By Pia, 15 August 2011
Nelson Lakes National Park – July 2nd - 10th
By: Pia R. Skorstengaard
The preparations to this trip started early for some and we had to find crampons and ice axes for all in the groups, so we met at the gear shed on the Monday before leaving to sort out the club gear. I thought the majority of the group would show up, but we were only 5 out of 13. Maybe it was a good thing because of the small amount of space in the gear shed.
Saturday 2nd July
7.00am at the Blue Bridge ferry and I was the only one there – had I shown up the wrong place? Were we to take the Interislander? Where were people? 8 was to meet at the ferry and nobody else was there!? It took them about 10 min to show up. But we still needed 4 people, Alyn’s car was late. We found that they had already been very active this morning, pushing the car to the nearest fuel station. What a morning to run dry!
After even more waiting, though this time inside, we boarded the ferry and waved goodbye to the North Island… “Only” 1 hour late. During the three-hour ferry ride, a conversation about food or the lack of food on the trip arose: “The fear of being the first to fall asleep and then becoming the dinner… look out for the fork”. After a little nap, it was time to take some pictures of the sailing between the hills of the Marlborough sounds, a beautiful welcome!
The ferry ride was soon done and we arrived in Picton where the rest of the party was waiting for us. After a lot of small talk, we left the car park to find some lunch. All three cars went to different places for lunch, but ended up at the right place to start the trip: St Arnaud, where we were to start our week of tramping the Nelson Lake National Park.
Group 2 took the “normal” loop track around the Nelson Lake National Park, so after a great deal of dividing group gear and rearrangement of packs they went off to their track from the lower car park. Jason decided to be helpful and drove group 1 in Tenzin’s car to the upper car park where the other end of the loop starts/ends. It was a bit of a puzzle to get all 6 group members and our packs into Tenzin’s car, but we managed to squeeze in and get to the upper car park at 5pm and headed towards Speargrass Hut, a 3 hour walk. Most of it was in darkness, but the headlight is a great invention! :o)
With not that far to go, Alyn and I headed off in front to get started with the nights dinner: Tacho-Tuesday on a Saturday! It was a really good dinner (It was my dinner – so not at all surprised). When we arrived at the hut it was already warm because two hunters were already there. Mike, Tenzin and I ended the day with some table traversing, I don’t think the hunters were too pleased but they didn’t say anything.
Sunday 3rd July
We woke early with the aim to get all the way to West Sabine Hut – BUT Mike couldn’t get the cookers to work to make the morning porridge. We had got the wrong fuel for the cookers, so it was decided that Mike and Tenzin would walk back to town to get some fuel that would work for our cookers and then meet us at the next hut which was Sabine Hut (3 hours), approximately 9 hours walk for the boys depending on their pace.
Karin, Jess, Alyn and I didn’t hurry to get off but we ended up getting cold in Speargrass Hut so we took off towards Sabine Hut. It was a sunny and really nice day, but it had been a cold night so we saw frost in the grass and on the track. We just enjoyed the track (not too much up and down) and the views (= lots of pictures).
Our first small group arrived at Sabine Hut after about 5 hours of great walking in the sun so we sat on the stairs to the hut and ate our lunch in the sun.
After ~ 4 hours of waiting the boys turned up with the right fuel and were a bit tired. In the meantime we got the company of an elderly couple who came from Angelus Hut. It had been a really nice sunny trip for them so we looked forward to our walk to Angelus Hut later in the week.
Dinner was made and suddenly it was radio time (6.30pm) so we all walked outside to the transceiver to hear the weather and what the other group was up to. When it came to us answering questions nothing happened, they couldn’t hear us at the other end even though we could hear all the others – better luck next day!
This night we ended playing cards and eating chocolate.
Monday 4th July
This was our long day, all the way to Blue Lake Hut, so it was an early start and with some small surprises in our porridge in the shape of different nuts and grains, it wasn’t my best start of the day – I don’t like surprises in the morning, I need to wake first! We packed up and left Sabine Hut, meeting some amazing views on our way and again just enjoying the sunshine.
We had lunch at West Sabine Hut, a much older hut than Sabine, and were soon off again towards Blue Lake Hut. It was this day we first met the ‘nice’ signs with the helpful messages of “Avalanche Path – No Stopping” and “Avalanche Path – End”. When we saw such a sign we knew that the following was a walk on rocks and boulders and with the cold nights the rocks turned into a very slippery track. We passed a lot of these avalanche paths and the last one was quite steep and in some places even had some snow.
On such a long day many things happened, I learned to count to ten in Maori, we discussed the possibility of “1000 ways to put on your pack” and Mike and Tenzin tried out a few of them. From West Sabine to Blue Lake Mike changed his name to 2Pac. Tenzin had offered Mike $50 to carry two packs the rest of the way to Blue Lake and Mike took up the challenge, though after a long while they decided that Mike had done a good job and it was Tenzin’s turn to try out two packs. What else can you say? boys!
