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July 2012 Issue
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Lift your game

Paddle with New Zealand fur seals at Tonga Island in Abel Tasman National Park. Photo: Derek Morrison
Think you’re a good tramper, sea kayaker, climber, mountain biker and skier? Shift your horizons with one of these game-changing adventures

Challenging multi-day tramping

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.

– Shaun Barnett

Overnight mountain bike ride

You have: Done a day ride like as the 42nd Traverse or Coppermine Saddle.

You want: An overnight trip staying in a backcountry hut.

The Trip: St James Cycle Trail to Anne River Hut fits the bill perfectly.

The ride: Stunning snow-capped mountains, crystal clear trout-infested rivers, historic huts, acres of golden tussock, beautiful beech forest and sections of great single-track riding make this a memorable trip.

Your first step is to download the excellent St James Conservation Area pamphlet from the DOC website and check out the map on the second page. The ride starts from the Maling Pass parking and camping area below Lake Tennyson and the exit point is the St James Homestead car park, some 80km distant. A car shuttle avoids the gravel road section of 27km.

The ride climbs gradually to the top of Maling Pass, revealing a stunning view of the Spenser Mountains. The descent into the Waiau Valley is exhilarating. You have two choices of route, one goes across the river and down the true right bank and the other is a purpose-built cycle trail that wanders along the true left bank. Either way you eventually head west up the Henry River Valley to the 20-bunk Anne River Hut. The hut is positioned for the sun with great views up and down the valley.

The next day, retrace your tracks to the Waiau River and head south up a short steep climb that wanders along river terraces to the Pool and Old Bridge huts on the true right. Cross the second of the trail’s swingbridges and continue along the true left bank over Charlies Saddle. It’s an easy cruise from here down the Edwards Valley but one grunty climb punctuates the end. You can exit straight ahead to Tophouse Road or take the Peters Pass Track to the St James Homestead car park.

You’ll need: A well-maintained bike preferably with latex-filled tubeless tyres. Any hard tail or full suspension rig is fine. Take two spare tubes and puncture repair kit, multitool/chain breaker and quick joining link, tyre levers and pump. Carry your personal gear in the smallest lightest pack you can or download some of the weight onto a rear rack/carrier. It’s possible to use panniers on this ride, but they’re not ideal.

– Dave Mitchell

Climb a 3000m South Island peak

Traversing the lower section of the Aspiring's Northwest Ridge is generally considered the crux of the climb. Photo: Paul Hersey

Traversing the lower section of the Aspiring’s Northwest Ridge is generally considered the crux of the climb. Photo: Paul Hersey

You have: Climbed Mt Ruapehu

You want: To climb a 3000m peak in the South Island

The climb: Mt Aspiring (3033m) is a popular first 3000m climb, partly because it is one of the most aesthetically beautiful mountains in the Southern Alps. But that doesn’t mean it is an easy climb. The north-west ridge is the most straightforward way up the mountain, with a 2+ alpine grade. To safely climb Aspiring requires ability to travel efficiently over glaciated terrain, along with the possibility of needing to pitch on the lower rocky section of the ridge. If you don’t feel that you have these skills, either do some more training or go with a guide (Alpine Recreation, Aspiring Guides, Adventure Consultants and Mountain Recreation all offer trips).

The best place to start the climb is from the nearby Colin Todd Hut, sited at 1800m on the base of the Shipowner Ridge above Bonar Glacier. Be warned – this hut can get busy during peak climbing times. Some people choose to carry a tent and camp nearby.

The quickest access to the hut is via Bevan Col, but in winter and spring it is best to use the French Ridge route to avoid possible avalanche risk. Useful information on both the Bevan Col and French Ridge routes can be found in the New Zealand Alpine Club’s Mt Aspiring guidebook.

From Colin Todd Hut, it usually takes around 12 hours to climb the remaining 1200m to the summit and return. There are a number of options to gain the north-west ridge. The Ramp used to be a popular option, but there have been a number of fatalities in recent years so this route is no longer recommended. A safer and more interesting option is to climb the ridge direct. This requires negotiating a short rock step, which may need to be pitched. The climbing here is exposed but not difficult. From the top of the step, a broad and easy-angled slope leads to the final narrow summit ridge. The last section is quite exposed, and some parties also put a rope on here.

The view from the summit is stunning, and certainly makes the climb worthwhile. The normal descent is the same way as the climb and will likely require an abseil or two.

You’ll need: A climb like this requires full mountain climbing equipment. Stiff-soled boots, a helmet, crampons and an ice axe are a must, as is a rope, harness, small rock rack and two snow stakes. Be prepared for whatever the weather might throw at you – you’ll need warm clothing and a good sleeping bag as well as a sun hat and sunscreen.

