With the weather forecast and avalanche advisory aligning, we met to check in for the Interislander mid-Thursday afternoon sailing from Wellington to Picton. When aboard the almost empty ferry, we quickly got stuck in to maximising our chances to win the on-board prize draws that the Interislander staff were putting on to farewell their Supervisor. We won good – cheeseboards, bubbly and entry to the fancy lounge! (NB we made new arrangements for driving the van later that evening before anyone sipped any champagne).
By 9pm we were all tucked in at the Red Deer Lodge in St Arnaud, despite being suitably intimidated by the huge stag heads surrounding the communal hall.
We’d agreed on a 6:30am departure time from the Lodge, some more reluctantly than others, to make the most of the good weather and to attempt to get at least some travel on crispy snow. The climb up Mt Robert to the Relax Shelter passed with only one minor vomiting incident, and possibly more than one person starting to wish they were wearing approach shoes rather than alpine boots. There was no wind or cloud, so no one was complaining.
Further along Mt Robert Ridge, we were joined by a Kārearea (NZ Falcon), which accompanied us from spot height to spot height as we progressed. It was a rare opportunity to see one so close. See: www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/birds/birds-a-z/nz-falcon-karearea/.
As we hit the shady spot under Julius Summit, we all stopped to don crampons, and buddy-checked the fitting before we continued along the ridge, still marvelling at the wonderful weather conditions. The warm weather did mean that the snow started to soften and we were soon post-holing with almost every step. Some strategic group placement helped to keep everyone moving – thanks to those who took their turn at the front of the line, taking the brunt of the falling through the snow.
We stopped for lunch sometime after 12pm, having decided that we still had a fair bit more travel to reach Angelus Hut. This meant even softer snow for the last part of the journey – which some of us turned into an opportunity to bum-slide down the final slope to Angelus Hut.
Despite Anne’s enthusiasm, no one seemed keen to join her for a saunter around Lake Angelus. Instead, most of us lounged around in the sunshine, rehydrating and being entertained by the various items the school group who were arriving from Travers Valley had carried in with them. A cricket bat and a toboggan were amongst the booty.
As we started to lose the sun, the cooking started, producing a tasty creamy mushroom pasta. Regan had been making our mouths water all day talking up the dessert he was planning to make. Sure enough, we were treated first to the theatre of flambé-by-camp-stove. And second, to a delicious apple crumble with mascarpone. All by romantic candlelight. We all went to sleep happy that our packs would be lighter for the climb to Maniniaro / Angelus Peak the next day, even if we were all being subjected to another alpine start!
We were up at 5am, and left the hut just after 6am, as daylight appeared. With crampons on from the hut door, we enjoyed a few hours of the overnight freeze, enabling fast travel to Sunset Saddle.
We dropped our packs and headed for the summit of Maniniaro / Angelus Peak – with Anne, Stuart and George making it all the way to the top, representing team WTMC for those of us settling for a bit more time enjoying the views from slightly lower elevations.
Even on the descent from the summit, the snow was noticeably softening in the morning sun, and travel was starting to become a little slower. We wasted no time re-grouping and heading down into the Hopeless Basin. This part of the route is magical, with frozen alpine tarns surrounded by steep, high peaks.
The conversation, as we descended, was frequently interrupted with avalanche-related commentary and observations. For a short while we were in the high alpine zone, where the advisory level had been moderate when we’d left St Arnaud. So we were being particularly mindful with route choices – keeping clear of trigger and run-out zones as we made our way down the valley. There were signs of earlier avalanches, so we had some good discussions about their size, type and cause.
Past the alpine tarns, the route (unmarked, although there are a few cairns) crosses to the far true right of the valley, to avoid the bluffs at its head. This section involved some careful route-finding, as we wound our way between snow slopes, and rock and tussock sections, to join the large scree slope that forms the last section of the descent. Looking back up the valley from this point, the upward access looks daunting – with a wall of vertical rock and waterfalls.
From the bottom of the scree, it was 30-40mins of tracked bush travel to reach Hopeless Hut. We enjoyed lunch at the Hut and de-layered, ready for the ever-warming tramp down Travers Valley.
The rest of the day was spent making our way down to Coldwater Hut. We limited the length of our breaks to the time it took the sandflies to realise humans were about. We arrived at an empty Coldwater Hut. Most of us chose to enjoy a (very) quick dip in the cold water of Lake Rotoiti before having our dehy dinners.
On Sunday we had a relative lie-in and left the Hut at 7:30am to ensure we we could walk around the lake to the van and get back to Picton in time for the 2pm ferry sailing to Wellington. We assisted the St Arnaud Alpine Lodge by clearing out their supply of freshly baked chocolate muffins. And then spent the van drive back to Picton updating the avalanche advisory service with our observations and trying to decide who had the most snake-bite-like crampon puncture wounds.
Thanks to Anne and Stuart for leading a superb WTMC Alpine trip, using the Club’s shiny new Alpine Trip policies. Let there be many more!
Fri: 11.9 km, 1083 m elevation gain, 8.5 hrs incl breaks
Sat: 21.8 km, 689 m elevation gain, 12.5 hrs incl breaks
Sun: 8.3 km, 193 m elevation gain, 2.25 hrs incl breaks