Mt St Bathans, Mt Ida and Danseys Pass


5 days off and the forecast is for the dratted disturbed Westerly pattern that comes with the weak La Nina we’ve been having. This means the Eastern foothills have been getting a serious flogging. Checking out the weather sites showed Central to be the best choice with Marlborough running a close second with the quasi-continental rain shadow effects. The best day is forecasted to be Monday.


With the length of our break and rain forecasted to arrive on Friday evening, it made sense to spend that day travelling south to hopefully camp at the DoC Homestead campsite. As we arrived in Ranfurly to head north via the Hawkdun Runs road, the rain began so we wimped out and opted to stay at the motor camp. It is very spartan but beats camping in the heavy rain. A couple in the kitchen kindly invited us to eat as much of the remaining salmon they had caught so we obliged with 2 steaks each. Very rich fare.


In the morning we set off to the roadend. We decided it was best to walk in up the West Branch of the Manuherikia to Top Hut as more rain was forecasted that afternoon so tops travel wouldn’t be recommended. It would also be a nice leg stretch for the next day’s big ascent (1100m) with full packs back over Mt St Bathans followed by a 1300m descent via a 4WD track back to the campsite. When we got to the campsite, as I had envisaged as a possibility, there were remnants of the original homestead in the form of 2 very dilapidated but serviceable buildings. One was being used as a pigeon coop/starling nursery and the other had grotty bunks and mattresses but was weather proof. Possibilities…


We headed off and managed to keep to the true right, avoiding 4 river crossings by taking to the scrub, easily traversed bluffs and old water races. En route, we saw a convoy of 18 4WD vehicles on the other side of the river where the track was. The hut book entry in Boundary Creek Hut had this excursion as a circuit by Southlanders up the East Branch, over Little Omarama Saddle, along the ridge and down to Omarama Saddle, then down the West Branch. We arrived at Boundary Creek Hut which had plenty of firewood and a very loose, blunt hatchet which was still functional enough for me to use to chop up kindling so I could light the stove for a brew and a warm-up to enjoy our lunch by. Frank took over and showed me how it is done confidently and competently.


Unfortunately it was a very smoky stove despite our following the well-detailed instructions in the hut book which were also written on the Shacklock stove. I had to open the windows and doors and not add anything to the fire but we got our pot boiling and the place was soon cozy. It was a good idea having dry feet while we were stopped for our hour long lunch-break. It started to rain but became light then ceased while we walked the further 8km to Top Hut. From the map Frank worked out there were 12 more crossings so we hastened and ploughed through the river rather than carry on with the pussy footing. By the 16th and final crossing, I was getting pretty sick of having increasingly cold feet in my boots. Sandals would have been more pleasant but we weren’t sure of how much snow there would be on the Mt St Bathans massif and with the low cloud, we were none the wiser once we’d started tramping. In the rain, the 4WD track sometimes became a water course for the river. Not sure if we’d have enjoyed driving in those conditions.


We got to the hut and fortunately 4WD’ers had left plenty of firewood here too. However they’d also taken in coal and burnt out the grate. Someone had improvised one with the classic number 8 wire which Frank fastidiously embellished with more wire. This hut like the one in the lower valley, being exposed to low-skill 4WD’ing tossers also had a snapped off but new and superbly sharp hatchet. The big axe had been stolen even though it was donated by a member of the public not long before. Frank entertained himself by nibbling away at the broken hatchet handle so the head would fit over the handle. Lacking a file, he used his bow saw to form hatchet groves which shaped the handle narrow enough to fit the head on again. Luckily there was an ancient hammer to do the necessary coercion.


This time there was not a whisper of smoke from the stove and we got the place nice and warm while we were cooking our dinner. A trio of hunter lads popped in for a chat. One, who was at Canterbury studying forestry, picked our brains for hunting gen near to Christchurch. I guess he was more likely to get that sort of information from a couple of trampers than rival hunters! So we told him what we knew as it’s good to get the young ones out there eradicating the introduced mammals. They’d been hunting deer upstream and seen one. There are also Tahr which DoC regularly cull as these animals are outside the desired Tahr range.


It drizzled overnight but we woke up to misty valleys and blue sky amid the patches of cloud. We took off up the gentle slope through sparse tussock and were delighted to find ourselves on a 4WD highway which soon widened to commercial ski field-wide dimensions, complete with dual carriageway options. This seemed to be gaining steady height, sometimes zig-zagging to take us to where we wanted to be. I had read an entry in the hut book referring to driving to Mt St Bathans but had assumed it was a stream or some other feature. Now it made sense. Just after dropping down to and climbing up from a broad saddle we got into a cold wind on the flat ridge so it was time to look around for a sheltered spot for lunch. A slight depression of north-facing rocks off the ridge provided us with the requisite seats and back rests.


