Cascade saddle/Lochnagar/Shotover saddle (Feb 6-11, 2016)

Hey Readers!  Sorry it’s been so long – Dylan and I have some very serious catching up to do – the backlog is actually epic.  I’ll update you on why later.  But for now, I’m going to post this post since it has been sitting in the drafts folder for – literally – months.

This latest trip was a doozy, that is certain (I needed several days to recover.  Dylan, of course, went tramping again straight after.  He’s a machine).

This particular trip has been on our list since last year, and my personal bucket list pretty much since I first ever saw photos of it (in 2011?  2012?  A random OTMC meeting).  We had intended to do it over Easter 2015, but decided we didn’t have enough time (I’m honestly quite glad we didn’t attempt to do it then).

Waitangi weekend forecast for central otago and the Aspiring region was perfect, so we went for it.  We drove up from Dunedin on Friday after work.  I kept having the feeling that I’d forgotten something (we had moved house the week before and were still unpacking at our new place).  Finally, around Roxburgh I asked Dylan if he had packed our double sleeping bag.  shit.  No, he hadn’t.  Fortunately, we had a quick stop off at the Warehouse in Alexandra, where sleeping bags were conveniently 50% off.  This brought our sleeping bag total up to 7 [we already own 5, which let’s be honest, is already too many].

Trip ruining crisis averted, we packed our new and enormously huge sleeping bags and walked into the Cascade hut in the dark (and camped nearby).  Saturday morning promised to be hot, but luckily we started our climb in the shade.  It was at this point that I remembered I forgot my sunglasses back in the car.  Not a very fortuitous start to our trip.  I ran back down to Aspiring hut to ask the warden there if he had any spare in his lost and found.  No joy (he suggested I ask at the Dart hut as it also gets a lot of traffic).  He then grilled me on our route, pointed out that Lochnagar was very difficult to get to and repeatedly told me not to go down Snowy Creek.  Then he took down my name and details “just in case the police ring up”.  I know he’s just doing his job but still.  I’m tired of DOC telling us all tramping is dangerous.  We know and plan accordingly.

And then we were off again.  It ended up being a smoking hot day, not a cloud in the sky.  I can definitely see why the Cascade saddle gets all the traffic it does.  We met a lot of people doing it – especially a group of 8 young Germans doing it backwards – which if you’re familiar with the Cascade saddle, is not recommended.  Dylan suspected it may have to do with the ability to hitch-hike out.  He asked them about it and they admitted that they thought it would be easier to hitch-hike from the Raspberry Creek Carpark than muddy creek.  And fair enough, I suspect they’re right.

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This section reminded me a little bit of Rabbit Pass

We made it up to the tarns just before Cascade saddle and identified a campsite.  I made sure we camped away from the other 2 tents already there.  Hah, what a joke!  By the end of the evening, there were easily 10 tents and at least 5 different parties camped up there.  I was absolutely smoked, but we all managed to soak in the tarns a little bit.

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From our camp: Day 2

Day 2 turned out to be one of the single hottest days we’ve ever had.  We got a slightly late start, and it really was scorching.  We stopped for swim at a little (dart glacier) fed tarn around 10:30 because of rule #1 “if it’s hot and there is a good swimming hole, stop and swim”.  So thankful we did, as the rest of the walk to the Dart hut was absolutely roasting.  At one point I stopped, took my top off and dunked it in a frigid stream to cool down.  I’m so sooo so glad I did, as the last hour to the hut through the dart valley has no shade.

We had lunch at the hut and decided to wait out the heat of the afternoon.  We had a solid 2 hour break, including a siesta and swim before heading out the door again around 4pm.  Even then, it was still roasting and after only 1 hour of climbing we had to stop and wallow in the merest trickle of a stream again.

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Wallowing in a trickle

Finally, around 7ish, we reached the Rees saddle and despite wanting to camp farther up snowy creek, we decided to call it a day.

Day 3, the slave driver (let’s call him Dylan) made us get up and start walking before dawn.  We knew this would be a long hot day and wanted to get as much of the nasty climbing done as possible before the sun came up.  I spent the first hour of the day chasing the boys, who were on a mission to cover as much ground as possible in the shade.

The climb up to 1950 was reasonably straightforward, apart from the top bit which was a bit of nasty, steep crumbly shale for ~100m.  However, we made it to 1950 in good time, and enjoyed morning tea and taking in some spectacular views of the Tyndall Glacier.  At this point, we were constantly referring to Moirs about our route through the head of pine creek “pick a path through bluffs” and subsequent sidle into Lochnagar.

