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February 2012 Issue
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A vets training trip

Mt Earnslaw/Pikirakatahi from near Twenty Five Mile Saddle. Photo. David Barnes

Twenty Five Mile Creek, Rees Station, Otago

Barry and I had both tramped extensively in the Glenorchy area over three decades, but we’d never made it into the head of Twenty Five Mile Creek. The weekend before Christmas, the stars were in alignment and we found ourselves heading up the Rees under a sky laden with high cloud.

Before long, we were climbing up the familiar terrace to visit Twenty Five Mile Hut, which can only be described as a refuge of the desperate.

Behind the hut, we bashed our way through manuka to reach a pretty basin, where we forded Little Devil Creek then crossed the 30m-high stock bridge over a chasm in Big Devil Creek. A stock track used to lead on up steep slopes and across a ledge to Big Devil Hut, but there was little sign of it this time. Fortunately, we’d been here about seven years before, so had a good idea of where we were going. That earlier trip had been a fiasco, with asthma and blisters forcing us to throw in the towel at the hut. Not this time, though. We were on a mission to get to the saddle, and were acutely aware that we needed to put in a full weekend to ensure we were fit enough for a planned eight day Nelson Lakes trip at New Year.

We lunched at the locked hut and watched the last of the morning cloud burn off to reveal the glories of the Forbes Mountains, dominated by Mt Earnslaw. Once sated, a 150m climb took us past a gorge and revealed was the first view of the head. It was dominated by the pyramid peak of Lochnagar. Below us, a small flat marked the transition from gorge to a stream bed strewn with boulders and rapids and hemmed in by steep slopes. It didn’t look like fun, so we thought we’d stay high. It looked straightforward, although a closer examination of the map may have revealed the trap – a line of bluffs running from the skyline at 1740m to the valley floor.

As bluffs go, they weren’t very high, but they cost us a lot of time and energy as we searched high and low before finding a small but slightly airy breach in the defences. This led into a gully populated by Spaniards, and the only escape from the gully necessitated a long slither amongst these hideous plants. Finally, we had reasonable, albeit slow, travel as we sidled upstream, still well above the stream. After an hour or so, we could see good travel on flats below us, so descended and found a campsite.

A peek out the tent door at 6.30 the next morning revealed thick cloud down to 1200m. This was the day that we had to go over the 1500m Twenty Five Mile Saddle and we also had to find an animal track through bluffs at 1400m. Good visibility was a must, so we decided to stay put for an hour or more, confident that yesterday’s midday burn-off would be repeated.

When we finally got going, we had an hour of easy travel up the valley to reach Rough Creek. Had yesterday gone more smoothly, this would have been our campsite. Twenty Five Mile Creek became more confined at this point, so we took to steep tussock slopes on the true right for a couple of climb-sidle-descend manoeuvres until it opened out again.

Our route from here involved climbing 160m to the lip of a basin just below the saddle, from which flowed a large waterfall. The cloud level was hovering just above it. Moir’s Guide mentioned animal tracks leading through bluffs at the level of the lip, and more another 100m higher. After a careful look, we picked where we thought the animal track might be and tackled the steep but straightforward snowgrass towards it. Finally, I climbed past the lower segment of bluff and a few minutes later we were wandering through the basin, looking for a lunch spot.

We made the final haul up more steep snowgrass to reach the saddle and a view down to the Rees. The thick cloud that had been swathing the Forbes Mountains finally broke up and the descent took us to a tarn just beneath the saddle.

As we knew we’d broken the back of the trip, we spent the next couple of hours pottering around and revelling in our surroundings, but finally it was time to take the plunge and head down a spur to the Rees Valley and the Rees-Dart Track.

Once on the track, it was a pleasant wander to Shelter Rock Hut, which was almost full.

Monday brought meteorological déjà vu, with more high cloud in the morning eventually giving way to clear skies and hot conditions around midday. We had a pleasant descent past the old hut site and Clark Slip to the main Rees flats, where we opted to splash across the river a few times rather than climb the banks where the river cut in.

By the time we reached Twenty Five Mile Creek and joined the dots, we were encountering a steady stream of trampers. It was going to be another convivial night at Shelter Rock.

Before long, we were on the homeward stretch to Muddy Creek, delighted to have had a great weekend in an infrequently visited valley and confident that we’d manage the New Year trip.

– David Barnes