Lambert Tops

5-11 February 2015

It pays to be flexible when tramping but this time flexibility was tested on the annual February alpine trip. The initial plans to visit the Snowdrift Range to the west of the Dart River had to be abandoned when the Dart changed course and required a major deviation that didn’t sound attractive with heavy packs. An alternative involved the Lambert River Bridge above the confluence of the Wanganui River which had been replaced just after our trip to the Garden of Eden two years ago.

This allowed access to the Lambert Glacier and the Garden of Allah. Geoff had been instrumental in persuading DoC that people would use the bridge and had worked on clearing a track up the ridge. That seemed to determine where but when was determined by the weather in the week before Waitangi weekend.

Day 1 was delayed until Thursday 5 February with a persistent West Coast drizzle that had the river high and the boulders like skating rinks. Skirting reduced river margins took time, the side streams required care and travel was slow. We arrived at the cableway across the Wanganui near Hunters Hut in the dark. The experience of being hunched into a little metal cage and being propelled into the unknown aimed at some waving points of light on the other bank was quite nerve-wracking. For the handle winders, trying to catch a rapidly rotating black object in the dark to use all available momentum was a nervous knuckle event but at least they were warmer than the people waiting their turns. The vacant six-bunk was a fantastic sight and a hot fire and wet clothes soon produced a sauna-like atmosphere that persuaded all eleven of us that sleeping in the hut was preferable to a night out.

Day 2 dawned fine and clear with fresh snow on the tops. We reached the new Lambert Bridge above the junction with the Adams River and saw why DoC had hesitated to replace the structure—raw slip evidence above the far abutment and young regrowth on the near side showing the active environment. The climb up the Lambert Ridge would be steep even without climbing-packs. David made the call that he was having knee trouble and would go back to the hut to wait for us. The bush section was steep but Geoff had warned us that the alpine scrub section was just as hard and even a marked and cut track was an athletic event. Normally reaching tussock is a relief but even that was tall travel at the end of the day. We gratefully reached a saddle above the promised-land to find the intended camping basin below was blanketed in snow. We found a small clear area on the ridge beside some impressive rock formations where a trickling sound below the snow promised a water supply.

Day 3 was to be a traverse onto the Lambert Glacier but our speed the previous day and the thought of heavy packs along some challenging alpine terrain was not attractive. Consensus (or Geoff) converted it to a day trip along the intended route. The thought in everyone’s mind as we picked our way through rough scree fields hidden under fresh snow was, “I’m glad we only have day packs”. Geoff was determined to press on after lunch as Kate Wooten and Sam Stephenson were on an ambitious FMC sponsored CUTC trip from the Rakaia over the Gardens and he was determined to mark the route through some tricky terrain. He, Gaylene and Raymond pressed on while the rest of us sensibly retreated. We followed Geoff’s suggestion of an alternative route back into the gathering cloud traversing easy tussock slopes but they came to an abrupt halt. Fresh snow and loose snowgrass fronds down a steep gully looked treacherous but we used last years’ experience with crampons and ice axes to good effect. Fears of a route-finding blunder were dispelled by Geoff’s later laconic remark,”yep, I forgot to tell you about that”. The three route finders arrived back just as it became pitch black and Geoff was surprised to find tents higher up the ridge. Some rude language bought people out of the tents but it was Kate and Sam’s party, not us. They had reversed their trip due to high Clyde River flows but were pleased to discuss the route with Geoff.

Day 4 was the highlight for many of us, especially Calum who found his camera, dropped the day before. Geoff had previously looked at the 1936m peak traversed on the route to the Lambert. There was no record of it being climbed so we were off. It was a great combination of rock scrambling, glacier travel and spectacular scenery. Previously climbed or not, it was a great vantage point, and gave glimpses of previous PTC trips to the Bracken, Gardens and Adams. Kevin had decided that the Lambert Tops were worth further effort and spent the day, and evening, finding impressive rock formations and lighting effects.

Day 5 had always been forecast as a bad weather day. Plans for other trips were washed away in the wind and rain. The Minarets proved their versatility in the conditions. John and Merv claimed their elevated campsite with its better drainage. Aarn pitched a tent with its door towards the wind so that packs in the foyer stopped water infiltration. When the rain cleared about 3pm, Chris and Gary won the clothesline length competition, lowering the tone of the whole campsite.

Day 6 involved the descent back to the Wanganui. Rain had cleared the air and views were astounding. Sounds in the valley heralded a helicopter coming up the ridge, landing in front of us. It was Search and Rescue, looking for Bret Herman who had been last heard at Scone Hut but was well overdue heading our way. They took off but buzzed us several hours later carrying an additional person with thumbs up, a nice gesture on a successful outcome. We were relieved to meet David climbing to meet us with his knees in better condition after an enforced rest. That night the traditional campfire on the river flats was bitter-sweet as it marked the end of another trip.

Day 7 would always be an anti-climax on the walk out. Fine sunny weather, non-existent side streams and low river flows marked the difference to the walk in.

A fantastic trip to a special area. Geoff may have been disappointed that he had not got us to the Lambert Glacier but we weren’t.

Trampers: John Allan, Raymond Ford, Kevin Hughes, Chris Leaver, Callum McIntosh, Merv Meredith, David Ramm, Geoff Spearpoint (leader), Aarn Tate, Gaylene Wilkinson and Gary Huish. (GH)