Dark Cloud Range Route

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@madpom This is from very old memory, but I'm reasonably confident of my recollection because it was one of those trips you relive many times. We landed by float plane at Lake Mike. The purpose was a geology field trip and we made a base on the stream levee at the head of the lake. Excellent spot. From there we did a number of multiday loop trip over the next six weeks. The Dark Cloud trip started from Lake Mike up the main stream and onto the northern end of the range at pt 1109. The vegetation is mainly what we called 'caprosma shit' ... an annoyingly scratchy mix of knee to head high shrubs that are slow going at times, but not nearly as difficult as leatherwood. The range from pt1109 to pt1108 is straightforward in decent conditions. We spent two nights camped above bushline waiting out some rain. The hardest part was finding somewhere to pitch the tent, anything under 30deg is a bog. We soon learned that the best camp spots were to be found tucked in just under bushline. We then dropped south over pt1013 and 1027 and sidled west under pt1149 and then southwest down the big obvious ramp under the bluffs on pt1145. A bit of a scramble but nothing too difficult down to the unnamed lake between pt1145 and pt 1029. Then downstream about 1km to the point directly north of the saddle at pt879. Climb to the saddle at pt879 through reasonable beech forest and then bend due west toward the stream that flows under the south face of Needle Peak pt1167. About 2/3rd of the way up on the true left of this stream there is a big boulder field and one of them has the most secure stunning rock bivvy ever. You could comfortably survive WW3 in there. From there its easy tussock up to the main range again at pt1108. I don't have any particular memories of anything too difficult from there to the southern point of the range at pt975. The map shows some bluffs but I think we didn't have too much trouble sidling them. We were carrying heavy packs with 1970's style gear (and geology packs get heavier with time, not lighter) so I can't imagine we encountered anything too terrifying. From pt975 it was nice pleasant beech forest down to the mouth of the Carrick River. We camped there one night and I still have a pic of Chris sitting in camp with his field notebook and his arms and legs literally black with crawling sandflies. Needless to say we didn't linger in this salubrious spot. Next day was a long and hot climb up onto the Tower Hills range. This was much denser bush with many steps and terraces, it took us all day to cover a mere 3km up to pt1032. The Tower Hills look knarly but sidle easily on the western side. There is a good boulder camp at the lake 692 and another at the unnamed lake north on the range. Travel along these tops required a few steep scrambles down heavily bushed gullies but again nothing desperate. The last day was the best, we covered remarkable ground to get from the last lake on the Tower Range all the way back to Lake Mike in one push. Over pts972,990 and 1120 and then down to the saddle at pt702 and a steep climb up onto pt1228. North over pts1231,1293 and then east down to pt 896 up to pt1252 and sidling along tussock and granite benches under pts1275,1321 and 918 back to Oho Saddle and an easy drop back down to Lake Mike. It looks implausible on the map, but we surprised ourselves that day. The whole loop took 10 days, but keep in mind we were doing geology about half the time. I realise the contour lines don't look encouraging but Chris was using satellite photos to plan (this was well before Google Earth). This route is about as remote and wilderness as you get in NZ, maybe only the head of the Landsborough matches it. South of Dusky is completely trackless, the nearest hut is at least a weeks tramp way and it's absolutely only for the fit and who have strong experience in the NZ mountains. I'm only writing it up because madpom asked; don't read this and think it would be fun to 'give it a go'.
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Great write up Philip, amazing country. Brought back so many memories. As you know I spent two months with Chris based at Supper Cove in Dusky Sound. We did one trip from the stream at the SW end of Shark Cove to the area around the upper Long Burn (not too far from your Lake Mike base), then along the Heath Mountains to Lake Roe and the Dusky Track. As you note very challenging and remote tramping.
Thanks both. @GeoffM - does that mean you followed the tops round the north end of Long Burn? pt1382, pt1372, pt1372, and down to the saddle & tarns leading to the Heath Range? That's one of the key bits I can find no account of anyone having done. Moir's only route drops into the head of Long Burn, follows it down to the outflow of lake777 and climbs onto Dark Cloud Ra. Which seems like a bloody hard way of doing things! The tops look way better - if you can get off the saddle and over those 3 peaks.
