Traverse of Rangi-Taipo from 4WD access road to Taipo Valley

On a previous traverse of the Rangi-Taipo Range from Carroll Hut, I had conceived the wish to camp by a tarn NW of the summit and travel along the extensively prolonged western ridge, ending up hopefully at the highest point of the 4WD access road which leads into the Taipo valley. We would climb the mountain via the overgrown NZFS track that Mauricio and Simon of Permolat had snipped and marked a few years back.

We drove in to do some further track work and camp by the tarn but sustained a flattie on the way in the recently reformed and very rough track. This should have been an omen to us to leave the circuit alone but I put this mission on my list of desired objectives. Last w/e with the moderate avalanche danger at higher altitudes yet a forecast of perfect West Coast wx, Frank suggested we do the circuit but in the opposite direction to make route-finding along the western ridge less challenging.

We anticipated the ridge was unknown and possibly time-consuming travel so stayed on Friday night at the Jackson Cabins which were cosy, good value but with the nastiest shower I have ever encountered. Moving on, Frank mentioned the possibility of the access road being closed and indeed a notice stated it was but after we donned our packs, he tested the gate and found it able to be opened. It was obvious that the track had been devastated by treefall but restored. It was possibly still closed as the final section of the 4WD track to 7 Mile hut is saturated and boggy due to a lot of recent rain.

We drove to the saddle and Frank changed into plastic climbing boots as the only stream crossing is at the end of the trip and he carried trekking shoes for this. We took a bearing of 55 degrees from where we thought we were to the nose of a small spur. The plan was to search for a place to ascend and gain this spur then travel to Point 608 and 786. When we gained the spur and had a chance to sight off a hill, we inferred we must have been a bit more to the SE from where we left the vehicle at the summit of the access track as we could recognize the scrub band on the northern face of Mt McInerny and so take a bearing from this to confirm our position.

The forest was reasonably open to travel in. Fortunately there were neat horizontal fault scarps with streams allowing us to drink although Frank didn't bother taking water from them. A patch of sunlight enticed us to stop for lunch where we were visited by a weka who did a circuit around us, even climbing a low bush to have a good look at us and vice versa. Travel was pretty slow to 786 as the vegetation required a bit of wrestling and weaving to maneuver.

From here we were surprised to meet permolat markers along the narrow ridge. Where it steepened a final permolat stated "The end of the line" and another one added "yippee". We climbed up a bluff and it became hard work. Time passed by and the vegetation deteriorated from Quintinea to Nei Nei, tenacious fine-leaved coprosma and leatherwood. This type of flora will not be persuaded to give way although with the boots on, you could stomp a bit of an opening in the leatherwood. By this time after full body exertion I was feeling very sluggish with muscular fatigue.

It became a past time of attempting to advance along the ridge, being blocked, going sideways until we could make forward progress and then repeating the sideways strategy when blocked. Although I wasn't trying to focus on maintaining the right direction of travel, I noticed I was achieving this. Frank lost his watch and then the cap of his water bottle in one wrestle and got low on water. I held some back for melting snow with as it became evident that we wouldn't reach the tarn that evening. Fortunately, there was now icy grauple in patches along the ridge so we could stop anytime and camp before we got into snow covered campsite terrain but Frank was keen for us to cover a good bit of distance.

We made a little progress and around 953 began to check out possible campsites. I wasn't keen to camp on snow so battled my way to a snow-free flat section just wide enough for our footprint on the north side of the ridge. Luckily I was carrying 135g of cannister gas for the pocket rocket, sufficient to melt snow for rehydrating, cooking and enough for the following day's breakfast plus some drinking water to start the day with. We put up our little Montbell tent and began the process of harvesting grauple, slaking our thirst and cooking our meal etc.

While we were sitting doing this, Frank heard an approaching rustle. We thought another weka was coming to visit but no, even better it was a great spotted kiwi (roa). We were really chuffed as we have often heard them and seen them as dark shapes in the scrub but this large bird was lit-up grey and ghost-like by our headlamps as it passed us on its probings. After a while we heard it pass us by again on its way back. I had a comfortable night as we'd raked Nei Nei leaves over our footprint site but Frank's mattress is not so thick.

In the morning I had half my Pro-nutro as water was short, plus a muesli bar. We carried about a cup of water each. We soon met a tiny bog but I was so focussed on finding a path to avoid this and keep my boots dry that I forgot to harvest water from it. After a couple of hours of constant struggle and trauma from poking branches, I again slowed down considerably, conserving energy moving zombie-like. Next we were in the official scrub zone which was a lot easier than any other vegetation zone, being flax and dracophyllum traversii (inanga). Here I discovered I'd lost my map in one of my scrub tussles.

 We were getting quite thirsty and Frank was feeling a little nauseated with his Pro-nutro sitting in his stomach as he’d had insufficient liquid with it. He had again finished his water and I gave him some of mine as I’d been holding it back for starting a melting session. Just past 1049 at the head of Debenham creek where I hoped there was a bog was a clearing of shingle so water percolates through, untrapped.

