Extended Trip - Saturday 16 February 2019 to Thursday 21 February 2019 (6 days)
Heading into a month of tramping and a little rusty, I thought I’d start out my venture with some warm-up medium trips and ease into some more serious stuff later on. Tony’s definition of a medium trip and mine are a little bit different! Here’s how the Clarke-Landsborough panned out.
What better way to start off a trip than with blue sky, sunshine, and a helicopter flight into a wilderness area. Christine could barely contain her excitement at our take off point from Pleasant Flats at the top of Haast Pass, Mt Hooker beckoning in the distance. A convoy of campervans rumbled past, oblivious to the world we were about to make home for the next week. The chopper crew radioed into base advising we were a group of lightweight trampers, which didn’t seem right shouldering our packs, but pleased the female members of the team.
The Clarke-Landsborough is one of the holy grail destinations for hard core trampers, and has a legendary reputation. We were advised that travel is easier up the Landsborough, where the beech forest is more open and trapping routes can be followed. We opted to start in the Clarke. A chapter out of Craig Potton’s book "So Far So Good" had given me some idea of what I might be heading for. A short flight up the valley had us deposited on a stream side shelf at Rough Creek on the Clarke River, and just shy of the wilderness area boundary. Very soon it was just us and the wilderness. Eager to tick some miles off while the weather was good, we set off to Davies Flat.
Sporadic deer trail interspersed with bulldozing through thick understory set the tone for the tramping for much of the trip, with a thick green carpet of spongy but not boggy moss underfoot. Plunging into the bush east of Rough Creek we traversed upwards - a little too far upwards, as when we reached the next creek at about the 300m contour, we found ourselves bluffed out and had to retreat a little further down the creek edge to find a spot where we could scramble down to the creek and cross, aligning ourselves more correctly with the gully leading up to a saddle west of pt 497. Travel toward the saddle was slow, scrubby, and often involved slithering under and scrambling over and around tree fall, with limited progress. Every handhold seemed to be rotten. This was the worst section of the whole trip. Feeling somewhat defeated by the forest, Michelle at one point thought she could hear a Mr Whippy truck, but sadly no truck laden with icecream goodies eventuated. Finally we reached the saddle and a fabulous open deer trail taking us right down to Davies Flat with quick progress. There are plenty of good campsites on the flat. Part of the evening was spent searching for Catherine’s glasses that disappeared in long grass by the river. They were eventually found after a needle in haystack forage.
Rough Creek to Davies Flat - 3 ½ hours
Sandfly annoyance factor - 7/10
Diving into the bush again, it was more of the previous day, making our way through the bush on the true right of the Clarke river. Deer scat was prevalent and we were entertained by a flock of mohua. Mohua are apparently recovering well in the neighbouring Landsborough valley, due to a rigorous trapping program. After four hours, we emerged out of the forest onto Munro Flats, crossing the Clarke River several times, only having to link up twice. We lunched at the northern end of the flats and contemplated the two possible routes to Mark’s Flat. One route to the NW takes you up alongside and above a steep, precipitous gorge which didn’t look all that appealing. The other, longer route, follows east up Saddle Creek towards Kea Cliffs and an unnamed saddle, and is the easier option. Tony had some clearings close to the saddle in his sights for the night. Moirs describes a "very good deer trail" up the spur on the true right of Saddle Creek from Munro Flat, and so it was, following along the edge of a low ridge, until eventually it fizzled out. An inquisitive unbanded kea paid us a visit and gave us an excuse to stop and enjoy his/her antics. At this point some exploratory endeavours were needed to find a means of moving forward. We came to the conclusion that the best option was to follow the least point of resistance, which proved to be mainly the path of resistance. We decided our best plan of attack was to head down to Jack’s Creek where others had camped previously, and to make do with that for the night, rather than the hoped for higher clearings. Sliding down mossy drop offs, wrestling with the undergrowth and a good deal of bum-sliding was the only way to tackle the descent. Hidden creeks with small beautiful swimming holes are present in this area and worthy of exploration for those with more time and energy than us. A shredded closed cell sleeping mat found enroute was confirmation that we were roughly ‘on track’, and not the only silly buggers to come up with our plan. One member of our team did some spectacular head over tail tumbles. By the time we reached Jack’s Creek, we’d all decided it was far too lovely a sun-baked spot to venture further on from for the day. Washing, drying and full immersion bathing was a fitting way of ending the day, adding on some exploring of an intriguing gorge just upstream. Delightfully, there was room for three tents and the creek was amazingly sandfly free.
Davies Flat to Jack’s Creek - 8 hours
Sandfly annoyance factor - 0/10
Not for the first time on this trip, an orange triangle might have been useful for directing us onwards, but being a wilderness area, it was all up to us to navigate forward. So straight up we went - we knew that a hearty climb would be ahead of us to get us on the right trajectory for the saddle. We were pleasantly surprised that the going wasn’t as bad as the previous day. Birdlife was abundant and the mossy, damp underfoot conditions, perfect for spawning an array of interesting fungi. Aside from one spot where we had to haul up packs and people separately, we made good time up to about the 900m contour, where the terrain opened up and we could sidle upwards crossing spurs and roches moutonnées with relative ease.
