Andrew had this down as a CTC trip and I’d always wanted to go over Boscawen Saddle so let him know I was keen. Luckily for him as the other 2 on the trip then pulled out but Andrew’s car wasn’t fit for high speeds with his bald tyres so I invited Frank along too so we could take our car.
We left on Friday evening around 6.30pm, stopping at the pub at Culverden which featured a café. It even had GF food so Frank and I enjoyed a cheesecake with Andrew having some of mine. We got to Palmers Lodge which surprisingly was unoccupied even though the roar has started. Another vehicle pulled up and both parties camped outside. I had suggested sleeping under our tent fly to keep our other tent dry for the trip and used a very warm sleeping bag that night as well. I was taking a much lighter bag for the tramp.
We had a cozy night, although with the road to Kaikoura being out of action there were a lot of trucks going by. We were planning to wake at 5.30am but slept through Frank’s alarm so woke at 10 past 6. Andrew was rustling about by then. We breakfasted and packed up, starting on the track at 7.30am. I noted that across the road from Palmers Lodge there was watercress and mint growing by a stream parallel to the road.
The day was fine but overcast and on the cool side which suited us for the 500m climb out of the head of the Nina to Boscawen Saddle. Andrew was recovering from a repair to his ACL 8 months ago so even though he was younger, Frank and I were moving more quickly as he had to take care with his foot placements to avoid jarring his knee in any way. I noticed there were a lot of fungi growing in the valley as per usual.
When we got to the Nina Bridge to my surprise Frank suggested it would be a better route to the old Nina Hut site if we crossed and went via the new Nina Hut. We took way under the DoC time to get to the new hut. I lingered to have a snack here. We searched for the link track to the old hut site and found it to the north of the hut. The river was at normal flow so no big deal to cross. We carried on towards Nina Biv, intending to stop for lunch there.
On the way there was a waterfall up high and Frank reminisced about a CTC trip to Hatless from the valley many years before. I climbed up to follow some upside down orange triangles which were not the track and had to drop down to join Frank and Andrew who were continuing on the flat beside the river. We got to Nina Biv at 12.30pm and stopped for lunch. It is always interesting to see what others have for lunch. Andrew had some Swedish cheese paste in a metal squeeze tube and crackers. He completed his lunch in half the time we did.
We studied the hut book as internet research had revealed very little information about the route to Boscawen Saddle. An entry assured us it was straightforward via the stream 100m past a scree which was around 900m asl. It said this stream was marked with a cairn. Some good soul had cut a lot of big trees surrounding the biv as part of their project to rehabilitate the biv so we cast out to the side and walked briefly along an ancient flood channel. When we got to a clearing on the true left there was a cairn where you hopped over a fallen tree. I figured this was to guide people to the biv as some parties had missed it when going downvalley. We crossed to the other side and travel was untracked though uneventful and straightforward to the scree and beyond, There was no cairn in evidence at the turnoff to our route via the open stream to Boscawen Saddle although some rocks on a big boulder may have been a cairn in former times.
The stream was generally open and very much a staircase though sometimes we shifted to low regen where the going was easier. The hutbook entry had advised that we would leave the main stream in the upper basin and follow a smaller stream directly to the saddle. The water went almost all the way to the saddle so I needn’t have filled my platypus until we were practically at the saddle. I sidled gradually to a place on the ridge just slightly uphill of the southern side of the saddle. This was because in the hutbook John and Kate Entwisle had advised people continuing down to Lake Christobel Hut to go across to Robinson Saddle via a scree at a level 50m above the saddle rather than go downhill through scrub to eventually join the track on the true left of the Blue Grey River.
While waiting for the other two, I was joined by an initially noisy NZ falcon which was soon content to just sit on a rock close by. When the others arrived, we gained height and began to sidle on to the scree, with a pair of NZ falcons flying around us. It was a nasty scree composed of fist-sized rounded boulders so I immediately fell over. After a while I worked out it was better to hold my walking stick musterer-style to keep the weight against the slope. I was thinking “what’s wrong with the bloody scrub”.
There was a natural upsloping broad ramp onto the ridge that leads to Robinson Saddle but I stayed higher to minimize height loss. Andrew stayed lower and used the ramp. I think the tussock was shorter on the ramp which would have made for faster travel. We regrouped and dropped down to join the poled route ran across Robinson Saddle. I stopped in the last of the sunlight at 5pm to have a snack before descending via the poled route into the Blue Grey Valley.
