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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Amazing. Thanks for sharing. A very remote and special part of the country. Hope to get down there, south of the Dusky, one day *sigh*
That descent from 1131 to longburn looks _STEEP_! Good to know thats an option. Any notes on that would be appreciated. Just direct down the stream? Or north into the basin east of 1382 - that's the route I'd been eying up.
I'm very much enjoying this thread. I did a Princess & Heath Range trip a while back, and one of my regrets was not spending more time at the Long Burn (and Lake Hay) saddles. I actually camped directly opposite Pt 1372 (N), but it looks like the two photos I took from my campsite were both pointing towards Mt Solitary and the impressive bowl at the top of the Roa Stream. So nothing to contribute there. The Princess Range is (relatively speaking) a lot easier than the Dark Cloud and Cameron Ranges, but back in the days of inch-to-the-mile maps, and before widely available GPS and PLB's it still seemed a long way from anywhere. Picking my way along those ridges with map and compass, in and out of the cloud, is an experience I will remember forever. It's also easy to forget how hard it was to get information before the internet. If it wasn't covered in Moir's guidebook (the Princess Range wasn't at the time I did it) you were basically making it up as you went along. That definitely added to the aura of Fiordland; when you stepped off the boat, or whatever, it felt like a serious endeavour. I can only imagine how wonderful it must've been to spend a couple of months exploring in this area. & Like @yarmoss, I've long wanted to go (back) into the Long Burn Saddle area and climb Mt Solitary. Many thanks for sharing these memories.
I would also like to add my thanks to all those who have shared their trip details/memories of this area. Have been bashing out the bones of a trip along the south coast to Cromarty then up to the Dusky track via Cameron and Heath ranges. (Any insights anyone has on the Cameron Mountains would be much appreciated too). It is great to get more perspective than just Moir's notes. After that I just need to convince one of my brothers to tackle the trip with me...
Madpom re descent from saddle north of 1131 to the Long Burn. Sorry no specific recollections at all of this bit of the trip, it was a long time ago. The red line on my inch to the mile map starts in the head of the stream NE of 1131, then at the scrub / bush line moves south of the stream. But lots of general memories of my two months in the area of some very steep ascents and descends in the bush. Hard work and sometimes dropping packs to scout out routes round bluffs etc. We didn't have a rope or any climbing gear. Also great memories of the tops travel, granite slabs, fun scrambling over the rock, and the views.
@stevep You capture that sense of 'serious' well. My first flight into Dusky in Feb/March 1977 just after GeoffM's trip was an adventure all on it's own. Chris had come out from the earlier trip and then promptly buggered off to spend some important time with his soon to be wife Gill leaving me at a loose end in Te Anau for a week. As it happened I had a chat with the then Head Park Ranger who suggested I go up to the old NZFS 6 bunker on Mt Luxmore and then head along the range to the Iris Burn and out down to Manapouri and report back on what I found. This turned out of course to become the Kepler track a decade or so later. My role was almost certainly trifling but I still hold to the small conceit that it's 'my track. :-) Anyhow Chris turns up just after I get back and then we have three days of grotty westerlies and no flying. Finally the pilot wakes us up early one morning and says that the fishing boats on the other side report the weather is lifting. So everything gets loaded into the Cessna and off we roar across Te Anau and Manapouri, and then up the Spey River. It was the first time I'd flown ever so you can imagine how goggle eyed I was. At the head of the Spey is Centre Pass and the Seaforth river below. The cloud base here was a bit too low but the pilot slipped through the few hundred feet of clearance and then and dropped dramatically down past Tripod Hill through some more scattered clouds piled up against the main Divide. So here we are trundling along under a solid cloud base at around 1500ft in mountains at 4500ft. Cool. Dr Chris the Explorer of course had a map in his lap as always and looking down at one point he says "Err ... if we are flying down the Seaforth" ... "Yes" says the pilot with some authority ... "then how come the river is flowing the other way" says Chris. The pilot