Sylvia Tops

20 – 21st Nov 2010

Another classic trip for PTC, but I’m not sure when the club last did it.

It was listed in Footnotes without a leader which doesn’t generate maximum interest, so when Dan enquired, Gary told him, “you’re the leader if we get any other enquiries”. The weather canned our Earnslaw expedition the week before, so I defaulted to the Tops trip and Dan and I were happy to go just with us two and on a trip neither of us had done before. We were still happy to try when the forecast deteriorated somewhat, although suggesting little wind.

Leaving town at 7am, we were walking from Deerstalkers at 9.30am in overcast, calm, warm nor’west conditions. Conditions in the bush were very dry as we trundled around the corner into the Nina and the turn-off sign to the Tops. We didn’t notice the markers but walked out to the river anyway and a moderately serious crossing to start up through the bush leading to the tops. Being east coast beech, it was reasonably open with a steepish but straightforward climb. As the morning progressed, it started getting damp as a messy weather front moving up the island arrived. Higher up, numerous windfalls covered the spur, making progress more of a bush bash. But we finally emerged at the bush-line and a cairn, at 12.30pm, three hours later.

At point 1662m we knew we had to change direction, Dan had spotted a really big tarn up ahead, but I was still fluffing with compass bearings when out of the mist appeared a figure—Jesse, a North American geologist, who was followed by Sue. Both were clad in lightweight gear, wore sneakers, camelbacks and carried a little food. They had followed us from Palmer Lodge and were out on a day walk of the same circuit we were doing over the weekend. They were happy to wait for us at various points as we curved around to point 1625m; the dropping-off point down to Devilskin Saddle. Walking with them, Sue fed a steady stream of route information to Jesse. But she hadn’t been there before, just memorized the map details. They went ahead down the spur to the saddle, so they could have a quick second lunch before continuing. Dan and I arrived at 5.30pm. By now fairly soggy and with our likewise soggy new friends almost ready to move out of the biv. and continue.

The “new” 2008 Devil’s Den one of the five built with the “Helen Clark” money, so the details of the biv were familiar to me from the planning consultation stage, but the first time Dan or I had used one. It’s not where the old biv was down in the bush on a grassy but dark terrace. It is right on the saddle, about 100m up the spur on the western side. As in the plan, it has windows on three sides including in the door, two beds and was a pleasure to stay in. As well as the loo further up the hill, it has a large water tank, but this was almost empty thanks to the dry conditions and probably the number of visitors. With a little top up, we managed without having to trek across to the creek. We dried out and settled in, for a leisurely evening and meal.

It was dry in the morning and not cold, but still clouded in with little wind. Up reasonably early, we were walking by 7.40am, down the track on the true right of Blind Stream. The upper stream area would be lovely on a sunny morning. Passing the old biv site and up and down through the bush, we eventually reached the steep drop from 1100m down to 900m. From about 9.30am, we started to see occasional patches of sunshine as the cloud cleared. By the time we passed Nina Hut, sunshine was almost the norm. At 12.20pm we stopped for a “tramping lunch” with less than 30 minutes to go to the road and were back at the car at 1.15pm.

We were both glad we decided to go on a so-so forecast but Sylvia Tops trip is a must for a repeat some time soon—Nov, Dec or Jan and with two to four people. We were Dan Pryce and Merv Meredith (MM)