a classic Canterbury braided river

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Turn off SH72 about 3km south of Rakaia Gorge onto Blackford Rd. Follow this for about 45km, Double Hill is the unmistakable twin-summited hill close to the river.

Time: 1-2hrs to the summit

Map: BW19 Taylors Camp

Hut: None

17 March 2013

Hawdon-Edwards Route, Arthurs Pass National Park - 26-27 October 2012

The second trip of the church tramping group took us up the Hawdon Valley again, but this time we had grander plans - a 3 day trip linking the Hawdon and Edwards valleys by crossing Walker Pass and Tarn Col. This is a popular tramp, serviced by excellent huts that are a half days walk up each valley, with a longer day sandwiched in between to cross the passes. Twelve of us arrived at the Hawdon Shelter on a windy nor'west evening in spring, with rain threatening to ruin our plans. We opted for a 'go and see' approach, knowing that we would make Hawdon Hut comfortably before any rain, and always had the option to bail out back down the Hawdon if things turned rough.

The majority of the party set off around 6.15pm on the Friday night, expecting to arrive at the hut around 9pm. Two of us, myself included, did the car shuffle down to the Mingha/Edwards layby shortly before Arthurs Pass village so were about an hour behind the main group. This was no major problem, it simply meant we spent more time in the dark.

The route up the Hawdon is more fully described here and for the first half travel was good. We crossed the East Hawdon Stream in fading light, so stopped on the bank to don headtorches. Being familiar with the tramp was of great assistance, as route finding in the dark became more difficult as we reached the more rugged sections of the upper Hawdon - those orange triangles are hard to see in the dark! Nevertheless we reached the hut without trouble after around 3hrs, arriving at 10pm.

Hawdon Hut (20 bunks) was unchanged from our visit a little over a year ago - it's still palatial, and suprisingly we had it to ourselves...again! After a quick dinner and chat we turned in as the weather started to batter the hut.

By morning the wind was whistling in the trees and although the cloud hung low there was little rain. We made plans over breakfast, again taking the 'go and see' approach, and decided to head on up to Walker Pass to get a look at conditions ahead. We set off early, hoping we might just sneak through the passes before the really bad weather hit. The track starts off easily, crossing Twin Fall Stream after about 10 minutes, then begins to climb steeply through the bush to get around the twin waterfalls in the stream which bar the way up the streambed. It is a rough but well-formed trail, rocky in places, with marker triangles just in case you stray off route (very unlikely!). As we started to gain height the bush thinned, allowing views back down the Hawdon valley, across to the Polar Range, and of the peaks in the Hawdon headwaters - all of which were hidden by cloud.

After about an hour of constant ascent we broke out of the bush onto an open knoll, and into the full force of the approaching storm. Stepping onto the top of the knoll we were hit by gale force winds funneling through the gap ahead which was Walker Pass. The rain stung like needles, horizontal as it was carried along on the wind. The route we were to follow was to take us directly into the wind for the next 4-6 hours, with the chance that snow may have been falling on or around Tarn Col, which sits around 300m higher than our current position. We retreated below the ridgetop to discuss options, although there was only one sensible choice. The younger (and less experienced) members of our party were keen to go on, but the decision was made to return back to the hut and out to the car. Down we went and, having left our new intentions in the hut logbook, made our way back down the Hawdon, racing the storm as it filled the valley behind us. Steady rain caught up with us mid-valley but the cars were reached without incident, and as it turned out our decision proved a good one as heavy rain fell for the next 2 days which would have meant a long stay stranded in the valley by the swollen river. Such are the joys of tramping in New Zealand's mountains.

Sunset over the Craigieburn Range as we set off up the Hawdon

Ominous weather at dawn on the day of our intended crossing of Walker Pass and Tarn Col

Definitely something not right with this gas cooker - burnt offerings for breakfast?

Looking a little brighter after breakfast, promising enough to venture up to Walker Pass

View back down the Hawdon from the steep route leading up to Walker Pass

Mt Hunt and peaks of the upper Hawdon...they're there somewhere

Decision time as we reach the knoll, and wild weather, at the top of the climb to Walker Pass

Un-named peaks on the Polar Range briefly show themselves

Walker Pass and the route ahead - looks nasty

Packing down to face the wind full on

Decision made, time to descend to the valley floor and out to the car

Escaping the storm and the rising Hawdon River - Walker Pass is in the gap to the left

Intended route, with turn-around point marked
Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Turn off at the signposted Mt White turnoff on SH73 from Christchurch to Arthurs Pass

Time: Carpark to Hawdon Hut 3hrs, Hawdon Hut to Walker Pass 2hrs, Walker Pass to Tarn Col 3hrs, Tarn Col to Edwards Hut 4hrs, Edwards Hut to carpark 4-5hrs

Maps: BV20 Otira, BV21 Cass

Huts: Hawdon (20 bunks), Edwards (16 bunks)

8 March 2013

Purple Hill - 11 July 2012

A cracking winter day greeted us for our climb up Purple Hill, the prominent peak on the other side of Lake Pearson when driving on State Highway 73 from Christchurch to Arthurs Pass. At 1680m the climb promised to be no walk in the park but tramping mate Iain and I were rearing to go having not been into the hills for some time.

