Western Arthur’s Pass NP – 7 Day Hike

After getting into Arthur’s Pass at 2:30 pm from completing the Lake Mavis circuit I headed back to the DOC information centre, since I’d left a bag of food there. (For $1 per night, such a good deal.)  With the weather forecasted to be good for at least five days I decided to ditch my plans to move on from Arthur’s Pass. Further, the helpful man behind the desk came up with an exciting 7 day circuit I could start that afternoon, filling me in on a great place to camp. I bought another gas canister, a few more lunch supplies and a sneaky egg & bacon sandwich from the local store (crazy expensive) and re-packed my bag. I was now kitted out for 7 or so days and my bag was pretty heavy. As I was finishing up with my pack and recharging my iPad I chatted with the guy sitting at the table next to me. He offered to give me a lift to the start of my track to save me looking for a hitch or walking (thank you!). As we approached the trail we both chuckled as we realised what I was supposed to climb before camp. It was 5pm and I had 980 vertical metres to climb!

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Lake Mavis Multi-day Hike

Day One

It was a steep learning curve getting a hang of fording kiwi rivers today. Especially crossing solo. Thankfully I’d read the online instructional PDF before leaving home ;) I was a little worried about the rain and the forecast but a trip to the DOC centre in Arthur’s pass left me confident that the river levels were manageable, even for a solo novice like myself. As I approached Bealey River I was starting to question their faith in me! Step one when fording a river alone, and particularly when you can see the current is strong, find a sturdy stick approx 2m high that can support your body weight. Hmm easier said than done! I spent over an hour working out my approach to cover a mere 20m of ground. I cut a very sturdy stick from a washed up dead tree (this is why one should have a saw and not scissors on their pocket knife Alex) and plunged my boots straight in. I don’t believe this is the usual approach when one wants to break in their new pair of hiking boots (just to clarify, this was their third, not first, outing). I’m even more impressed with my Scarpa purchase now, as I sit here in a hut with happy feet, after wandering around with a puddle in my boots for approx 7 hours. Ah yes, step two… something about keeping the stick upstream and small steps … I believe I passed.

The trek up the Mingha river to Goat Pass had a number of river and creek crossings. My sample size is less than 10, but I do believe that the compliance of my “crossing stick” with the PDF recommendations was highly, negatively correlated with time. The stick on my second last crossing barely came up to my mid-thigh and the last one was merely a symbolic representation… somehow I just felt stronger carrying *something* in my hand.

It was a peculiar leg. After crossing the Bealey River there is no trail for kilometres. One follows the odd cairn and their intuition on where to go (impending cliff face suggests another river crossing). Then, out of nowhere, this immaculate path begins – signed with copious numbers of orange arrows and a quest to spot the (endangered?) blue duck. Not to mention loads of boardwalk. This track takes one all the way to Goat Pass. I was very grateful to be high above the river, which at this point, was a scary torrent. One of the top sights of the day was looking well up to see the 150m Kennedy Falls spewing out some serious water. And, as always, I was happy to see snow up on the peaks.

The weather improved as the day wore on and now I find myself at Goat Pass Hut alone – with 20 bunks to choose from and 1/2 of a bottle of port. Lg – life’s good.

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Day Two

I awoke to the sound of male voices. Apparently I was on a trail that forms part of the Coast to Coast Classic run every February. One of the blokes was training for the event and they’d set out at 5am, coming up the Deception River. Goat Pass Hut was a quick refuge to have a drink, eat some jelly babies and carry on. It was 10:30am and they found me curled up in my sleeping bag. I’d clearly had a good sleep given that I went to bed at 9pm! They were sopping wet, shivering and confessed that they were jealous of how cosy I looked. They were gone almost as soon as they’d arrived so I set about organising breakfast.

I’d had intentions to do a side trip up Mt Franklin today but the visibility was very poor and it had been raining all night and was still raining, which would make the river crossings of the Deception River deeper. I decided that it would be fun to just hang at the hut for a day. The guys assured me that tomorrow would be better weather. I’ll make the call at 4pm – if it clears up I’ll hike up to Lake Mavis tonight for a camp out. Apparently it’s well worth the tent weight. And now for another cup of tea.

5:30pm: No change

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Day Three

I awoke to the sound of wekas – a parent and offspring. It was a respectable 7:30am this morning. The hut was still sitting in a cloud but I could recognise that it was going to break up. As I was finalising my gear I met a trio of runners coming through. Paddy, you’ll be pleased to hear that the short-person jokes have not dried up in your absence. So many people have commented on the bizarreness of my hiking solo … given my stature. Today’s advice, I should go and eat at least three roast chickens. Not quite sure how that’ll ever make me taller.

Up to Lake Mavis I headed. The clouds dispersed and I felt the sun for the first time. I’ve had a reasonable number of people state that I’ve broken them on a hike. It always makes me raise an eyebrow because I’m a lot worse when I’m by myself – and today was certainly no exception. The climb from Goat Pass to Lake Mavis is not a formal track, however the trip notes imply that there are the odd cairns to guide one’s way. After spending a good hour attempting to follow footpads I gave up and decided to just head straight up. As I started to climb almost vertically (Fred I’m keeping the rock climbing skills fresh as promised) I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself – perhaps I should have taken the easier route. What was most surprising was that every now and again I had the impression that I was on a footpad or animal track – could someone else have truly come up the way that I did? By this stage I was hauling myself up and through dense bushes. On I trudged, thankfully only losing my footing the once. The shrubs ended and the scree started. As I came over the summit I couldn’t help but exclaim at the fact that the lake was still frozen over. What a treat. Sadly, as I studied the map and surveyed the landscape, I knew I would have to turn back from my intention to push through to the Edwards River. There was too much snow around and the clouds were setting back in to try that route solo. The saving grace being that I knew the terrain to cover tomorrow, so I did have time for a camp out. It was tough going finding somewhere flat to camp, the good spots were all still covered in snow! I finally settled on a spot, washed (just 2 pairs on this trip Andy) and pushed large ice sheets around for the afternoon.

Animals spotted: a kea and lots of seagulls (?!?)

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Day Four

At midnight I awoke with a start as a flashlight lit up my tent. After retiring early last night, thinking I had the place to myself, a group of 10 showed up and had set up camp on the opposite bank of the lake. Someone was climbing back into their tent and their light was flashing all over the place. Then I looked around me and my jaw dropped at the sheer wonder to behold. The sky was perfectly clear and covered in stars. The ice on the lake was faintly reflecting the starlight and the small parts of the lake not covered in ice were reflecting, perfectly, the snow capped mountains that could be seen so clearly now. Words can’t do it justice – it was truly stunning. The tent weight was definitely worth it.

I awoke again at 6am to more beauty. This time sunlight, not starlight, coming from behind Mt Franklin was setting the scene and there was a tiny belt of mist suspended just above the lake (and covering the tents from the other group). Sadly, this only lasted another 15 mins before the clouds set in and I lost almost all visibility.

I have no idea what temperature it had been overnight but it was def cold as I had had to put on my second set of thermals. Apparently it had been cold enough for a 3mm layer of ice to form over the part of the lake not covered in ice sheets! I had to crack it open with my pot to get water for breakfast, which was fun.

I chatted with the other group and we ended up descending down to Arthur’s Pass together. The sun came back out and the river levels were low, making it an enjoyable leg. Thankfully one of the group members gave me a lift back into town at the end as it’s a scary 6km walk along a twisty, narrow road with no shoulder to walk along.

I highly recommend camping out at Lake Mavis, weather permitting. Thanks Chris for the heads up.

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