We reached the first summit and then encountered snow which we avoided by crossing the derelict fence. The fence posts were magnificently sturdy but the wires had stretched and collapsed with the weight of rimed snow. Some riming was still on the fence posts so being low in water, I collected some of these tinkling crystals. Using his GPS, where he had marked it as a way point, Frank announced the named summit as come and gone. A very subtle summit! We continued heading towards to the drop-off point to follow a spur down. The road was now below the spine of the many summited ridge when Frank announced the GPS had the named summit (point 2088) as along this spine so we headed up to the ridge and soon saw the remains of a trig and other industrial waste from now obsolete functions. We lingered, enjoying the views then I spied a cluster of black boxes nearby looking like speaker units from a stereo and wandered over to investigate. They turned out to be some form of carbon encased battery and one made a nice warm seat while I stopped to add my rime crystals to the drink bottle.


Frank and I joined up and carried on towards the final high point (1986) but took a short cut across a broad, at times mushy slope to the descent spur. Melting snow had formed several runnels so I kept pausing to drink to effectively stave off a wicked dehydration headache from coming on later. We reached the spur and had pleasant terrain then  I noticed the 4WD track snaking along the slope slightly below. Now it was just a matter of moseying down this track. There seemed to be tracks on every spur virtually but we stuck to our original plan. Tire marks appeared in the occasionally boggy ruts. How the ehicles got in, I'll never know as all the gates wore padlocks but I guess sometimes they just lift the fenceposts out and drive over the wires.


We were getting a bit tired from the monotonous exertion and were glad to hit the flat land where yet another 4WD track took us thoughtfully back to the car park. After checking out the prospects of various sites to pitch our tent we noticed the rain start to patter down. I suggested we stay at the "Homestead Motel". At least you couldn't say the place was a rip-off! The ancient fold out bed was erected and mattresses spread out and covered to keep our gear clean. I had a spare thin mattress in the car and we used our thermorests as topper pads. I did the usual trick of folding mine in half length-wise to compensate for the hummocking tendencies of the chicken wire base.


Some of the floor boards were rotted and missing at the former doorways which were now protected with grids to avoid cattle using this former shearers’ quarters as a barn. I could use the floor as a seat and rest my feet on the original foundation of dirt while I cooked dinner. It was very alfresco and quite pleasant in the mild evening. Eventually we retired and I had a reasonable sleep with no inconsiderate humans playing music in the distance or visits from vermin. I wasn't sure if I was going to up for another climbing day of a 800m ascent of Mt Ida in the neighbouring range across the valley. But I knew we'd set a precedent for this kind of multiple-day exertion when we climbed Kohurau followed by Grayson Peak a year or so before and I was sure I hadn't deteriorated to the extent where we couldn't replicate a similar feat even though we'd climbed Mt St Bathans with 3 day packs in case of a bad weather day (as had happened on our climb of Rocky Mount the Xmas before).


In the morning I felt a bit stiff in the legs but strolling around the very attractive campsite soon eliminated this. It was a good day with mist clinging to the tops of the range where our quarry lay. We'd chosen a route which gave us a steepish but direct ascent to the summit via a spur garnished with outcrops. This meant we'd be using a different set of climbing muscles from the previous day's gentle ascent by 4WD track. The plan was then to descend via a low-angled spur and climb up 150m to Little Mt Ida to take advantage of the road leading down from the transmitter spire but as we walked in we decided it was a no-brainer to follow a 4WD track from the saddle to where it joined with our ascending 4WD track. It was pretty terrain with attractive streams so no hardship to walk along twice.



The rugged terrain made the climb up Mt Ida much more pleasant. There was almost an animal trail to the summit in open tussock and stable scree among the rocks. after taking an hour to walk in to the final fenceline we made good progress usually doing 10 vertical metres a minute so the actual climbing took 87 minutes to do 810m wearing daypacks. Of course it was a hot day so we took breaks to drink and enjoy the views. It was satisfying to realize the summit was just a stroll away from where we gained the ridge. I circled the derelict trig to find the lee from a slight wind and we basked in the sun for an hour, getting views of Mt St Bathans, the Hawkduns and other summits we had gained (Kohurau in the St Mary Range, and the lower approaches to Graysons Peak which was still obscured in cloud.


We left our sheltered spot and carried along the ridge of pleasant footing. Leads of scree took us virtually all the way to the saddle where the 4WD ran across. 4WD ruts had formed a series of reservoirs for water to percolate through as it journeyed down the slope so we stopped to quaff a tepid drink. Frank's water was all gone by now but it wasn't far to the first stream. We followed deer prints along the track until they and the track disappeared in regenerating scrub. A deer trail through this meant it was too unfriendly to push our way through the matagouri to a lovely spot whre the stream crossed the track. Here we slaked our thirst.


We clinbed a lttle then dropped down to the dry Ida Burn then walked up to where we’d left the fenceline only 4 hours before. We enjoyed the walk back to the car, stopping for frequent drinks from the burn. The whole circuit had taken under 6 hours. Now it was time to decide where to stay the night. Naseby beckoned Frank though I was keener to stay at Danseys Pass Hotel but we didn’t know if there would be campsites available there so verdant Naseby was the choice. It was virtually empty at the motor camp. We enjoyed a reasonable meal at the ‘Ancient Briton’ which was full of historical paraphenalia, mostly to do with curling, gold mining and photos of heavy snowfalls. Hot showers, a comfortable night’s sleep then a scenic drive through golden tussock following the pretty Kyeburn to its source at Danseys Pass completed a satisfying time spent in Central.