Robert Ridge Alpine Outing, Nelson Lakes

WTMC

Our plan had been relatively simple – walk to Angelus Hut via Speargrass Creek, climb the peak, then return via Robert Ridge. In the week before we set out, conditions looked more and more ominous, with south-easterly gales, heavy snowfall and the avalanche risk in the alpine zone rising from moderate to considerable. Dan decided we’d go ahead with the trip, but we’d have to opt for Plan B. This would involve walking in to Speargrass Hut on the Friday night and then on to Sabine Hut. We could then play around on Mt Cecil and return the same way.
The next challenge was finding out the access road to Mt Robert carpark was closed. With the additional time needed to walk up the access road, combined with the icy conditions, Dan concluded it wasn’t worth the risk. We ended up staying in Picton at Tombstone Backpackers, enjoying the spa and table tennis facilities and fighting the cat for prime position in front of the fire. With an improving weather forecast for Sunday, we opted for Plan C, which involved the short walk in to Bushline Hut via Pinchgut track on the Saturday and a walk along Robert Ridge on the Sunday, returning the same way. This plan allowed us a luxurious sleep-in at the backpackers, as well as freshly cooked scones for breakfast.

Lake view

Arriving at stunning Lake Rotoiti, we soon discovered the lower Mt Robert carpark was full of locals making the most of the accessible snow. We also heard that Bushline Hut had a large party staying there. Plan C was in tatters. Plan D involved finding somewhere to stay in St Arnaud and turning the trip into two day-trips. We managed to secure beds for the night and dropped off unnecessary weight from our packs. The ranger at the DOC Visitor Centre had been very helpful in suggesting we go up to Parachute Rocks on the St Arnaud track and towards the ridge from there.

St Arnaud Track

We finally set out at 12.30pm from Kerr Bay (634m) and began the zig-zag up through snowy beech forest to the bushline (1,400m) and a rocky outcrop with stunning views over the lake and surrounding ranges. We continued up the slope towards the ridge. The wind coming over the ridge was whipping the snow into tornados.

Ridge view

Our turn-around time was 3pm and we made our way down the icy track, arriving back at the lake at 5.30pm and being treated to the post-sunset glow on the mountains.

Evening glow

After a lovely vegetable and salmon pasta, cake and ‘Tam Tams’, everyone headed to bed for an early night. Unfortunately Dan didn’t get any sleep due to the large group of French tourists partying outside his room.
At 6.15am we had set off from the lower carpark up the snowy access road at a cracking pace. The switchback path of Pinchgut track seemed to take forever as we slowly rose above the lake and darted in and out of the beech forest, the imminent glow of sunrise assisting our head torches.

Sunrise
Two kea swooped in for a chat part-way up. By 8am we had gained the ridge (1,550m) and an expanse of snow stretched out ahead of us.

Alpine

It was a glorious day, with only light winds (albeit cold at -10 degrees). Off we wandered, to just shy of the highest point (1,807m), taking many photos of the epic views.

Snowy progress

Turning back at 10.45am, we stopped for lunch at Relax Shelter on the way back down and arrived back at the lower carpark at 2.30pm, passing many families heading up to the closest patch of snow. It took some time to get down the access road, as cars were parked in all the overtaking bays, meaning anyone coming up the road had to reverse all the way back down. Thankfully we still had time to stop for coffee. Then back to Picton for a quirky dinner experience and the 7pm ferry.
Despite the forecast, we had two great alpine days on two different ranges, luxurious accommodation and good laughs. Thanks to Dan for organising and re-organising everything many times and to Tereze for co-leading and the excellent cake.

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