Up the hill we went in the dark – not an inky dark, lit by a huge oculus-moon highlighting the jagged terrain amid fragmenting cloud. Not a breath of wind and a landscape bathed in ivory light made for a glorious hour up to Longview Hut for the night. Jessie’s headlamp threatened to add to the ambience by setting the plant life on fire with a beam so intense that it could have melted even Putin’s stony gaze.
Saturday brought a spectacular sunrise over a sea of cloud. Gorgeous. A cool breeze reminding of the forecast gale winds forecast for late in the day as we headed out at 7am onto the bright sunlit tops with Otumore (1519m) the first punctuation mark.
Gentle inclines and declines along a broad grassy ridge, followed by a short, sharp reminder that we were in the mountains, up to the saddle before Taumatataua (1415m) for a break to soak in the expansive scenery over the Takapau plains below. Off again after buying a lotto ticket (didn’t win – still no helicopter!) for yet another superb undulating walk to Howlett’s Hut, nestled in a grassy crevice out of the weather. Here we met Bob and Lorraine who had trooped up the hill from the valley that morning, also heading for Daphne Hut over Sawtooth Ridge. They were already wise to our presence, having chatted to a club member earlier in the week.
Tanked up with water on an increasingly hot day and with two humps to go, we scooted along Daphne Ridge to grind up the gateway to Sawtooth ridge, Tiraha (1668m). Backward glances framed glinting tarns set in majestic mountain scenery – once you wiped the sweat out of your eyes that is, it is a steep climb.
Sawtooth Ridge is aptly named. It’s like the Broken Axe Pinnacles on steroids, strung for around two kilometres between Tiraha and Ohuinga (1686m) peaks. Despite briefly being obscured by clouds, we had perfect conditions for the crossing: it is not something I would like to do in strong winds or rain, with considerable drop-offs on both sides. We threaded around, over and between the rocky outcrops to find a stinking-hot grassy hollow in the saddle below Ohuinga where we stopped to get sunburnt and have lunch. It wasn’t the towering hulk of Ohuinga or the long stripe of Black Ridge that served to winkle us out of our recline – the thought of being up there in the incoming weather moved us on.
With Ohuinga summitted, we trod onwards over the broken beginnings of Black Ridge to reach the broader back of undulating grasslands. On our right, we could see almost the entirety of whence we had come from – including the improbably bright roof of Howlett’s Hut. To our left, out over the plains towards Hastings. The wind was picking up now, with strong gusts whipping across the ridge where it was being funnelled by the fluted hillside.
We rested again at Tarn Bivouac, a bright orange tin-can nestled like Howlett’s into the hillside. It had a surreal air to it, with what could have passed for a closely cropped lawn out front, fringed with mountain buttercups. The ‘toilet’ stood further away on the eastern side of the ridge overlooking the plains – or overlooked by the plains: it had no walls at all, only a seat on a base! Great view, but not a perch to be on reading the latest Wilderness magazine in less than perfect weather.
We legged it over the remaining ridge to plunge into the valley below and onto Daphne hut, making a mockery of the signage times. Must have been for the uphill walk. Walking backwards. With a zimmer-frame.
Daphne Hut was again well located, clean, dry and warm. The perfect place for a large meal, during which we were joined by Bob and Lorraine who we swapped tramping stories with for the evening. Great company all-round.
The winds arrived that night, tossing shredded foliage against the hut. The force of the wind up the river valley in the morning churned the water and sprayed it around the narrow valley floor as we struggled to keep our footing between gusts on the surprisingly slimy rocks. Great not to be on the tops! Good also that it wasn’t raining as the river gorged several times on the short walk down the river – it would be easy to get stuck at Daphne in bad weather.
Strong gusts rocked several trees on the ridge out of the river valley, lifting roots and soil before settling back again. This or the next storms wind-fall. The decision to drop off the ridge early, before the fully exposed section toward Pohangina saddle, was an easy one in the conditions. A short walk up the road from the Daphne car-park to the van at Moorcock saddle and we were done. Great company, great weather, great scenery, great pie and coffee in Woodville on the way home. Perfect.