(prat)Falls in Isabelle Creek MF
27/28 Jan. 2018
Isabelle Creek drains southern and western flanks of Mt. Holdsworth. The west branch may be entered from the saddle between Holdsworth and Isabelle and descended without difficulty to the forks from where may be seen a rather grand waterfall in the lower east branch. (Falls large enough to be clearly visible from the southern main range.) In addition to these falls at about 600m altitude the east branch boasts a second falls at some 1000m altitude which, following the Tweeddale search of July 1969, have earned a place in Tararua history. Tom Clarkson wrote an account of the search1 which makes clear SAR parties had considerable difficulty searching the upper reaches of the east branch and in particular failed to access the pool at the head of the upper falls. Clarkson writes “I went been back there in summer conditions some years later and found that with a bit of persistence it was possible to get in and out of that particular pool from the High Ridge side.”
The modest aims of our weekend trip were (i) after hauling packs up to Powell Saturday morning, in the afternoon to ‘persist’ a little and so gain ‘Clarksons Pool’ at the head of the upper waterfall. Then (ii) on Sunday, travel down High Ridge, take a spur leading to the lower falls then travel up the east branch to the foot of the upper falls.
(i) On an earlier day trip led by Franz Hubmann we had descended from High Ridge to a point close to the rim of the cirque containing the upper falls but were not able to work our way back to the top of the falls themselves. This time we descended earlier from High Ridge and after some scrambling I managed to drop into the creek above the falls and moved expectantly downstream toward Clarkson’s Pool. But my way was soon barred by a waterfall - one I might have dropped down if I didn’t mind a drenching but would certainly have had trouble clambering back up. Ahead I could see vertical cliffs but not the pool itself which was round a corner (Clarkson’s narrative seems to imply another falls around that corner before the final pool). So I retraced my steps and we explored the TL bank nearer to the pool. There were vertical cliffs alright!
Back on High Ridge we heard a helicopter in the Waiohine valley and bemusedly watched it fly up Isabelle Creek, over the lower falls then, keeping very low, on up the east branch to the cirque basin where it circled at about the height of the cirque rim, presumably getting a very good eyeful of the upper falls before flying back down stream!
(ii) Next day we proceeded down High Ridge but with a change of plan: try to access the creek somewhere between the two falls. There was a concern that if we entered the creek just above the lower falls and proceeded up stream to the upper falls we might then find ourselves late in the day trapped by the terrain. So, dropping off the ridge we made our way down a spur initially well forested but morphing into a face blanketed with scrub so dense it was impossible to see where to place feet. Then, suddenly, we felt rather than saw ourselves to be on the lip of a very steep descent. It was about 11am. Time to throw in the towel2. We retreated to the ridge top and had a leisurely lunch in the sun.
Since our trip Paul McCredie has made contact with Tom Clarkson who, regrettably, was unable to remember if by the phrase ‘with a bit of persistence’ he meant with the aid of a rope.
1 I downloaded the file some time ago. In preparing this article I repeated the search but got no hits. It appears the file has been expunged from the web! Anyone wishing to read Clarkson’s piece may obtain a copy from me, email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
2 Inspecting the GPS record of our movements after the trip it seems we had reached a point where, on the map, two contours touch and that the ground perhaps 100m to our south would not have been so steep. At the time I was becoming spooked by the cumulative effects of the weekend’s events. The decision to pull out was hasty and an opportunity was wasted.
- Party members
- (leader and scribe).Bill Allcock, Colin Cook (leader and scribe), Tricia French