07 July 2010

New Zealand Jan 2008 - The Three Passes. Part 1.

Waimakariri R, Taipoiti R, Harman Pass, Whitehorn Pass, ...

Inspired by some tantalising descriptions of this walk, we thought we'd try the slightly wilder Three Passes Walk. We took it east to west, starting at the Waimak and finishing on the Styx, but you can also do it the other way.

We took two and two-half days, staying at Carrington Hut, camping at Park Morpeth hut (it was full), and Grassy Flat Hut (13km, 12km climbing 900 and descending 900 metres, 16km climbing 500 and descending 850 metres and 12 km out). It can be done in three longer days (17km climbing 700m, 12km climbing 250m, dropping 850m, climbing 500m, and 23km, dropping 1200m), camping at Harman Pass and Browning Pass, which would be beautiful in good weather, and insane in bad.

It was a toss up as to whether or how we'd do this walk, as a front was predicted to cross on the day we were to start. However, after much humming and haing, we changed into our "tramping uniform" (polypro under gortex, shorts and gaiters - goretex not used in fine weather) and got dropped at the Waimakariri. Our object was to get to Carrington Hut 13km away in the afternoon, before the rain came and the river flooded. All the predictions worked out pretty well, and we avoided any flooding, however, by the time we arrived at the hut, we were soaked to the skin, and the rain battered at the hut most of the night, making the Waimak impassable the following day.

This was actually not a problem, as the following day we left the Waimakariri, crossed a rather active White River, and headed up the Taipoiti River. Amazingly, we woke to a a beautiful sunny day. Normally, we are not fans of huts, but when the bad weather comes through, they serve a vital purpose. So, we donned our apparel and headed off through some forest towards our route up to Harman Pass.


And so we came to a rather windy Harman Pass. We found a sheltered spot to stop for lunch and then headed further on towards Whitehorn Pass (somewhere beyond Glen's elbow). Even though this pass is continuous with the valley that leads to Whitehorn, it is a picky 2 km of climbing over rocks and debris to get to the snow.

The snow was actually quite soft, and we were at some risk of falling through to the river if we took the wrong route. We puffed our way up the 400m in the sun to Whitehorn Pass, which offered a stunning view of Cronin Glacier falling into the Cronin Stream valley, which was our next stage...

An earthquake several years earlier had rendered the descent down Cronin Stream valley rather treacherous, as the boulders were all unstable and large enough to break your ankle. It was an exhausting stage that took 2 and a half hours in western sun to descend the 800m in 5km. We were very pleased to find our campsite with some light still left. That's the 90m Hamer Falls nestled about 500m below Twin Peaks. We head that way tomorrow.

To be continued...

As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

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