By Jamie B, 19 July 2007
To quote a good friend of mine long ago while sloggingup some remote canyon trail “This isn’t mountain biking, this isspawning.” Though without my bikefor this particular adventure, these faithful words echoed in my mindthroughout most of the 8 days that was Mid Winter 2007.
Theadventure began at the ferry terminal on Friday the 29th of June asroughly 20 of us waited excitedly to make the crossing to Picton and start aweek we all hoped would hold some very memorable tramping. After about a three hour crossing wepiled into two shuttles and a van and headed down to St. Arnaud where we spentthe night. We awoke early the next morning and split into threegroups. There were five ofus in my group, Craig, Guy, Alyn and John. As we all departed the cabin in St. Arnaud we all wavedgood-bye and good luck as each group went their separate way.
The five of us piled into Craig R’s. van and headedoff to the trailhead. As we drovealong Alyn, Craig and Guy noticed that the rivers were very very high. Andindeed, it had been raining nonstop for nearly a week so this made sense. The problem was that our trip called for us to ford the West Fork of the Matiririver immediately at the trailhead. If we couldn’t get across the riverour trip our plans (as I would find out) would be disrupted in a majorway. We bounced in on the 4X4track (Craig, Alyn and I hanging on for dear life in the back of the van) andarrived at the trailhead mid morningish. The river was raging. We contemplated attempting to cross butthought better of it. Even if wehadn’t been swept away, everything would have gotten soaked and this was no waywe wanted to start a trip that promised temps to dip well below 0. Our options were extremely limited, sowe sulked for about 40min and removed the bash guard from the underside of thevan that we had half way ripped off on the way in. Giving up hope that the river would drop within the next dayor so it decided to head back and enter Kahurangi at the same place where wewere set to walk out.
Our destination now was the Wangapacka Rivertrack. Unfortunately we couldn'teven make it to the trailhead as one of the rivers (the Dart) was in such ahigh flood stage we couldn't get the van across the ford. Fortunatelythere was a DOC bridge over the river, however this meant that our trip wouldstart with a 9km walk down the road just to get to the trail. Bugger! We made it down the roadin about 2.5 hours and stopped for a quick lunch break before pushing onanother 9km down the trail to the first hut (Kings Hut) of the night. Once settled at Kings, we proceeded to weigh our options and see what kind oftrip
we could create for ourselves for the week. Theweather that day had been promising. It had finally stopped raining andblue skies had greeted us most of the way down the road. However it didnot look as though it would hold and by that evening the clouds had moved backin the spit once again began to fall.
Feeling fresh energetic and hopeful, the five of usdecided that we would continue to push up the Wangapeka river and then make ourway over the Biggs tops. We would then drop down the other side of Biggsto Trevor Carter hut. This would place us in the Karamea riverbasin. We hoped to follow the Karamea for 25KM down Karamea Bend and thenfrom there head back up into the mountains and come down the Arthur Range whichwould eventually spit us out at Kiwi saddle. From there we could headback down to the meeting point in time for the pick up.
With a plan in hand we headed out the next morninginto the pissing rain. We made it up the Wangapeka and headed over theBiggs tops. On the tops the snow was deep and required arduous trailbreaking done mostly by Guy and Alyn. As well, the temperature would still not drop low enough to get thebloody rain to stop. We did get a little lucky and caught a break at thepass where we stopped for lunch, but it was short lived and within 20 minclouds shrouded us once again and the rain had returned as we dropped down toTrevor Carter hut. Fortunately the
hut was very nice and we quickly got a fire going inthe potbelly stove and were able to get warm (thanks to Craig dumping the wholesack of coal on the fire!) and partly dry.
We were up the next morning and greeted by similarconditions. The rain simply would not stop. We headed out down theKaramea with a long 25KM day in front of us. We knew we would need tomove quickly but the conditions simply would not allow for it. We foundourselves off the trail and lost is a waist deep bog within the first hour, andthen, once we had in fact found the track, chunder reigned. Roots andknarl everywhere. The river was insuch high flood and the ground so saturated that most of the track consisted ofa knee to waist deep slog. As if Icouldn’t have possibly gotten any wetter, I managed to slip while followingAlyn across a waist deep bog and go for a head first plunge. We stopped for a brief lunch at one ofthree huts (Crow Hut) that were on the way. Wet and tired we ate quietlyand then decided to plug on to the next hut (Venus) to see how we felt.
Once there, we were nackered. The hut itself wascozy. There was an upstairs and downstairs. Upstairs had 4 bunks(the area we claimed) and the downstairs had 9. The extra space waswelcomed as we anticipated meeting up with Annabelle’s group sometime that dayas they were actually headed up the Karamea river and had pretty much anopposite trip from what we were doing planned (without the Arthur range). We were pretty sure that they wouldalso be heading for Venus for the night and it was great that everyone wouldhave a place out of the rain to sleep.
