Three Passes - Advice Welcome
Good morning fellow NZ Trampers. A buddy and I are hiking the Three Passes in two weeks, in the usual direction from Arthur's Pass to Kaniere. I'm interested in thoughts of members who've hiked it. • What did you like about this route? • We were not planning on taking a tent or bedding... is there any risk of full huts through the middle? • We're planning on taking "light" crampons for the ice/snow field. Are these necessary this year, our warmest summer on record? • Was it at all difficult to navigate in places? (put another way, could you get lost, or would you have to be blind to miss a marker?) • Anything special we should look out for? Cheers, Phil
I was part of a group a few years back. 2 of us didn't have crampons and simply skirted up the gravelly edge ascending Whitehorn Pass. It wasn't a problem for us then. In 2014 a guy got pinned ascending the Taipoiti to Harman Pass. His group couldn't shift the boulder. Another group happened by and, combined, they couldn't shift the boulder. Eventualy a rescue crew choppered in and freed the dude with 2m crowbars. Don't forget your PLB !. https://static2.stuff.co.nz/1391804315/147/9700147.jpg http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/9700146/Rescuers-brute-force-frees-pinned-tramper You camping at Aerial Tarns ?. You need tents. ;) . We also tented at Browning Pass. Doesn't hurt to have an inflatable mattress as back up, so long as it's beer-can-size packable ?. Can really bucket down on the West Coast exit, tho a couple of guys were coming in carrying kayaks to shoot the Styx while it was raging. It's pretty straightforward geography. You'd want a map with you, of course ?.
The residual ice on Whitehorn is hard enough that I would always carry some sort of crampons. I didn't need mine, an ice axe was enough, but I would like the option if I had to descend. Park Morpeth could be full if you were unlucky. Hunters sometimes base out of it. Navigating wasn't hard in fine weather. You want it clear over Whitehorn though and markers go all the way up Browning Pass now. It's a fantastic trip in good weather.
Not walked the full route but can pass on some hearsay. Met a guy at Styx who'd just come across 3 passes in feb 2017. He'd walked it with no axe or crampons but was still shaking after a slip on the Whitehorn. Personally I'd absolutely take the iceaxe. Just as useful on scree or snowgrass as on ice. Markers: unless its been marked since the route isn't marked ... except over Browning. The guy I met had expected a marked route and was surprised to find it wasn't. But he said he had no problems routefinding (he had good wx). Crampons: leave that advice so someone who's walked the full route. By light crampons do you mean instep crampons or something you can kick in with? Leaving the tent behind: I assume you're not contemplating that trip without emergency shelter for if things go wrong. At least a tarp or bivvy bag if you're planning on leaving the tent behind? Though personally I'd take my tent: bivvying above the bushline in bad wx isn't much fun.
My husband and I walked this a couple of years ago over New Years Eve in quite a bit of rain. We camped at Ariels Tarns on the first night, top of Browning Pass the second and Grassy Flats Hut on the third. It's a really great trip with lots of different terrain to keep things interesting. The only thing I didn't enjoy was slogging it up the Waimak on the first day - the sun was pretty unforgiving all the way to Harman. I would definitely take crampons for Whitehorn as it's hard to know what condition the snow/ice will be in and you won't have to hug the cliffs with the added risk of rockfall etc. The snow is supposedly permanent so without having been up there this summer I'd have to assume there is still a good amount there. It's not particularly steep most of the way up but the last little push to the pass would be difficult to climb if it was icy without crampons and an axe. The navigation isn't too difficult if you're confident with your map reading (plenty of people have still managed to get lost on this route) as you're mostly following rivers and the path over Browning is well marked. Dropping down from Whitehorn and route finding to Park Morpeth is the most challenging section so just give yourself plenty of time to find good river crossing spots along here. I don't think you'll run into too much trouble with huts being full (you can always sleep on the floor) but I would still take an emergency shelter. The rivers can come up quickly depending on rainfall and the passes are super dodgy to cross in poor visibility so you might find yourself stuck in between huts. For a few extra grams I think it's worth carrying. Just in case you're not already aware, the top of Browning Pass is quite exposed and not fun to climb if you're not used to moving on steep scree with drop offs etc. It's relatively safe in the dry but we went over it in the rain so I was definitely feeling the exposure a bit! I wrote up a blog post if you want to see some more photos etc https://www.airway-spies.com/tramping/category/three-passes
Hey team, Awesome, really appreciate this advice! In answer to questions: • Yes, we're taking a PLB • Ditto on the emergency shelter, always carry a superlight bivvy of some sort • Yes to old-skool map + compass, I'm a confident map reader The plan is to only go over if the weather is good to middling. Otherwise we're going to fall back to something lower around the St James or up near Rotoiti. I'm not keen to slog what is supposed to be a beauty of a track, would rather save it for blue skies! :) PW
I've walked this trip many times. At this time of year I'd be comfortable with having an ice axe but no crampons while crossing Whitehorn Pass. Being able to self arrest if you slip is important. An ice axe can also be useful on the steep scree when you ascend Browning Pass.
Time for Part 2 of the thread ?. Nice blog Airway Spies. You seem to have covered what I found memorable about the tramp - zig-zaging the rocky Taipoiti, camping at Ariels Tarns (We had a gang of Keas. One put on a show of distraction out front while the others stalked a guys tent from the rear.), up & over the Whitehorn, grunting up to Lake Browning (didn't help having a tall pack so that I couldn't throw my head back to see too far ahead), coming upon the Harmon swing bridge (!), tall grass at Grassy Flats, the bathe of the trip at GF hut, some rain & Blue Ducks, tho ours were about halfway down the Styx before our pick-up. Cheers ! https://www.airway-spies.com/tramping/category/three-passes
Five of us did the Three Passes in late December 2007. It's a stunning tramp, you will love it. With the exception of Carrington Hut, which was a full house, we only encountered about half a dozen people over the fours days we took to complete the tramp. We had no problems following the route, it was a clear foot pad the whole way. Towards the top of Browning Pass it got a bit hairy, with some clutching of stray tussocks amongst the loose soil. Just keep moving quickly and don't stop! Whitehorn Pass of course was snowed over- we hired crampons but some trampers ahead of us didn't have them, and just stamped into the snow. I appreciate you want to pack light and stay in the huts, but there are a few reasons to consider packing a tent; a) there are some stunning spots to camp, whereas some of the huts are in pretty ordinary spots. eg I would push on past Park Morpeth Hut, climb Browning Pass and set up by Lake Browning, it's beautiful. b) the usual reason- turns in the weather and unexpected delays. Our group took longer than planned to negotiate Day 2 (Whitehorn Pass, the scree slope on the other side and Cronin Stream (having to cross it a few times and the boulders along the banks)), and were forced to set up tents alongside the stream. Not ideal because of the risk of rockfall from the steep slopes on either side, but the stream was quite high and crossing it back and forth in the dark was getting a bit sketchy. c)yes, we only encountered a few people along the way, but at the same time, the huts on night 2 and 3 only accommodate small numbers of people. I'm always happy to sleep on a hut floor (if it's ok with others in the hut, and I get up and out of everyone's way) but I've witnessed trampers being made to sleep in their tents once bunks are full. We got the usual NZ tramping treatment of all four seasons: torrential rain on day one, cold on day two, hot and sunny on day three and four. The beginning and end of the tramp involves cattle flats but once you're climbing over the passes, it's a fantastic route. Once of my favourites because of the diverse scenery and the low number of people we encountered (I try to steer clear of crowded tramps).
You need sufficient shelter to protect yourself from hypothermia if you're injured, until rescue. For me that would be a fly or tent.
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