Having parked the car at the northern end of the lake we set off at 10am, with the sun starting to warm the air after a solid July frost. We skirted round the boggy sections at the head of the lake, aiming for the low saddle at the foot of the northern face of Purple Hill. We reached the saddle in quick time, had a brief glance up at the steep face rising in front of us to pick out a route, then on we went.  From the saddle we forced our way through some bands of matagouri - yep, we were tramping again! - before the gradient steepened and our climb began proper.

The slope was unrelentingly steep so we opted for a zig-zag approach, slowly but steadily working our way up. While it didn't seem it while looking up the slope, we were gaining height quickly, as shown by a glance over our shoulders to the ever expanding view of the Cass basin below us. After almost 2hrs we reached the top of the first crest (as it appears from below walking up) and by this time we were ready for a snack. Eager to see what lay ahead we made it a short snack and continued on.

As we came up over the rise the route ahead was clear...up, up, and up! What had been a broad face narrowed now to a more defined ridge, and got steeper, but it didn't appear to be too far to what looked like the summit. We pressed on, inspired by the views and the promise of more as we gained height. It was about now that I started to suffer from cramp in one leg, and while not totally crippling it was inconvenient enough to slow me considerably. I watched Iain disappear up the ridge, the distance between us growing by the minute.
I settled into my own rhythm, slowly but surely working my way up the steepening ridge. After about an hour I reached where Iain lay sleeping at the top of the ridge. I pulled out lunch, camera, and map and we set about picking out peaks and valleys, recalling previous trips and checking out future ones.

Our study of the map revealed that we weren't at the summit, so we started out again, climbing up over the next crest to find a flat plateau at around 1450m carpeted in knee deep snow.We made our way across, looking south now down the length of the Craigieburn Range, Lake Pearson still partially frozen 800m below. To our left another ridge led up to the summit of Purple Hill, still some distance away but as the ridge was free of snow it looked very achievable. We set off across the snow again, but my leg was nearing the end of its strength, so the call had to be made to descend.

Our day was done, but we'd had a great day in the hills, with the promise of many more to come.

Looking across the northern end of Lake Pearson from the lower slopes of Purple Hill

Zig-zagging up the steep face

Gog, with Mt Binser in background

Looking north over Lakes Pearson and Grasmere to the mountains of Arthurs Pass

Lake Pearson and Pt 1790 on the Craigieburn Range

Coal train heading west

Lunch stop at 1400m, looking down the line of our ascent

Hitting the snow, just above our lunch spot

On the snowy plateau at around 1450m, looking north-east to Mt Binser 

Iain takes in the view along the Craigieburn Range, with Flock Hill Station just beyond the lake

Spectacular views in all directions - but time to descend

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Turn off State Highway 73 at the northern end of Lake Pearson and follow vehicle tracks to the lake shore.

Time: 4hrs to the summit, 2-3hrs return

Map: BV21 Cass

Hut: None

4 March 2013

Cass-Lagoon Saddle, Craigieburn Forest Park - 9-10 February 2013

After 2 trips up the Hawdon Valley, the church tramping group needed a change of scenery and a more challenging trip. While not difficult, the Cass-Lagoon Saddle tramp offers variety, beautiful scenery, is easily completed in a weekend, and has a well appointed hut midway - what more could one ask for!

The track ends are about 15km apart so a car shuffle was in order but we were ready to hit the trail at 12.30pm on a glorious Saturday, with the intention of arriving at Hamilton Hut (our destination on day 1) for a slightly late dinner around 7pm. Good intention, but not how it panned out for us!

The track started by following a vehicle track from the carpark down to the Cass River, a gentle though uninspiring start to the trip. Once we reached the river we had great views of the peaks around the lower valley, as well as one of the lodges on Grasmere Station - would be a stunning place to visit. The route followed up the Cass river, crossing from side to side when necessary. After 2 weeks of sun the river levels were low so we could cross at will, taking advantage of the easiest travel.