By this time, we had decided to call off our plan havesome tea and figure out what to do. Within the next couple hoursAnnabelle’s group turned up. We had a great night with them and decidedthe next morning to head back up the Karamea. Our intention was now to pass Trevor Carter hut and continueto another hut, from where we could walk back down the Wangapeka and out toMount Owen. We hoped the weather would be better in that area and withthe limited time we would have left we hoped to still have some good times inthe areas alpine.
We awoke the next morning and once again the rain waswith us all day. And again our plans changed.
We decided to call port at Trevor Carter againand hang out with Annabelle’s group another night and reformulate yet anotherplan. We decided that we would head back over Biggs Tops yet again onlythis time stay on the ridge and attempt to bash our way all the way to
Kiwi saddle (the ending point of the originalplan). It seemed doable (as Alyn said he had done it in reverse yearsbefore) and would give us some time out of the forest and on the tops. Annabelle’s group meanwhile would stay behind for a pit day at TrevorCarter.
The next morning pissing rain and all the 5
of us headed. Back up we went and by the time we made it to the ridge the weather hadactually cleared a bit! Amazed, we proceeded to bash our way along theridge, ice axes handy for the next 2 hours. Progress seemed to be steady,but by 1pm we weren't as far as we had hoped. As well, our ridge haddescended into the bush and there were cliffs on either side. Thepossibility still remained of bashing through the snow (waist deep) and the bush,but this would have meant camping a night in the snow and (still) pissingrain. Not enticing. As well,I had managed to be a complete idiot and lose one of our fuel bottles so wewere now low on fuel and melting snow for water would have used a lot ofspirits. We thought better of it, turned around and backtracked onceagain, over the entire ridge and dropped back down the Biggs tops to theWangapeka river, to a hut (Stone Hut) where we had had lunch 3 daysbefore. Backtracking, rather than backpacking, seemed to be the theme ofthis trip.
Back down in the Wangapeka at Stone hut wereformulated again. We decided that we would take a different track up toKiwi saddle the next day and from there see how we felt. We had a nicedinner cooked over the potbelly that was once again raging thanks to Craig’scoal obsession! We also chattedwith two hunters that joined us in the hut. All and all a good night,though Craig was tortured by the hunter’s meal of fresh bangers and mash toppedoff by chocolate pudding.
The next morning we set out for Kiwi saddle, the rainjoining us as per usual. We hit the snow and started plugging. Wemanaged to make it up on to the Luna tops which would then drop us down to Kiwisaddle. The climb up was a slippery slog over avalanching snow grass, butthe tramp along the ridge was great. Ice axes again handy we pluggedalong the ridge and even got rewarded by a short break in the clouds revealinga frozen Luna Lake far below us. We descended off the ridge down into the bush and stopped for a nicerelaxed lunch out of the snow. After lunch it was a quick 30min walk to the hut. For the first time in4 days we had actually stuck to plan! We collected some wood at the hut andgot a fire going. About an hour later Kieran’s group showed up. They had just completed their long tramp all the way down
the Arthur range and this was the first time in twonights they slept in a hut. There were only three of them so despite thefact that the hut was only a 6 bunk, we all fit. We had a fun nightchatting away and destroying the one candle we had brought in with us (thanksto Regan melting the base out from under it!) and decided we would play ourplans by ear the following day. The next day snow was coming down. About 20cm had fallen the night before and it was beautiful. Despite thetemptation to push on, we decided to join Kieran’s group and drop back down tothe Wangapeka river and meet up with Annabelle’s group who were by this time atKings Hut.
The walk down from Kiwi saddle was easy butpretty. All of us met up at Kings hut feasted on all our remainingfood. I even managed to finish off my 2.2KG of scrogen! The next morning a crisp clear frostgreeted us for the walk out. While beautiful, we all shook ourheads. Why couldn't this have been the weather this past week? Wewalked out and had lunch in the sun on the road until the Nelson Lakes shuttleservice came and grabbed us and took us back to St. Arnaud.
Thatevening we dinned at some dodgy pub, and despite our poor manners, somehowmanaged to win over the heart of the owner. She was even kind enough to bring us out a free plate ofchips and hotdogs, which were immediately devoured by Craig, John, Regan andGuy in a feeding frenzy that rivaled any scene on some nature show. Food flew everywhere the owner squealed(as the plate hadn’t even been put on the table) and the decorative cactus thathad been at the centre of the table nearly ended up in my lap. Quite the show.The next day as we all feasted on fresh pies from the general store we saw aweather posting for the following week calling for perfect conditions. Basking in the sun and the blue sky wewere admittedly a bit choked, but the pies tasted to good to care. Overall, I still had a great time, andwould do it again in a heartbeat. However next time I’m trading in the extra jacket for a pair ofwatersocks and swimming togs.