Off track for first timers
First steps are never easy. After a long, involuntary break from tramping, we were desperate to get back into the mountains. As we browsed our maps, Klondyke Valley Track immediately stood out. The track profile seemed like the perfect fit for our unfit legs. A formed track led up a short, moderate climb, and ended in two alpine basins that promised adventure.
Leaving our car near Rahu Saddle, we joined the well-defined track through a West Coast wonderland. The bush was surprisingly open in areas. Low shrubs usually present an insurmountable tangle, but in this case, we quite enjoyed a wider view with beams of sunlight cutting through the canopy high above.
After two-and-a-half hours we arrived at the lower tarns and marshes. The neat shore of the tarns felt like it belonged in a botanic garden rather than a remote mountain. Despite its inviting appearance, the lower basin is short on flat, dry spots for a tent.
Luckily, the upper basin offered plenty of camping opportunities. With no tracks or markers between the upper and lower basin, minor route-finding skills were required to reach the upper tarns. We managed to stay out of the soggiest bits by sticking to the eastern and northern shore of the largest tarn. The obvious grassy shoulder north of the lower tarns and on the true left of the stream seemed like the best route.
After crossing 100m of sparse bush, a steep climb through dense tussock took us to the upper basin within an hour. At this point, magnificent views across the surrounding ranges opened up.
After resting our legs we discovered we still had some energy left. The ridge between Pt1531 and Pt1541 seemed to offer additional camping options with a view, so we moved on. On the way up, a few spots that had looked promising turned out to be too slanted for our tent. The ridge turned out to be equally uncooperative, as was the high point at Pt1531. The view was well worth the climb, though. After some leisurely exploring, we headed back to the upper tarns to pitch our tent.
Those in need of further adventure can turn this tramp into a loop by descending the Klondyke Spur Track from below Pt1401. Having seen part of the route during our excursion to the high point, we felt this would require a higher degree of skill and experience. In the end, we just headed back the way we had come, satisfied with our first shakedown tramp of the season.
Klondyke Valley Track has a lot to offer. A typical West Coast experience on well-defined tracks ends in a challenge to tramping parties that want to push their comfort zone on a short off-track section. It is a great location for first steps off the beaten track.
– Dennis Radermacher is a professional photographer and long-time contributor to Wilderness. When he is not capturing the architecture of Christchurch, you can find him teaching landscape photography workshops in the mountains.