After about 2 hours we picked up the start of the marked track up into the bush. It really does pay to be on the true right of the river when approaching this point, as it would be very difficult to spot the first track markers from the opposite bank - the river currently flows well away from the start of the track and the marker triangles are tucked in behind some large bushes. The track starts just above where McLeod Stream comes into the Cass on the true left - this is the first major side valley on the true left and is easy recognised. Travel on the marked route is easy, with the track being well formed.

An interesting feature has been formed in the Cass river, just above the Long Valley Stream confluence - a large slip has come down and blocked the river. Once we had climbed to the crest of the slip we saw a reasonably large lake has formed in behind the slip. We were very tempted to test the waters (it being a warm afternoon) but resisted the urge and moved on. For those following our footsteps (and if the lake is still there) it is easy to push through bush to reach the 'beach' at the upper end of the lake.

Setting off up the Cass River

Further up the Cass 

The 'lake' in the Cass River

So tempted to have a swim

The track proper re-enters the bush midway up the slip - look for a large cairn on the slip to pick up the track - and starts to climb steadily. Again, the track condition was superb, DOC staff have been busy clearing the tracks after spring storms caused widespread damage - the damage is still there to see but the tracks are clear. The track meanders up and down over small spurs that meet the river, rising all the time with the valley. Further on the Cass is crossed on a footbridge and after a short distance re-crossed back to the true right where Cass Saddle Hut is located, perched in a clearing just below the bushline at around 1140m.

Cass Saddle Hut (3 bunks) was built in 1953. It has a corrugated iron exterior, around wood slabs that make up the inside walls, probably sourced from trees felled on site. Before Hamilton Hut was built in the 1980's this tramp was probably serviced by the Cass Saddle and West Harper Huts, making for a comfortable 3 day tramp with a night in each hut. On the day of our visit a party of 4 was in residence, it was 5.30pm and dinner smelt very good! It was hard to move on but with several hours still to go to reach Hamilton Hut we had to part ways.

Cass Saddle Hut

Looking down the Cass valley from Cass Saddle

View down Hamilton Creek from Cass Saddle, with the flats in front of Hamilton Hut just visible

A short trail through the bush behind the hut brought us out onto gentle tussock slopes that led up to Cass Saddle. The route is poled and works its way on an easy gradient up to the saddle, which stands at 1326m. The area is prone to avalanche in winter but would be an attractive place to visit with snow on the surrounding peaks. After a quick pause to take in the views it was time to move on.

The route makes a short sidle round from the saddle to the top of a bush spur, then makes the plunge back down to Hamilton Creek and the valley floor. The descent is very steep, especially at the top of the spur, but is well marked and tracked. The many hours of gradually gaining height were erased in quick time, and after around 45 minutes we had given back the hard earned height and were back on the flats following the river downstream toward Hamilton Hut, our shelter for the night. The track along Hamilton Creek is road-like, but slow progress was made, as it had been all day, due to one of our party discovering his lack of fitness early in the tramp. Still, we were moving towards the hut and make it we did, arriving at around 9pm after 8 and a half hours on the go.

Hamilton Hut (20 bunks) was built by the New Zealand Forest Service in 1983, part of their expanding programme of building bigger huts after the successes of their 4 and 6 bunk designs. It boasts 2 solid tables, stainless steel benchtops, running water, and a logburner for heating (with a ready supply of firewood in the shed behind the hut). The hut sits at 800m, perched on a grassy terrace above Hamilton Creek, just above its confluence with the Harper River, and offers good views of the Grey and Black Ranges.

Despite the luxuries on offer inside the hut, it was such a great night that 2 of us decided to sleep on the verandah under the stars - disturbed only by the resident possum scuffling on the roof, and by the sandflies, which woke before us and were hungry for breakfast!

Hamilton Hut sits perched on its terrace

Hamilton Hut

Early morning sun on the Grey Range, seen from the flats in front of Hamilton Hut

A glorious morning dawned, with the promise of warm weather for the day. With a nor'west wind forecast to pick up in the afternoon, and possibly bring a little rain with it, we were away early, endeavouring to make good time and beat the weather. Again...good intentions.

Day 2 started with an easy stroll along Hamilton Creek towards its confluence with the Harper River. A short distance along we crossed Hamilton on what looked to be a fairly new footbridge. Our map showed a walkwire here but the bridge is much more solid and less airy than a walkwire. The track took us along the true left of the Harper briefly, before crossing on a swingbridge to the true right where we would stay for some time.

Just as it was going up the Cass the previous day, travel was on superbly formed tracks, with the route making a few short, sharp climbs over bush spurs. After 2 hours comfortable walking we reached West Harper Hut, a good example of hut building in days of old.