The marked small clearings were quite boggy and wouldn’t have made great camping confirming the right decision to camp at Jack’s Creek. Snowberry snacks were welcomed. Once arriving at the bushline, travel was easy to the eastern end of Kea Cliffs. Had it been a nicer day and without a deteriorating forecast, we would have elected to drop our packs and head for the cliffs summit (pt 1343), but rain was definitely on its way. With the expansive Marks Flat before us, we pushed on for our bivvy destination.
The saddle looked campable. Moir’s had described a possible route down to the flats from the saddle which we more or less used, but may have gone a little awry, doing quite a good vertical bumslide through some scrub near the bottom of the descent, before being deposited on the flats in no time at all. The SW end of Marks Flat is boggy so we tried to dodge it, sloshing our way over to the drier northern side, startling some hares in the process. There are two map-marked bivvies at the southern end of Marks Flat, the larger, easily visible from the flats and easily located via some large cairns. We arrived a minute before the rain started. Our chosen bivvy was palatial, and the Hilton of rock bivvies, with cineramic views over the flats and included a rock kitchen. There was easily room for our three tents and a few more bodies. Later in the afternoon, the rain stopped for long enough to allow further exploring of the flats towards the gorge where creeks and streams meet. The second bivvy sleeps (rather than sits) fewer people and is the poor cousin to the main bivvy. Moir’s describes a third bivvy rock which we didn’t explore.
Jack’s Creek to Marks Flat - 5 hours
Sandfly annoyance factor - 2/10
We already knew from our forecast that this would be a wet pit day, and the large overhang of the bivvy rock meant we could emerge from our tents dry, and move about and socialize without getting wet. It’s a great spot to be holed up looking out across the flats, eyeing up the Solution Range, and admiring the dramatic wall of Kea Cliffs and the many new waterfalls that appeared overnight.
Ten things to do on a ‘stuck under a bivvy rock’ day
1. Pull out seeds from socks and velcrose
2. Make flinstonian style furnishings from available resources
3. Kill sandflies
4. Clean the crud out from under your fingernails obtained by clawing your way to the bivvy rock
5. Collect rainwater
6. Admire rainbows
7. Count but don’t chase waterfalls
8. Ring the water out of your socks
9. Exercise your peepee restraint muscles
10. Spend a pleasant day doing absolutely nothing.
At midday, three hunters appeared on the flats and joined us for the rest of the day. They added their macabre touches to the bivvy in the form of decapitated animal heads. Fossicking around the bivvy, the hunters discovered the “hut book” - an old tin stuffed with handwritten notes and reports penned by some of the greats of the tramping and climbing world: Lydia Bradey, Peter Wilson, Pat Barrett. We added our own little story. Climbers heading for Mt Hooker often use Marks Flat as their base.
With the cloud lifting, we set off across Marks Flat to a spur at approx E1333674 N5138287. The hunters advised it is also possible to obtain the Solution Range tops by following a large open stream bed close by. Scrambling up, we followed a steep and increasingly narrow ridgeline, before emerging above the bushline to a well worn open ridge track, leading to the tops of the Solution Range. The Solution Range has numerous tarns, camping spots and easy travel. We had originally planned to spend a night on the range, which would have been glorious had the forecast not dictated a ‘get off the tops and get out fast’ warning. Peering over into the clagged in Landsborough side, it’s a very steep drop down. Stashing our packs, we set off in the direction of Mt Gow hoping for the cloud to dissipate and grant us some nice views, but it never really did. So we reluctantly retrieved our packs and left the tops to make our way down to ToeToe Flats on the Landsborough side. There are two descent routes described in Moirs. We took the more southern route following the range tops up and over pt 1438 and then following an obvious spur east with a steep drop off on the northern side. The snow grass slopes were a bit bluffy at the top but could be avoided moving slightly further south, where chamois bounded off in the distance. We continued into the bush east along the spur until a vague deer track ran out, and we made our way south eventually connecting with a stream roughly following it down to the flats. Toetoe Flats are expansive with a locked hut at the northern end. The weather cleared as we set up camp.
Marks Flat to Solution Range tops - 2 ½ hours
Solution Range to Toetoe Flats - 5 hours
Sandfly annoyance factor - 5/10.
The deteriorating weather forecast proved true, and we woke to drizzle and a once again clagged in valley, raising a question mark over our 10am helicopter extraction. At our pre arranged pick up time, we dismantled camp and waited, listening for the thrum of rotor blades. After standing around in the rain for 90 minutes we decided to re-pitch wet tents and await further advice. A further hour later the definite sounds of a helicopter sent us all scurrying to gather up all our gear, for a quick and scenic trip down the Landsborough with misty but none-the-less thrilling views.
It was good to know our navigation worked, even if at times, the terrain didn’t!
Don’t expect cairns and obvious trails anywhere on the trip.
Animal trails don’t always lead where you want them to go.
Only attempt this trip if you’re a confident navigator and bushbasher.
This is a stunning wild and remote area well worth the effort to get there.
Intrepid team: Tony Walton (leader), Christine Major, Catherine Doyle, Michelle (scribe).