By the Glen Eden Venturers
Nothing screams a good tramp more than airport madness. It was 7am and we were hogging the scales trying to juggle the weight allowances, followed by a forgotten ID and significant confusion by the airport staff on the purpose of a PLB.
Being 2020, masks were donned and we were off to Queenstown! After a day of relaxing and exploring the sights, it was another early start to catch the shuttle to the start of the Rees Dart track. Courtesy of Info+track and their intrepid driver, who we only knew as Grazza 1, we forded streams like we were in a massive 4WD (heads up, we weren’t).
Muddy Creek certainly lived up to its name, being well muddy. We followed the true left of the Rees River, where the track was interesting and the markers were sparse. The sun was fierce, and we had scheduled sunblock stops inspired by previous hikes where we were all burnt to a crisp!
A massive slab avalanche caught our attention, dominating the environment with a menacing roar as we watched the snow tumble with tremendous force all the way to the tree line, a timely reminder of the sheer force of nature.
After a few hours we made it to the Mt Aspiring National Park boundary, granting us some protection from the sun and the first experience of southern beech forest for the majority of the group. The last portion of the day gave us our first taste of ‘above the tree line walking,’ where we would stay for the next three days. It was also where we first met the dreaded spaniard grass.
Shelter Rock Hut was a welcome sight. It’s perhaps the most well-placed hut – within a day’s walk from the road end and nestled between the Forbes and Richardson mountains. Plus it has flushing toilets, so there was little more that we could ask for.
After the past two days of blue skies, the light cloud cover was a welcome break. And with a short 12km day ahead, we were in no rush. The track from Shelter Rock was not only easygoing, but a stunner.
With 360 degree mountain views and kea calls, we all felt alive. As we ascended, it was as though a filter was applied over the landscape, letting through only the grey rocks and the yellow of the tussocks.
We stopped for an early lunch atop the Rees saddle, where we jettisoned the packs and spent a while exploring the nearby peaks. As we were leaving, we were joined by a pair of rock wrens.
The downhill to Dart Hut was another change of scenery as we followed Snowy Creek. The track was dusted white, not with snow, but with mountain daisies and Mt Cook lilies.
Dart Hut is like a mini village, with five buildings all together and 32 bunks, most of which were full with people who had caught a helicopter to the Rees Saddle. One of our members also met their high school science teacher, what a coincidence! The evening was filled with cards and excitement for the next day.
We were able to offload a fair whack of our packs’ weight, but each kept our emergency gear and a tent between us. It was an earlyish start to the Cascade Saddle route, with a 20km return and a decent ascent. We had set a turn around time of 3pm and with the mindset of ‘no obligations to get to the top,’ we were off.
The route was marked by cairns and the occasional marker, so it was good practice in route finding, particularly on the final schist sections. It was another stunning day, with the forecast showers nowhere in sight and the initial river crossings completed with dry feet.
The walk to the Saddle was stunning and the Hesse and Marshall glaciers were peeking out from some pretty steep cliffs. We wondered how much longer they would be visible from the track . . . hopefully for a while more. With quartz dust causing our clothes to shimmer, we suddenly emerged onto the Saddle. The steep path gave way to near vertical drop offs, the Matukituki Valley and a distant view of Mt. Aspiring.
We arrived at the Saddle well before our turnaround time and took our time exploring the fragile environment. At lunch we were accompanied by a particularly inquisitive kea, who had a deceivingly charming waddle, before attempting to rip a hole into a pack.
As we packed up our gear to start heading back towards Dart Hut, a roar of a rockfall across the valley caught our attention, leaving a huge trail of dust behind it.
On the return journey we enjoyed a dip in a surprisingly deep (and freezing!) tarn and an easy return downhill most of the way, until we reached the rivers. We were aware that the sun would cause snow melt, so when we arrived at the first of the three rivers we saw the true extent. The streams we had crossed with dry boots were now above our knees. Luckily, we were prepared. We packed away our poles, undid our chest straps and linked arms together to cross the river.
The hardest day was now behind us and we headed out early to continue the journey to Daleys Flat Hut. Both our group and another with whom we ended up walking were concerned that due to a supposed 90mm of rain inbound for the last day, we would need to do a 14 hour day to ensure we weren’t trapped by rivers.
Luckily, the warden came out and gave us the good news that we were expecting showers, rather than torrential rain. We walked through dense bush, across boulders and across Cattle (not so) Flat before reaching the sandfly field surrounding the hut. Thanks to a kind donation, we treated ourselves to some delicious Backcountry meals and desserts.
This brought us to our last day, where we headed to the road end at Chinaman’s Bluff to get picked up by the shuttle. The last leg took us around a newly formed lake caused by a huge landslide in 2014, which went through a rough track in the dense bush. We reached Chinaman’s Bluff Shelter a good two hours before the shuttle was due, after expecting a seven hour day and completing it in only five. We were relieved to have finished the 83km track, but the mood was also somewhat sombre as we realised we would have to return to civilization after five days in the serenity of Mt. Aspiring National Park.
That is the one issue of doing a walk as spectacular as this – we are struggling to find a suitable place that is on par or better than our last tramp (one of the best dilemmas possible). We are considering doing the three passes in Arthurs Pass or Gillespie Pass . . . so many options!
From all of us here at Glen Eden Venturers, we would like to thank FMC for this amazing opportunity. The knowledge and experiences we have learnt from these five days are priceless. We have already planned an outdoor skills day for the younger venturers and are aiding them in planning their bronze hikes. We are also looking at extending this to include the younger scouts, in order to give them a head start on their award scheme and get as many people as we can into the outdoors in a safe and fun way.
We would also like to give a big shout out to those we met on the track: Donna, Jacqui and Sofia, as well as the amazing hut wardens!
We’re delighted to share another trip report from recent recipients of FMC’s Youth Award Grant. These grants are awarded four times a year, so if you’re inspired to get some financial support, head over to FMC’s website to apply.