Walker Pass – Amber Col – Sudden Valley

22–23 May 2010

This classic trip has been done by PTC many times in the past, but I hadn’t been there; or even seen Sudden Valley. I wasn’t sure I was going to get any takers in late autumn either, so I was quite happy when a CMC member, Warren Soufflot, phoned up wanting to come. But then Sue P phoned up and we definitely had a trip. Late in the piece, Gary phoned apologetically, saying he had canned his planned trip so could he come, too. And he had done the trip twenty seven years ago, so how could we turn down his first-hand knowledge.

Timing worked out about right, with Sue leaving her place at 6am Saturday morning. We picked up Warren at Yaldhurst Rd. We hadn’t been at the Hawdon Shelter long, when Chris and Phil turned up, out on a day walk.

The weather forecast always was a bit iffy, but Saturday morning was fine and sunny, making a pleasant plod up the Hawdon. My first time at the new Hawdon Hut. Good spot and view., shame about the trees though. I have been pretty scathing about design booboos in some of the earlier Helen Clark era huts, but couldn’t fault this one. Why didn’t I check the camera batteries?

Continuing on and starting to climb, we could see behind us, down toward the Waimak and brilliant blue sky, but we were heading nor-west and up, under increasing cloud. We stopped by the upper tarn for lunch, which is nice, but a bit spartan. From there, we crossed Walker Pass and dropped a short distance before turning left and travelling south-west up the east branch of the Otehake.

Here, Gary’s long term memory let us down a little. It seemed a good idea to climb up onto the terraces on the true left. This went quite well, with not much scrub bashing but the top end of the terrace dropped in bluffs back to the stream. We found a good line down and continued up the stream-bed and into the cloud, noting that we were getting into bluffy faces that would be great scenery on a fine day.

As planned, we arrived in a terraced area below the col with daylight hours to spare. A light breeze didn’t encourage much standing around though. Just dinner and bed, or bed and dinner, depending on who you were.

Sunday, we had the odd fleeting break in the cloud, but mostly we spent the day traveling interesting-to-spectacular country, in the cloud with murky views. From the col, we climbed toward point 1828m, sidling right and traveling south along a rock face that wasn’t easy with just a light snow cover. Once we passed the end of this ridge and crossed to the Polar Range proper, travel became more straightforward. Eventually, we gained the ridge and looked straight down near vertical faces into the top of Sudden Valley. Very sudden! Continuing south-west, the bulk of Mt Scott was starting to appear ahead of us in the cloud, but we were still bluffed on our left. Right at the last, a steep, narrow scree appeared coming all the way to the ridge.

This seemed good timing to stop and have lunch. That first ridge from 1828m had taken some time to traverse. After lunch, the scree went all the way down to the stream. It is steep, sometimes a bit boney, but mostly good travel.

The weather progressively became wetter travelling down Sudden Valley Stream and by the time we reached the newly built biv. dampness ensued. Continuing on, the track sidles up on the true left to bypass Barrier Falls, with a steep drop down a side-stream back to the river. As light faded, we were relieved to emerge from the gorge and plod down-valley to reach the Hawdon and cross back to the shelter in near darkness, about 6pm. How’s that for timing?

Despite the less than ideal weather, this is a great circuit which I’d like to do again in dry summer conditions or good winter snow, or preferably both. Thanks for your company, Warren. We three appreciated having you on the trip. We were: Gary Huish, Sue Piercey, Warren Soufflot and Merv Meredith. (MM)