Freehold Creek – Dumb Bell Lake

Labour Weekend 20 – 23 October 2018

This was a moderate hard trip starting from Lake Ohau. Given good weather, my plan was to drive to Twizel Friday afternoon, have dinner there and then drive around the corner to camp across the road from Lake Middleton.

Then Saturday, park at Parsons Creek, sidle around to Freehold Creek, up the track to the bushline and on up to the low point on the range between 1922m and 1817m. From there the route drops north to Dumb-bell Lake. On Sunday, we would climb from the head of the lake to the ridge running via 1942m around to Mt Sutton, 2007m. Great view in all directions from this big flat area. Then descend to the tents, pack and move down to the bushline to camp, ready for a two hour walk back to the carpark on Monday, and a leisurely drive home.

We did that in 2016, except, disappointingly, we skipped the climb to Mt Sutton and walked out shortening the trip to two days. So this has been on my list to repeat for the full trip.

This time, a week prior we had four people, and the forecast looked good. Then someone pulled out with a cold, then two days before our departure another person dropped off due to family problems. Angela decided she really should make her family a priority and stay at home too. Therefore no trip, but not a problem, I could do two day trips and catch up on track work. However, the forecast kept bugging me. It was too good and a solo trip to Dumb Bell was tempting, particularly if I departed later a day to avoid the norwester on Saturday.

Driving down on Saturday afternoon, I arrived in Twizel to find thousands of MTB’s and people everywhere. Well maybe not thousands; just hundreds and Twizel was packed. Some kind soul made space for me in a corner at the Twizel Pub while I had dinner, then I drove to Lake Middleton to camp in a quiet area near the main lake. The weather really was good, calm and dry. Sunday morning, I finished packing for the trip and panicked about how heavy my pack was. At that stage it should have dawned on me that in addition to the Minaret, I was carrying my winter bag plus crampons when the forecast was for a 3000m freezing level –I should have ditched the crampons. However, off I went sidling around on the Alps to Ocean to the turnoff up Freehold Creek. Then up to the bushline by 10.00am at which stage I was already in a bad way. Continuing upwards I stopped at the lower of the two tarns for an early lunch at 11.30am. Just me and an annoyed male paradise duck. There was less snow than in 2016 and I tried to avoid it by climbing up the rock rib on the true left of the basin. It wasn’t easy. The snow was soft, and eventually I was going to have to sidle out to the left into the basin to reach the saddle.

By 1.30pm I was up at 1700m and aware I was in no condition to make a long sidle up in very soft snow that could possibly avalanche. So I made the frustrating decision to return to the tarns to camp, and walk out. In two days again! It took almost an hour to flounder down to the upper tarn at about 1450m, often losing a leg in the snow and struggling to extract it. But at the upper tarn I found a reasonable tent site and sorted a sheltered kitchen below it. The kitchen in the afternoon sun was too hot, sheltered from the up valley rising air. But I settled in with a brew and just a female paradise duck on the tarn for company.

Monday dawned to a cloudless, perfect day. I took my time packing eventually, reluctantly leaving to go down. Passing the lower tarn I noted the paradise duck pair were now there and on talking terms. After dallying at the bushline I continued down the creek, onto the Alps to Ocean, to encounter a number of lycra clad day trippers biking down from the Ohau Lodge end. Despite the impossibility of making it in those snow conditions, I was happy to have been there on a ‘summers’ weekend. Next time maybe.

Merv Meredith