23-25 Oct 2010

A good weather forecast encouraged us as we drove over Lewis Pass, through Maruia Springs and on to the Rough Creek bridge. We left the car there and were walking by 10am. Halfway up we were walking on snow and tree branches brought down by heavy snowfalls.

The track steepens near the top of the bush section but surprisingly there was minimal snow. We emerged above the bush-line to full sunshine and deep snow. Poles lead up the ridge and over to the headwaters of the upper Blue Grey. Rather than follow the poles down to the valley we climbed to point 1482 for a view of Lake Christabel. We got a better view as we continued along the ridge and then descended in deep snow to join the track that loops around to Christabel Hut. This track passes within 2km of Grand Duchess. The “par” time for this day’s walk is 6 hours. With snow and tree wreckage we made it to the hut in 8, surprised to find no-one else in residence on this long weekend. Dinner was mac-cheese with silverbeet, parsley and fennel for greenery.

A fine Sunday dawned and we were away by 8am rejoicing on the smooth, flat track for the first 1 km that leads towards Robinson Saddle. Snow was minimal in the bush but when we got to the margin we found the track obliterated by serious avalanches. We wasted half an hour looking for the track. Back on-line we climbed ¾ of the way to Robinson Saddle to avoid scrub that the club had waded through and over on past trips. Sidling down on snow grass and tussock we arrived in the upper valley with a fair coating of snow, which made the initial climb to a spur difficult. On the spur we could avoid snow completely and made good time to the saddle below Mt Boscawen. On the saddle which crosses the main divide, we were looking over to a very snowy basin which narrowed into a busy little stream thanks to snow and sun. We made a quick descent to where the stream was visible, but we were apprehensive about falling though snow bridges. We came to a point where we had to get off snow into the stream-bed. Kerry chose a spot to slide down, finding he’d been on a bridge with a 2 metre drop above rushing ice-water. With guidance from below, the others were able to slide down a safer lump of snow. Not far below here we were faced with more, scary looking avalanche snow bridges. Luckily there was a little gully that let us exit this stream. We climbed for 20 minutes and could see we’d have to climb much longer to get above the scrub to left and right of us. Carolyn looked for a way out but reported horrible dracophyllum scrub so we climbed higher. Eventually we bit the bullet and chose a route through the dreaded scrub. A 25 minute struggle, walking on the scrub rather than through it saw us on a spur in view of a useful avalanche chute. We sidled to it and descended a mixture of snow and scree. Paul found it harder without his faithful stick which got left behind in the scrub. The chute had two branches and we crossed to the second. Soon after this move we heard a loud crack from where we’d been as a football-sized boulder hit something very solid and launched itself high in the air. Soon we were at the base of the chute with a pile of snow and splintered trees. We were only 150m below where we had exited up the gully. Now we had beech to left and right to hold back avalanches so there was no more snow to contend with, only fallen trees. With the amount of snow-melt in the stream, we had to choose crossing points with care. With relief we reached the Nina and made reasonably brisk progress down-river, often on partial tracks in the trees. We needed to cross the Nina ten or so times and finally with the clock past 8pm we saw an orange biv through the trees. Hurrah! A late dinner of lentil curry was sufficient and the customary custard stayed in its bag. Carolyn and Dorota used the tent and Paul and Kerry chose the stretched canvas bunks for a well-earned rest.

Monday dawned cloudy so we thought the weather was worsening but the day became warm and sunny. Walking down the a good track we arrived at the site of the old Nina hut and decided to cross to the right bank of the Nina and go to the new hut for lunch. It is well sited to catch the sun and must have been 25º inside so we were a little relieved to leave and be out in cooler air. At the bridge over deep, green water we crossed back to the true left and cruised along comfortably. From the Nina Hut book we knew Nelson TC people were in the area and we caught up to a group of 12 of them. Kerry quizzed them on which way they were headed when they reached the road. Yes, they were headed west and, yes they had a spare seat in a king-cab ute, so getting back to the car was made easy.

At Palmer Lodge (the deerstalkers’ lodge) nearly 20 people organized themselves. We quickly retrieved our car from 20km away, gathered up our people and headed home. We hadn’t gone far when a sign attracted our attention—“driver reviver”. The sign hinted at food also being on offer, so curiosity lured us in. It was quite a lavish facility with tents, tables, music, expresso coffee, sausages, bread and sauce. We made another quick food stop at Culverden, then home. The trip was rated as moderate, but with snow on day-one, could be called moderate-hard and day two with our forced detour and long slog, hard. We were lucky to have a well-matched team of: Dorota Giejsztowt, Carolyn Catt, Paul Smith and Kerry Moore (KM)