We made it past the exposed path and reached the forest just before sunset so the last walk was through forest in darkness and up a very steep hill just before the hut. When we arrived the time was close to radio time so in a hurry we got the aerial up just to find out that we had placed it incorrectly. Mike at one end and me at the other running from one corner to the other of the clearing in front of the hut – the aerial was working but Mike and I were very tired after this long day and then running in the snow.The dinner this night was bulgur (Couscous) with salami and vegetables including gherkins, something Mike had discovered by accident (it maybe should have stayed undiscovered!) but it was not too bad ;o). We ended this long day with a game of 500 which we didn’t finish this night…
Tuesday 5th July
This morning we slept until sunrise and took it nice and easy. We decided to walk to Lake Constance and again just enjoy the sun and the blue sky. It was the most amazing day and the reflection of the mountains in Lake Constance was incredible. I have a not that great tradition of getting an injury on my tramping trips, so now was the perfect time. We were as far from the car park as possible. I slipped on a rock in the snow and hit my knee on another rock hidden under the snow. This resulted in me limping back to Blue Lake and for the rest of the tramp (luckily I had packed my knee bandage).
We met the other group on our way back to Blue Lake so stories so far from the trip were exchanged and our lunch was delayed (leftovers from dinner). After lunch we packed up and walked towards West Sabine Hut. It only took us 2½ hours - a bit faster than expected. My knee was not the best, it was good with a rest and the short walk that day. We put up the aerial again and when the radio time came up we could hear everything but again they couldn’t hear us, we must have done something wrong again, so the other group told JG about our plans to go over the Travers Saddle the next day. By the way our 500 card game continued into this evening!
Wednesday 6th July
The day we were to cross the Travers Saddle. The day started dry, but it didn’t take long before the rain was coming down from the clouds. The first part was uphill in the forest with many natural steps. Just a while before the real up-mountain started we crossed a short bridge where the sound of falling water was to be heard in a distance – the waterfall was many meters below us, it was amazing.
Just under the bush line we had an early lunch before the track lead us up into the snow. We were lucky to eat lunch without rain, but not long after we continued our ascent it started to snow and the closer we came to the pass, the more the wind blew, so it got cold. We had to keep moving and not stand still for too long. When we reached the pass we were well enough to take a few pictures.
On our descent Tenzin lead the way and suddenly we could just follow the red marks in the snow. He had slipped and scratched his knee, so we had a fine little track to follow. Soon we met the bush line, or it felt as though we had not been going for that long, the hut should be just after the bush line and suddenly between the trees it was - smoke coming up the chimney – what a wonderful sight! I think we were all a bit cold at this point. There was an American guy (Michael, whom we met on our way to Blue Lake) already there. It was SO nice to get to a warm hut after about 7 hours of walking with half of it in snow.
This evening we finally got the radio to work, we could hear them and this time they could hear us. After a nice dinner, which was Tenzin’s gourmet dinner, the last of the red wine was gone (We had 5 litres between us). This night we managed to finish our game of 500 – Karin completed a Mesier and won the game for her and Alyn. We ended the night with a game of “Tobias” (to be ass) where Michael (US) also joined us.
Thursday 7th July
Yet another day divided into half a day just to relax and the other half for tramping. We woke at about 9am and didn’t hurry to do anything. Mike and Tenzin played chess on a pack liner with almonds and caramels as their pawns.
I think we left about 1pm with our goal: John Tait Hut. The first part of the track was beautifully snow-covered; there was snow everywhere after all the snow that had fallen during the last 2 days, which resulted in many (including one big one) snowball fights along the way. On our way we passed a 15m waterfall (Travers Falls) that was an incredible view. The last half of the way the snow got more and more wet as we got lower and lower in the terrain. When we arrived at John Tait Hut the ground was more water than snow :o(
As with all the other days, we got the aerial up, but this time placed it so it could get in through the window, that was clever thinking of Alyn our chief of the radio.
Friday 8th July
After the easy Thursday we had an early start towards Angelus Hut. We were all happy to leave John Tait Hut, it was our least favourite hut on the trip. We had nice weather, we could see blue skies between the fast moving white clouds. It was so much better than expected (but not enough snow to have a snowball fight!).
We ate our lunch at the junction where one track continues to Coldwater Hut and our track, the Cascade Track, went to Angelus Hut. It was here we said goodbye to Michael from USA, he had been our companion from Upper Travers Hut, but he didn’t have the equipment to go to Angelus, so he continued to Coldwater Hut.
From the junction the track lead us up, up and up. We only had very short breaks because we knew that there would be snow on the higher parts of the mountain and that it could be hard to get through. During one of the breaks, Mike was very friendly and offered to fill mine and Tenzin’s bottles with water from the stream… which resulted in some very wet feet for Mike, he went through the ice while filling the first bottle. With Mike’s wet feet and our no longer empty bottles, we continued towards the head of the valley.
The next ice penetration happened when Tenzin, trying to lead the way through the snow and around the covered river, crashed through. Tenzin was much luckier than Mike; he didn’t get wet feet from it, but he came very close and a got little shock.
