In 2001, Frank had read of a SAR report in the media detailing a group of trampers who’d gone from Titan Rocks (which is gained from Piano Flat) across to Blue Lake Huts but spread out with one being mislaid in the mist when they turned around in the bad weather conditions. The unfortunate lad spent the night sheltered at the Titan Rocks in light snow and the place names had stuck in his memory and given him the desire to check these places out.
So when thinking of destinations for a mission in a rain shadow area he came up with Rocky Mount – the highest named point (1885 m) on the F43 Garvie map. This would give us the opportunity to see the places that matched the names.
We drove down to Piano Flat and discovered it to be a delightful verdant location with a broad and placid river snaking through picnic-friendly terrain inhabited by families intent on giving their children wonderful memories in the golden weather. However being a misanthrope I suggested we camp a bit further up the 2WD road away from the activity. The road is still flat here with sufficient soft mossy or grassy sites to pitch a tent. Hell, there are even the odd barbecue structures probably to unsuccessfully deter dorks from making their own fire rings.
I find an idyllic site on a bank above the river – a soft very level mossy footprint with an even softer little rise alongside on which to sit and cook the evening meal. Unfortunately a couple of lads were a bit perturbed by our settling here as they had ambitions to gaff eels from the shallow rocky ledges below, on their boys’ own adventure. I reassured them we were only here to camp, not move in on their fishing turf.
We put up the tent and then I began to prepare the meal. A lone biker opposite had a little remnant fire going in his fire ring so I snuck over and set red peppers to braise slowly in a pan. He slept on undisturbed, possibly linked in with the empty gin bottle outside his tent door. We dined and settled in for the night. The lads drifted up and down the road periodically to check for eels. We presumed they were amateurs as they were doing this in the daylight but thankfully they only returned for one nocturnal foray.
In the morning we drove downstream to the wire suspension bridge, parked up under a solid beech tree and set off. Here was the most glorious riot of enormous colonies of red flowering mistletoe. Some beech trees were practically half mistletoe. I guess the regular culling of cute friendly possums allows this spectacular display. After half an hour along the true right of the Waikaia we came to the track junction. Frank quietly smelt a rat about the accuracy of where the track up to Titan Rocks is marked.
We gradually ascended to the bushline, enjoying 2 little stream crossings to slake our thirst. It was a warm but overcast day with a bit of cooling wind. After a couple of hours we reached a sign informing us the rocks were 2 hours away. From here on the track was poorly marked and not recently maintained, especially at the entry and exit points at the 4 clearings along the ridge.
It took us just under 2 hours to get to the rocks. The slope steepened in the lush grass and tussock interspersed with fragrant herb fields slowing Frank in the final meters to the rocks. The route is marked with red polythene sleeves over waratahs and sidles from one spur to another enabling a reduction in gradient. At the rocks we lunched and I admired little plant colonies established in crevices in the rocks. Being the height of summer there were colorful posies of dwarf speargrass, senecios and edelweiss with anisitomes amidst these golden displays.
We headed across the soft at times swampy table top down to Boggy Saddle. The bog was very pronounced along the remains of a 4WD track past some data gathering station. The 4WD track faded up the hill so we picked our slow way up through a variety of flowering celmisias and tussocks to the rocky ridge, threading our way through scenic outcrops. Unbeknowst to us an animal track also used by horse trekkers bypassed some of this tortuous crest by sidling a little lower on the northern side of the range.
At point 1407, we headed north dropping lower to skirt point 1425 and cross Welshmans Creek. We climbed up to the ridge and got our first and only view of Blue Lake which was looking a bit bleak in the clouded over weather. Here we came on to a cattle trail with horse prints and dung which winds round from Lake Gow. We followed this down to the saddle and got on to the 4WD track which took us to the huts.
Which hut do you want to sleep in? The one with the chimney! The door was stuck so I left it for Frank to give a mighty shove which allowed us entry. A quick inventory revealed only a stale loaf of bread but then the prize of a respectable Gerber folding knife to go with the tiny screwdriver I’d found on the 4WD track. There was a coal range, large lumps of outsized wood, no axe or saw and plenty of coal. No matter, we’ve burnt coal using only dead hebes and there were plenty of those around the hut.
The toilet was recent, doorless and perched overlooking the stream that issues from Blue Lake. The other hut smelt wholesomely of animal food (oats and straw) from the final defunct muster of 2009. People had tidied up the main hut by dumping unwanted and surplus items in this hut. It was a warm evening so we had a comfortable evening and settled to bed to the sounds of ominous pitter patter on the roof which developed into a respectable rainfall during the night. Bugger thought I, I haven’t brought sufficient food for a pit day. Maybe the mission is off.
Frank had other plans though. He’d lugged in an extra day’s food so it was all on again. We monitored the weather for signs of improvement: lessening downpours, being able to see distant hills again and mist rising in the valleys. I busied myself splitting wood into serviceable sizes with the knife and a piece of 4x2 as a hammer as we would now have to ration use of the gas burner. By 11 am things were looking good, with scanty drizzle so we packed for a recce to the main ridge above Misty Tarn above the Skeleton Lakes.
