Magical mountain meanderings- Holdsworth and Ben Nevis
Many of us find Mt Holdsworth an attractive Tararua summit with easy access and opportunities to take in the magical views in all directions. Last October I overnighted at Powell Hut with my adult daughter, Sophie, and we made a leisurely late-afternoon visit to the summit to admire the beauty and complexity of the Tararua mountains. Isn’t it wonderful to see the clouds rolling in, glimpse those remote peaks on the main range, and at the same time look below into the depths of the Waiohine River valley?
Holdsworth has several excellent routes in addition to the main track. When we were fitter, we preferred not to overnight at Powell, unless we were doing a middle crossing or some other ambitious route. However, as we slow down with age, the upgraded Powell Hut offers a pleasant stay, with a chance to chat with interesting people. On this trip we found the firewood shed empty, so I was able to introduce a family to the art of firewood fossicking, which they appeared to really enjoy. We readily found sufficient dead wood nearby, including leatherwood, and soon had the firebox glowing with a small fire, leaving plenty of wood in the shed for the next visitors.
Our overnight stay was on a Sunday. On Monday, rain set in, so we retreated into the Atiwhakatu Valley for a pleasant walk out alongside the river.
In late June 1969, I was at the old Powell Hut to help search for a missing tramper, Lester Tweeddale. Lester, a police constable on a solo tramp, had headed up in very snowy conditions and probably became disorientated. When we started the search, the weather was terrible, with strong wind, freezing temperatures and a snowstorm. I was in a search team of four club members (including Neville Palmer and Ray Molineux) and a policeman. We searched the large and precipitous Isabelle Creek extensively. At one point I thought I heard a call for help. We later spent the night out in wet and frozen sleeping bags. There was no shelter we could find - the alpine scrub was covered in snow, and the nearest forest was far below. The edge of a creek provided some partial shelter. Sleep was not a possibility. Back at Powell Hut next day, we found it best to leave our crampons on - the hut floor was covered in ice. This was the Tararua Range at its most ferocious and the search was an unforgettable experience for all involved. Very sadly we did not find Lester, whose body was recovered in the headwater bluffs some months later.
Holdsworth, lovely and ferrous, has distant relatives. Ben Nevis is a 1,620 m mountain at the head of the Wairau Gorge, 34 km SW of Nelson. In January I climbed the Ben. Last year I climbed it with Dave Reynolds. This year it was just me, impatient for a good day out. There is a marked DoC track starting from the top of a 4WD logging road. I climbed steadily through beech forest, with great views in the clearings, then climbed rocks onto the first of three summits I found easy to traverse.
From the top, I looked north to Mt Rintoul and the Richmond range and south to the Red Hills, with their dramatic red-rock skyline. Also clearly visible were Mts Arthur, Owen, Travers and, in the far distance, Tapuae-o-Uenuku. Immediately beyond the Ben summits, the ridge becomes broken and there are no tracks until the Te Araroa trail crosses the ridge near Mt Ellis.
As with Mt Holdsworth, you feel as if you are in the middle of the ‘big stuff’ when you are on the top of Ben Nevis. For oldies like me, several high 4WD access roads are a real bonus in the Tasman district, including those to Flora Saddle (930 m), Mt Robert carpark (900 m), Ben Nevis (820 m) and Innwood Lookout (1,051 m). The latter is an access point for Gordon’s Knob, a lovely climb I have done with other club members.
- Party members
- David Bartle (scribe).