I have been keen to complete the Southern Crossing after visiting Kime Hut in the snow last year. We had two groups completing the Southern Crossing; one from Otaki Forks to Kaitoke starting Friday afternoon, the other from Kaitoke to Otaki Forks starting first thing Saturday morning. I liked the concept of an early start Saturday morning (and being able to sleep in my own bed at home Friday night), so signed up to the group going Kaitoke to Otaki Forks.
We all met at Wellington Train Station at 7am and were on the way to Kaitoke on time and on the trail by 7.55am, after distribution of food and gear. There was no easing into this trip, with the ascent starting near immediately – to get to the turn off towards Dobson Loop Track. It was a warm overcast day and we set a cracking pace early, and I started thinking we may reach Alpha Hut by soon after lunch. I was so wrong! Everything I had read about Marchant Ridge is all true, it is a long slow grind. There are bits of descent of 100m or so, only needing to be regained later on. I found the worst of it to be around Hells gate, less than 2km from Alpha Hut itself. At this stage I was a bit spent from the ascent, and also running low on water (I took 3L with me and still ran out!)
Thankfully we reached Alpha Hut by 4:30pm and claimed some bedspace and met up with James’ group, who were completing the Southern Crossing from Otaki Forks. In the end, 19km in distance with total ascent of 1558m.
We were all hungry by the time we made dinner, which Tash had been talking up all day – which was Tofu Pasta with Pesto – which lived up to expectations. We discovered via Eoin that Nutella makes amazing biscuits, which he kindly shared around (shall look for these as a tramping staple going forward!). Amy was fortunate enough to get a single bar of phone reception with Spark (Vodafone was a no go), to re-check on weather for Sunday. It was not looking great, with winds predicted to gust up to 90km/hr by 11am. That evening, we could hear the wind increase even prior to going to bed. We decided we would still attempt to get away early on Sunday, re-check the weather and finalise a back-up plan back to Kaitoke if needed.
Sunday morning early start 5.30am – red lights on to avoid waking the whole hut. Quick breakfast plus coffee, and we were out the door at 6.40am heading towards Alpha Summit. Amy had tried to get phone reception on Sunday morning, but was a no go with heavy cloud. We made it out of the bushline towards Alpha summit and quickly realised our Southern Crossing attempt should be aborted. Wind could be strongly felt, and the visibility along the tops was low – even if we had attempted it there would have been no views.
We descended back to Alpha Hut, set up a plan with James regarding transport and re- filled in the hut intentions book. We were away again at 7.25am. Our return journey took us back along the Dress Circle Track to the start of the Omega Track. At this time misty showers were occurring on and off.
The Omega Track is pretty well a 3km descent all the way to the Tauherenikau River. It is steep in places, and I had a minor fall with the river in eye sight. I suspect this track would be difficult to descend in winter, with the mud and steepness. The Omega Track starts at 1118m in elevation and falls to just below 300m – all within 3km! At the bottom of the Omega Track was the Tauherenikau River to cross – which was straight forward in summer flows, but could be problematic after heavy rain/winter. I would also note, if ascending Omega Track, the track starts to the right of Omega creek. And I could not see any clear markers when looking across the river from the Tutuwai side.
After a very brief walk down stream, we had an early lunch and tea at Tutuwai Hut, which was vacant the whole time we were present. Back on the trail, and we still had 13.8km ahead of us! Fortunately the track was close enough to flat, apart from some mild ups and downs over streams, until we re-crossed Tauherenikau River – where it matches up with the Block XVI Track. From here, we were on the home stretch, and had a brief break at Smith Creek Shelter, which is in pretty average condition. From Smith Creek Shelter, the track started to rise somewhat more for our final ascent to see us out over Puffer Saddle and back down to the Kaitoke carpark. We finally arrived at 5pm, after 1622m of descent for the day, along with a further 733m of ascent. After working out transport with James’ group, who were waiting for us, we were off back to Wellington Train Station.
Overall a wonderful trip, even though we did not get to do the Southern Crossing.