– Paul Hersey

Go off-piste ski touring

Louise Parker surveys the terrain above Dumb-bell Lake. Photo: Mark Banham

Louise Parker surveys the terrain above Dumb-bell Lake. Photo: Mark Banham

You can: Confidently ski the front-country including off-piste black runs in a variety of conditions.

You want: Broader horizons, solitude, adventure, challenge… and un-tracked powder snow as far as the eye can see.

The trip: Ohau Ski Field is one of the best kept secrets of the Southern Alps – and its backcountry may as well be on the dark side of the moon for all the people who know about it. This combination of easy access and instant solitude makes it a great place to start your touring career.

Before you head out there, check and have a chat to the local ski patrol to get an idea of what the conditions are going to be like. While you’re still learning, if the avalanche rating is more than moderate it’s best to exercise discretion and stay in-bounds – the backcountry will still be there next weekend.

Once that’s taken care of it’s just a matter of hiking to the top of the Ohau Headwall and choosing a route for the day. If you’re feeling timid, you can hike to the summit of Mt Sutton and descend east into Hemi’s Bowl; a collection of nested bowls that deposits you back onto the ski field road about half a kilometre from the car park. If you’re feeling more ambitious, turn south from Mt Sutton and tackle the classic terrain of Dumb-bell Lake.

Dumb-bell can easily be explored as a day-trip by descending into the lake and climbing back out from the north, or in the right conditions you can ascend the eastern rim of the cirque and ski down into Parsons Creek to connect with the road at the 1000m contour.

If you’re keen for a more serious adventure, then load up with more supplies and head out into the terrain south of Dumb-bell Lake. The features here are almost universally un-named, carrying only monikers like ‘peak 1929’ and ‘lake 1514’, it’s about as close to a blank spot on the map as you’ll find these days – but still able to be explored in a long-weekend.

You’ll need: Outside of the resort boundary you’re 100 per cent responsible for your own wellbeing which necessitates bringing a bit more stuff than you might for a day on the groomed runs.

Aside from your regular skiing gear (skis, boots, poles, goggles helmet etc) and a prudent amount of outdoor equipment (first aid kit, spare layers) you’ll need an avalanche transceiver, snow shovel and probe, a set of climbing skins and a mechanism to allow your skis to walk up hill. Most ski tourers start out just using binding adapters like Alpine Trekkers that allow you to tour using your existing skis and bindings. They’re fiddly enough to have earned the nickname ‘day wreckers’ but the cost saving is worth it for your first season in the backcountry.

– Mark Banham

Multi-day sea kayaking

You have: Paddled a kayak or canoe for more than a kilometre on calm water

You want: To enjoy a multi-day trip with easy paddling conditions and short distances between camps.

The trip: Hire a freedom kayak at Kaiteriteri or Marahau at the south end of Abel Tasman National Park. Double kayaks are more stable and you can take more gear, singles are faster and lots of fun. There are lots of local companies to hire from and most will insist you take a 2-3hr skill lesson before you depart.

Kayaking is the luxury version of tramping: you still get to see some amazing places, but you can take lots of extra items like chilly bins, coffee percolator, extra water – even bottles of wine.

The park is dotted with campsites so you can select each stop by the distance you’d like to travel depending on how your group is feeling. A great itinerary is to paddle from Marahau to idyllic Te Pukatea Bay, making time to explore the cluster of islands that include Fisherman and Adele, named after Jules Dumont d’Urville’s wife, and Watering Cove, where the French explorer sourced water, and Observation Beach where he set up an observatory during his 1827 voyage.

The next day leave Te Pukatea Bay and paddle north to the campsite at Bark Bay, or the better option at Mosquito Bay, if time permits. On the way you’ll want to check out Cleopatra’s Pool up river from Torrent Bay (requires high-tide), Frenchman Bay, Falls River (also requires high-tide) and the many pretty beaches along the way.

For day three, paddle into Tonga Island Marine Reserve making sure to explore the rock formations at Tonga Arches and to visit the New Zealand fur seal nursery on the north side of Tonga Island. From here you can return via water taxi or paddle back.

Plan to have all your paddling done before 2pm to avoid the sea breezes that tend to kick up after midday.

You’ll need: A quality sea kayak with good storage ports in the hulls for your tent, sleeping bag, mattress, clothes, food and cooking gear. Drybags for all your gear, waterproof map case, personal floatation device and a hydration pack. Rope is always handy on an adventure like this.

– Derek Morrison

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