Dark Cloud Range Route

@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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Cheers for that. Was impressed you were tackling it at all in an aluminium rowboat!
@madpom Chris and I only stayed two nights at Supper Cove towards the end of our second trip. Normally we'd use wet days as 'rest days' as it was generally too miserable to be doing field work in those conditions. However on that trip we got 20 days steady SE winds with non-stop relentless fine weather. This meant no rest days and I was starting to rebel! So Chris declared that 'tomorrow was going to be a wet day regardless!'. And so it dawned the perfect 'wet day' ... fine, calm and sunny. After breakfast we took the hut dinghy and rowed down out of Supper Cove well down toward Cooper Is and then back towards that little island you can see on the map just on the north side of the entrance to Supper Cove. The channel between it and the mainland is extremely narrow, barely 10m across in places, yet still quite deep. It's a cool, serene place, I still recall very clearly. Because of the endless fine weather the Seaforth river had been flowing clear, instead of the usual tannin brown colour. In the Sounds the fresh water from the rivers doesn't mix very quickly with the sea water, especially with no wind. So right out into the sound the water at the surface was actually fresh! Yet so clear we could easily see the bottom. And if you looked carefully you could see a faint shimmering some metres down, a refractive shifting of the light as it passed from the fresh water through to the denser salt water. I've never seen this before or since. Somewhere near the small island mentioned above, I jumped in and swam down to this layer. Remarkably I could 'dip' my head in from the fresh water and 'sip' the salt water below it. The layer was very sharp, just inches or less. The other very cool thing that afternoon was my most memorable fishing trip ever. We had taken some simple hand lines and dropped them down with some old bacon as bait, right to the bottom. Within minutes the most beautiful blue cod came sniffing out from nowhere. We pulled in four fish; if you thought the one nearest to your hook was a bit small, you'd lift the hook a few feet and place it down next to a bigger fish! Being bottom feeders the cod would lose the bait the moment you lifted the hook away from them. We could have been greedy and grabbed lots of fish, but Chris firmly said that four nice fat cod was enough. After a very lazy afternoon, enjoying some peace from the sandflies, we raced ourselves back to the hut and found much to our surprise two new parties of visitors. In those days Supper Cover was very remote and got barely 20 parties a year, so to have 3 on one night was quite special. One party was two young local guys deer hunting, and they had some fresh venison. The other was a very adventurous American couple who had baked up a massive fruit cake from their leftovers and had some nice whisky with them. We had fresh blue cod that we crumbed with the last of our Tararua biscuits. We all pitched our plentiful ingredients into one big banquet; this was one of those meals you remember for ever, wonderful flavours, great company and the satisfaction of another adventure nearly over. And all at a place perfectly named for such a feast! Our next night turned out to be very different, Dusky had one more surprise up her sleeve waiting for us. I think I've told that story elsewhere, but it was another adventure that wouldn't have happened anywhere else in NZ. Cheers
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@PhilipW: What a tease. I can hardly wait for your next instalment. You write beautifully.
Ditto to the above comment. The trips that you all made with Chris Ward in the 1970s were clearly remarkable, and I feel that they should be written up somewhere (like the FMC Bulletin?) What would be really interesting (to me at least) would be to hear about the relationship between the geological exploration that was taking place and the exploratory tramping trips into remote regions like the Dark Cloud Range and beyond. It seems there are two parallel, but interconnected, stories there. And I'm sure that there are lots of good photos to go along with it .....
You can not just leave us hanging like that @PhilipW!
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Forum Tramping partners
Started by PhilipW
On 16 September 2019
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