West Harper Hut (5 bunks) was built in 1957 using beech saplings for the framing and to construct the bunks. The bunks themselves have sacking rather than the usual solid bench. There is an open fireplace and the hut even comes complete with a dirt floor. Corrugated iron provides the outer shell - simple hut construction from back in the days when building codes didn't enter the minds of those who endeavoured to create a shelter in the wilderness.

Our stay at West Harper was short lived - the sandfly population was healthy here too and with a few spots of rain falling it was time to get moving.

On we went up the Harper, our travel mixed now between bush tracks and short stints in the riverbed itself. Cairns were over-abundantly supplied - at one point there were 3 sitting side by side at a place were there was no possible risk of taking the wrong route. We crossed over to the true left before reaching probably the most critical route-finding point of the trip - the Harper-Long Creek confluence. It is easy to see how parties could mistakenly head up Long Creek, it is by far the more major tributary and makes the Harper look like a mere side stream, especially with the water flow as low as it was. Looking up the Harper there is a large orange marker triangle on a tree about 50m up the river - if you're looking you can't miss it.

Having correctly chosen our route, travel remained much the same, albeit a little rougher now. The boulders in the riverbed were bigger and the bush travel was often over or around slips, making for steeper sections than would perhaps normally be encountered. Our travel really slowed now, due to physical limitations within the party rather than any great difficulty with the terrain itself.

And so it was that we found ourselves still short of Lagoon Saddle Shelter (A Frame), our intended lunch stop, at 3pm. It was decided to sit by the track for a rest, some food, and a chance to regroup. It turned out we were only about 20 minutes from the A frame shelter below Lagoon Saddle so we just stopped to photograph it before continuing on, mindful of the time now.  The Lagoon Saddle A Frame Hut (as it's marked on maps) stands at 1140m on the edge of a nice little bush clearing just below the bushline. It was built in 1983 and is a much tidier place to stay than the older Lagoon Saddle Hut directly across the stream. Both are classed as 2 bunk bivvies.

From the shelter the route climbed steadily up towards the bushline and after a short while we emerged onto open tussock tops above Lagoon Saddle itself. Boardwalks led up to the crest of the ridge, where the best views of the tramp were to be found. The forecast cloud and wind had not yet arrived, allowing grand views to the peaks of the Waimakariri headwaters and western Arthurs Pass National Park. As we were taking it all in, an all too familiar sound was heard - the beeping and buzzing of cellphones as we picked up reception out on the tops...it truly is hard to escape it all these days!

It was now approaching 5pm so we set off across the tussock slopes beneath Mt Bruce. The route sidles directly across the face, descending ever so slowly as we made our way in and out of small gullies and through the thigh high tussocks. It was hot work, tramping across the exposed, north-facing slope with the late afternoon sun beating down, and we were relieved to reach the bushline again after about 50 minutes. All that was left was the descent through the bush and out to our waiting car at Cora Lynn.

It was a slow descent on weary legs but we eventually emerged from the bush at Bealey Hut (6 bunks) at 6:45pm, pausing briefly to exchange pleasantries with those who were staying the night, before plodding down the road to the carpark. Packs were dropped, boots quickly removed, and the feet saw their first fresh air since 8:30 that morning. Despite the long days and slow travel at times, it was a trip enjoyed by all, and comes highly recommended.

Crossing Hamilton Creek the easy way

Swingbridge across the Harper River

The Grey Range provides a scenic backdrop 

Pleasant travel up the very attractive Harper River

Side stream on our way up the Harper

Arriving at West Harper Hut

Inside the very rustic West Harper Hut

West Harper Hut

Lagoon Saddle Shelter

Out of the bush, above Lagoon Saddle

Looking back down the Harper from the tops above Lagoon Saddle

Checking cellphones on the slopes beneath Mt Bruce

View into the Waimakariri headwaters

Sidling across the face of Mt Bruce - impressive rockfall

Great views down the Waimakariri, Mt Binser in background on the right

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Track ends are both off SH73 from Christchurch to Arthurs Pass, just south of the Cass road bridge and at Cora Lynn, around 15km apart.

Time: Cass carpark to Cass Saddle Hut 4hrs, Cass Saddle Hut to Cass Saddle 45mins, Cass Saddle to Hamilton Hut 2hrs, Hamilton Hut to West Harper Hut 2hrs, West Harper Hut to Lagoon Saddle A Frame 3hrs, Lagoon Saddle to Cora Lynn 2hrs 30mins (note: these are usual times, not those described in our trip!)

Maps: BV21 Cass, BW 20 Lake Coleridge, BV20 Otira

Huts: Cass Saddle (3 bunks), Hamilton (20 bunks), West Harper (5 bunks), Lagoon Saddle A Frame (2 bunks), Lagoon Saddle (2 bunks), Bealey (6 bunks)