"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

27 August 2014

The Gap, Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park - 26 April 2014

The distinct notch in a rugged section of ridge on the Torlesse Range known as The Gap is on many Canterbury trampers' bucket list. Being visible from down on the plains only adds to the allure.

Expecting a long day we set off early, an autumn frost greeting us as we left the cosy confines of the car just after 7am. Parking under the big tree opposite the old roadman's hut at the foot of Porters Pass,we set off up the Kowai River, following a well formed 4WD track up the valley. It was easy going up the open valley, and in a little over an hour we reached Kowai Hut. The hut was built to house scientists studying hydrology in the valley, and some of their workings can be seen just in behind the hut.
I took the opportunity to bag the hut, under the guise of leaving our intentions in the logbook. Ian decided to have a look too, while the ladies started off up-valley to find a more sheltered spot to wait. As it turned out an old friend of Ian's had spent the night in the hut, planning to have a go at Mt Torlesse on the day of our trip, so while I filled in the book they had a good old catch up.

Parting ways, we made our way up the Kowai, nicely warmed up now and ready to tackle the more difficult terrain that lay ahead. Beyond the hut the route is untracked and unmarked but, armed with some scant verbal advice, we were confident in our route finding abilities.
Above the hut the river passes through two short gorges, both of which are best bypassed using the grassy terraces on the true left. The first is obvious, with the terrace sloping up immediately beyond the hut, but the second proved not quite so obvious...and we missed it, finding ourselves battling thick scrub on the true right - a position not recommended! - but fortunately we discovered our error after only a short distance and our decision to backtrack and cross was well rewarded as we climbed up onto easy terraces which took us to our next major waypoint, the major forks in the upper Kowai.

We were still maybe 30m above the river when we reached the forks and were forced to scramble down a steep bank to reach the river. It took a bit of scouting about to find a safe route down, look for cairns as there's a couple marking the place to start dropping down. The river here was easily forded and we made a short climb up the slope on the other side where we met the sun for the first time, and decided it was time for a snack. We took a few minutes, just sitting and relaxing in the sun, pleased with progress so far. While the others chatted I poked around just over the crest of where we had stopped, taking photos and checking out the next section of our route, which looked quite straightforward.

From here we sidled along, maintaining our height about 30m or so above the river, making our way through at times thick scrub and working in and out of small gullies. At one point I got separated from the others, having pursued a lead across a steep, loose slip while they stayed below in the scrub. My route took me through bush to a small side stream which was easily crossed, and we reconvened just across the stream at the toe of an easy angled spur that would be our line (or should have been!) up to The Gap.

Initially we climbed gradually, through low scrub, but soon found ourselves negotiating some loose, eroded sections, with one rather exhilarating section of crumbling, knife edge ridge with steep drop offs either side. Ian and Pauline worked their way up this, while I decided it wasn't for me, instead opting for an extremely airy traverse across the face of the slip on one side of the ridge. A fall would not have ended well, but by choosing this route it put me in great position to get a photo of the others negotiating the ridge. In hindsight, all of this indicated we were probably doing things the hard way, which was confirmed when we realised that Alison hadn't followed us up at all but had stayed lower down and was now way out in front having had a simple stroll through flat, open scrub.

We regrouped and set about deciding on our approach to The Gap. There is a very large rock outcrop just below The Gap (marked on the map) and we knew we had to sidle around it on the left as we went up. Getting there was the next challenge.
It appeared from our position on the ridge that we might be able to follow it along all the way to the rock, but close inspection of the map indicated this probably wasn't possible as a significant side stream cut through, which would require us to drop down into it and across. Looking around it was likely that we would get bluffed in the broken terrain further up. Confounding the issue was the fact that we couldn't see over a knoll higher up the ridge to determine if we could continue beyond it, so we opted to drop off the ridge early. This initially worked well, as we crossed the side stream and climbed up out the other side easily.
Feeling good about our route choice, we started up a steep scrub covered face towards the rock. The scrub here was quite thick in places, forcing us to weave our way up the face choosing the path of least resistance. It was hard work, especially on stomachs that were hanging out for lunch, but we kept moving upwards and eventually reached the top of the face and found ourselves at the rock outcrop. This was to be our lunch stop, but we wanted to get round it first so we could sit and look up to The Gap as we ate.
It's best, and easiest, to sidle the slopes to the left (as you look up to it) of the rock. Although still steep ground, the alternative is nearly vertical and best avoided. It's a straightforward sidle round the rock, ending in a short, steep climb up to the crest of the ridge running in behind it, and it was here, in glorious sun, that we enjoyed lunch. The Gap looked tantalisingly close, but was still 300m altitude above us, so our work wasn't done yet.

