Mid(dle) King – Beauty and the Beast
23-25 November 2021
Taking advantage of a fine forecast between spring storms, we drove to Holdsworth for a mid-week tramp after first sorting out the new DOC online annual hut pass system and booking for our first night at Jumbo Hut. After lunch at Atiwhakatu Hut, we climbed up Raingauge Spur and enjoyed a meal in the hut as mist and fog set in. A pile of wet firewood thwarted plans for a cosy fire, despite our best efforts to light one. We departed Jumbo Hut at 7:30 a.m. the next day and went up to Jumbo peak and Powell turnoff, and along the ridge past the tarns to Pt 1397 and then Angle Knob. By this time, the lingering mist had cleared, showcasing fine Tararua peaks and ridges in all their glory and as far as the eye could see. Masterton and Kapiti Island were visible in the distance. We tramped past delicate flowering native plants and had some photo stops along the way. We dropped our packs, had some snacks, and discussed our first detour, zipping down from the ridge to check out the bright orange McGregor Bivouac, a half-hour descent. The bivvy had received a blaze orange paint job only a fortnight previously and was glowing in the distance from the top of the ridge. It had a new window and the view from behind the toilet was amazing. There was an interesting account in the bivvy logbook about a party that missed the ridge to the bivvy and sidled around scrub and cliffs arriving three hours after dark - in the middle of winter!
Back up and along to McGregor Peak for lunch where the bivvy stands out like a beacon and we enjoyed more panoramic views. We spied a hut in the distance with a red roof and tried to determine which hut it was - was it Dorset Ridge? Ahead were the Broken Axe Pinnacles and South Kings and the clear route to Baldy and the track down. All was going well until the route around one formidable pinnacle narrowed then came to an abrupt stop! Nothing for it but to head down, sidling/floundering around the vertical slopes until we reached the poled route – extending it southwards a bit would have been appreciated! It was easy to see how trampers would get into strife up here in adverse weather conditions and high winds, as the ridge was only a foot wide in places and the track pretty much non-existent in others. Then the long slog uphill in blazing sun and no wind (hang on, is this the Tararuas?!) up to South King from where we could see the turn-off sign on Middle King. Leaving there at 3:15 p.m., little did we know the beauty part of our trip had ended and the beast was to come!
Finally, we reached the bushline after scrambling and bashing our way downhill through scratchy leatherwood and speargrass and came across some blue ribbons in trees and a big orange triangle, and the ‘pink ribbon’ route. We wandered around a bit looking for the turnoff sign for the biv (hence the tracking triangle zigzag), which we now know does not exist. We should have been more persistent and together tried the blue ribbons. After splitting up, our keen, fit hut-bagger Susi backtracked up the hill with dogged determination to find the biv so she could add it to her hut bagging tally. The remote Mid King Bivvy is a two-bunk, orange dog-box just like McGregor Bivvy but with a nice outside fireplace and a beautiful forest setting with a nearby gurgling stream with picturesque little waterfalls. A much-needed watering stop to refill the water bottle was appreciated as there had been no rehydrating opportunity for hours on the very hot day walking along the tops. The route down in the bush (higher parts freshly cut) was going well, even for tired bodies with jelly legs, until 5:45 p.m. when treefall made life difficult and cairns by the fallen logs stopped appearing. A very welcome peanut slab bar with a note had been kindly left by David on the track for Susi to find. It was much appreciated by her and indicated that David and Mark had passed through the same way, which was reassuring. When they reached the aimed-for South Mitre Stream/Baldy Creek junction (GPS very handy), and despite rehydrating, things got worse.
The route from there to the footbridge on the Barton Track is hard yakka, with numerous bluffs along the way. Susi, by this stage on her own, was slightly geographically challenged after bush-bashing up a steep hill from the stream to connect with the Mitre Flats Track and was almost considering bivvying out for the night, but reached Mitre Flat huts, just ahead of Dave and Mark, at 7:40/7:45 p.m. – we were all relieved! A 12+ hour day was beyond what we had expected that day and our energy reserves were depleted by the time we reached Mitre Flats Hut. Removing boots and getting hot food into us was all we could manage before retiring to our sleeping bags for the night. But wait, there’s more. The beast continued the next day along the orange triangle route via Baldy Saddle to Atiwhakatu for lunch, supposedly four hours. Despite complaining legs and feet, we made good time back to the Holdsworth road end, and reached Greytown just in time for real fruit yoghurt icecreams followed by thick shakes in Featherston. Lessons learnt: do more extensive forward planning; if possible don’t attempt a four-day tramp in three; stay together; take your long gaiters or wear your leggings; consider staying at McGregor or tenting by the tarns; ideally wait until the route is improved! Probably better to skip Mid King and go down Baldy, provided the track is reasonable. That route at least ends by the saddle, the high point (670 m) on the Mitre Flats – Atiwhakatu track.
- Party members
- Mark Growcott, Susi Lang (scribe), David Wanty (scribe)