Penn Creek revisited
Saturday 22 September 2007
A party of 8 set out across the temporary bridge at Otaki Forks. None of us had been along the Penn Creek track for many years, but from distant memories we were all aware of the horrors in store for us. “Everybody got torches??” I asked, just to keep the party on its toes. We stopped for a chat with a DOC engineer who did not bat an eyelid when we mentioned our intended route. Up over the terraces we came to the DOC warning notices at the start of the track. Ignoring them, we ducked under some overhanging trees and found the track still clearly visible, though overgrown. Supplejack was the main problem and Neil’s secateurs came in handy. In some places the track benching had collapsed. Occasional footprints showed that the track was still in use, probably by hunters.
Quite soon we came to the first sidestream, which has a very steep catchment, and presented a formidable obstacle. But Bill was soon in front forcing a route up the true left and across the stream. The true right bank was very steep and we could not find the path and climbed too high. We only regained the path after 100 metres of supplejack bashing and dropping down about 20 metres. Soon after this we reached some boggy terraces and promptly lost the path in some wretched bog. We bashed through tree fern and supplejack on a lower level sidle, but fortunately regained the path after another 100 metres.
Just before the next stream (the map actually shows two streams at 000327) we crossed a big old slip and got a view up the river. The prospect at the bank of the sidestream was enough to silence tough Tararua trampers who had just completed the Alpine Instruction Course. On the true right bank of the stream there was a long sloping shelf leading up the hillside with bush above and steep scree below. There was one spot where the shelf had collapsed and delicate balancing moves were required with any false step being rewarded by a slide into the depths of the gorge. Bill and Colin led up the shelf and soon we were all across the bad step. The shelf got easier higher up and then dropped back down to more terraces full of bogs and supplejack.
The next major tributary came from the Field Hut catchment. Just before reaching it we crossed some big slips and got good views of the Otaki river. There was a very tricky approach to the stream involving a steep sidle across loose scree to a bush-covered spur, then a steep drop down scree to the stream bed. There was nothing much to stop a slide over a small cliff into the stream, and there was much hesitation. The best technique was to be confident, remain upright and plan the next few moves. Easier said than done!
Lunch was consumed at the stream about 4 hours out from the start (010324). An overhanging 10m bank blocked the exit from the stream. Fortunately there were plenty of trees and roots to attach oneself to, but it took at least 15 minutes for the whole party to reach the top of the bank. A few hundred metres further on we passed a small tributary, and shortly after left the track at 103326 and found leads through supplejack leading up the hillside. Progress was fast and we soon reached the main spur which leads from the Otaki/Gorge Creek forks up to Table Top. The ridge offers good travel and is relatively gentle. Trouble appeared at the 850m contour in the form of leatherwood, just scattered bushes at first, but soon thickening to form dense stands. Some of the party found a good lead onto tussock to the left, and this avoided most of the higher leatherwood. It was sunset when we all eventually reached the cairn on Table Top at 1047m. Judging by the wide grins everybody seemed to have enjoyed the battle.
It was dark before the final stragglers reached the carpark.
- Party members
- Bill Allcock, Neil Challands, Marg Conal, Colin Cook, Sieny Pollard, Dave Reynolds, Tim Stone, Ken Fraser (leader & scribe)