We reached the last bridge over the river, which lead to the last section before Angelus, the part without trees or bush but instead replaced with thigh high snow. Now we needed our ice axes again, it didn’t really look that nice, but we had decided to go up there so up it was. Mike lead the way making a track for us. It was not always that easy to follow. At some points we just kept sinking down into the snow and just as I thought Alyn was right behind me Tenzin stopped to wait because Alyn was in trouble getting past the spot where we all had our own troubles. It was probably the worst part of our trip. As we got further up, the wind got stronger and stronger. It took us a long time to get to Angelus Hut and on the flatter part before the hut, the snow got nearly hip high.
Finally at the very cold Angelus Hut, the first thing was to get dry clothes on and then get in our sleeping bags. We moved mattresses from the sleeping room into the main room in front of the fire; it was still very cold but so much nicer to have everything close. The dinner was one of the best of the trip, maybe because of the weather and the struggles we had been through.
No card games this night, we were all in our sleeping bags and went to sleep early to get an early start and get out of the bad weather and down from the tops. During the night the wind got harder and thunderstorms were heard above the hut. The noise made it a bit hard to sleep.
Saturday 9th July
After a cold night at Angelus we got up early and were soon on our way out of the hut when Alyn suddenly came in with a plastic bag asking: “Who has left this outside”… Nobody said anything in the beginning, but Tenzin admitted that it was his and said that Alyn should put it back outside. He also apologised for the bad smell in the front room, he just needed to get the last bit of air out of the bag before encasing it in another four bags of rapping.
The expedition back towards the valley started. The snow was now even higher than when we came and the wind was stronger (if that was possible), so Mike said that we should not wait but just get to the bridge and the bush-line, our first goal of the day. Half way down towards the bridge, the snow turned more and more slushy and was harder to get through. Jess had to dig her shoe out of a hole after stepping in too deep. We finally got to the bridge and everything seemed suddenly so much easier!
Tenzin and Karin went off in front and disappeared, they did wait a couple of times. During the last part before the junction Mike and I started jumping in puddles – we were soaking wet anyway so why not have some fun… the bigger the puddles the better! :o)
At the junction we split up, Tenzin and Alyn went towards Coldwater Hut and had to cross the river to get to Lakehead Hut. The rest of us went back to the swing-bridge and then just 1½ hours walking we should be there. It was a really wet, muddy and cold track so it was amazing to arrive to the warm Lakehead Hut. Alyn and Tenzin were already there but not alone, there were a German, an American, two Kiwis and a lot of wet clothes!Karin and I set up the aerial in the cold rain without problems and it worked so well that Alyn was able to ask for the ferry departures, just in case we wanted to catch an earlier ferry. After talking to the others we decided to continue as planned and not be stressed.
Sunday 10th July
The long, wet, and boring walk our from Lakehead Hut to St Arnaud started. The things that kept our spirits up were the thought of a nice warm shower that Mike was quite sure we would be able to get in St. Arnaud, the dry and clean clothes that were waiting in the car………… and a hot pie!
The track followed lake Rotoiti all the way to St Arnaud, which revealed some beautiful scenery over the lake and to the other shore. The weird part of this day was that Mike was suddenly the slow person in the group, it turned out that both his feet were hurting, so I told him to walk in his sandals instead and funny enough it helped (a lot), though he complained about cold feet.
We reached the tourist track and knew that we were close to the car park. Yes, finally there, BUT, Karin’s and my daypacks with our dry clothes were in Jason’s car and he was in the other group which Tenzin and Alyn should pick up. Mike, Karin, Jess and I went to the DOC center to wait for the others to come back so we could get our dry clothes. The only ones to return were Tenzin and Alyn, because the road to the other car park was closed at the bridge, which was not even half way to the other car park where they should pick up the others. We just had to wait for them to walk down to the open road to be picked up.
I think we waited for about two hours before we got our dry clothes. In the meantime we found that the showers opened in three days, after being closed for the winter season :o( but one good thing was the warm pie and the cake from the one place/supermarket in town that was open.
At last everybody was back, except Alex who had taken the lake-taxi out from Sabine Hut 2 days earlier. After a while of changing and rearranging packs we were off to Picton where we had to wait about 4 hours for the ferry back to Wellington. First stop on our way to Picton was to a closed pub at the horse track stadium in Blenheim. The owners opened the pub just for us :o) Next pub was the Irish pub in Picton and finally dinner at the Fish and Chips take away just next door to the Irish pub. The biggest amusement in Picton must have been the music-playing-instructing toilet in the center of town - With a bit of alcohol in our systems everything seemed even more fun :o)
The day was about to end and our midwinter trip was coming to the final countdown. One last funny thing (for me at least) was the Danish ferry from Picton to Wellington, nearly every sign on the ferry was in Danish and English – we were going to Bornholm (a Danish island) if the signs were correct, a bit like being home in Denmark. After translating the Danish poems on the walls of the ferry (a crew member of the ferry asked me to translate for her) and a little nap for me we reached Wellington and the fellowship of the Nelson Lakes was at its end.
THANKS GUYS FOR A GREAT TRIP!