Cascade Saddle route for experienced day-hiker?
Hey folks, After graduating college this December, I'll be leaving my home in Minnesota to explore NZ for the month of January. I'd love to hit Mt. Aspiring National Park and am thinking about doing PART of the Cascade Saddle route. The tentative plan is to do it in 3 days/two nights @ Aspiring Hut: For Day 1, hike to hut and stay the night, use Day 2 to trek up to the saddle and back down to the hut to spend another night, and head back to trailhead on Day 3. I'm an experienced day hiker and grew up hiking in the Canadian Rockies and the U.S National Parks. I'm comfortable hiking 10-20 miles a day with with a large pack, doing some serious scrambling and route-finding, I've got tons of experience at elevations (and very exposed routes) over 12,000 ft (3,700 m), I know how to monitor the weather and when to turn back, set up an emergency shelter, etc. I'm also done a ton of camping. Problem is, I've only ever hiked and camped independently of one another; I've never actually done a multi-day hike. I'm thinking NZ might b a good opportunity to marry the two and actually do my first overnight hike--would this portion of the Cascade Saddle route be a safe and feasible opportunity? I've got six months to prepare--as such, I plan to learn a TON about backcountry camping, make sure I have all the right gear, get a lot of practice in, etc. If my brother doesn't come with me to NZ (also an experienced hiker / marathon runner), I plan to make arrangements to find a buddy, as it sounds like this route isn't something you want to do alone. Thank you SO much for your input and feedback!!
Great that you've given us some sense of your background, and in the light of that your plan looks perfectly doable. However unless you're particularly fit the steep climb up to the Saddle and back down in one day will take all the pleasure out of it. I'd consider climbing to near bushline on the first day and fly camping if the weather is nice. That way you'll have more of the day to explore the plateau area at the top and enjoy the Dart Glacier views. The last time I did this route was some decades ago and I'm not familiar with the current condition of the track, but the only tricky part is near the top where the route is on some steep and narrow snowgrass spurs. Going up is unlikely to present problems, but a few people have come fatally unstuck going down. Snowgrass gets very slippery when it's wet. The route is poled (at least that's how I recall it) and the footpad should be very well defined - this is a popular route and many thousands have enjoyed it very safely. But don't take it lightly either - Cascade Saddle is an alpine zone and if the conditions turn against you, don't hesitate to give it away and stick to exploring the valley - which is delightful in it's own right. Welcome to NZ, and I hope you have a great time here. Possibly the biggest difference to watch out for is the weather; the Southern Alps are fully exposed to the Tasman Sea and Southern Ocean and conditions can change from benign and beautiful to lethally horrid in a matter of hours or less. Cheers
You're talking an ascent of 1300m or so. Being fit and carrying 10kg in a daypack, i would take 3 to 4 hours. Days are long in summer. I know i would have several hours at least to cruise around the tops before the descent. If you're backing it up the next day with a simple return to Raspberry Flat, i don't suppose you would have any worries.
dry weather route only, the tussock grass is slick when wet. theres been a lot of broken bones and several deaths.
Assume you are aware of current NZ covid border restrictions? Good luck but I'd be surprised if there was much of a change by Jan 2022.
Thank you folks for the feedback! PhillipW, love the suggestion about camping--I know some folks tent at Cascade Creek as well. I like the idea of not having the ascend/descend on the same day. Bernieq, yes, I'm aware of the COVID Restrictions; nevertheless, thank you for the reminder. This whole plan is definitely still very, very tentative (and perhaps may have to be delayed by a year or so). I'm hoping that borders will open to at least some travelers by early 2022, a bunch of U.S airlines just started offer flights to NZ in Jan 2022, signaling some sort of hope that borders will be a little more accessible (I'm also fully vaccinated and will definitely get a vaccine passport if those become a thing). I guess we'll have to play the waiting game, though.
I went over the saddle in the summer of 2014 in good weather. The route was in good order and easy to follow at the time. Nothing too technically challenging, just steep. The basin at the top is delightful, so definitely worth spending time exploring and lazing about watching kea. Aspiring hut is also fantastic. I just looked up my gpx file from the trip. I wouldn’t say that we are the fittest people around, and took us about 3.5-4hrs from the hut to get to the pylon (highest point) with heavy packs. Another easy 45minutes to get to the start of the descent on the dart glacier side. If the weather is fine, camping on the tops would be magic (if it is still allowed). Both times I’ve been on the saddle, there have been quite a few kea, so you may not want to camp above the bushline if worried about what they may do to your tent. As others have mentioned, deaths have occurred, but as long as you give the route the respect it deserves, it is not too hard. If weather is bad, be mentally prepared to do it another day (easier said than done). Best of luck with your plans Moh.
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