A Lightweight Easter in the Raglan Range with Rob

Easter Weekend Trip - Friday 6th to Monday 9th April 2007

The Raglan Range is in southern Marlborough. It’s wonderful tramping country and one of the best-kept secrets of the northern South Island tramping circuit.
This was my first time into this area. I had read that it was very steep and wild - it was! My companion for this trip was Ken Lathrope, my business partner from Seattle, Washington. Ken had "hiked" much of the Northern Cascades and was keen to experience New Zealand tramping.

Day One

We flew into Nelson on Saturday morning to be picked up by my sister and driven to the Nelson Lakes area and up the Wairau Valley. Things turned to custard early when, halfway along the hydro road, we arrived at a locked gate - this was not mentioned in Sven Braebyn's book! So right from the start we were behind the eight ball as we had to do a one-and-a-half hour road bash before crossing the Wairau and beginning the tramp.

We arrived at the swing bridge at 12.15pm, hanging a left to backtrack on the other side of the river down to Hell Fire Creek. We were immediately bush-bashing. Poor Ken thought this was going to be like the Pacific Crest Trail - "Where’s the track?" he enquired. I said, "There isn't one today, half of one tomorrow, none on day three, but you’re in luck on day four!"

Once hitting Hell Fire Creek we climbed steadily, heading for the top tarn. Owing to our late start we were never going to make the top tarn before dark, a blow, because it is a great campsite. Besides, Ken threw in the towel at 4pm and we set up camp in a lovely small clearing near the creek. The forecast was for rain today, with clearing conditions. We had overcast, showery conditions all day and a bout of heavy rain during the night. The following days were picture perfect - blue skies, sunny conditions - unbelievable Easter weather! This all boded well for our two high pass crossings.

Day Two

We broke camp at 8.30am and arrived at the top tarn at 11.30am. Then it was a short hop to the col arriving at 12.30pm. From here it was a down-hill valley bash to Top Misery Hut, arriving at 4pm. A tip for others doing this trip: sidle high until above Misery Creek then drop down. We dropped straight off the ridge and had a tough time in heavy tussock and bogs in the lower valley. Once you get to the bush-line the going is pretty easy as the bush is very open - stick to the left bank.
Top Misery Hut is your typical Forest Service 6-bunker. What a fabulous location sitting in a large open valley-flat surrounded by towering peaks, a common feature of the Raglan. We were so pleased to arrive, stoke up the fire, fill up the belly and hit the pit.

Day Three

Rob at Branch BivWe left Top Misery at 8.45am travelling down-river to Bottom Misery Hut arriving at 10.55am. This was a marked track and quick going. Bottom Misery was also a lovely, cosy hut perched on a shelf overlooking the Branch River. With wonderful views, it would be a nice place to stay, but we were heading for the Upper Branch Biv for the night. After a break we left at noon, heading up-river to Branch Biv.
There were some track markers to start with but these disappeared after a short time. Thanks to the GPS we arrived at Branch Biv at 2.15pm. This biv has two bunks, a ‘dog box’, but is really clean and cosy.
There was a great fire-pit outside with dug-in seating outside. We got a great fire going and it was really homely. Wasps were a problem. This area feels so remote. We loved our night here.

Day Four

We awoke to sunny weather, a great relief as we had a big pass to go over today to drop into the Lees Valley. We left at 8am. No tracks today. The guidebooks advised climbing high in the bush at the start to avoid a gorge, then dropping back down to the river.
Conquer the scree, enjoy the viewWe travelled up-river for about two-and-a-half hours until adjacent to a big scree slope. Now the slog began. A 600-metre climb up the scree, then a sidle across a tussock bench and up another boulder field to a slot in the ridgeline. We got there at 12.15. What a view!

This country is so rugged and steep. The opposing peaks seem to rise almost vertically from the valley floor. It was very windy on top and we slipped into our wind-jackets for the drop into the Lees Valley. And what a drop it was! After a steep boulder incline we hit a fabulous scree slope that we literally surfed down - so exhilarating!
On reaching Lees Creek we followed the right bank - some bush bashing then some fabulous river-flats and a very interesting boulder section. Huge boulders that were so “prehistoric”. We finally hit the hut clearing at 4.15. There was a father and son team in the hut, having just arrived for a hunting trip from the road end - our destination the next day. These were the only people we saw on our trip.
As were meeting my sister at 9.30 in the morning at the hydro road, we had to leave Lees Hut at 6.30am. You guessed it - after an 8-hour plus day yesterday, we slept in. We hit the track at 7.30am. This was the fastest tramp I've done in a long time, getting out to the road and down to the locked gate in 2 hours 30, one hour ahead of the published time! Then it was back to Nelson in time to catch the early afternoon flight to Auckland.

Most club members know me as a lightweight tramper, so I thought my 8kg four-day gear list may be of interest to members. I’ve included brands so you can research these on the web for yourself. Feel free to call me to discuss.


ULA Conduit 50 567 gms


Tent - Henry Shires (includes pole/pegs) 785 gms
Sleeping bag - Macpac Adventure 300 700 gms
Sleeping pad - Gossamer Gear and Mont-Bell pillow 170 gms

Clothes (Worn):

Macpac shorts 150 gms
Smartwool long-sleeve top 222 gms
Xstatic Mountain Hardwear undies - no smell!! 90 gms
Inov8 socks 45 gms
Montrail Vitesse shoes 780 gms
OR Runner Hat with sun flaps 80 gms
Sun-glasses 30 gms
Leki pole with duct tape wrapped below handle 318 gms
OR Short Stretch Gaiters 10 gms
Watch 35 gms

Clothes (Pack):

Mountain Hardwear Phantom wind-jacket 100 gms
Marmot rain-jacket 396 gms
Cocoon puff-jacket 227 gms
Macpac long trousers 238 gms
Smartwool long-sleeve mock 241 gms
Injinju toe socks 42 gms
Teva thongs 170 gms
PJ shorts 85 gms
Silkbody short-sleeve T shirt 100 gms
Icebreaker beanie 40 gms
Possum gloves 38 gms
Mountain Laurel EVent Over mitts 35 gms


Thermo Jet alcohol stove/wind shield 110 gms
Half Lt meths 320 gms
One Lt titanium Evernew pot 200 gms
One Firelite spork 10 gms
Food bowl 15 gms
Chucks, matches, condiments 50 gms


Backcountry porridge or muesli for breakfast;
3 courses at night;
One Square Meal bar and Beef jerky for day 680 gms / day
Water, provided more is available en route 450 gms / day


First-aid and personal medication 250 gms
Digital camera and spare battery 160 gms
Navigation - GPS, compass, printed A4 computer maps, laminated 125 gms
Safety - Whistle, mirror, cord, knife, EPIRP, never-blow-out birthday candles 285 gms
Hygiene - chucks, Dr Bonners liquid soap, toothbrush, toilet-paper, sun cream 50 gms
Tikka headlight 70 gms
Notepaper, pencil 8 gms
Cuban fire stuff-sacks for clothes and personal gear 6 gms


Clothes worn: 1850 gms
General kit: 5593 gms
Food for eg 4 full days: 2720 gms
1 days water on any given day: 450 gms

TOTAL: (pack weight, excl clothes worn)

8763 gms

I am changing my Leki pole to Life-Link Ultra lite, 100 grams lighter.
In summer I take my Oware Tarp and Biv Bag (590 grams), plus my Western Mountaineering HighLite sleeping bag (450 grams).
This knocks off over 250 grams from my total weight.

Rob McKay