Side-tracked at Lagoon Saddle
Staying at huts, practical as they undoubtedly are, is not everyone’s cup of tea. When I was on the hunt for an easy but secluded overnight camping destination, the Cass-Lagoon Track was not at the top of my list due to its popularity. But with a little bit of research, I managed to find a variation that served our need for solitude while still allowing us the benefit of easy track access for most of the way.
On an unseasonably hot spring day, we dipped into a vat of sunscreen and set off from the northern end of Cass-Lagoon Track to Lagoon Saddle.
For the first hour, a well-defined track zigzagged steeply through beech forest at the base of Mt Bruce. Just when the scenery was starting to get a little repetitive, the track levelled off and the forest canopy parted for 180-degree views of the Waimakariri River. Despite the outlook, our eyes had to stay glued to our feet which were struggling to navigate through the muddy quagmire the track had turned into courtesy of the recent spring snowmelt.
After another hour of tripping and slipping, we arrived at a sharp southward turn of the track towards the two huts at Lagoon Saddle. Our destination, the three tarns below the summit of Mid Hill, was almost visible 500m above – we could see where the slope levelled off – and the urge to head straight up the slope from here was strong. But because we couldn’t see how steep the terrain below us was at the actual saddle, we decided to head on to the huts a further kilometre along the track.
At the huts, we crossed Harper River and soon realised we could have begun our climb further back near the actual Lagoon Saddle. Our route was by no means a bad bush bash, but there was a degree of uncertainty in finding a way through stands of beech trees to link up with open terrain again.
The final 500m climb to the trio of tarns was somewhat boggy on the lower parts. Sticking to high terrain features allowed us to make quick progress though. The overall gentle climb through tussock and later some alpine scrub only took an hour, but it felt much longer.
Upon our arrival at the lower two tarns, we were so wiped out that we never went on to explore the third tarn, 100m above. The lower tarns are blessed with a range of flat camping sites and potable water. The views across Black Range and the Waimakariri are particularly spectacular in the morning, with the sun shedding golden light across the ranges.
After a quiet night that belied a forecast of high wind speeds, we followed the straight-line descent that we had avoided on the way up.