Five Passes

26 Feb 2017 – 4 March 2011

Originally this trip was scheduled for a week earlier so we were all watching the weather forecast hoping for the window we needed before other commitments prevailed. Finally the “start packing” from our leader. The four of us met up in Glenorchy on the Sunday night at Bruce’s house (Penny’s friend) where not only did we have 5 star accommodation in a new house with views of the lake and the mountains but Bruce cooked us a fantastic meal which included fish he had caught in the lake himself and smoked. Thanks for your hospitality Bruce.

Day 1: Sylvan carpark – Rockburn River mouth – Beans Burn mouth – lower flats up Beans Burn (6.5 hours)

We left one car at the Routeburn roadend and drove to the Sylvan carpark. Over the bridge and within ten minutes on the way to Lake Sylvan we were so absorbed in our conversation that we were on the wrong track. Luckily our leader was alert and soon had us back to the sign where the track forked, which I hadn’t even noticed. We stopped to admire the reflections on Lake Sylvan before walking on through the forest, with a short diversion to view the Rockburn canyon, and reached the Rockburn River mouth in 2 hours 15 minutes. We stopped for a snack at the picnic tables while we watched people in jetboats and funyaks(inflatable rafts) enjoying the Dart River and coming up past us on the Rockburn to see the canyon. Penny’s admirable leadership qualities showed by negotiating for us to be pulled across the river mouth in a funyak in exchange for some beers to be delivered to the guide’s office after the trip. This was in order to keep our boots dry.

Unfortunately the dry boots were shortlived as not much further up the true right of the Dart River the taller of us were thigh deep and the shorter waist deep as we chose the edge of the river rather than a bushbash for a short section. In the midst of this section Diane dropped a pole which sank but after some fancy footwork it was retrieved.

An hour and a half from the mouth of the Rockburn we had an easy crossing of the mouth of the Beans Burn. We didn’t linger long due to the attacking sandflies. As in many places on the track robins would be hopping near our feet when we stopped. From the mouth we followed a track through the bush on the true left of the Beans Burn before crossing to the true right over a footbridge. We emerged out of the bush to a flat grassy area where we camped near the Beans Burn . Penny showed us some rock bivvies that were used by pest trappers which were very well set up. John provided a tasty dinner of anchovy passata sauce with pasta followed by liqueur chocolates for dessert.

A party of 3 young people travelling in the same direction camped near us that night with two in a tent and the other sleeping out without bivy bag or groundsheet. They were a German woman, a man from Whangarei and an American man who had met up for the first time to do the trip in response to a notice the woman had posted. They were travelling very light. The man sleeping out seemed surprised when he woke next morning to a wet sleeping bag.

Day 2: Beans Burn Lower Flats - Split Rock – Upper Beans Burn (8.5 hours)

A pair of blue ducks were feeding around the rocks in the river as we breakfasted. We packed up and headed off for a short distance up the flats before Penny spotted the orange triangle obscured by a fallen tree where we headed into bush. At one point a couple of kaka above me were protesting loudly at my presence and then a small dead branch dropped on me from above. Around mid-morning the party of three passed us. We made steady progress up the true right of the Beans Burn stopping at Split Rock to admire the rock bivys and the camping area by the rock. Lunch was always a generous time on the trip as our leader believed in making a decent meal of it. Out came her new attachment for her cooker, her loaf of bread, her butter and her cheese and there would soon be the delicious smell of toasted cheese sandwich. We carried far too much gas so we were not stingy on hot drinks. By late afternoon we had reached the upper Beans Burn , not far from where we needed to climb up to go to Fohn Saddle, and we found some mossy patches on the flat to put up our tents. I provided dinner that night of backcountry mince, vegetables , tomato, and parmesan cheese on rice with gingernuts, custard and chocolate chips for dessert.

There were two dome tents pitched near where we camped and we soon met the occupants, two young Australian couples. They had found the walking up the Beans Burn a bit rougher than expected and one of the woman had fallen head over heels off the track but luckily had not injured herself. They were feeling discouraged to the point of considering turning around but Penny shared lots of her knowledge and enthusiasm, having done the track 8 times before, and encouraged them to continue. We enjoyed getting to know them over the next few days as we were sometimes walking near them and often camped in the same area.

Day 3: Upper Beans Burn – Fohn Saddle – Olivine Ledge – Fiery Creek (7.5 hours)

Another fine day dawned but there was clag obscuring the tops. We were soon climbing steeply up 500m through low scrub and then tussock to Fohn Saddle. On the way up Penny had to reposition her personal metal marker on the top of a rock cairn as it had fallen over. We reached the saddle which was in clag and heard some voices. It was our Aussie mates. We stuck together as Penny used modern technology to lead us to Fohn Lakes through the murk. It felt to me like we were going in a circle and in fact you are heading in a different direction from that taken to head up to the saddle to reach the lakes, but it is certainly not a circle. We stopped for lunch and met the second group of 4 Aussies, 2 men and 2 women , that we were repeatedly to meet on the rest of the trip. We admired the style of this group. They emerged from their tents at around our lunchtime and then tramped until late evening before pitching their tents. They had brightly coloured gear, travelled slowly with a casual approach to navigation and an almost cultivated nonchalance. They told us that the party of three had camped nearby the night before and the German woman had complained of the cold.

