Devilskin Saddle

20-21 Feb 2010

Eight of us left Christchurch on the Saturday morning looking forward to the fine weather that was forecast for the weekend. After a brief stop at Culverden we continued to the Engineers Camp where we pulled over into a lay-by just past the camp on the right side of the road. We shuffled the cars to leave one at Palmer Lodge, opposite the Nina track and the other back at a bach at Engineers Camp that was known to one of the party members.

We eventually set off at approx 11:20, somewhat later than the leader had anticipated due to underestimating the time for the car shuffle, amongst other things. After crossing the road the next hazard was the river. After starting to cross, the leader soon realized the river was swifter than anticipated. Those following took the sensible approach of linking up. Once safely across we headed to a DoC sign on a terrace. From there a marked track headed across the terrace, threading a way through the matagouri. Soon after 12:30 we stopped for a quick break as the track entered some bush. We continued on for a late lunch by the Doubtful Hut. Despite its shabby appearance on the outside, it housed a couple of decent mattresses and would be a welcome stopover in poor weather.

Continuing on, after about 5 minutes the track crossed the Doubtful River to a large orange marker, marking the start of the track on the true left of Devilskin Stream. The track climbed reasonably steeply at first before leveling off to gradually sidle the side of the valley, through the bush. It was a warm afternoon and thankfully there were numerous side-streams to drink from, regroup and rest at. With most of us a little pack-rusty, this section took a wee while, though there was no urgency. Eventually, after the main stream in the valley below split, there were signs that the bush was opening up a little. After a short while—6:00pm from memory—we emerged onto a tongue of land beside the stream and the last few hundred meters of bush on our right. We considered the weather as we chose a camping spot, preferring not to continue on to the saddle ahead and the Devils Den Bivouac. From encounters with two parties going the other way, we knew the biv was occupied and camping in its vicinity was reported to be limited from the DoC leaflet. People were tired. However we were already in the shade of the hills and camping did not look inviting on the tongue of land as it was lumpy and/or swampy and/or strewn with spaniard. With a bit of searching Graham and David managed to find a suitable spot within the bush-edge. Most, though not all, managed an adequate night’s sleep on a mild evening with little wind in our sheltered spot.

The following morning we got going about 9am after a leisurely breakfast and soon found ourselves on the saddle in the sunshine. The biv is a little above the saddle and in a marvelous location with a great view. We lingered for a while, taking photos and taking it all in. In the far distance, looking up towards Sylvia Tops we could see a couple of specks about to emerge onto the skyline—presumably the people who had stayed in the biv over-night. It was generally agreed that on another occasion it would be great to do the trip over the tops from near the start of the Nina. It was noticed that the water tank was empty. Somebody else had noticed a comment in the hut book regarding the spouting. With the stream only a few hundred meters sidle away, getting water didn’t look like it would be a big problem.

Onwards, we continued down the other side of the saddle towards Blind Stream, being careful not to fall into hidden holes between the tussocks and spaniard. Where the track entered the bush was the site of the old bivouac and a possible site for a few tents. We followed a good, though steepish in one section, bush track for a few hours, arriving at the clearing with the Nina Hut for lunch. It was already very warm at this stage and it was hard to decide whether to seek shade and be bitten insane by sandflies or burn in the sun to minimize their numbers.

Proceeding down the Nina the way got warmer again, despite the shade of the trees. After crossing the swing-bridge a few could not help themselves as an inviting swimming hole presented itself and the water was so invigorating!

A few km from the track-end a sign shows the direction towards Sylvia Tops with fresh looking markers leading through the bush. Apparently a walkwire crossing the Nina has been removed but we were curious to know if the markers continue on the other side. Safely back at the cars we retrieved the car from the works camp and headed off home. We were in the good company of: Graham Allely, David Best, Shelley Washington, Lisa Williams, Miriam Preston, Dorota Giejsztowt, Chrys Horn and Andy Duck. (AD)