For what its worth, @madpom, it looks doable on Google Earth. I've always wanted to climb Mt Solitary from that Roa Stream/Long Burn Saddle. Cant tell if there's a direct way up pt1372 (theres a stream dropping down which has route potential but the satelite photos of the top are always in the snow or cloud), but the main ridge just keeps going north onto 1438/Mt Solitary from where you should be able to drop down the northeast spur and head around the head of the Roa Stream. Thats the way I would go up to get to Solitary, at least.
Yes. There is an account in a past fmc bulletin that mentions climbing Mt Solitary on the way to West Cape ... but sadly does so in a throw-away line with no indication of from where to where. They came from Heath mtns and the next we hear they're in the Dark Cloud ra. Yes - the spur down to 1122 & terraces at the head of Roa looks more likely than the direct approcach to 1372.
@GeoffM Wonderful to hear from you again Geoff. Yes those trips with Dr Chris Ward were pretty dammed special in hindsight. The more time passes the more I realise just how lucky I was to have spent so much time with an exceptional man in such a remarkable landscape. I would have never gotten within a million miles of the place under my own steam. And maybe a good moment to recall that excellent Kaimananwa/Kaweka trip we did a few years earlier one August. As it happens it was the only time I got into that area and I still appreciate your organisation that made it possible. Cheers
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@madpom Part of the area at the head of the Long Burn that you are asking about we covered in a four day trip loop from Lake Mike. Left Lake Mike and climbed easily up to pt 854 then travel north along the range via Staircase Saddle, pts1184, pt 872, pt 1290, pt 1115, and pt 1096. At this remove I can't quite recall if we carried on further via pt 1224, but I think we camped a couple of nights in the saddle between pt 1224 and pt 1164. Or we carried on to a very similar saddle between pt 1124 and pt 1153. Either way we got pinned down one day with screaming wind, and then when it cleared we dropped down into the Mike river and made our way back to the head of Lake Mike initially via the true right and then around Lake Mike itself on the true left. Looking at the map I think heading NE from pt 1124 across to pt 1222 is straightforward. From there over the three points you mention, pts 1382 and pts 1372, 1372 are the crux. From the map it looks doable, and the good news is the rock in this area is all nice solid granidiorite, typically with quartz crystals at the surface making for very secure footing even on quite steep slabs. Maybe GeoffM can provide more detail around the exact route they took up from Shark Cove. If they went up the true left then logically they would have covered this section. If they went over Mt Solitary, then maybe not. It's my call that you could make it go Matt. I totally agree from experience that the tops are far easier than the river valleys in this part of Fiordland. The trick is getting between them. :-) If you can pick a window with a sustained SE wind for a week or so in say Feb/March that would be ideal. While Fiordland often gets atrocious weather, the next year when we went into the range north of Dusky we got four weeks of perfect sunshine and benevolence from the gods. (And that trip on range from Mt Forster to Supper Cove is worth another write up if anyone is interested.)
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Yes please, @PhilipW !
