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Trip Reports 2017-04-14-Sawtooth Ridge-Howletts Hut

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This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper Volume 89, no 5, June 2017

Sawtooth Ridge circuit, Ruahines, Hard 3 day tramp

Easter 2017

This hastily-arranged alternative to my cancelled Easter trip saw two of us receive a ritual spanking in the Ruahines -- ‘away scrub’ ...

The 3-day rain model showed three days free of precip with variable breezes over the Ruahines. So off we went to the land of the Hawkes Bay landed gentry.

Our goal was to traverse Sawtooth Ridge and visit Howletts Hut - both places we’d heard much about over the years.  

Day one We chose to access via the Daphne Hut track, which was a bit average. The start is poorly marked and the track’s in pretty rough condition; a sign of what trampers will face in this post-DOC era of track maintenance.

In light rain we thought would clear, we travelled beech forest toward the Tukituki headwaters. As we descended a steep spur on slippery roots, we met two hunters, one sitting on the track. They suspected his lower leg was broken after a slip and fall and had set off their beacon. The accident location, under canopy in the rain with no open flat tops nearby, was truly awful for a rescue. We offered to stick around and put up the fly but our offer was declined. A few minutes later, a helicopter arrived and spent over an hour hovering over the spur, presumably winching out both hunters and their dog.

We very carefully carried on down in now heavy rain. The Tukituki River was like a torrent of dishwater and clearly uncrossable. We crossed a sidestream with difficulty and faced the problem of how to make 800m upriver to get the Howletts Hut track. Rather than retreat we decided to sidle the true right, being forced up 150m by substantial cliffs on the Tukituki banks. Two hours later we were back down at the Tukituki opposite Daphne Hut. Luckily the dishwashing had abated and we crossed easily to dry our layers by the fire in Daphne Hut.

Day two. Change of plan. Go up to Tarn Bivouac and if conditions good, continue anticlockwise along the Sawtooth to Howletts.

We started at 7am. It took us half an hour to locate the start of the overgrown track. Initially on a dangerous steep old slip face, the track eventually eases back to normal beech forest climbing. We reached Tarn Bivouac in fine conditions and marvelled at the al fresco loo there. The sky looked good and we filled up our water bottles and started the big push along Black Ridge and up to Ohuinga, which could be the handle of the saw.

I think the climb to Ohuinga was the crux of our trip. It must be a shock for those going clockwise who think they’ve done the difficult bit! As we headed towards the Sawtooth, sheets of rain fell out west as dark clouds came up from the south over the Tararua District. We found the Sawtooth Ridge itself, with teeth set nicely (about 7000 inches per tooth), easier than, say, the Broken Axe Pinnacles or the pepperpots between Girdlestone and Tarn Ridge Hut.

We had ripped about three quarters of the Sawtooth when BANG! Electrical storm. The initial lightning seemed directly overhead. We reacted to this development by hiding in the lee of a tooth and putting on overtrou.

We tried to moved calmly onward, very much fearing the next strike, as the breeze came up and big rain drops flossed across between the teeth. It was very like a mountaineering trip: as in the grim determination felt by those who get themselves into hazardous situations. Ali convinced herself I’d be struck first, being taller.

We reached Tiraha (1668m) relieved as there was no prospect of escaping the Sawtooth Ridge by dropping off the side. We confirmed our location by GPS on phones in ziplock bag: this let us take a compass bearing to find the correct ridge and avoid a disastrous plummet into Howlett Creek. As we dropped to lower tussocks, the storm rumbled off east. The rain ceased and it was a fresh and easy plod to the now-visible Howletts Hut.

Howletts Hut is a model of private hut management by a tramping club. Heretaunga TC collects hut fees and donations directly and flies in bags of coal from time to time.  The hut is in great condition, well-equipped and in a brilliant situation. We enjoyed a great night there.

Day three. A six hour trip out to Kashmir Road End passing Longview Hut. We heard plenty of roaring, but unlike previous trips it was not Stu’s snoring. For the third day running the parkas were on as the tropical humid air continued to make Metservice’s forecasting look inept. Instead we assessed weather using Nick Cradock’s website lookoutthef**kinwindow.com!

The first two hours south from Howletts is another painful reminder of what it’s like when track clearance/maintenance work dries up. I believe TTC will need to think about taking on track work for access to our own huts. Perhaps we should start training members in this, with the retirement of the New Zealand Forest Service-trained army of track-builders.

Next time I visit this area I’ll take an ice axe!

Party members
Alison Davis, Dave Grainger (scribe)

Page last modified on 2017 Aug 09 08:14

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