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July 2012 Issue
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Complete a challenging multi-day tramp

Approaching the foot of Browning Pass in upper Wilberforce. Photo: Pat Barrett
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Lift your game
Think you’re a good tramper, sea kayaker, climber, mountain biker and skier? Shift your horizons with one of these game-changing adventures


You have: Done some of the Great Walks, plus a few multi-day tramps in other places, but mainly stuck to tracks and huts.

You want: To complete a more challenging five-day trip in the South Island, with some huts and tracks, but also off-track terrain and a chance to camp beside tarns.

The trip: The Three Pass tramp, Arthur’s Pass National Park

The tramp: This classic tramp has been part of tramper’s itineraries since the 1920s, but it still retains a fair level of challenge. It starts with a gravel bash up the Waimakriri River (no track but easy enough when the river is not in flood) to 28-bunk Carrington Hut. From here you tramp up the narrow defile of the Taipoiti onto the tarn-strewn tops of Harman Pass (pass one). Then it’s an uphill scramble to Whitehorn Pass (pass two) the highest on the trip, and down Cronin Stream to the eight-bunk Park Morpeth Hut in the Wilberforce Valley.

Next comes Browning Pass (pass three), perhaps the most challenging. There’s an old pack track on the lower slopes of the pass, but it steepens considerably to end in a rocky chute where care is required. You’re now on the West Coast side of the Main Divide with Lake Browning glistening in a glorious alpine basin making for perfect camping.

Follow the poled route into the headwaters of the Arahura River down to the six-bunk Harman Hut. You’re on a good, benched track now, among delightful stands of mountain cedar and Dracophyllum, but this is the West Coast – it can be very wet and fording some streams may cause problems. The track sidles over Styx Saddle and down to a newish 10-bunk DOC hut at Grassy Flats. From here, the track goes out the true right of the Styx to end near Kokatahi.

Altogether this is a challenging, multi-day trip in the heart of the Southern Alps. Huts exist over the whole route, but only the West Coast section has a real track. Navigation skills required over Harman and Whitehorn passes. In fine conditions, competent trampers will find no insurmountable obstacles. Huts offer security during bad weather, when flooded rivers may delay progress.

You’ll need: A tent, an ice-axe, warm clothing and wet weather gear, five days of food plus one day spare food, solid tramping boots capable of handling scree and river boulders, a map and compass and the navigation skills to use them. Tackling the trip during winter notches it up yet another level, requiring crampons and basic mountaineering skills.

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