@Yarmoss OK. Here we go; this will be a bit of a memory dump so bear with the length of this. We flew in with Bill Black in his famous "Jet Black" Bell Ranger. He then went on to pick up a Conservation crew on Resolution Is. Normally us impecunious student types could never have afforded such a wonderful flight, but Bill 'backloaded' us for free! He dropped us off on the range between Dusky and Wet Jacket Arm somewhere around pt1072. (What a smooth operator Bill was, I clearly recall how precise and planned the whole flight was from Manapouri, not one single unnecessary climb or maneuver.) We camped a three nights on the NE ridge of Mt Forster in a small sheltered tussock gully. Several evenings I recall sitting on the summit gazing out over the entrance of Dusky and Resolution in sunsets I would remember forever. Moving east I think we spent about a week at a remarkable spot on range between pt 1072 and pt 795 which had some geology that got Chris very excited. Progress back east along the range is pretty straightforward until at least pt1149. Easy travel, lots of great campsites especially just tucked into the beech at treeline. Lake 754 is in a very striking location and I think we climbed at least to pt 1205 as a side trip. Maybe Chris went further along that side ridge if I recall right. From pt 1149 we headed toward Mt Pender and camped just at bushline in the most delightful spot ever somewhere close to the stream that heads steeply down to Lake 378. Most nights we had a resident weka somewhere near the camp, that time it came right into the tent at dawn and stalked right over our sleeping bags with just like it owned the place! The descent into the valley east of Mt Pender was pretty challenging. Logically we would have dropped off somewhere near where the streamline is marked, it started out OK but about halfway down in the beech forest we had to abseil three rope lengths to get down safely! Part of the problem was the extremely heavy packs full of rock samples we had that limited our ability to scout around for a better route. I was carrying a good length of 9mm rope for just this possibility and it certainly justified itself at this spot. In hindsight I can't openly recommend this route, but on the other hand I am still here to tell the tale. Once safely down this stretch the rest was easy beech forest. All morning we had been hearing a deer recovery chopper working the head of this valley and they were using the swampy area near Lake 378 to stage the deer. It occurred to me that if I could catch them at the right moment I might bludge a lift up out of the valley and save ourselves a very hard afternoons climb. So I started running, yes running, with a full pack through the last few hundred metres when I heard them land. A very surprised chopper crew looked at this madman burst from the bush sweating and blowing like a crazy thing, and agreed to give us a lift up the other side to a spot just at bushline due west of pt1361. Not many people can boast of hitching a ride in a chopper! Here Chris had arranged for a food dump to be left there much earlier in the season and we gleefully swapped packs full of rock samples for fresh food. Then we headed up to the saddle NE of pt1361. I recall a 100m section of very steep tussock, but in the dry it was safe enough. Then Chris revealed some magic that isn't obvious on the map but he had spotted on his hi res satellite pics, a fabulous ramp right across the sheer western face under pt 1361. Rock face above and below all the way, but it turned out to be a fantastic shortcut. Only a route for the fit and experienced though. We then crossed over at the saddle between pt1361 and pt1303 and dropped into the small hanging valley on the east side where we found an excellent biv under a big boulder. If anyone goes there, my rockwork 'improvements' may still be found. After another five more days of productive rockbashing Chris decided it was getting late in the season (this was the end of March) and an unexpected snowfall could cause us problems. From here the range southwest down to Supper Cove hut took us a whole day via pts 1303, 1348 and then down via pt1016 to the hut itself. I don't recall anything overly difficult that day, but then again none of this is easy or safe tramping territory. Keep in mind we had the luxury of time and plenty of food. Often we would barely move 3km in a day, and if we struck a navigation problem we could muck about until we found a better way. After three seasons in Dusky Chris had become exceptionally confident navigating and moving about in this terrain ... I was just his cook, load carrier, and enthralled audience each evening as he would relate to me all the things he had worked on that day, and how the structural geology he was mapping formed the bones of the land we were mere specks clinging to.
Mt Solitary , Heath Mountains etc. January 1977. Fortunately I have kept my inch to the mile maps with routes and campsites marked. I was the field assistant (cook, pack carrier etc) for geologist Chris Ward. As Philip notes above Chris was a great navigator and explorer. We rowed the hut dingy from Supper Cove hut to the stream at the SW end of Shark Cove. A tramper staying at Supper Cove came across with us and rowed the boat back. We didn't have a mountain radio on the trip, obviously pre PLBS etc, it felt like a serious adventure was about to begin when the boat headed back to the hut. Solid going up creek to campsite near the stream NE of 1222. Day trip (geology) over 1382, 1168. Then into Longburn via saddle north of 1131 to campsite by lake east of 664.Day trip up Mt Solitary via 1122, 1253, 1438 - amazing view point. And back to camp via the same route. No recollection at all about the 1304, 1372, 1372 ridge? We didn't do it, but it looks ok on the map? Day trip over Kathryn Peak and most of the way to Sea View Peak. Then great tramping along the Heath Mountains 1348, 1104, 1104, 1136, 1292, 1293, 1109, 1170 to Lake Roe and the Dusky Track. Then back to base (and food) at Supper Cove via the Dusky Track. This is very remote and rugged country. Can supply a map with route marked if that helps with your planning Madpom.
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Forum Tramping partners
Started by PhilipW
On 16 September 2019
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