Great walk in-season track closure
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What happens when for example the Harris saddle becomes unpassable in November due to snow, dangerous winds etc.? The RB falls hut is fully booked, so the next lot of walkers will be arriving and those who cannot progress over the saddle can't stay a second night and most can't return to the start of the track as they have transport from the other end only. It must happen a few times in a season on these alpine tracks and I've wondered for a while how the system works. Does DOC stop the proceeding groups by not issuing the hut tickets if the weather is clearly forecast to force a track closure. Maybe helicopter is an option, but what if that's not even possible due to weather?
They call everyone and refund I think. At least that's what happened to me for Welcome Flat Hut (twice, in two different years!).
A helicopter is organised. Walkers are told to pay around $80 to fly round Harris bluffs or not to proceed past them on foot.. I've seen helicopters operating there in pretty severe weather. Visibility is the biggie unless the wind gets very severe. If large numbers of people can't proceed doc will organise the shuttle companies to pick people up. Not sure about refunds. That tends to happen on the routeburn if doc close the track. Once you have started a track you might not get a refund for missed nights on a track.
I did the Routeburn in December when it was closed due to avalanche danger, in about 2011. The dodgy section was the steep bluffs above the lake on Harris Saddle. DOC had arranged a helicopter for those who wanted to pay to be flown from the shore of the lake, to the shelters on the saddle itself, which was past the avalanche area. I think it was $80 per person back in 2011 too. I was doing it solo in two days, starting from the Milford end. I met a couple of DOC wardens and a ranger on the way in. They politely told me the track was closed, and I politely told them I understood and was going anyway. They grumbled a bit, and the ranger asked me some trick questions about his plans to climb Mt Tutoko, to see if I knew what I was talking about and could be relied on not to kill myself through inexperience. Tutoko looked glorious that morning, with a coating of new snow in the crystal clear air. After I answered his trick questions to his satisfaction, he nodded and grinned, and said I should enjoy the walk, since it's so rare to see the place empty like that. It was lovely, there were hardly any people on the track. The track was closed with hysterical warnings, it was New Year, gorgeous sunny weather, and I had almost complete solitude. Lovely! After I passed over the avalanche area I met another DOC ranger and a few guides shepherding their sheep to the helicopter landing spot. They were like "Where'd you come from!?" I told them, and they looked very surprised. They said "Err, would you mind not telling the trampers coming up that you walked over the saddle on foot?" Then I blasted on down the valley and was in Glenorchy for a beer by sundown. It was a pity to do it so fast though, I must return and do it properly, staying in the fancy huts and taking my time to drink in the scenery.
DOC set their standards on the routeburn and great walks in summer for people who have a low level of mountaincraft skill, so they get the helicopter in to cater for those people.. i went to walk the kepler track when there was a bad storm coming, the lady at the DOC center in Te anau wouldnt give me my ticket the day before because she said they would be deciding whether they would let us go the following day and they would call us into a meeting to brief us on the conditions. i argued with her and told her i had a lot of experience in the alpine zone in bad weather and it was my right to choose whether i went, and she eventually gave me my ticket. they cant legally stop you walking on the track. so witholding your tickets is what they do if they dont want people with below average mountaincraft skills going onto the great walks..
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