Ruataniwha reconnaissance

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Plan A: lug rock climbing kit up the Hopkins to Dasler Biv enjoying spectacular views of Mt Ward along the way. Camp in an alpine basin above the biv and climb the Dasler Pinnacles: a spectacular set of grey pointy things at 2315m. Plan abandoned due to a lack of interest in the frostbite thought to be an inevitable consequence of attempting the climb given the weather forecast and the coating of snow the pinnacles received a few days prior to our arrival.

Plan B: head up the Huxley and base ourselves at Brodrick hut. This hut is just below Brodrick Pass which links the Hopkins and Huxley valleys to the Landsborough Wilderness Area. A Landsborough Adventure being on our “to do” list a recce seemed like a good idea plus from the pass you can climb Mt McKenzie (2156m) or the more intimidating Mt Strauchon (2391m), both snow climbs.

We switched our rock kit for alpine kit and made the trudge up 9 kilometres of four wheel drive track across river flats past rose briars festooned with bright red rose hips and the healthiest matagouri I’ve ever seen. From Monument hut it is another 9km to Huxley Forks Hut. Travel is ridiculously easy – open river flats interspersed with beech forest, a little bit like the Matakitaki Valley in Nelson Lakes NP complete with livestock. The surrounding mountains are a tiny bit taller though.

We stopped at Huxley Forks hut for a late lunch just as it started to rain. By now we knew a family of 5 were ahead of us on the trail to Brodrick Hut. We decided to stay put, deduced by the lure of remaining warm and dry at Huxley Forks versus camping in the rain and gambling on the weather clearing tomorrow up at Brodrick.

Plan C: base ourselves at Huxley Forks hut and either get up really early and go climb Mt McKenzie or climb the peak directly beside our hut, weather permitting. We spent the afternoon stocking up on firewood. The rain appeared determined to stick around. By evening we’d been joined by 7 other trampers so our hut and the tiny 3 bunk Officers Hut next door were full to overflowing.

Friday morning and Plan C is abandoned. Plan relied on an alpine start which did not quite come off partly due to Michael having set his alarm that only goes off Mon- Thurs and partly due to the trip leader having a good instinct for when to remain horizontal. The dark clouds promised more rain and the stiff nor-wester was clear evidence any climb to the tops would be punishment rather than reward.

Plan D: day walks from Huxley Forks. We headed up the north branch of the Huxley to Brodrick hut. Not long into our walk the clouds delivered their promised rain and the nor-wester picked up, for a brief time it even hailed. After a quick chat with the family at Broderick we retreated back to base spending the afternoon listening to the wind and rain while sleeping, reading, playing cards and watching the Huxley flood. The other parties walked out.
On Saturday we awoke to more rain and wind and Plan D was abandoned. No point waiting to try going to South Huxley Biv as the side streams would be uncrossable. Another day watching the river lacked appeal.

Plan E: walk out and head round to Unwin Hut at Mt Cook Village and do rock climbing there or in Christchurch. After an early lunch and just as the weather started to clear we wandered back down the Huxley. A pleasant evening was spent in the Old Mountaineers Café at Mt Cook.

Sunday was fine and mild. Should we climb at the Sebastapol Bluffs next door or the crags in Chirstchurch? We decided to get the drive back to Christchurch over with. In our second biggest city the sun was shining and it was 23 degrees celcius. Friend of the Club, Ant Mulick, kindly acted as tour guide taking the boys crag climbing in the while I went for a run around the hills behind the Halswell Quarry Park.

The Ruataniwha Conservation Park encompasses the Dobson, Hopkins, Huxley, Temple and Maitland Valleys. It’s located just south or behind Mt Cook in the Mackenzie Basin near Lake Ohau. The open river flats, hearty beech forest and rugged snow capped tops mean this area is a bit of a scenic wonderland well stocked with huts and bivs and perfect for tramping, climbing, mountain biking and chilling out. I’m already plotting my return which will be accompanied by a good weather forecast and a jumbo sized assortment of plans.

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