Freehold Creek – Dumb-Bell Lake

21-23 October 2016

The three of us on the trip from Christchurch left Merv’s place at 3pm on Friday. It was a pleasant drive down south stopping for dinner in Twizel and arriving at our camping spot beside Lake Ohau, across the road from the DOC campsite at Lake Middleton, well before dark. We set up the Polaris tent and enjoyed a hot drink and the views across the still lake.

Karen, who had driven up from Dunedin, joined us after breakfast and we packed up and drove to Parsons Creek car park where we left the cars. We climbed up through beech forest beside Parsons Creek until we hit the Alps to Ocean cycle track. A number of people cycling the track stopped to chat. We walked along the track for about 45 minutes until we crossed a bridge over Freehold Creek and came to a DOC sign for the track up beside the creek. We were now on Te Araroa for 3km as we climbed gradually for an hour beside the creek up to the bushline. Not far below the bushline there were a number of great places to put up tents near the creek and evidence of a communal campfire spot with a large stack of wood and seats around it.

Above the bushline there was a sign with a mug on it, which indicated a narrow pipe coming out of a stream with an enamel mug attached. We had a break admiring the views of the lake and the snow covered slopes above and consulted our map as to the way ahead. It was a stunning clear day -shirt weather- with only an occasional puff of wind.

A little further on a sign indicated a new shorter route on the left to the East Ahuriri for Te Araroa walkers. We headed to the right and soon crossed Freehold Creek near where it forked. We climbed a short distance and came to a DOC sign indicating that the route to Dumb-Bell Lake was not marked beyond this point or only lightly marked with cairns,. There were, in fact, yellow poles at intervals, which we were able to follow up the slope. The snow was soft but luckily not too deep. At the top of the slope we contoured around until we came to a high basin with a tarn (1479m.) We sat on rocks up beside the tarn and had our lunch while admiring the reflections in the still water.

We headed on up a gentle spur following cairns at intervals but missed some in the basin ahead, climbing up too high to the left and having to make a nasty sidle across a rocky area before meeting up with the cairns again. A climb up the final snow slope at the head of the basin, with Douglas making steps for us to follow, saw us at the low point on the range between 1922m and 1817m. The views of snow-capped peaks around us were fantastic as were the views back over Lake Ohau and beyond.

From this point there were no markers that we could see. We headed off across the snow to the north contouring around beside the ridge until we came to a point where we could see Lake Dumb-bell. We dropped off the ridge and climbed down. In the valley below we came to a yellow pole and then were able to follow poles at intervals down to the western side of the lake. We were welcomed by the honking of Canada geese on the lake. There was a bit of wind on the rocky flat area, where a rock wall for a “kitchen” was already in place, so we chose to put our tents up in a more sheltered spot on snow a little further down towards the lake. Karen cooked us a great dinner of vegetable curry and rice, topped with almonds, which was followed by fruit cake and custard provided by Sue.

The snow froze during the night and it was overcast and cool in the morning. By the time we had had breakfast we decided that the snow was too soft to do a day walk up to the ridge near Mt Sutton. Merv was concerned about the weather outlook for Monday and wanted to be back at the bushline for the night. Karen had found that her ice axe was missing when we had arrived at the lake having tied it to her pack before we climbed down from the ridge.

So we set off back the way we had come looking for the ice axe as we went. Douglas did a detour up over Pinnacle(1817m) while the rest of us tried to retrace our footsteps, which was not easy in the tussock lower down but easy on the snow slopes. Not far from the top, where we had stopped before heading down to the lake , Merv found the ice axe on the snow much to Karen’s delight. Luckily it had not snowed overnight!

We lunched again at the tarn and were back at the bushline by 2pm. A lot of the snow had melted making for easier walking on the lower slopes. Merv was keen to camp but the rest of us felt like we had done the trip, that it had been fantastic, but that it would be nice to have Labour Day at home. Thanks to Merv for organising and leading.

Merv Meredith, Karen Taylor, Douglas Woods, Sue Piercey. (SP)