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May 2011 Issue
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Pilgrimage to Lake Morgan

Heading down to the edge of Lake Morgan. Photo: Hannah McGregor
Time
3-4 days
Grade
Difficult
Accom.
Crooked Hut (6), Top Crooked Hut (4), Lake Morgan Hut (6), all in good condition
Access
From SH73 turn onto Lake Brunner Road, Inchbonnie-Rotomanu Road, Bell Hill Road and then the old Rotomanu - Kopara Road
Map
Topo50 BU20, BU21
Lake Morgan, Greymouth

On the map, Lake Morgan looks impossibly romantic. At 1234m, almost the size of a finger-print, it is the queen of its basin with a smattering of attendant tarns in its wake. This has not tempted suitors. Many years it is lost and lonely, with only the wind and rain paying visit. However, the lake is not especially remote being only one range west from some very popular tramping in Arthur’s Pass.

The Crooked catchment is on the northern boundary of the Westland beech gap, meaning it is on the frontline of the beech tree’s battle to reclaim the West Coast. The Crooked River is a singing, surging slice of true coast river, glowing blue in its gorges on a jumbled bed of silver schist. The vehicle access is over farmland but the track immediately gets eaten up by the bush.

We were soon way above the river on the sidle track. Tickly ferns went down our necks, mouldy leaves stuck to our boots and there was the close smell of rimu and rata. There was evidence the Department of Conservation had recently engaged with the jungle. Loppers and chainsaws had subdued some tangles which would otherwise have made for rough going. As it was, the track looked like it would stay passable for about another week before the vegetation came rushing back.

We steadily gained ground on Top Crooked Hut, in one case climbing 80m and emerging level with the river as it disappeared behind us into a series of cataracts. The river is Grade IV-V white water and kayakers sometimes come up the track dragging their boats.

Jacko Flat Hut is at the crooked bend of the Crooked River, set in a small grassy clearing. The hut book confirmed the track has often been overgrown, but we had arrived in less than half the time of those who tackled the track in bushier days.

The sun picked up Mt Alexander in the morning and turned its stern face gold. The second stretch of the Crooked River opened up and travel was often in the stony river bed. We reached Top Crooked Hut by mid-morning and marveled at the entries in the hut book from the 2004 Southern Traverse.

The track from Top Crooked Hut to Lake Morgan follows a plumb line. We felt like we were standing on each others shoulders as we ascended. There was no shortage of roots and rocks to grab but they kept threatening to come loose and bounce off the person below.

It was a relief to follow poles across a boulder field on to tops where the sky extended beyond our fingertips in all directions. The route to Lake Morgan is possibly quite intricate in bad weather. On a sunny afternoon we had no problem finding the spur and the old slide but once we were down in the thick tussock fields by the lake’s edge we could see many bluffs and few lines.

Two separate visits have, between them, almost doubled Lake Morgan Hut’s visitor tally over the years. One was the aforementioned Southern Traverse. The other was a large party of young men from Hopeful Christian’s community at Gloriavale in the Haupiri Valley. We reflected on how strange it would have been for our stay to have coincided with one of those events.

Two routes from Lake Morgan go through or near Gloriavale. We took an alternative to make a circuit to the car but I don’t think the community frowns on giving trampers access. If you have your own boiler suit, you may be invited to stay.

We took a compass bearing (and then several more) to find our way from point 1231 down to the Evans River just before it joins with the Crooked. The travel, through some crowded West Coast forest, was much more difficult than the tracks or the tops and took persistence and then stubbornness. The spur did not stay defined either and we took many awkward detours to avoid tree fall and supplejack.

Blinking back into daylight at the toe of the spur, we made an easy crossing of the Crooked River and headed home.

– Hannah McGregor

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