Editor’s note: Since 1997 some keen WTMC members led by Lindsay Cuthbertson have been publishing a little know guide called “Accounts of week-end, two-day and 24-hour Schormann – Kaitoke (or Putara-Kaitoke) traverses of the Tararuas, North Island, New Zealand, via the Main Range, Tarn Ridge, the rivers and in reverse!” I’ll be looking to update the guide in 2014 and I welcome any new stories, route information or volunteer help with editing. Below is the story of six WTMC members who gave the S-K a go. Yibai and Michael completed in 48 hours and Harry completed in 3 days.
We stopped for food in Carterton on the way in. We had left Wellington at 3pm and arrived at the Putara road end just after 6pm. We set off as timed by Yibai’s watch at 6:14pm. Gear was reasonably light and there was a mixture of running shoes and boots. We headed up through the bush and soon reached Herepai hut. A quick stop to sign the book and we pushed on for our night’s destination Dundas hut.
Once dark fell as we crossed East Peak, about 9:30pm the going got harder as trying to find the rough track in the tussock was confusing my eyes. Luckily David took spells at the front and we reach the turn off and dropped down to the hut for midnight. Harry and Yibai would come in an hour later.
Late to bed meant we were late off the next morning only leaving the hut at 8am, in hind sight we were clearly lacking urgency and this continued as we almost ambled to Dundas and onto Arete. From here distances on maps started to hit and the pace was cranked up. The weather was most unlike Tararua like and we had brought Harry along! There was little to no wind but being on the tops it was not too hot.
We took care to take the correct route down to Butcher knob. This section was all new travel for me and while I was conscious of the time I also took in the view not knowing when I would ever see so far in the Tararuas again. We lunched at Dracophylum Biv. By this stage we were starting to string out and I had finished my lunch by the time the last of the group had arrived. We discussed contingencies and agreed that Harry would stop at Anderson and take three days to complete the trip.
Again I led the next stage I was conscious of the time and also that I shouldn’t allow myself to cool down too much as I would get stiff. I stopped at the turn off to Nichols hut and waited for Michael and Yibai to catch up. They had taken a wrong turn and Michael’s boots were proving to be too much for the terrain. I was thankfully that I had opted for running shoes at the last minute when leaving Putara.
As soon as they had caught me up, I pushed on agreeing to wait at Anderson. It felt strange in a way because this is not normally how I prefer to tramp but I was beginning to realize that we were not all going to make it and the pace would have to be forced if some of us were going to make it. I left it up to each individual to decide if they were going to continue, again a little strange for me but with such experienced people the right decision.
I reached Andersons hut at 4pm and waited until 4:45pm. My thoughts had actually turned to thinking that there was trouble and I was contemplating turning around when Sharron and Yibai arrived and let me know it was just tiredness catching up with everyone. Yibai was keen to keep going but the others decided that they had reached their limit. We were down to two and we quickened the pace a little as we both preferred to reach Mangahuka hut before dark.
The waiting time was not entirely wasted and I was able to count of the peaks as we completed the last stage of the day. The climbing was definitely a lot harder now and there is even a mild scramble but we chatted occasionally to each other stopping once to pile a heap of chocolate and water down our throats. We crossed Aokaparangi and headed to the dip before the last climb. I knew I was tired as I was wishing the climbing to start at this would signal the last stretch! It did and we crossed the threshold of the hut at dusk without the need of torch light. I think neither of us wanted to go through the tussock in the dark again!
Efficiency from too many alpine trips kicked in and we had the water boiling while we threw out our sleeping bags and few belongings. A quick dehydrated meal and we were asleep 45 minutes after arriving.
We got up at 5:15 am and left at 6am with a quick coffee down our throats. Expectation was high, the weather was good and we knew that we knew that we could make the end within the time limit of 48 hours. Normally I would have been certain but the previous two days had taken some toll on both of us and particularly Yibai’s knees.
We had waited for day light as this was the only tricky section. Nothing really serious, but not worth a miss step. It turned out to be a good idea as we came across two deer just as we reached Managhuka peak, Yibai’s fingers itching for his absent gun. The ladder and the chains breezed by and we moseyed along the Tararua peaks our eyes on the clock.
Kime hut took just over three hours and we took the chance to fill up with water as the day was turning hot. If I worried about the pace I decided we were ok when we met one of Yibai’s friends on the beehives. He asked what the hurry was but seemed to understand when we mentioned the SK.
The route was becoming more obvious now which allowed more focus on speed and we reached Alpha hut at 11:30am and stopped for a good lunch and more water.
We were easily on target as we left at midday but having spent so much energy I was glad of a contingency for something to go wrong. The Marchant ridge as always is deceptively slow for its distance but we count the turn offs as we went.
Both of us were getting tired now. I realized afterwards that I was very dehydrated; the drop in height meaning it was hot walking. For Yibai his knees were now hurting. We were both stoic and played tramping leap frog as I could go faster but preferred to occasionally stop to refuel whereas Yibai went for a constant pace.
We reached the Puffer saddle with plenty of time to spare but did not drop the pace one bit by then we just wanted to get off our feet. A few more twists and turns and we arrived at the car park to the site of the big white van, (the medium tramp had moved it for us.) It was 4:45pm and we had completed the SK in 46.5 hours. After a reasonable amount of sitting and we drove back to Wellington.
Harry continued his SK getting out the next day. He acquired Michael Schier’s map who had wisely decided he never wanted to go into the Tararuas again. Michael, Sharron and David walked out via the Waitewaewae hut to Otaki forks where they got a lift from Michael’s partner Sandra. David went home to recover. Michael went tramping again in the Tararuas with Sandra two weeks later. Sharron emailed Yibai and me to see if we wanted to have another go the next weekend as the weather was good. We both declined.