Xmas Trip - 2008 - 2009
Mike Heilbron’s Group, Week 1
Inspired by Jean Barton’s exciting account of the Interim Trip, and not to be outdone, I decided to write up Mike’s trip on the Whangapeka Tops in Kahurangi National Park, north-west Nelson.
Our first evening was spent at Tapawera, where we had a final, non-dehydrated dinner in the pub, before driving in to Rolling Junction and camping for the night.
Murray and Penny, who were doing their own tramp, dropped Mike, Peter Thompson, Terry and me back down the road to wait for the other three: Alan and Christine from Hawkes Bay, and Keith from Hamilton.
Once they had arrived at 10.00am, we began by crossing over the Whangapeka and making our way up Prospect Creek, keeping an eye out for the start of the track up to the Tops. Our first day’s objective was to climb over Mt Gomorrah, at 1592m, sidle round Mt Sodom, descend onto Skeet Saddle and camp on the side of Hough Saddle.
We should have had an idea of what was ahead when Terry mentioned a 1600m climb and Mike went quietly off to look at the map!
The tracks are no longer maintained, but after we found the start of the ridge, the route was easy to follow and fairly clear. By 5.00pm everyone had had enough, and we were nearly out of water. We found a flat spot on a promontory with just enough room for the tents. Our two heroes, Pete and Terry, went straight down off the ridge for 45 minutes and returned with enough water for the night and the next morning.
Pete and Alan went and got water, so we had another late start, this time 9.30am. We continued to climb up and up and eventually made it over the rocky spine of Mt Gomorrah, but we still hadn’t found water. Then, eureka! - a tarn. It was only mid-afternoon but we decided to camp and laze in the sun. Pouring water over your head to cool down was fun as was finishing off Pete’s drambuie!
The porridge that morning was a bit of a debacle. A case of ‘too many cooks’. Terry buried his under a rock, which he thought was appropriate considering the consistency.
We now had the ‘sidle’ round Mt Sodom. It was actually less of a sidle and more of a case of clinging tightly to bare rocks and scanty vegetation high above cliffs and bluffs. Quite memorable!
Then the descent to Skeet Saddle, through wonderful vegetation dominated by dragophyllums or mountain nei nei. I had only seen shrubby versions of this ‘Dr Seuss tree’ but these were a whole forest of mature trees.
From Skeet Saddle we made our way on to Hough Saddle, where we had planned to be at the end of day one. Because of our slowness, the decision was made to cut a day off the trip, so, instead of going down Cowin Spur and into the Crow River, we navigated a route straight down from the saddle and had an excellent camp that night on the river flats, with no water problems.
We started the day with easy travel along grassy flats down the Crow, followed by lots of stream crossings. It was a thrill for me to spot, close up, a pair of blue ducks near the junction with Blue Duck Stream.
We had lunch on the Taylor/Crow Saddle then climbed down into the Taylor Stream and a horror afternoon of negotiating treefalls and slips on un-maintained tracks which meandered 30m above the river. The shale bluffs were extremely unstable and Pete had one near miss where his life flashed in front of his eyes. Mike was definitely losing his chirpy demeanour and even stopped humming excerpts from his and Heather’s favourite musicals. I had another first, my first blood nose!
We were still in the river at 5.00pm. It was New Year’s Eve and we definitely weren’t going to make Kiwi Saddle Hut that night. Scrambling out of the river we managed to find room for the tents on a mossy flattish bit. I put mine up where I stopped. If they didn’t like my snoring, bad luck, I was too tired to care. It was drizzling and we were all in bed before 7.00 after a great ‘dehy’ meal. Mike’s group meals are the best. The radio was organised so that Mike and Pete could conduct the sched from their tent. That was 2008.
New Year’s Day and as it was my birthday it was the only day I didn’t have to carry the radio, plus Mike gave me a liquorice allsort!
We encountered a lot more treefall. It was really helpful that Pete and Terry were able to pull their GPSs out and tell us that in the last 4 hrs we had made one km! The long day was enlivened by my decision to sunbathe on a wasps’ nest. Half of us were in the river and Mike suddenly looked up to see three trampers tearing back along the track. I had a really fat and itchy arm for the next few days.
Finally we came to a large gold-miners’ clearing at the bottom of the track up to Kiwi Saddle Hut. In the 1930s’ depression, gold diggers were subsidised by the government and we found relics including a cast-iron camp oven.
Our route was now a pleasant forest track, and Mike went from being uncharacteristically subdued, to singing little ditties, as it looked as if we were going to get out! We reached the hut easily and spread all our wet gear out to dry. Our intrepid leader even had the energy to photograph our legs completely covered in bloody scratches. Pete was a clear winner!
It looked as if we were ‘home and hosed.’ The first hour downhill was clear of treefall but then we struck two more hours of uncleared track although at least it was benched. Pete and Terry were putting a lot of energy into clearing the track, even though Pete had massive blisters. Everyone was full of bright ideas and keen to help, but, surprisingly, he declined all offers. The last hour where the chainsaws had reached was fine. We arrived at King’s Creek on the Whangapeka Track and saw our first people and had a pleasant night in the hut.
An easy walkout on the Whangapeka for everyone except Pete with his blisters. We first looked at Cecil King’s Hut, 10 minutes further on. Cecil mined for gold in the Depression and when it ended, he continued to spend his summers there. His hut has been preserved by the Historic Places Trust, and you can stay there. It is atmospheric and altogether gorgeous.
The end of the tramp was back at Rolling Junction, where we needed to put on every item of clothing we possessed -we would not have looked out of place at Scott Base - in order to keep the sandflies at bay while we waited for our lifts.
Thanks, Mike and the others, for the fun and support and leadership. I hope you don’t decide to play it too safe from now on just because things turned out to be a bit adventurous.
Terry Chubb, Pete Thompson, Mike Heilbron, Keith, Allan, Christine, Kay Willcocks (scribe)