leans over to look out his window. "Oh fuck" were the next words out of his mouth. At this point I experience what I was later to learn is called a keyhole turn. While coming round Tripod Hill in some fluffy stuff we'd inadvertently turned up the Kenneth Burn instead of turning left down the Seaforth. We were heading straight into the headwall in a valley no more than 1500m wide. A keyhole turn gains the pilot the maximum space to complete the turn, first you tip the plane onto one wingtip and fly straight at the valley wall. This is unexpected. Then at the last instant, and this must take a lot of judgement, you flick the plane onto the other wingtip, watch the beech trees whisk past below the floats and pull a full power turn the other direction toward the other valley wall. Honestly it was too fast and unexpected for me to be scared, I somehow thought this was normal for flying in Fiordland. My principle memory is just a whirling, disorienting mess of cloud and beech forest all rotating around with no sense at all. Well moments later all was calm again, although there was a definite silence from the two up front. The other thing I always remembered were the beads of sweat on the back of the pilot's neck; only about then did I suspect this may have not been quite normal. The trip down the Seaforth was still fun, threading down the gaps between the clouds and steep valley walls. The further we got down the more the cloud base lifted. Then across Supper Cover and up the Mike River. On our first few attempts we had some trouble getting all the way up to Lake Mike, the clouds were still slow in lifting. But after landing back at Fanny Bay for a while and waiting we eventually made it up to our destination and coasted up to the lovely little beachhead at the top of Lake Mike. It's a beautiful little oasis in an otherwise forbidding landscape. We got our bulging packs off the plane and some extra boxes of food onto the beach. We pushed the floats around and the plane roars off into the distance. And at that moment you feel a deep severance with civilisation and safety. The seriousness of it fell on me for a good hour or so. GeoffM describes Chris as an explorer. That's the word I was searching for, it captures his spirit precisely in everything he did. Even the last time we met in the oncology ward at Palmerston Nth hospital his exploring mind was absorbed by the details of the medical procedures and processes he was undergoing. Tramper, mountaineer, geologist, photographer, naturalist, poet, dreamer and father ... everything he touched quietly spoke of competence and class. Not many people would have accurately observed how the river was running the wrong way and realised what it meant.
Hello PhilipW and GeoffM, Thank you so much for sharing these stories of Dusky Sound field work with Chris. It means a great deal to me to read your recollections of these adventures. I am so impressed, Geoff, that you still have the inch to the mile maps with camp sites marked! I did two field trips with Chris, as field assistant, in January 1977 and May 1978. Philip suggested that I might like to share a little about a trip Chris and I did, geologizing from the shoreline in May 1978. I have probably written way too much... In May 1979 Chris organised a trip for rock sampling around the Dusky Sound coastline using the Otago University Geology Department’s rubber boat and 25 HP outboard motor. Chris and I flew in by floatplane with the rubber boat, and pump etc. to Fanny Bay and set up camp sheltered in the trees behind the beach. Field work went well around the coast, including visits to the site Cook set up on Observation Point near the entrance to Dusky Sound, and Indian Island, Cooper Island etc. We discovered that if we moved 50m off shore the sandflies did not follow us. I spent some time fishing for blue cod while Chris worked. The water was so clear, it was possible to select your cod, then catch it with a baited line. Heading to Supper Cove at the end of the trip, the critical thing was that when the rubber boat was loaded with the rock samples collected in two weeks of field work around the coast, it was too heavy to plane. We had not thought of that and had not allowed time to get to Supper Cove before dark with the boat ploughing into a chop generated by a down valley/sound head wind. When we discovered that this was going to be a problem, we off-loaded half the rocks at a small bay on Cooper Island, and continued to Supper Cover, planing, with a lighter load. Then we quickly unloaded there, and Chris returned to collect the remaining rock collection while I took the packs up to Supper Cove Hut, put a candle in the window and made dinner. It was completely