These crossing trips all involve travel above the bushline. Make sure that your gear and route-finding abilities reflect the possibility of alpine conditions.
- Severe conditions may be expected at all seasons of the year.
- Winter crossings will need ice axe and perhaps crampons.
- Be prepared to turn back if conditions get too tough – the hills will still be there next weekend and you will be better prepared.
- But don't forget your sunscreen and camera.
The most common of the range crossings between Otaki Forks and Kaitoke; usually done in two days of 8 hours or so. From Otaki Forks it is usual to travel up to Field Hut near the bush-edge on Friday night, to Alpha Hut on Saturday, then out to Kaitoke on Sunday.
This crossing, like any on the open tops, can become difficult or even dangerous in storm conditions. Equipment must be first class and experience must be sufficient to deal with survival conditions. Alpine equipment is necessary in winter conditions, and crampons are often useful. Several lives have been lost on this route, which must not be taken lightly. Kime Hut provides a convenient waiting spot should a poor Saturday be followed by a good Sunday. If going from Otaki Forks to Kime in one go, have a good stoke-up at Fields before tackling the exposed tops by Bridge Peak. Be prepared to turn back!
Field to Kime: 3 hours. Kime to Hector: 45 minutes. Hector to Alpha Hut: 3½ hours or so.
Emergency Exit. If bad weather forces an exit from the Southern Crossing, and you cannot retreat along your path, the headwaters of the Hector and Tauherenikau are to be avoided. The Waiotauru is not as bad but is lengthy, poor travel in wet weather.
From Kime Hut ascend Field Peak, swing R at the top and pass through the saddle beyond to Mt Hector, 45 minutes from Kime. This peak features the Memorial Cross of the combined tramping clubs and is the highest point in the Southern Tararuas. Wind-spattered sastrugi can provide spectacular photos after a storm. Twenty minutes on are the Beehives, followed by Atkinson at the head of the False Spur. A little over an hour from Hector brings a dependable tarn alongside a large rock just before 1372. The ridge now flattens as it commences the broad sweep of the Dress Circle: 40 minutes from the tarn to Aston. Note that the ridge to Elder takes off 100 metres before the summit of Aston.
From Aston the ridge first undulates downwards, then climbs to Alpha. The route sidles Alpha’s flanks to emerge on the broad eastern ridge, and this point can provide a few minutes of instructive study of the Marchant Ridge, seen across the Eastern Hutt. The track now drops and a large cairn marks entry to the bush. A few minutes inside the bush, you pass the Alpha helipad to reach the hut just below: less than 90 minutes from Aston.
In excellent snow conditions it has taken only 2½ hours from Kime to Alpha and, in storm and fog, over 8 hours. These variations must be expected.
The trail from Alpha Hut to Kaitoke is covered in 10.18. In earlier times, Quoin was often used as the route out from Alpha Hut for the travel offers more interest than the Marchant Ridge – about 7 hours to Pakuratahi Forks.
From behind Alpha Hut the trail climbs to the bush-edge within minutes; then a steeper zig-zag brings Alpha’s eastern spur 20 minutes from the hut. The route now skirts Alpha’s summit to drop to the next saddle and climb gently to Aston, about 90 minutes from Alpha Hut. Atkinson is passed; then follows the steeper climb over the Beehives to Hector, 3 hours from Alpha Hut. There is a reliable tarn a couple of minutes along the Winchcombe Ridge from Hector.
From Hector, a quick passage through the next saddle and over Field Peak should bring Kime Hut in 45 minutes. The rest of the route to Otaki Forks is briefly described in 14.6. Two hours Kime to Fields, and another two hours to Otaki Forks.
A good 5 hours. Now little used, the pad above the bushline is often absent. The route starts by turning NE from the summit of Hector. The reliable tarn is passed in a couple of minutes and the well-defined ridge descends through the split ridge (keep L), with its rock outcrops, to reach Winchcombe in about 2 hours from Hector. A 20 minute drop brings the site of the old biv on a shelf to the S of the ridge, just at the bush-edge (the 2 cairns here do not indicate the downward route). Entry into the bush is not obvious, but fresh markers then define the route as far as Neill. Continuing along the ridge, a couple of sharp saddles in the bush then lead to a rocky scramble and the top of Neill, about 75 minutes from the Winchcombe bush-edge.
Beyond the flatter tussock tops of Neill, the track will be picked up in the northern edge of the stunted beech and 20 minutes on from Neill, the turn-off to Neill Forks is passed on the L at a small flat. Following the steep descent into the Cone-Neill Saddle, 45 minutes from Neill, is the steady and only somewhat gentler climb to the high point of Cone 1118 – another 40 minutes. Towards this high point the track is out among stunted beech and windswept clearings on the W of the ridge, where animal tracks and lack of markers may test navigational skills. Continue to the highest clearing before swinging L and downwards through a neck of bush to the meadow on Cone Ridge. Campsites near the Cone clearings are mentioned in 10.12.
The track to Cone Saddle leaves the tussock meadow from a cairn near a dip in the R bush-edge to enter the bush some 30 metres below. From here the track is well marked to Cone Saddle: 90 minutes from the top of Cone. About 20 minutes before Cone Saddle, the Block XIX Track continues straight ahead, while the track to the saddle drops L. This junction is often overshot on the way down.
Emergency exit. If poor weather forces an exit from the Neill-Winchcombe, the headwaters of both the Tauherenikau and Hector Rivers should be strenuously avoided above the vicinity of Winchcombe. Once in the bush, it is better to stick to the ridge to Cone if possible. If forced off the bushed ridge, by snow for example, the Tauherenikau side probably offers the better going. Downstream of Josephson creek a trail gradually develops on TL terraces. An escape to Neill forks could also be considered, with an exit to Cone Ridge and Walls, but Neill Creek may be up.
Cone to Hector
From the bush-edge campsites on Cone, the track to the Neill – Winchcombe heads straight out for 30 metres to the meadow, then W through more bush to Cone .1118 the highest point, 10 minutes distant. The trail then swings N for 100 metres through a series of small windswept clearings to reach good bush on the E of the ridge, and drops down the long ridge to the Cone – Neill saddle. From the Cone high point, the third and deepest saddle is about 35 minutes distant. After a fourth small saddle, 25 minutes of steepish climb brings the gentler slopes before the top of Neill. (At a small flat in the bush, the turn-off to Neill Forks leaves to the R.) Beyond this, leatherwood slopes lead to the extensive open tops of Neill: 45 minutes from the deepest saddle.
Beyond Neill a couple of sharp saddles in the bush with some rock scrambles are followed by a climb to the bush-edge, 75 minutes from Neill. A couple of minutes beyond the Winchcombe bush-edge, on the S is a prominent shelf, once the site of a biv; it usually has a reliable, mossy water supply.
From the biv site, 20 minutes gains the top of Winchcombe. A minor saddle beyond is followed by an extended climb, passing through some rock outcrops 90 minutes from Winchcombe. This vicinity can be confusing and, if in fog, a good plan is to keep to the northern edge of the split ridge till the ridge steepens again past the outcrops. The climb continues, eventually leading past the tarn just before Hector – a good 2 hours from Winchcombe. [revised January 2019]
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