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January 2014 Issue
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Climbing the jewel

Travers Valley from near the summit. Photo: Tarmo Rajasaari
John Tait Hut
From St Arnaud along the Lakehead Track or by water taxi to Lakehead Hut

Mt Travers, Nelson Lakes National Park

Although Mt Travers is two whole metres lower than Mt Franklin, the highest mountain in Nelson Lakes, it’s the jewel of the national park.

After a night at John Tait Hut, I left the marked track and the relative safety of the Travers Valley at Summit Creek and entered the bush-bashing phase of the tramp. I planned to set up camp in the basin further up and summit the following day.

Out of the dense forest in one piece, the going became even tougher. The slippery tussock stabbed at my bare legs and camouflaged numerous potholes on the slope.

After yet another plunge, I took a break to ponder the sanity of the whole trek. I was dragging a 20kg-load through trackless terrain with no other living soul around. Knackered, and much later than I had in mind, I arrived at the Summit Creek basin – a large and picturesque area above the tree line on the lower slopes of Mt Travers.

With my tent pitched, I cherished the fact that the hardest part of climbing Mt Travers, for me at least, was now over. From here, the climb would mainly be a straightforward affair.

There was plenty of loose rock higher up the basin. A frightened chamois galloped down a nearby slope, completing in a few minutes what it would take a tramper an hour to do.

There are no markers of any sort here, only vague constructions that resemble rock cairns.

Travel proved easier on the summit ridge, and I rock-hopped along it over solid boulders with the stunning sights of the national park all around me. And then, a real marker. A wooden stick, planted on the rock right on the summit.

The absolute quietness felt eerie. I sat down and tried my best to digest the scenery. The mountain passes and saddles appeared so prominent from up here. Upper Travers Hut sat 900 near vertical metres below.

I would never be back on this same spot again. This was my moment to savour all the emotions, the frozen stillness of the clouds above, the smell of the air, everything I felt and saw, near and far. Yet there never seems to be enough time on a mountain to fully reflect on it all.

You need to be sober when descending Mt Travers. The steep and craggy buttresses with seriously loose rock surrounding the more gentle scree slopes looked such a dangerous exercise that the hike could easily become far more exciting than initially planned. Choose a wrong route, and your day in the mountains might turn to a heavenly experience.

At the campsite hours later it took me all night to wind down from the climb. Muscles aching, an absurd question popped into my mind: Was it all really worth it? All the hazards, loneliness, stiff knees? Sleepless, I crawled out of the tent to take a look at the shining night sky, and there was my answer.

– Tarmo Rajasaari