Northern Tararuas: Putara – Roaring Stag – Cattle Ridge – Dundas Hut – Pukemoremore – Herepai Hut – Putara
5-7 September 2008
- Party Members
- Colin Cook, Dave Bartle, Mike Wespel-Rose (Co-ordinator and scribbler)
At the end of 2007 a friend Jim and I had gone to Herepai Hut hoping to move south as part of a Hut Bagging Competition – picking up different hut points on the way. An raging nor-wester pushed us back into the bush and down to Roaring Stag Hut. Early this year Dave Bartle, another friend from church, Paul Barber, and myself, attempted this same Dundas circuit as this weekend, but once again were beaten back by storm force winds above Herepai hut.
The weekend of 5-7th September 2008 was another attempt to get onto the tops from Herepai to Dundas. The forecast for this Saturday was not so good, Sunday was better. So we decided to do our trip in such a way that most tops travel was on the Sunday. I had rung DOC Wairarapa, who advised that there was still plenty of snow in the Northern Tararuas, although not much on the ridges - so we took axes and crampons. The DOC ranger also advised that another potential problem, the river crossing in the upper Ruamahanga, is only a problem with heavy sustained rain.
Friday night from the road end took about 3 hours to Roaring Stag hut. This experience of bush tramping at night belongs mainly to Friday night medium/fit or fit trips making some distance so as to get a better start for Saturday. There wouldn't be many others who have done much Friday night tramping.
Up at 6 am and away by 7, we could see tongues of snow on the tops above. Later in the day we would need to cross the upper Ruamahanga (on the other side of the ridge), so it was a relief to see that the Ruamahanga River in front of the hut was in normal flow. Across the bridge the track soon begins to climb directly and steeply to the bush edge.
Cattle Ridge Hut
Cattle Ridge Hut is on a flatish section of ridge top in the tussock. As we approached the hut it started to snow heavily and in the next hour about 5-10 cms of new snow fell. The Hut itself is somewhat damp. A pity no fire is available. The previous visitor had been a solo tramper who – a week previously – had gone along Cattle Ridge, over Bannister along Tarn Ridge, down to Cow Creek and back up the Ruamahanga. This was before the recent rain when there was much more snow. He noted that there was slow going at times due to deep snow! We left the hut and continued up Cattle Ridge as it continued to snow.
Descent into Ruamahanga
A marker pole indicated the beginning of the route which sidled around the hill and then into a rocky gut that took as rapidly down towards the river. The loose rock, fresh snow and not light packs made travel taxing. The track then entered scrub and bush before finally emerging at the river and our crossing point.
Crossing Upper Ruamahanga
Dave indicated where he had camped near the river in summer. We had also thought we might fly camp – but in the wet and cold, today was not the day. So we had a brief bite, crossed the river easily and started the rough sidle above the side creek heading for Dundas Hut. After about an hour of rough travel, we returned to the stream emerging at a forks. We crossed to the intervening spur which terminated at the forks and had more lunch as a little sun shone through the clouds. Starting to ascend the ridge we were soon out of the bush and onto a well cut track up the spur through the leatherwood belt. I really enjoyed this ridge. It was narrow and fell steeply on each side to streams which could be easily heard 50 metres below.
Upper Ridge Travel
As we climbed higher we came back into snow and there was plenty more snow in the basins ahead. We climbed into clag and I wondered where the hut might be – we seemed to be almost at the main ridge. It appeared suddenly, down to the right, maybe 80 meters below the ridge.
Dundas Hut From Ridge
We descended through soft, thigh deep snow. A pity there is no fire facility in this Hut either. The hut was cold. The last visitors had been here in early May – 4 months previous. Party members retired to sleeping bags as the damp cold and strenuous day had left them in need of re-warming. As dinner was eaten the weather showed signs of a clearance. During the night the hut temperature dropped below zero and gaiters iced up.
New Day at Dundas
Sunday morning brought a perfect blue sky and no wind at the hut. The snow had frozen up but had a rough, grippy surface that was easy to walk on at steeper angles. Off by 7.30 am, progress back to the spur was made easier in the firm snow. On up mainly snow to the main ridge – and an ice axe was pretty useful. We had brought crampons as well and these could easily have been used had conditions been more icy. One of the questions of the trip was how much snow was going to be on the ridges and how icy would it be. However, travel on the ridge was straightforward, being mostly clear of snow which lay generally in the east facing basins. In fact, walking on snowy sections when present was often more pleasant than walking on uneven tussock.
On the main ridge there was a moderate and cool southeasterly blowing. We could see forever.
We arrived at the top of Pukemoremore (1475 metres), our high point for the weekend, to uninterrupted views in all directions. All the northern Tararuas were laid out before us.
Mt Taranaki stood clear across the west coastal bight and also Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe seemed not far off. It was as if we were at the centre of a massive high pressure system of perfectly settled weather.
On we went. Pretty travel past Pukemoremore, on to Walker and then West peak. We were gradually getting lower and the snow scarcer. Also the wind was decreasing and we were down to a light tops and shorts. Warm spring conditions. The 200 metre + drop into the saddle between West and East peak and the climb up the other side was not enhanced by the overgrown state of this section of the track. Just below the top of west peak we met three young men who had left a female companion on Ruapai while they went off for several hours excursion along the ridge before returning to collect her on the way back out. We stopped on East Peak for an extended lunch while I boiled a billy of snow to make tea. I was keen to hydrate as I had forgotten my water bottle! A new westerly sprang up.
View back to Pukemoremore
On along the ridge north to Ruapai where we met the young American woman who decided to return with us “old crusties” as far as Herepai Hut and wait for her companions there. She had just been in the country one week. Their apparent plan had been to travel from Herepai Hut along the ridge to Dundas Hut, across to Cattle Ridge, down to Roaring Stag and out – all on the Sunday, as they needed to be back at work on Monday. A trip that would have been well beyond us in winter it would have certainly been beyond her as well.
Finding us pleasant enough company and wanting to be out before dark (she didn't have a torch) she asked if she could return with us to the road end and wait for her friends there. This was no problem for us – and seemed a particularly sensible decision as we walked the final kilometre beside the stream in the darkening bush.
As we drove back through the Wairarapa, I enjoyed tracing our route across the high ridges. It had been a weekend of great weather contrasts, beautiful travel in an unfamiliar area, and good companions. During the following week images from our travels often return to me. I am left with a feeling of happiness, joy, at the great experience this cracker of a trip was.
Thanks to Dave and Colin for their companionship.