Hiking around Nelson Lakes/St James Late April
Hi All, Hoping to pick the brains of some of the experienced folk out there! I am ambitiously hoping to do a bit of solo tramping ~19th to 26th April but have little experience with NZ mountain weather around that time of year as I have only hiked around in the middle of summer! The route I'm hoping to take is as follows: 19th: Lewis Pass - Ada Pass Hut 20th: Ada Pass Hut - Bob's Hut via Three Tarn Pass 21st: Bob's Hut - Campsite somewhere below David's Saddle 22nd: Over David's Saddle to somewhere below Moss Pass 23rd: Over Moss pass to enjoy Blue Lake 24th: Over Waiau and as far down the Waiau Valley as I can get 25th: Pushing on to Cannibal Gorge Hut and possibly further to hitch back to Chch, 25th/26th. If time is running short then I can bypass blue lake and take D'Urville Pass over to Lake Thompson and and then down to follow the Waiau River back. I consider myself fit and able, but haven't gone off the marked trail like this before. I am also cautious of the weather and having only ~ 10.5 hours sunlight this time of year. So to the questions! What sort of gear should I definitely be bringing for a trip like this? I don't think I have ample wet weather gear so I am considering buying Marmot Precip Top and Btms to keep me warm and hopefully dry. Is my schedule achievable? What sort of weather should I expect? Am I mad trying to do this solo as a first? Does anyone want to come with me? Thanks for any and all help!
I think it's pushing the envelope somewhat that this is 1st time off track and solo. There is a bit of route-finding in your plan - what are you using? map & compass and/or GPS? Gear to take : same as any multi-day tramp - everything (but maybe an extra thermal layer as the probability of bad wx is high). Schedule : achievable in good weather. However, some sections would be difficult/impassable in rain (eg W & E Matakitaki). Weather : plan for everything (wind, snow, rain, sun (but less of the last one)) Mad? : perhaps not mad but there is a high level of risk - do you have a PLB? If wx was good (including visibility) I'd cut out David, Moss passes and take the high traverse from D'Urville pass to Lake Thompson and down to the Waiau. Either leave out Blue Lake or visit it as an out-and-back from the Waiau.
Blue Lake Hut to even Caroline Creek Bivouac is a massive day. While I have not done it, it seems as though you would be hard pressed to make it from Caroline Creek Bivouac to Cannibal Gorge Hut within a day - though others may have better insight. I would prioritise Blue Lake - it is simply awesome. You should have avoided the bulk of Te Araroa trampers by then so hopefully the Hut is not as busy as it was when I went one February. Another good option, which involves some off-track tramping is: https://tramper.nz/5343/waiau-clarence-pass-lake-tennyson-circuit/ Though, it sounds as though you would be hitchhiking to the start point and hitching to Lake Tennyson will be harder than Lewis Pass. From what I have heard D'Urville Pass is steep and should not be attempting in anything other than good conditions. The route down the Waiau side looked good from Waiau Pass.
We went from Blue Lake to Caroline Creek Biv in the day but that was in mid January.Less daylight hours now.There is a ouple of rock ribs to negotiate on the E of Waiau Pass but if you`re appy with a bit of air under your feet,fine.We went from Caroline Creek to Anne Hut in the day too.At 28km,I thought that was ambitious but 10 hours saw the job done.It`s down valley and all flat with the Ada R crossing being the only fly in the ointment in heavy weather.As someone else advised,I`d temper my plans & keep within my skill/experience level.You`re a long time kickin` the lid!
The route off Waiau Pass is poled all the way to the valley floor and is to the SSW (as shown on the topo map) - there are no ribs to the east to negotiate. The D'Urville Pass isn't particularly steep on either side, imo. The traverse between D'Urville and Thompson Passes isn't particularly difficult either but it does require good visibility. I agree that the proposed last two days are really pushing limits but the young and very fit could get from Caroline Biv to CGHut in a good day. One bit of advice though - why rush through such great country? Give yourself more time or limit the scope a little and enjoy the experience (which would also build in some contingency for bad weather).
The weather is always a lottery, it could do anything and potentially snow. have a spare warm baselayer and a decent insulation layer for when you arent walking, if it rains, the clothes you walk in are unlikely to stay dry under rain gear. dont rely on down jackets for walking in, they get wet to easily. Clothes dont dry out fast here once wet unless you have a hut with a fire in it. The Precip is lightweight raingear, it doesnt stand up to the sharp rocks and scrub off trail....
