Mt Starveall instead of Mt Patriarch

This trip was planned as a Medium trip to Mt Patriarch in Kahurangi NP…. but the week leading up to Queen’s Birthday weekend had rather a lot of rain so there was no way we were getting across the ford on the Wangapeka River Road. (The advice we had said not to even try crossing anything above 40m3/s).

On Friday 31st May we had planned to cross the ford. The river wasn’t back to crossable levels until the Sunday afternoon.

Instead we spent Friday night at the Tophouse Cabins, then started our cafe-bagging on Saturday morning at the Alpine Lodge in St Arnaud (all punters had take-away coffee using their keep-cups). Second cafe stop was Kowhai Kitchen in Tapawera, the ‘Gateway to the Kahurangi’, which was about as close to our original Mt Patriarch plans that we got. Some conversations with the cafe staff and a phone call to the Nelson DoC office meant we had a new plan before lunchtime.

We were now headed for the Aniseed Road access to the Richmond Ranges. Leaving the carpark at 1pm we walked up the forestry road a short way, which then turned to a good track alongside the river for the 1.5hr walk in to Hacket Hut. Knowing the weather was due to be good on Sunday, but that Starveall Hut was a 4.5hr climb away which would have taken us into darkness, we opted to bag bunks and a tent spot at Hacket Hut for the night. We used the remaining daylight for an out-and-back to Browning Hut, which was just over an hour away. A sole hunter had already got the fire going and his radio on at Browning Hut but seemed pleased when we explained we were just popping by to say hi. Back at Hacket Hut a family of five had arrived and got the fire started. We got going with water-boiling, soup-drinking and vegetable-chopping. Maj-Britt and Fons improvised with the ‘summer vegetables with lentils’ recipe to create a delicious spicy dish with extra coconut cream and we passed some time reading 2014 fashion tips from Women’s Weekly.

Hacket Hut on a frosty morning

It was a cold night in the tent and we woke to a clear sky and a heavy frost. We left at 8am and by 8:15am we all had wet feet as the track up to Starveall Hut for some reason criss-crosses the river five or six times rather than heading straight for the spur. We climbed the 900m to the hut in 2hrs 45mins (it’s easy to beat the DoC times without a heavy pack) and found the water tank still frozen. Within an hour we were atop Mt Starveall (named by a stockman, who having driven his stock all the way up there claimed the ‘grazing’ on offer would ‘starve all’ of his animals). There was an ankle-deep covering of snow and the views of the surrounding snow-capped ranges to the South and West and the ocean to the North were fabulous. There was a cold breeze so we dipped behind some rocks for a quick sheltered lunch.

Lunch stop out of the wind near the summit of Mt Starveall
Views across Tasman Bay as we ascended Mt Starveall
Views across to Kahurangi NP (where we were originally planning to go)

By 2pm we were back at Starveall Hut where seven or so people from three different parties were jostling for bunks. The water tap had defrosted so we quenched our thirst and took bets on the time we would arrive back at Hacket Hut.

With a stop to play on the log ride and another to view the Pyramid Rocks, it was 4:15pm when we finished our descent. More fire-starting, billy-boiling and vegetable-chopping took place and we enjoyed another spicy meal this time with aubergine, chickpeas and cashews.

Monday morning we had a bit of a lie in knowing we only had a two hour walk out. There was another good frost. On the way out we detoured to the Whispering Falls which were an interesting limestone formation.

We then headed for more coffee and cake before driving to St Arnaud to pick up the Mt Cupola trip who were due out on a water taxi at 2:30pm. From there it was the standard drive back to Picton and ferry journey swapping stories with the three other WTMC groups.

Changing our plans to suit the conditions at the time made this trip a little bit more tricky to organise, but we still managed a fun trip in a new location within the limits of the weather, snow conditions and river levels, the equipment we had with us and the skills of the group. Calling Nelson DoC office helped a lot with ideas for alternatives on the hoof, and having a group willing to adapt to new plans made things easier.

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