Interim Trip, Xmas 2009 - Saturday 24th to Friday 30th January 2009

Part #3, Party 3

Saturday 24 January

After a night of R & R in Nelson we left in Big Blue on Saturday 24 January, heading for the Flora carpark. Navigation proved tricky as the bridge we intended to use had a weight limit well short of ours, and we had some difficulty finding the correct bridge - even DOC staff in a passing vehicle had no idea. A serendipitous consequence of this was that while stopped and trying to read our inadequate AA map we were hailed by club members, Wendy and Eric Peterson, visiting family in the area. (Just so you know, the park map shows everything perfectly, and the Woodstock Bridge is the right one).

There were 30 cars in the Flora carpark when we arrived but we managed to squeeze in, then walk 30 minutes to Flora Hut. After lunch most of us did the 2-hr return trip up Mt Lodestone. A cosy night with weka calls heard, and a local bird in attendance.

Sunday 25 January Underway

Off at 7.30am on Sunday, visiting Mt Arthur hut (pre-warned of no water there) where we surprised a young couple quite untroubled by the water shortage. Continued to the Ellis Basin turnoff where we left our packs and romped up Mt Arthur to admire the view. Met a local family who gave us excellent directions as to the best road route back to Nelson. Then it was a long steep descent on a poled route to Ellis Basin Hut, arriving at 2.30pm. Hut is comfortable, 8 bunks, nicely sited and little-used. Water was located not too far away. Insects were not a problem until dinner when a cloud of excited blowflies arrived.

Monday 26 January

Monday was another beautiful day. Early in the morning Keith spotted a mouse coming into the hut while the door was ajar - despite intensive searching we never found it. Chris, Jennifer and Barry opted to stay in the general vicinity, painting and exploring, while Noel, Keith and Jean set off at 8.45am to check out the route to the South Twin, having heard how other parties had turned back due to poor visibility. We followed an obscure route through beech down the valley, then out of the bush on to massive, sculpted stone slabs where we sidled along an intermittent line of cairns and pink ribbons. Progress was not speedy. At 11.30 we almost gave up our unspoken hope of getting to the top, as it seemed it would be just too far, and there was still no apparent route ahead. While agreeing that it might be sensible to turn back, Keith and Noel continued casting around for some sign of a route; we passed through a belt of trees and at once could see a likely route up to the base of the summit ridge. Quite excited at this, we carried on around the side of the hill for another half hour, made ourselves sit down for 15 minutes to eat our lunch, then at 12.15 set off. From there it was 45 minutes to the base and another 20 to the summit cairn, where we photographed each other in triumphant poses. During this, Noel spotted a big bull thar silhouetted near the top of the North Twin. Moving with enviable speed and agility, in a few minutes it had crossed the top and moved well down the other side. Hot and thirsty, we started back at 1.30 and were at the hut at 4.30pm. Crossing a patch of snow we filled our water bottles with snow which slowly melted, giving us lifesaving sips of ice-cold water all the way home.

Looking across from a distance at the drop into Ellis Basin, it appears impossibly steep until you get closer and realise that the poled route zigzags down the side of the face.

Tuesday 27 January

Left hut at 7.30am, reached top of poled route at 9.00am and back along turnoff to Salisbury Lodge. Strong gusty wind behind us initially, then buffeting us from the side. At 10.30 we sheltered in a handy sink-hole near the track for a break; 11.45 we hunkered down among tussock to eat lunch, then trudged on over Gordon’s Pyramid and down into the bush. The next section of track was scenic but not particularly enjoyable to traverse - endless tree roots, boggy patches (a novelty) and astelia leaves to trip on. At last a welcome sign gave the option of ‘hut direct 15 mins’ which we all chose, reaching the lodge at 1.55 to find Mike and Heather Heilbron the only residents. They had the billy on within seconds and we spent a comfortable night in this big hut with its gas hobs, lots of reading matter and composting toilets. Four other trampers came in later.

Wednesday 28 January

All slept in till 7.00am; we got away after 9.00am and reached Balloon Hut around 11.00, stopping at caves and a big patch of astelias on the way. Later we returned to the caves and explored dramatic rock formations beyond them, along Cundy’s Creek, looking for historic sites, but found only a decrepit sign. Meanwhile Noel climbed Mt Peel - or thought he had, until he studied the map.

Thursday 29 January

Four hrs 15 to Flora Hut, checking out the rock shelters en route. Picked lush mint leaves near one, to have with our Back Country Moroccan lamb dinner. DOC staff in the hut, ready to meet a helicopter at 7.00 in the morning, taking a contract shooter back up the track.

Friday 30 January

The helicopter was on time and we left shortly after for the brief walk back to the near-empty Flora carpark and an uneventful drive back to Nelson.

We were: Noel & Chris Ashton, Jennifer Long, Barry McInnes, Keith Ayton and Jean Barton (scribe).