We climbed up through the celmisia and tussock, sidling round to a gully. Here I saw a couple of beasties far off in the head of the gully. Their rippling motion suggested they were deer. I saw it was possible to gently sidle round to the outlet of the lower Skeleton Lake but Frank drifted higher up the gully and tackled the spur directly at its lowest shoulder, necessitating in a drop-off of 150 metres to the neck which links the head and body of Skeleton Lakes. We leapt across the stream and sat in sheltered sunlight to enjoy a snack-ration which would serve as our lunch. We studied the route and decided a gradual spur would be the most pleasant option. Immediately from our resting point there was an impressively indented trail which petered into tussock booby trapped with narrow streams. Goodness me, is this from the halcyon days of rampant deer infestation?
Our pleasant spur took us to the outlet of Misty Tarn. A pair of pied oystercatchers objected to our presence. Were they nesting on the tiny knoll? We were too polite to check this one out. Another drink then we travelled up an obvious graveled bench to reach the ridge that led us to a good lookout point (taumata). Our concern was that there would be patches of snow to negotiate with our light footwear, but fortunately it was all gone.
It had taken us nearly 2½ hours to get to this spot. We sheltered at rocks in the lee of a bit of wind and spent 15 minutes admiring various high points. Far away I could see a lone white pyramid. Maybe Aspiring? We recognized Ben Nevis in the Hector Range and Double Cone in the Remarkables. The ancient seabed of the Peneplains were revealed to the north and east – the Old Man and Woman ranges. We left to descend to the hut. I tried out a more gradual sidle from the lake and was aghast to see bluffs below leading into ominous mist. This was the amphitheatre of Chimney Gulley so I kept sidling and gaining height till I spotted Frank waiting on an outcrop a bit higher.
We sidled a bit higher then descended to the swampy gully where I hydroplaned onto my backside a couple of times. Then we had the interminable sidle across celmisia/tussock to descend to the huts. I fired up the wood/coal range for the night’s meal. It was initially smoky but the 2 louvered windows provided good cross-ventilation. I converted all the stale bread into Melba Toast to prevent it going moldy and we enjoyed the cozy fire.
Up the next day at 5.40 am to be away by 7 am for a long day. We’d measured, calculated various route times and revised our route from a 21 km/1600 m marathon to a more direct and gentler version using the spine of the Garvie Range northwards from the Remarkable Gap. Vegetation and terrain looked promising. Could we scamper along the sloping back of the ridge at 5 km/hr with a bit of occasional courtly height gain and loss?
We returned to our taumata – the lookout point on the ridge then descended to the Remarkable Gap. It was pleasing to note we were on a sheep trail. The remarkability of the Gap must have referred to the ability to view the Remarkables. We hoofed it briskly round to the summit of Rocky Mount in under 3 hours noting and doing the odd bit of judicious sidling. The side wind was very cold. I was a bit cool in my light soft shell and parka. Not surprised not many people try ski touring up here. Thank goodness I had the option of adding a light down jacket but I persevered. As we turned the corner and headed east, I became a bit hot in this garb but thought things might be a bit chillier at the more exposed summit.
Which outcrop was the summit? Frank trudged on to the eastern outcrops. We ignored a couple of unclimbable tors and sheltered for an eagerly anticipated lunch of melba toast livened up with savory comestibles. Frank came over all generous sharing chocolate and biccies which was a good thing as I was as hungry as ever after my ration. In turn, I shared my water. He had carried none, anticipating seepages along the ridge but I hadn’t been so optimistic.
After ¾ of an hour we retraced our steps – well, not so much as we were more cunning with the bypasses including a protracted sidle at the 1700 meter contour to the low point at the corner. Frank kept up the sidling at an easier pace at the 1680 meter contour to the Remarkable Gap. Being this low avoided the tedious up and down and rewarded us with running seepages and an encounter with 3 magnificent deer – a stag, a spiker and a hind.
We continued to the hut, once again surprised by the tedious endless passage through celmisia and tussock. Funny how your mind erases these bits. Mist had built up a bit but Frank confidently strode on in a rising sidle till a view told us he’d overshot the mark for descent. A bit of course correction and we were off once again, he was going on a steady bearing. What was the story? Ah, he’s holding something in his hand…is it a GPS? Yes, finally he’s using that dratted instrument for what it is meant to be for instead of his usual litany of cursing it for inaccuracies of location. We were heading in the mist, directly to the waypoint of the hut!
We dropped down the final edge of the plateau to the hut. It had been an 11 hour day. I got the stove going and produced the final ouvre – gluten-free toasted wraps with pesto and cheese for Frank and the Melba toast version for me which didn’t behave so well with the melting and staying intact. I found a quaint book in the “lumber room”. Written in 1936 about the tribulations of an English couple adjusting to his retirement. Hmm…that’ll do me.
The final morning we packed up and I cleaned and tidied the hut leaving a collection of the inevitable tinnies, bottles and cans on the table for some kind 4WD’er to take out. We strolled up to the horse trail and confounded ourselves briefly with a bit of location unawareness until we sorted out the landmarks and headed for the right low range. This time we spotted the sidling tracks, then grunted up to the Titan Rocks for another hour long luncheon.
I ate all my food except for some dehydrated hummous. Frank once again shared his biscuits.
I ate all my food except for some dehydrated hummous. Frank once again shared his biscuits.
This time, I got my compass out as I was keen to plot the actual location of the track and was able to work out which spurs it actually descended to the Waikaia river. We got back to the car in 2½ hours from the rocks. The happy campers were nearly all gone and a light rainfall began as we crossed the suspension bridge. A bellbird was busy tweaking open the mistletoe blossoms and supping on nectar. A magical finale to a satisfying quest.