As far as club trips were concerned there were several out this weekend. Paul C was organising a relatively ambitious trip over to Dundas Hut, Bronwyn was heading to Roaring Stag Lodge, and Paul J was going up to Herapai (before later deciding to beat Bronwyn to Roaring Stag and snatch the best bunks). For ourselves, we planned to head along Cattle Ridge, which I hadn’t done before and was personally looking forward to.
Dates: 9th – 11th May, 2008
Location: Tararua Forest Park, Putara Road End to Ruamahanga Gorge Road.
People: Sam, Paul, Marie H, Marie S, Jen, Harry, Enrique and me.
Huts visited: Roaring Stag Lodge (0 nights), Cattle Ridge Hut (1 night).
Route: Putara Road to Roaring Stag (via track), up to Cattle Ridge Hut, along Cattle Ridge and down to Cow Saddle, then back to Raumahanga Gorge Road via the Ruamahanga River Track.
[Photos and Videos]
We arrived at the Putara Road End at about 9.30pm on Friday evening, with the prospect of a damp night. It’d been raining consistently during the drive from Wellington, but the showers conveniently stopped at the most useful time, giving us a chance to set up some tent flies next to the vehicles. Marie and Harry set off to camp near the first foot-bridge, but the rest of us stayed at the road. I was tucked in under the fly fairly quickly after we had it set up, but I heard rumours that Sam had managed to get a small campfire going for a time in the damp conditions. It did rain overnight, too, but the wind stayed away and apart from a little dampness seeping under the flies we got through the night pretty well.
Everyone was stirring at about 7am, and after a casual breakfast and packing up, we’d left by about 8.15am. Marie H had already gone ahead to Roaring Stag before we left, but Harry came back from the foot-bridge to meet us, proudly sporting his external frame pack which he’d brought so he could appear as trendy as Sam and his mountain mule.
We reached the second footbridge just before 9. After a quick re-grouping, we began the climb up to the junction, which is the first significant climb of the trip. By 9.40am we’d reached where the track splits between heading towards either Herepai Hut or dropping back down to Roaring Stag Lodge, about 3.5 kilometres away. The creek just before the lodge, through which the track runs, was full enough that at first glance I was glad I wasn’t there by myself, although checking up and down it there were several good crossing points, and we were at the lodge a bit after 11am.
Marie H was at the lodge to meet us, drying out her tent fly on the bench outside. It was still very early, but Roaring Stag is a nice place to stop, and we decided to have an early lunch. My feeble attempt to dry out my own huntech fly didn’t work very well, but that was okay. We lazed around at Roaring Stag until mid-day’ish, then in the light rain we crossed the bridge towards the final leg for the day, up the spur to Cattle Ridge Hut. And it was nearly all up, for the record, albeit with a few undulations near the top, for almost the next couple of hours.
Cattle Ridge Hut was the planned stopping point for the night, but we still had some time to burn having reached it by 1.45pm. Sam suggested a short wander outside around the tops in the cold, and eventually managed to convince three of us (Jen, Paul and myself) to follow him. There wasn’t much to see at the time because the tops were clouded in and there was a biting cold wind, unless you happened to be Jen, who didn’t feel the cold. It was good to feel as if we were doing something rather than sitting inside for the rest of the afternoon, though. We collected some dead leatherwood on the way back, with the idea of testing the claims that leatherwood burns really well.
Cattle Ridge Hut used to be a 6 bunk hut, until recently. It’s now a 5 bunk hut thanks to the unfortunate Department of Conservation bureaucracy (tied to the NZ government’s bureaucracy) which requires DOC to meet building codes that were presumably designed primarily for metropolitan zones. Under the rules, any hut with 6 or more bunks is now required to have a second fire exit, and in many cases it’s easier for DOC to remove a bunk than figure out how to meet this rule in a tiny cabin. This is ridiculous in the back-country context because huts exist as much for safety, and 6, 8, 10, 12 or 14 people will quite happily cram themselves into a 6 bunk hut as well as they’ll fit, sleeping on the floor when the bunks run out. (Three months ago we had 12 people sleeping in a 6 bunk hut because it was necessary.) All that removing a bunk does is reduce the overall comfort, as well as potentially reducing the number of people who can fit.
Sam, Paul and Jen getting a
Thanks to a similarly illogical decision, the hut’s fireplace has been removed. To illustrate the conflict between DOC (who’s responsible for maintaining the huts) and back-country hut users, however, someone has carried up an adapted rubbish bin and left instructions in the hut book about how to use it for a nice substitute fireplace, albeit an outdoor one. As it turned out we didn’t get the entire bin operating according to the instructions, but by 5pm we’d borrowed the lid as a base and there was a good campfire going, mostly thanks to Sam. The inflammable properties of leatherwood lived well up to their reputation in the damp conditions. We used the fire to boil several billies full of water prior to cooking dinner, as well as just to mingle around and keep warm.