+1 on rain gear. That will be mid autumn and a fairly wet time of year. You should hopefully be ok for snow (although it's still on the cards) but rain is almost guaranteed to show up. Make sure you have good quality rainwear that will keep you as dry as possible and hold up if you have to give it rough treatment. You should pack a change of clothes for overnight so you can warm up - at the least a change of baselayer plus a warm jacket or jumper. Additionally for a long route like this, make sure you know your point of no return, clearly note it for your safe people as well as what your contingencies are (e.g. X pass is snowed in, return to Y hut or walk out to Z road via route A) and have a PLB for emergencies. Sounds like a good walk but a lot to bite off and you'd need to be sure of your abilities. It sounds like you have some doubts about your navigation and I'd suggest starting with something easier to develop this further before you try something like this which has far more possibilities for getting off-route and into trouble.
Thanks for all the replies so far guys. I would love to have 10 days + to try and slowly but surely meander through the country but, unfortunately, this is the only pocket of time between a stag do and a wedding! I would be taking physical Map and Phone GPS, I also do have a PLB. I take two sets of clothes and have a good sleeping bag, so not too worried about being cold but again haven't experienced the cold of alpine in late April. I have hung around that area a fair bit, attempting going over Waiau from St James in 15-16 summer but my partner got a spider bite (in New Zealand of all places!?) and her ankle swelled up to the point that it was scary, and we only made it half way up the Waiau valley before turning back and getting a lift to Hamner from people staying at the homestead to the south (on new years day no less). And this summer we came back for attempt to coming from the north, and got to West Sabine hut, but just continued down the Sabine as the weather was turning crap, and our pickup wasn't for another 4 days (also went to blue lake 3 years earlier so we didn't miss out). So I know the area, just never made it over Waiau pass, and wanted to spice things up by going somewhere I hadn't while making it over Waiau and getting to see Blue Lake without all the TA walkers everywhere! So is there no need for snow gear like crampons? (not that I'd know what to do with them). I may just end up rummaging around for a few days and try make it up to three tarn pass for a bit of off track experience without getting myself in too deep, unless anyone has any suggestions of another good walk around the area that can be done in 4-6 days? Which brings me to the next point, best ways to get off track experience? And do you guys have any words of wisdom for a guy who's used to following orange triangles?
learn how to navigate and practice navigating BEFORE you attempt an off track trip... if you get bad visibility you'll need it. GPS's can still die, if you cant navigate without it or you get bad visibility, you'll be in a lot of trouble. preferably learn from an instructor or experienced hiker and not off youtube videos. so many young people jump in the deep end and its ends badly...
Just to second wayno's thoughts ... practise BEFORE you need it. 1. Stop often and learn to locate yourself on the map accurately just by reading the local visible features, peaks, river bends, spurlines etc. Maps are surprisingly detailed and reading them accurately is your most fundamental tool. 2. At least once a day whip out the Silva and use it to properly align the map and then use it to create a mental image in your mind of where you have come from, and what features to look for in the route ahead. 3. Then pick an area where you can start using the compass to walk the next few hundred metres or so accurately on a bearing only. See how closely you can start to hit targets and build confidence in your technique. 4. Being able to operate in poor visibility whether due to forest or clag can be challenging, especially if the terrain is undulating or lacks clear features. The most frequent problem on the tops is deciding which of two or more spurlines to follow down; it's very often not obvious because prior parties have left false footpads down the wrong spur themselves. This is where your practise pays off; and even now keep practicing. Even on a marked routes, if the visibility is low use the map and compass to confirm what the orange triangles say. Because even they can be wiped out by snow, avalanche, windfall, floods or slips. 5. Accept that you will make mistakes; glance backwards every 50 or 100m or so (depending on the terrain) to visualise how to get BACK to your last known good location. SAR people say the most common panic response when people get lost (or even just momentarily disoriented) is to blunder forwards into more unknown territory, when often as not they are less than a few hundred metres from a safe known location. If you know the way back you can ALWAYS recover. 6. If there are two of you in the party, and you come to a difficult area, have one person stop at the last known 'good' spot while the other scouts around for the correct route. 7. Don't overthink it. Whenever you are in the bush let your attention expand out from the few metres of track in front of you, make a habit of being fully aware of the landscape, it's shapes, patterns and character. Absorb this so as your intuition can be better informed and more powerful. As your skill grows your confidence and enjoyment of being in the mountains will grow too. 8. Treat the GPS as something to fall back on, something to cross-check with if you really need to; a bit like a PLB ... there for emergencies. Don't let the technology, wonderful as it is, rob you of the opportunity to master the art of navigation for yourself.
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