14 April, 2009

Dundas Hut and Easter Snow

It got pretty cold here last week, specifically, around Thursday night, and the Tararuas got their first snow for the year. The following morning N. and I walked to Dundas hut in the northern Tararuas, somewhere behind Ekatahuna. Bethany and Travis had been planning to come too but Travis was worried about his thighs after too much stair running so they stayed at home.

The weather was perfect when we arrived at Putara road-end; no wind and sun on the fresh snow promised a great day's walking in the tops. However, this was not a promise that the Tararuas intended to keep.

The weather remained fine for the first two hours up to Herepai hut, but almost as soon as we were out in the tops, clouds started building from the west. First they just blocked the view over the western side of the ranges, then they covered the peaks, leaving the ridges exposed, and finally, by the time we had crossed over to West Peak they had settled down around the ridges giving visibility of a few dozen metres. The track as far as Ruapae was pretty nice, climbing gradually, for the most part, over a few bumps and saddles with boradleaf and mountain flax amoungst the snowgrass and leatherwood. Between Ruapae and East Peak the ridge got pretty narrow, and in one section had been severely undercut on both sides so that it was just lumps of dirt held together by some old leatherwood roots. (It would have been possible to drop off and sidle this section). From about East Peak there was enough snow on the ground to make things a bit slippery underfoot and to cover the track. The climb down fro East Peak and back up to West Peak was slower than we had expected with a bit of leatherwood to be negotiated along the way. N. was starting to get a bit tired by this point and we hadn't been making as good a time as I had expected. By the time we were past Walker and on the way to Pukemoremore it was getting late in the day and the clouds made things pretty dark. It was about here that it became clear that we weren't going fast enough to reach the hut before dark.

Just before the summit of Pukemoremore, and just after the sun set, the clouds dropped down into the valleys giving a fantastic sky of the clouds lit by the sun and the snow lit by the full moon. It also gave us a chance to catch a glimpse of the moonlight reflecting off the roof of Dundas Hut in the distance.

The clouds had closed over again by the time we had passed Pukemoremore and were looking for the track dropping off the main ridge and down a spur to the hut. We couldn't find any tracks in the snow but partway down the spur we could see something that looked like light coming from the hut windows. Apparently only two candles make enough light to be seen from a few hundred metres away. The party who were already at the hut had seen our headlights coming down the spur and put a billy on for some tea so we arrived to be offered (much appreciated) hot drinks as soon as we stepped out of our frozen boots and through the door.

During the night the wind picked up until there was a decent gale blowing along the main ridge. After our slow progress the day before we opted to walk out the way we had come rather than taking the longer, if more sheltered route over Cattle Ridge and past Roaring Stag Lodge.

The wind kept up for the rest of the day, threatening to blow us off the side of the ridge each time we crossed a pinnacle or a small dip where the wind funneled through. It managed to clear the clouds by the time we reached Ruapae though and for the rest of the walk down to Herepae hut we had clear views of the Mangatainoka valley while being buffeted about. Our times each day were around two hours between the road end and Herepai hut, and about seven hours (a couple of hours over the posted time --- we moved pretty slowly) between Herepai and Dundas huts.

09-04 Dundas Hut