A little further up the hill it was time for lunch so we stopped at a very pleasant sunny site. I thought a hollow a few metres away looked promising as a bog so went to reccie it. Fortunately it contained 2 his and her boglets. I broke the ice on mine and allowed clear water to well up to be scooped into a billy and Frank strained his water very effectively through his pristine handkerchief. I finished off the Pro-nutro and we had about 4 drinks each with our lunch. We carried on and eventually came to the tarn we’d planned to camp at the night before. It had taken us 3 and a half hours to reach it from our campsite. It was surrounded by and half covered in snow with a patch of flat tussock at the head but I didn’t want to spend time investigating it to see if this would have been good for camping on. I announced my intention to go down and fill my Platypus and Frank reasoned as he would be waiting he may as well do the same. By now it was 1.45pm so we concentrated on getting to the summit.

The snow was fairly shallow and firm though not to the point where crampons would be a good idea. We reached the summit at 2.30pm, knowing we’d arrived as there was a pipe in place on a large rise of rocks. We’d been here previously and it did look familiar. We donned crampons as we were to be descending the shady side of the mountain. Frank knew the way to the spur which leads to the start of the NZFS track but I’d taken a bearing and checked for practice. There were 2 narrow, parallel spurs and part of the time we left the left hand spur to use pleasant smooth travel in the gully between them. Further down, the drop off on either side of our spur steepened so we stuck to the spur. At an obvious good vantage point we scanned for cairns or other cultural features and though I thought I might have seen permolats, common sense by studying the map and the most likely place to site a track persuaded me that we should indeed focus our scrutiny more to the left where Frank had headed, guided by memory.

I spotted what were possibly 2 white permolats fixed to a large Nei Nei. As we descended it was confirmed these were what they seemed. We didn’t see cairns until we were very close to the start of the track which makes them almost pointless but we restored a couple that had lost stones. There is a massive 1m ziggurat of slabs that will be there forever unless an earthquake shifts it. We kept our crampons on as the snow persisted for a 100m or so. The track bore the signs of snipping from Mauricio and Simon and had plenty of permolats augmented by red tape. However the honeymoon was not to last as with the big snows and heavy rains sections of the track had been wiped out. We came to a massive slip where the gully was filled with trees and decided the only option was to cross it to the left and descend then traverse back below it, searching for the track. This gambit paid off but the track was found still traversing left. Not long after congratulating ourselves, the track disappeared again and I gingerly descended a congested small gully and traversed left on a reccie. Once again I found the track and I broke off vegetation to guide future explorers uphill.

Frank came down to me and we soon realized we’d arrived at an ancient road bearing quite well developed trees. This was the zigzagging benched road that Mauricio and Simon had rejected as being too indirect so they’d snipped their own track. Unfortunately unless a very aggressive cut is done, their track too will soon disappear. We followed the road which seemed to be quite obstructed at times and soon abandoned it for a more direct descent as sunlight was running out. At one point I realized there was a vertical drop below us of considerable height so I nervously regained height as this was a very steep slope. We sidled right , diagonally where possible to try and bypass this band of bluff which was shown on the map as going right to the NZFS track. As dusk set in, I realized we were now back on the overgrown road and close to the confluence of 7 Mile and the Taipo so we hastened along until we reached a permolatted junction.

On the previous occasion we’d chosen the right hand turning but Frank suggested we take the direct downhill route to get off the terrace. We were too much in a hurry to get our headtorches on to look for permolats or tape, relying on the sound of the waterways to guide us to clear terrain.  So for 5 minutes we travelled seat of the pants through boggy open bits and close but navigable vegetation until we burst out on the true right of 7 Mile Stream. By now it was almost dark and Frank long since drunk all his water. We chose a 4WD track that goes to the 7 Mile Hut then joined the track that is usually used. Cattle were startled and we looked for a good place for Frank to change into his trekking shoes as plastic climbing boots aren’t the best thing for a one and a half hour road walk. As he changed, I geared up and finished the rest of my lunch, sharing the last of the cheese with Frank and enjoying a packet of tomato soup as a gazpacho. We went at a reasonable pace and I christened my plastics in a side stream though water didn’t seep though until halfway across.

The cockie had put in a new gate lower down the hill and this had me thinking we were further up the hill than we were so I was pleased to see the former gate near the summit where the car was parked. I’d asked Frank if he’d remembered switching the lights off and he’d said he’d checked twice but now I’d planted the seed of doubt so he’d spent this road walk in misery asking himself if he was confusing his carefulness with the previous trip. All was well and the Isuzu was soon purring and pumping out heat. We got back to town at midnight. I was glad to do the circuit, see the kiwi, the tarn and the summit but with no desire to repeat the route as it was the most sustained difficult vegetation I’d encountered and this is from someone who has spent a 32 day stretch traversing Fiordland completely untracked and regularly does routes on Stewart Island, travelling only on bearings for days at a time.