From Fohn Lakes we dropped down to the right of an impressive steep stream with waterfalls to the Olivine Ledge where we briefly met up with both Australian groups. It was very pleasant walking along the ledge and then climbing down to Fiery Creek where we saw the group of three heading towards Fiery Col. We walked up the Creek where Penny had camped in the past although that camping site had been taken out by the creek. We found ourselves a great place to camp by a large rock and used our iceaxes to remove rocks and construct two end-to-end sandy tent sites. We had a wonderful smooth schist lined bathing pool below us in the creek and not far up the creek a waterfall for a shower. Three kea landed on rocks near the waterfall so we stashed our gear away but they didn’t come closer to our campsite. Penny cooked dinner. It was roast chicken and 10 helpings of mashed potato with lashings of butter, between the four of us, as well as chocolate biscuits for dessert.

Day 4: Fiery Creek – Fiery Col- Cow Saddle – Hidden Falls Campsite (7 hours)

Another fine day clear on the tops. Once again we had a relatively steep climb of 500m first thing when we were fresh. By the time we were up on Fiery Col the sun had almost arrived. There was no snow either side of the col. There were fantastic views in all directions and we took lots of photographs. On the south side there is a distinct line between grey-black and red rock. After climbing down from the Col we contoured around until we climbed down a gut and across one of the streams feeding the head of the Olivine river towards Cow Saddle. We found a great lunch spot towards the end of Cow Saddle by the stream where we enjoyed a sunbath and leisurely lunch. Further on there was a wonderful deep pool which both Penny and John took a dip in. Diane and I continued on admiring the large green rocks in the scree. Dropping down near Hidden Falls Creek we came to a large grassy green clearing which was our campsite for the night. We collected wood and Penny soon had a roaring fire going. I made the mistake of going off in socks and sandals to find a toilet spot as it got dark and returned to find my socks and clothing a mass of burrs to the amusement of the others. It took a very long time to remove all the bits embedded in my socks. Diane provided a very tasty dinner of chilli black beans with her own vegetables that she had dehydrated with alfredo pasta followed by instant pudding and toasted marshmallows for dessert.

Day 5: Hidden Falls Campsite – Park Pass – Rockburn (8 hours)

This was our rainy day. We headed off from our campsite in drizzle along the true left of the Hidden Falls Creek. The track could be easily lost in a few places so it needed a bit of care along this short section. It wasn’t far before we were on the steep narrow track through ferns and beech forest up to Park Pass. We stopped with our 4 Aussie mates for a snack near the treeline. Then it was out in the open where it was blowing, rainy and cloudy. So we had very limited views from the pass. Then we headed down through the tussock beside a small tarn and on down to near the head of the Rockburn. We came to a large bivy rock where we met up with the 4 Aussie lunchtime risers who were about to begin their day’s walk. We were grateful of the shelter while we had our lunch and a hot drink. Crossing the Rockburn River can be a problem below the bivy rock if there has been a lot of rain but we were lucky and it was easy to get across.

It was a flat walk down the true left of the Rockburn, through Theatre Flat and beyond to a large bivy rock where we had a quick afternoon tea and were joined by the late risers for their ‘morning tea’. They opened their packs and out came lots of fresh food: cucumbers, capsicums…The guys’ packs must have been heavy. A strange, arcane conversation then ensued between them and Penny incomprehensible to we lesser mortals. It was quickly established that the two men were rock climbers of an ilk that could climb smooth vertical walls using only their fingernails. (Australian grade 32) Never judge a book….We knew they had class though, all along.

Not far from here we crossed over the Rockburn on a wire bridge and continued down the true right until we came to a campspot Penny knew in the middle of a few beech trees near the river. We gave her A++ for firelighting as she soon had a roaring blaze going in the pouring rain around which we could hold up our wet clothing to dry. I provided another mince dinner this time with mashed potato and a vanilla and almond chia seed pudding with freeze dried fruit salad rehydrated in the mixture.

Day 6: Rockburn – Sugarloaf Pass – Routeburn road end (6 hours)

The walking was easier from our last campsite as we were on marked tracks. The day cleared as we headed down the true right of the Rockburn before climbing up to Sugarloaf Pass. We had good views from the Pass and met a few people coming towards us on the track who were either doing a round trip through to Sylvan Roadend or going up to the Pass. We had our last lunch together on the Pass enjoying the views down to Glenorchy. When we got down to the sign for the Rockbuirn track where it joins the Routeburn we found a person to take photos of our group by the sign. A short walk down the wide gravelled pathway of the Routeburn and we were back at the car. On the way back to Glenorchy we saw our Aussie mates for the last time as they waited for a bus to pick them up. Back to Bruce’s house and the luxury of hot showers, clean clothes and dinner out at a local restaurant where a group of Pegasus base campers were also dining.

It was a wonderful trip – not too difficult spread over 6 days and in good weather. Thanks to Penny for her outstanding leadership and to the great company of all those on the trip including the Aussies.

We were: John Allan, Diane Mellish, Penny Webster and Sue Piercey. (SP)