Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tararuas Southern Non-Crossing

One of the classic tramps in the Tararua mountain range is called the Southern Crossing. It is usually done over two days plus one evening.

The first evening is spent walking up onto the ridge where Field Hut is snuggled beneath the bush line. This is a three hour walk for someone like me, but I'm sure there are some trampers out there who do it in two hours.

The second day takes you onto the ridge, past Kime Hut, another three hours along. From there it's about an hour to the summit of Mt Hector, where the "tops" part of the walk really gets started. The ridge tops in the Tararuas are known for their fierce winds, and most local trampers who brave the tops have tales to tell of crawling on hands and knees at some point to avoid getting blown away. The tops lead you to Alpha Hut, the stop for the second night.

Day three is less precarious, but quite a long haul. You descend back below the bush line, and spend most of a day (6-8 hours depending on your downhill speed) making your way down a long ridge to Kaitoke Regional Park in the Hutt Valley.

G and I had been hoping to attempt a Southern Crossing this summer, but once we looked at it in detail I lost my nerve. Days one and two seemed do-able, but the long final day seemed beyond my current endurance. I tend to get wobbly after a few hours of downhill, and there's no hut between Alpha and the end of the track if you decide you can't make it all the way.

So instead of the crossing, we decided to just walk the first half (well, not quite half) of the route and then head back the same way.

We started in the morning, reaching Field Hut in time for a late lunch. A helicopter could be heard in the distance, which we later learned was searching for a lost tramper in the park. (She was found the next day, in good shape.)

From Field Hut we continued up above the bushline and the clouds moved in. Although we were walking along a ridge, the view on either side was completely obscured. I realised at some point that not having a view, and therefore a constant temptation to stop and take pictures, was actually moving me along much better than usual. I began to wonder how much time I add to our average day of tramping by stopping to take pictures so often. Not that I think the time is wasted, or plan to stop - but it was an interesting thing to ponder.

We finally crossed a flat on the top of the ridge, and almost out of nowhere Kime Hut appeared in the mist. It was a welcome sight after six hours of uphill travel. The hut was busy that night (I seem to have a knack for picking the busiest huts!) with a grand total of 24 people eventually spending the night there. But the mood was relaxed and friendly, and there was enough room for everyone to squeeze onto the bunks.
The next day we decided to play things by ear. It was still pretty misty and cloudy up where we were, and we set out towards the tops not knowing how far we would get. The ridge narrowed, at times dropping off steeply on both sides. The track was pretty well defined though, despite the marker poles being quite sparse.

Eventually we got to the top of Mt Hector, and had a look at the memorial cross up there which is a tribute to the Kiwi soldiers lost in WWII. It was up at this exposed point that we could feel the full force of the "breeze" blowing that morning. It certainly wasn't the worst that the Tararuas can offer up, but it was strong enough to make continuing onwards an unpleasant task. So we decided to be nice to ourselves and head back the other way at this point.
As we turned to go, the clouds around us actually parted, and gave us a view of the farmland far below. This was precisely the same moment when the batteries in my camera died, of course. Within 30 seconds the clouds closed in again and the view was lost. But I did put new batteries in my camera as we made our way back along the ridge, so that I could grab a few pictures of the track itself.
After a quick snack stop at Kime Hut, we made our way back down to Field Hut in increasingly sunny weather. We saw the rescue helicopter once again (this must have been right around the time the lost tramper was found) as we descended the ridge.

At field hut we stopped for lunch, and I noticed that someone had hung his (0r her) smelly socks out on the upper window. Probably a good idea! Some socks shouldn't be allowed inside.
By the last hour of the walk it was actually quite hot out, and I wished I had brought something to wear in the river at the bottom. It was a perfect day for a swim, but with so many others thinking the same thing, it was way too populated for skinny dipping or even a swim in my underwear. Instead I had to settle for a quick change of clothes at the car, and air conditioning on the way home.

I'm hopeful that some day I'll have the endurance (and speed) to complete a Southern Crossing, but in the mean time I've at least knocked off part of it.

And as for my recovery time - well, it's Wednesday and my legs are still pretty stiff. Guess I still have some work to do at the gym!


Mike said...

Hi Michelle. It sounds as if you had a great time.

I've never been along Marchant Ridge, but I've read the hut book at Alpha and it'd choc-full of people complaining that it's absolutely the most boring walk they've ever had. (Constant undulation under trees.) This might also be a reflection of that a lot of people who attempt the Southern Crossing are people who tend to stick to the very scenic trips. I know several other people who reckon it's just a nice bush-walk.

If it puts you off, there are at least a couple of alternative routes down from Alpha Hut to the south-eastern side of the southern crossing, on either side of Marchant Ridge. You can go down past Cone Hut and out at Walls Whare (the down-side being that you'll be on the far side of the Rimutaka Hill Road, rather than Upper Hutt. Otherwise it's also possible from Alpha Peak to follow Quoin Ridge through the water catchment area (no stopping or camping once you've left Alpha) and come out at Pakuratahi Forks, and then you are on the right side of the Rimutaka Hill Road (assuming that's where you wanted to be).

The water catchment is really nice to visit if you haven't been there, but a down-side is that the Wellington Regional Council makes sure that it's necessary to walk for about 90 minutes on one of the most boring roads to finally get back to the road-end. I think this is to discourage people from entering the area unless they're actually serious about wanting to. The Eastern Hutt River is a really nice place, though. It's a good day-walk to just walk up to Eastern Hutt Hut and back, although you're not allowed to stay there except for emergencies, due to the water catchment thing.

If you want some idea of what it's like, I wrote up a thing a while ago where we went up past Cone, stayed at Alpha, and then went down Quoin. Note that Quoin's nowhere near as walked as the main Southern Crossing route, so the terrain may take slightly longer to get around and you're far less likely to meet other people along the way.


Maple Kiwi said...

Thanks Mike - it's good to hear about the alternatives. We met some people going via Cone Hut, which seems like a good option except for ending up in the Wairarapa as you say.

I should check out Quoin Ridge. It looks like a bush-bashing route on the map, but perhaps it is well walked enough to have a track?

Mike said...

Hi Michelle. Yeah I guess to be honest Quoin Ridge isn't an official track. It's more of a known route and there will be obvious places where people and animals have gone before, but will also definitely be some climbing over the odd large rock, and pushing through scrub and trees here and there... I wouldn't count on a nice track. I guess you'd also need to rely on navigation skills to be sure of not accidentally going down a spur on either side of the ridge. I hope I didn't mislead anyone about this. Chris Maclean's Tararua book says this was one of the originally proposed routes for the main Southern Crossing, but I think an argument against it was that it was too exposed and therefore more dangerous compared with Marchant Ridge.

Another idea in the same area from the other end is a daywalk up to Eastern Hutt Hut in the Eastern Hutt river, and back the same way. You can't stay there except in emergencies unless you're working with the Wellington Regional Council, but you can still leave a mark in the hut book and it's a nice river walk on a sunny day. It's partly marked along the side of the river for a while, but still be prepared for a few crossings and wet feet.