Neill Winchcombe

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The forecast for our 3 day Tararua based tramp over Queen’s birthday was excellent. So, we tramped in Friday night from the Waiohine Gorge road end to Cone Hut on the south eastern Tararuas with real optimism for nailing what looked like a substantial medium trip.

Saturday morning was magnificent: neither wind nor clouds. We set off at 8:30am climbing onto Cone. After little more than an hour the wind picked up with a fury and with it came the clag.

We pushed on and beetled over Cone, swinging westwards towards Hector in very strong and cold westerlies; it looked to be a tough day after all.

The Winchcombe crossing between Cone and Hector is a rarely tramped part of the southern Tararuas. We had the treat of walking on barely discernible tracks among a beautiful mossy goblin forest. In spite of the weather we were all having a ball and decided to stop for lunch in the Neill saddle.

After lunch we battled up the steep 250 odd meter climb on to Neill. Ominously the wind seemed stronger as we headed above the bush line for the second time, and daylight hours were dwindling, so we decided to push on to Winchcombe.

The route between Neill and Winchcombe peak is very physical: Either up steep or down steep with plenty of scrambling in between. By the time we arrived at the base of Winchcombe we were all feeling the pinch.

We summited Winchcombe and tramped as swiftly as we could towards the next steep peak (height 1398). This brute had almost sheer sides.

With daylight almost exhausted and the westerly growing in strength we decided to retreat back the way we had come. A little after nightfall, we bivvied in a half decent spot just off the track. With no water left we jumped into our sleeping bags, snacked and attempted to sleep – something many of us were denied as the wind built up and began to flap our flies, ripping out pegs at times, over the long cold night.

Daylight has never been more wished for, nor more welcome. Exhaustion and bad weather convinced us to head out the way we had come in. Thirsts were quenched from puddles and the summit of Neill had a small tarn which replenished bottles.

We had a pleasant brunch in the Neillsaddle and once again climbed up and over Cone for the long descent back to the road end. With the nearing proximity of the van, clean clothes and civilisation, the jokes and good cheer returned in earnest. Yes it had been a tough tramp: sleepless cold and physical, but we were all buzzing from the experience.

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