Dinner was a pasta, salami, veggie and butter delicacy full of tasty cholesterol, followed by a sweet dessert of cake, custard and marshmallows, which we’d been unable to toast properly having run out of dead wood. It was still very nice for a tramp. Harry, Paul and I shared the floor while the others figured out how to shorten themselves enough to avoid kicking each other’s heads. (Like several other huts in the area, the bunks at Cattle Ridge are built for small people.)
We aimed for a 7am wake-up on Sunday morning, but everyone was up and about earlier than that. The day outside was exceeding expectations to the extent that we could actually see the sun rising. Cloud was still wafting over Cattle Ridge from the west and obscuring it in a recurring pattern, but it was thinning and by the time we left at about 7.50am to walk along the ridge, we had a relatively clear and sunny view over to Dundas Ridge.
Paul C’s group, who’d been planning to visit Dundas Hut, were scheduled to be over there right now. Compared with our own day ahead, mostly coasting along flat and downhill routes, they had a steep descent of about 700 metres to look forward to, before a steep climb of another 700 metres to roughly where we were now standing. We picked out the location of Dundas Hut from a distance, but despite some effort we were unable to see any figures departing from the hut, and so we couldn’t point and laugh at them.
I suppose the most prominent feature of Cattle Ridge is the dip between Pukeroa (1318) and Pukekino (1370), with a drop to about 1260 metres between the two. It’s not a huge drop but it is steep, especially on the Pukekino side, and the most annoying part is that this whole section is full of spiky Spaniard, which pricks through gaiters and is very difficult to avoid — especially given the frequency with which it’s necessary to grab vegetation to avoid slipping. We began to negotiate the dip at about 8.35am, and as the group spread out we arrived at the other side between about 8.50am and 9am.
With the Cattle Dip negotiated, we continued along the ridge to the south-west. The sunshine we’d enjoyed on the tops so far was now fading, and by the time we reached point 1360 near the edge of the ridge, at about 10am, visibility had deteriorated to about 20 or 30 metres.
Enrique, Jen and Sam approaching on
the way down to Cow Saddle.
For a weekend that had looked as if it could be full of miserable weather, we’d had sunshine and clear skies exactly when it mattered, when we were on the tops. Furthermore, a bit of reasonably safe navigation to find our way down the spur to Cow Saddle made the trip more interesting. After Marie H pushed me up the front, I got a kick out of following my 160 degree compass bearing for a while. Not having been here before myself, I was a little concerned about the possibility of missing the turnoff at point 1130, where the main route down to Cow Saddle veers off towards the east. This concern was unfounded, however, because an orange triangle route is well marked from some way down the spur, and the track is heavily enough walked to the extent that we had already veered off by the time I realised it.
Below the tree line, the route became quite steep, and there were several occasions where it was necessary to climb down sections using all four limbs. We got down without any problems though, and were at the junction on Cow Saddle (665 metres) at 11.30am. The saddle isn’t too far from Cow Creek Hut, but we didn’t visit the hut today, instead taking the left turn towards Cleft Creek, and eventually to the Ruamahanga River which would lead us to the road-end where we planned to exit.
The track sidled around the hillside for a short distance, but within 10 minutes we were walking down Cleft Creek, which I found very nice and scenic creek to walk along. At midday we still hadn’t left the region, and stopped for lunch. As well as our own standard lunches, Marie H still had an entire bag of marshmallows that we had to eat, and we also had a substantial chunk of fruit cake that hadn’t been eaten during dessert the previous evening.
We were away again at 12.40pm, and shortly afterwards the track climbed above the true right side of the Ruamahanga River. I found my terramap to be a little deceptive during this section, because at first glance I’d thought the Ruamahanga River track followed the river almost at river level. This was wrong, of course, and the track is actually located a good 40 or 50 metres above the river for much of the distance.
Jen, Paul, Sam and Enrique crossing at
the junction of Unnamed Creek.
At 2.10pm, we reached the most significant creek crossing, which is the junction of what Harry called Unnamed Creek, and according to Harry that’s also what everyone else calls it. He was a bit miffed to see Sam’s LINZ map, which claims the creek is actually named Paddy’s Creek. The other significant feature, which we reached at about 2.40pm, was a miniature gorge that surrounded one of the side creeks on the true right of the main river. This was notable because the track took us right to the bottom of the gorge, perhaps 10 metres down, via a track that appeared to be slightly dodgy. Being tall would have helped. We got past it, though, and were soon into the final section towards the road.
By 3.10pm the track had widened into a broader 4 wheel drive track, or possibly a quad bike track. I think we officially left the park during this time, particularly since we passed a big sign in the middle of nowhere in particular, which announced “Tararua Forest Park”. 10 minutes later we were on proper farm-land, complete with an old rusty bulldozer, and from there it was a walk over fields between cows and sheep to locate the van where we hoped Paul Jeffries had left it.
It was good to finally see the van, especially with the overcast and slightly murky conditions, and we exited the farm-land shortly after 4pm. It was a great trip and very worthwhile, I think. It’s always nice to go somewhere where I haven’t been before, and this was no exception.