This route was through thick scrub where you often couldn’t see to place your feet so Andrew’s travel was delayed with his having to take care. We sidled downwards and just before we came to the river went down a steep run of flood debris which was poorly marked and would be easily missed if going upvalley. Here we had something more to eat. Looking upstream I was glad to have done the scree sidle. The scrub was very thick and head high. We travelled a bit down the true left and then where there was a pole I dropped down to join the other 2 by the river. Unfortunately this was meant to indicate the route entering into the forest but I hadn’t seen a foot trail so carried on down the river. Luckily they spotted a big orange triangle at the edge of the forest so gave me a shout to come back.
We travelled through the forest briefly and then crossed a broad scree which featured a hard steep drop down and cast about for the next pole which was near the river. By this time it was getting into dusk and before long we needed to turn our head torches on as we sidled downvalley through the forest. The track was well-marked all the way to the walk-wire and beyond to the hut. We arrived there at 10.45pm – after a 15 hour day and opted to cook outside to avoid disturbing the occupants. I entered to check out the available bunks but was assailed by the stench of garlic. I said to Frank he might prefer sleeping in the tent. After dinner Andrew settled into the only available single bunk and immediately fell asleep but Frank and I put up the tent under the beech canopy on the track to the footbridge and had a good night’s sleep with the fly staying fairly dry.
Andrew woke us at 6.30am. He’d hatched a plan to avoid a long walk from Lewis Pass to Palmers Lodge. Luckily a party of 1 father and 3 teenagers at the hut had gone in via Rough Creek, leaving their car at the Rough Creek car park. On the saddle, they’d glassed and spotted a chamois 100m away then another and had a shot at it but missed.They’d planned to walk out via Lake Christobel. This meant that instead of going out via Brass Monkey and the Lewis Tops we could go out via Rough Creek and one of us could drive the car to the L. Christobel road end, and get dropped off at our car to then drive back to Rough Ck to pick up the other 2. It was decided I was the hare on this trip and so I could go out faster than the other 2 who would travel at Andrew’s pace.
I was a bit nervous at the idea of everyone relying on me but soon rationalized that the route was poled, the weather was fine with good visibility and that if I came to grief, Frank could uplift the other party’s car keys off me and complete the car shuffle. I gave Andrew a 40 minute head start and left Frank to pack up the tent. It took longer to travel up the river than I’d expected as there was a bit of up and down. I went slowly and stopped to fill my platypus where I’d figured the track was leaving the valley to climb uphill. Alas, it was not to be until 30 minutes later.
I caught up with Andrew at the bushline, got my breathing back to the normal rate and then carried on. After a while I looked back and could see Frank not far behind Andrew as we all sidled and rose up through tussock following poles to the saddle. I carried on down the other side where I met a couple carrying day packs. Then in a scrubby section I met another couple who were chatty. They were teachers, reccying the route for a school trip where they were hoping to challenge the students.
I thought I’d be able to skip lunch to make sure the L.Christobel party weren’t having to wait for my arrival with their car. So I stopped at the bushline for a snack on cake. It was a good place to linger as there was plenty of birdlife here including a tui. I carried on down the track. The other party had said it had taken them 2 and a half hours to get to the bushline with a height gain of 600m. This meant they weren’t speedy and I hoped to descend it in just over an hour.
The going was pleasant with a few stream crossings and four and a half hours after leaving the hut I was down at the road to uplift their vehicle. It started straightaway but felt strange to drive after our big Isuzu. The clutch was long and the brakes were short. Very zippy to drive. Unfortunately I wasn’t confident of where Palmers Rd led off from the way to Rahu Saddle. I hoped it was at a hairpin bend but there was no road sign so I travelled on and on down the unsealed road, getting more and more distressed and despairing. Finally I saw a chimney smoking so turned off to ask the occupants where the road to the Blue Grey and the L. Christobel road end was. Fortunately I was on the right road after all and only needed to go over a short rise. Oh the relief!
I got to the road end and had lunch while I waited for the party to come out. A couple of older guys came out first and said the others weren’t far behind. I waited an hour but they were delayed by catching a 4kg brown trout in a pool where the older guys had spotted a couple of trout on their way in and let them know.
The dad drove us to Palmer Lodge. He was a lot faster than I was. I’d stuck to 80kph in his car for most of it. On the way we checked to see if Frank and Andrew had come out from Rough Ck. They had just arrived. It was 3pm. I got dropped off at Palmers Lodge and then drove back and picked them up. It had worked out good for both parties to be able to do the car shuttle and was a successful and pleasant trip all round.