dark long before Chris returned, but he could find his way by the outline of the hills against the sky and the candle in the hut window! After dinner, Chris worked long into the night by torchlight sorting rocks on the beach because he calculated that the float plane, due at 9.30am, would not be able to take the weight of the whole collection. There was a possibility that a fishing boat could be arranged to bring the remainder to Doubtful Sound, and hence to Dunedin several months later. But, Chris wanted most of them to return to Te Anau by float plane so that he would have them with him to work with – make into thin sections and study etc. for his PhD Thesis work. So, the bags of rocks, each about 25kg, were arranged along the beach with first a group of “must haves”, then in prioritised order, so the pilot could take whatever he judged was possible. Chris and I had also discussed the possibility of one or both of us walking out to save weight in the plane. This was a time of fuel shortages, and the Te Anau float plane company was only flying on essential trips. On this trip to collect us, they brought a trainee pilot in order for the trainee to get experience in flying in Fiordland. But Chris had not been advised, and the trainee was a rather large man, equivalent to several bags of rocks! Chris showed the pilot his sorted rock collection and said, “What do you reckon?” The pilot and Chris started loading the bags into the plane, and all the bags went in, as well as us, our packs, the rubber boat, outboard motor and the empty fuel container! Chris thought the pilot was apologetic and trying to be accommodating. (Chris had burnt the remainder of the fuel from the outboard motor’s fuel tank on the beach at low tide early in the morning!) The float plane taxied down the Sound on glassy calm water (not easy to take off from), then met a slight ripple well down the Sound and lifted off at the lowest angle Chris has ever seen a plane take off at. It climbed very slowly and turned in a wide circle to head back up the Sound and climb towards Centre Pass. Coming up to Centre Pass the plane was still climbing very slowly, up to 1000’ above the Pass. Chris said, “Why are you climbing so high?” The pilot said, “Bit of a down draught on the Pass.” Crossing the Pass the plane started dropping dramatically and lost 800’ over about 1 kilometre. It just about skimmed the trees as it exited the Pass. The pilot had judged perfectly, but if he had been a little out in his judgement he would not have been able to turn, and there would have been no way to recover. On the Te Anau side of the Pass the air was turbulent and the plane, being so heavy, was climbing, then dropping suddenly, constantly. I felt very sick, but I managed to not vomit, and sat under the jetty back at Te Anau wondering whether I would be sick or not, then felt better after a while. During this trip, Chris had arranged to meet a helicopter to collect several bags/tins of rocks which he had left behind on the tops. This did happen, but later than arranged, due to a snow storm while we were there. The snow covered the rock stashes, and some were not found (still there). The radio batteries were flat, so communication was very limited during this trip. Philip, I often recall that wonderful cycle trip I did with you, Diana, and Sally from Christchurch in ?1979. It was marvelous - planning each day as it arrived - Arthurs Pass, the beautiful West Coast and Karamea regions, Buller and Waiau Rivers, Lake Rotoiti etc. I cycled most of the way to Dunedin from Blenheim on my own when all of you went on the ferry to the North Island. Chris was in Dusky Sound! Best wishes to you both...
Hi Gillian,great to hear from you. Every trip with Chris was an adventure. Once we got a ride on a crayfish boat down Dusky Sound. Then rowed in the Supper Cove hut dinghy from Sportsman Cove on Cooper Island back to the hut via Cook Channel and Nine Fathoms Passage. Great fishing and Chris doing geology field work along the edge of the sound. We camped overnight on the eastern end of Cooper Island.
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What's cook channel like? Is it well sheltered by that chain of islands or does come up in any SW?
Madpom - We had fine calm weather for the row. But always had several days of extra food on board as we couldn't row the aluminium dinghy into a strong head wind. I think generally Dusky Sound is reasonably sheltered from strong SW winds. It might be smart to check with the cray fishermen who frequent the coast.
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Forum Tramping partners
Started by PhilipW
On 16 September 2019
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