The sidle from the head of pine creek to the saddle between 1896 and 1865 is not for the faint-hearted.  This was a particularly nasty section, with lots of slippery tussock, and not much in terms of goat trails.  We were all rather uncertain as to the route at one point, it was starting to look quite nasty and Moirs had little to offer apart from “follow benched path”…  What benched path?!

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Does not accurately convey the nastiness of this section of the route

Suddenly, we found boot marks in the dirt (a father & son duo who we knew were several hours ahead of us), rounded a slight ridge and the benched paths were immediately clear.  Lochnagar lay in front of us in all its glory and I honestly don’t remember when I beheld anything so beautiful.

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Lochnagar Success photo

After a reasonably straightforward descent (follow the ridge as soon as you can), we stopped and had an incredible swim in Little lochnagar.  We couldn’t believe how warm the water was – positively tropical by NZ standards.

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Little lochnagar

Though we were loathe to leave this beautiful spot, I had spotted an ideal campsite (a far beach on Lochnagar) during our descent.  Even though the boys were exhausted by this time, I insisted that we press on another 30 min past the hut to one of the best camping spots we’ve ever landed at.

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Camping next to lochnagar

Once again, we had several long swims as the water in Lochnagar was again, surprisingly warm and tolerable.  Honestly, it was one of the warmest lakes we’ve ever encountered on our tramps.  We highly suspect it was due to the previous days of very hot weather, combined with prevailing winds that very conveniently blew the top layer of warm water down to our end of the lake.

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Enjoying the relatively warm water

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Is this the most remote place a Warehouse sleeping bag has ever been?

We knew day 4 was going to be short so we elected to enjoy our campsite as long as possible and got a very late start.  We met another group of 4 guy trampers near the Goatel, who were going on even crazier trip than we were (also, one of them looked like he was actually carrying an empty pack…  Talk about ultra lightweight tramping).  Once again, the day was sweltering and I’m pretty sure we did more swimming than tramping.

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Swimming hole #1003 along the shotover river.  At this point the boys were just jumping in completely clothed, boots and all.  As you do.

Because it was our short ‘easy’ day (estimated at around 5 hours), we got a bit slack and ended up scrub bashing for nearly an hour above the shotover when it started to look a bit gorge-y (we had just been following the river up until that point).  Big, big mistake.  We were nearly torn to shreds in the scrub, got completely bogged down and generally had an utterly miserable hour or so.  Getting to Tummel Burn hut was an absolute relief, and we determined to ensure we didn’t get lost making our way up to the shotover saddle (as the party we met earlier in the day had difficulty navigating some sections, as did many others who had written in the Tummel burn hut book).

Despite the heat of the previous days, on day 5 we actually woke up with frost on our tents and frozen boots.  Our leader, Dylan, managed to navigate the first couple of hours up from Tummel Burn hut, through the bush and even found a barely visible (due to scrub) waratah described in Moir’s.  I still can’t believe that he found it.

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The route up from Tummel Burn hut

For some reason, I had been sleeping poorly on the trip (I’m blaming the el cheapo Warehouse sleeping bag and my REI mat which after 5 years suddenly decided to wear out, i.e. deflate slowly every night) and really struggled to keep up with the boys on day 5.  Luckily, Dylan and I decided to stretch our trip out another day and join our companion for one last night of camping on the Shotover saddle, thus breaking up what would have been a very long final day.

Day 6 was another beautiful, hot, amazing day and we decided to climb Red Rock first thing before returning to the car park via the Shotover Saddle route.  Once again we were rewarded with some absolutely spectacular views of Rob Roy Peak and the Matukituki valley.

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Panorama from Red Rock

We then expected a much easier descent via the Shotover saddle route – however true to its name, it was a route (albeit well marked with snow poles), not a track as our rather sore legs were hoping.  By the time we reached the Matukituki river we were more than ready for another swim and some proper food (we held out for ribs from Lone Star in Wanaka.  It was an absolute feast!).

To sum up, this was probably my favourite trip to date.  Yes, it kicked my butt (I was really exhausted afterwards – I blame the several poor nights sleep on my worn out old mat), but we didn’t get a drop of rain for 6 days (in New Zealand!), we saw some of the most spectacular scenery in Central Otago, we made it to one of the more remote and special lakes in the area, and we probably did more swimming than tramping.   Our companion, Ian, said it was one of the most fun trips he’d ever done.  Yes, there was a fair bit of navigational skills required, and there were a few technical sections where a good head for heights and sure footing was paramount, but we had the necessary skills to be up to the challenge.  I also personally feel pretty proud of the fact that of the 2 other groups we met going into Lochnagar, not another single woman was to be seen.  Go team!

What trips are on your bucket list these days?

Happy Tramping!

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