Elcho Col - Brodrick Pass

8-12 March 2018

Liz, is an Otago lass, who visited the Brodrick Hut on her honeymoon but had not reached the Landsborough. She had scheduled this trip several times only to be denied by the weather. This, however, was going to be the year.

The weather window and the PTC AGM restricted the timing, but Liz was determined to do it faster. People were queued to join; however, Sonja broke her ribs at Crucible Lake, Peter tweaked his knee on the Serpentine so Gary just sneaked in.

The first day involved a leisurely start from Christchurch, the obligatory stop in Fairlie and then several hours tramping up the Hopkins Valley above Lake Ohau. Liz and then Geoff had managed to get her vehicle all the way to Monument Hut which saved us several hours of road walking. Raymond pointed out their January route to the Glenmary Glacier while the Dasler Pinnacles looked very dramatic in the evening light. With the prospect of a long day, the next day, we pushed on past cosy Elcho Hut to a delightful campsite at the Elcho forks.

Adrian, a Hamilton hunter who had come down to reconnoitre the hunting prospects in the Hopkins valleys, paid us an early morning visit then accompanied us up a very overgrown North Elcho track to the bush line. Then a route choice. The obvious gully to Elcho Pass was narrow and filled with avalanche debris. A schrund could block it. The major gulley further upstream looked to have more options but thick cloud at about 1500m could make navigation interesting. It proved to be an easy route. We reached glacial ice at about 1800m, donned crampons, and headed up. Raymond’s phone, Gary’s GPS and Geoff’s memory were pointing in the same direction and after a short rock scramble the flat ground and a drop in the easterly wind indicated we were at the pass.

Finding the NW ridge from Baker Peak was going to be an issue in the cloud, but as we got further from the Main Divide, tantalizing glimpses appeared like a random slide-show. There was the ridge in graphic detail adorned with spires and ramparts. Glad we didn’t have to descend that in cloud! Parts were a devil’s playground of massive blocks with us creeping like ants around the base looking for a route. Cliff lines barred our way in others, forcing painful ascents to divert. At 1700m the ridge narrowed and five chamois leapt off the saddle and plummeted downwards. Moir’s describes this section as slightly exposed and tricky but a reasonable route. Reasonable for chamois perhaps. The ridgeline was knife-edge and loose, not good. Raymond traversed right. Hmm, three long strides on flaky ledges, nothing below. Don’t think, just go. Liz came next but a handhold detached and she started to go with it, Geoff grabbed her, phew!

The ridge started to soften with more vegetation until 1600m when a delightful alpine meadow appeared below us. The chamois thought so too with 30-40 of them scattering in all directions. The bush line was still well below us, but Geoff and Raymond found a small tarn and it was a perfect place to camp following a debate about where would be calmer in the cold easterly wind that had the tents flapping half the night.

Next morning was one to remember. The knoll at 1455m provided the perfect panorama for the length of the Landsborough. Peaks like Hooker, Dechen and Strachan sounded like fabled characters, particularly to the two Landsborough newbies: Gary and Liz. Sefton and Cook in the distance, and that must be the Sierra Range, our trip two years ago. The panorama settings on the cameras were running hot, but we still had 1000m to drop to the valley floor before travelling down the valley to Creswicke Flat, and the bottom of Brodrick Pass. Alpine scrub obscured rocks and the gaps between them. We reached the bush line and the two tarns mentioned in Moir’s for morning tea and a swim, and then it was time for descent into the bush. Still large rock features in the bush. Left, right, over and occasionally under. The ridge drops steeply in places and is hard to pick where it continues at a lower level.

Tarzan would have been proud of the descent on the last section and at last it flattened out as we headed along the river terrace to Kea Stream for a brew, lunch and another swim.

The trip down the Landsborough was supposed to be easy along river terraces but there has been significant storm damage. Easy sidles turned into steep climbs around side stream gullies. Just what we didn’t need at the end of the day. We stumbled out to Creswicke Hut at dusk. This was occupied by a group of blokes, who had walked in over Brodrick Pass and was going to raft out down the Landsborough so we camped by the Mackenzie Creek in preparation for an early start.

The route over Brodrick Pass is getting a lot of foot traffic. Ground trail starting on a trapping line and the occasional marker leads to an oh so steep ridge between the two branches of Mackenzie Creek. A knoll at the bush line provides an excellent vista of Mt Solution, the Landsborough Valley and Brodrick Pass, but then comes the heart-breaking loss of hard won height with a descent down into Mackenzie Creek. This provided easy travel to the final tussock slopes before the Pass. The view into the Huxley from the pass was spectacular with the Brodrick Hut seemingly beneath your feet. A poled route and well-trodden trail allows for a quick descent through looming cliff line. Staying at the hut was tempting but we wanted to get down to the Forks. The track started easily but a marked sidle to avoid a washout turned into a 150m climb to gain 50m down river. Sidling seemed pointless with low river levels so we straight-lined down the riverbed with an occasional cross and re-cross. Another late arrival at Forks Hut where a couple had settled in for another night on their own.

The last few hours down to Monument Hut in the morning sun was just a cruise. It was great to look back into the Huxley for that dramatic change in cliff lines and steep slopes where snow doesn’t collect. It was interesting to reflect on the number of people we had met, many of them camping and not recorded by DoC and most of them Kiwis. Long may the Hopkins/Huxley remain undiscovered by Lonely Planet

Trampers: Raymond Ford, Geoff Spearpoint, Liz Stephenson (leader) and Gary Huish. (GH)