Serpentine Range

22 -25 February 2018

Put on your feathers’ Gary said as our group, warming up in the morning sun, were discussing down jackets. What prompted this subject was my mishap the previous evening, where unbeknown to me, I’d torn the back of my down jacket after catching it on a rock.

In the morning, I noticed a barrage of down feathers floating around the inside of the tent. I blamed my sleeping bag, however at breakfast, Gary noticed feathers escaping from my jacket and alerted me to the correct culprit! A quick patch job after retrieving the loose down and order was restored!

Who am I? you may ask. I’m an Aussie bushwalker, who was kindly invited to join the Serpentine Range trip, led by Raymond Ford. My friend, Rebecca and I, met Raymond, Geoff and Liz at Unwin Hut, March last year before their Annette Plateau trip, and they invited us to come out with the club. Unfortunately, Rebecca was unable to make the trip.

I thoroughly enjoyed tramping with Raymond, Diane, Angela, Peter and Gary. We shared a lot of laughter, fun and camaraderieover the four days together. Being a member of the Brisbane Bushwalkers Club (BBW) it was very interesting learning how the Peninsula Tramping Club operate their trips, particularly the inclusive approach to meals and gear. BBW has an exclusive approach for club walks. From what I experienced, PTC’s approach has numerous benefits, including lighter packs, enhanced teamwork and the development of strong bonds between group members.

Our trip started early on Thursday morning with an unexpected nine hour drive to the Routeburn Shelter, due to land slips and resultant highway closures caused by Cyclone Gita. The coastal mountains and alpine ranges were all covered in fresh snow, and Diane commented, reminiscent of spring rather than summer. After the obligatory stop at Fairlie for brunch at the bakery, we stopped at a cafe in Glenorchy for an early evening fuel up for the climb over Sugarloaf Pass.

We set off on from the Routeburn Shelter around 5:30pm. I watched with interest, as Raymond walked back and forth along a line to produce five equal piles of party gear. When finally satisfied with the even distribution of weight, he pronounced ‘pick a pile’.

Once we were all packed, we commenced our walk on the Routeburn track until we turned right onto the Sugarloaf track. It was all up from here! Once out of the beech forest we enjoyed spectacular views of Mount Earnslaw and the Richardson Range in the setting sun. However, the heat of the climb quickly dissipated. With jackets on we hightailed it down to the Rockburn in the fading daylight. However, despite the steep descent and our efforts to arrive into camp, we ended up using our headlamps. During the descent. I pondered the Kiwi tent sharing etiquette, as I am used to carrying my own tent on walks. Gary, then coincidentally, told me the process of sharing tents is ‘anything goes’. I decided, as the newcomer, to stand back and watch. The process worked seamlessly, my inner tent fitted with Angela’s fly. Done!

On arrival, a brew was quickly prepared and enjoyed by all. The brews regularly occurred in the mornings, evenings and sometimes at lunch. I looked forward to these times. It was then off to bed to the rhythmic sounds of the flowing river.

Day two dawned cool and clear. We continued up the Rockburn, crossing the bridge onto Theatre Flat, then over a small saddle where we climbed up for a view of Park Pass. After lunch we climbed up to the pass, and then sidled up the tussock slopes towards Lake Nerine. This section was off track and more taxing on the legs and lungs, although it provided excellent views of Park Pass Glacier, Cow Saddle and beyond. Raymond competently led the group over and down a final rock scramble to our camp for the night on the shore of Lake Nerine. Dinnertime was approaching and the sun had lost its heat of the day, so a swim in a nearby tarn was replaced by a quick bird bath. With the temperature dropping into single digits the group retired early for the night.

The next morning was started clear and sunny until the cloud rolled in from the west and shrouded the landscape in mist. After two hours of sidling the west side Mt Nereus we arrived at North Col. The plan was to traverse the Serpentine Range, however, the forecasted low arrived earlier than expected so the group decided to take the contingency route out via North Branch of the Routeburn.

While enjoying morning tea and watching a wee rock wren in a sheltered spot behind a large boulder on the col, a young American woman from Colorado appeared out of the mist, after hearing our voices. She had traversed the Serpentine Range the previous day, and unbeknown to us, camped near Lake Nerine. As she was also heading out via the North Branch, she accompanied us as far as Routeburn Flats.

There was no ice in North Col, so crampons were not needed. We rock hopped along the river as far as the boulder field then followed the track through the flats to a sheltered flat campsite set amongst large beech trees next to the river.

For our last camp, arriving and setting up camp with several hours of daylight remaining, allowed for a thoroughly relaxing afternoon and evening that included a yoga/stretching session led by Diane, diverse discussion amongst the group, followed by a superb two course dinner. Gary prepared satay vegetable noodles for mains followed by stewed nectarines (home grown and dehydrated by Raymond) almond biscuit crumble with custard, prepared jointly by Raymond and Diane.

Once again I was lulled to sleep by the sounds of the running river. It started to rain overnight, by morning the wind had begun to pick up. Raymond checked the river, and said it was rising rapidly, and at his suggestion, we packed up and headed down to Routeburn Flats. The campers were slightly bemused to see a group of wet trampers arriving early in the morning, and taking over one of the shelters for a brew and breakfast.

We had made the right decision. By the time we had reached the bridge, below Routeburn Flats Hut, the river had turned a dirty colour and was running high, and a gale was blowing down the valley Routeburn valley. At Glenorchy, there was no respite from the weather, but we fortified ourselves again at the café, with good coffee and a second breakfast.

Serpentine Range and Lake Unknown remain ‘unfinished business’. Angela, Raymond and Diane were already starting to think about running two trips there next year!!

Thank you Peninsula Tramping Club for you for inviting me and your hospitality.

Trip members: Raymond Ford (leader), Diane Mellish, Angela Grigg, Sonja Risa, Gary Huish, Peter Umbers (SR)