We decided to leave our packs where we had lunch, lightening the load for the final climb and taking just cameras and a bit of water. The climb starts up an easy angled grass slope, before steepening as we met the shattered rock. In places the rock was quite well compacted and made for easy scrambling, while in others it was loose and soft, meaning it was a case of 2 steps forward and sliding 1 back. Ian and I led out most of the way, differing slightly in our approach. Ian's 'go hard then rest' style often left a cascade of rocks tumbling down behind him, while I was more measured, carefully testing the stability of each foot and hand placement before committing. When I looked behind it was obvious whose method the ladies felt safer following!!
There's nothing technically difficult about the final climb, just basic rock scrambling, and after about an hour I found myself stepping onto level ground - we had made The Gap. The others were not too far behind and we were left to enjoy the fruits of our hard work - 7 hours had passed since we left the car but it all seemed worth it as we gazed out across the landscape far below us.
Looking back down the line of our ascent, the view took in much of the Kowai catchment but the real spectacle lay on the opposite side. The Broken River basin stretched out before us to meet the northern end of the Craigieburn Range, with distant Mt Rolleston poking her head up in the background. Even just to be standing there with mighty rock walls rising either side of us was an experience to savour.

Photos taken, we had to make our way down, the hour was getting on and the car still a long way off. We made quick time back down to our packs then back round the rock. From here we discovered the error in our ways on the ascent, as we could clearly see the ridge route we had abandoned on our way up was in fact uninterrupted by the side stream as indicated on the map. I have tried in the photos to show where this better route lies, for those who may venture up this way in the future.
The ridge was a breeze so we enjoyed a relatively straight forward trip back to the car, the only difficulty encountered when it got dark and we had to walk from just below the hut in the dark. We had a couple of headlamps between us so managed it without mishap, except for (perhaps fittingly given the events throughout the day!) taking the wrong vehicle track further down the river and being forced to make a scrambly climb out of the riverbed once we realised we were, yet again, doing it the hard way.

A great day trip, thanks Ian, Alison, and Pauline for the company (and the invite!!). We did it!! - the hard way!!

Looking down the Kowai River as morning sun hits the Big Ben Range
Easy travel along the Kowai River, on the way to the hut

Sometimes following the track isn't easiest - I chose the riverbed 

Approaching Kowai Hut, with Mt Torlesse rising behind

Approaching Kowai Hut

Woodshed next to Kowai Hut

Kowai Hut
Interior of Kowai Hut
Interior of Kowai Hut

First look at The Gap (the U-shaped notch just left of centre), from just beyond Kowai Hut

Heading for the gorge in the Kowai, our goal leading us on

Making our way up the Kowai River

The river narrows as we near the gorge

Rock walls feature as we near the gorge

A look at a section of the gorge in the Kowai

Climbing up to find a sunny spot for a snack

Great wee place to stop and eat, and in the sun for the first time that day

Looking into the broken, rugged headwaters of the Kowai River, Red Peak far right

Snack stop
Negotiating a loose, eroded ridge en route to The Gap 

The Gap looking closer....

...but only because I'd zoomed in - still a way to go

Looking across the valley to Mt Torlesse
Climbing up the steep scrubby face below the large rock, the better route follows the open ridge to the right

Easier ground as we near the large rock

Taken from the top of the steep scrubby face we climbed to reach the large rock. Green is the line of our route, while Red marks the much easier route to the rock, which we discovered on our descent

Looking back down the Kowai from the top of the steep scrubby face. Mt Torlesse rising out of frame to the left, while Kowai Hut is out of sight round the bend in the river 

Sidling round the large rock to reach the slopes leading up to The Gap

Lunch just above the large rock (partly shown behind Ian)

Red Peak (left) with its distinctive band of red scree showing, Junction Peak (centre, small bump), and Mt Torlesse (right), viewed from our lunch spot below The Gap

Surveying the final climb to The Gap

Nearing The Gap, as we make our way up the steep, loose rock slopes

Pauline reaches The Gap

Ian in The Gap, looking across the Broken River basin to the northern end of the Craigieburn Range

Alison reaches The Gap

The team (except me) standing in The Gap

View down the Kowai from The Gap, our lunch spot in shadow lower left centre

Yes I was there - thanks Ian for taking this one!

View down the Kowai and across the Canterbury Plains, from The Gap

Descending from The Gap - much faster than coming up!

Route to The Gap, with red marking the route we took, and the green section marking the better route up to the large rock
Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Take SH73 towards Arthur's Pass and park in the layby at the foot of Porters Pass, opposite the old roadman's hut. Go through the gate and pick up a vehicle track heading up the river.

Time: Carpark to The Gap 7hrs (less if you don't follow us!), return 4hrs 30mins

Map: BW21 Springfield

Hut: Kowai Hut (4 bunks)

1 comment:

  1. I've done the gap a couple of times, both with much more snow than your trip. We do it in a loop from the top of porters pass.