The back of the backcountry
14 – 18 January
You know the feeling. The exultant joy of achieving a long sought-after goal. We were lucky in so many ways. Our trip to Dorset Ridge and Carkeek Ridge trip coincided with magic weather and astonishing timing. Not only could we sit on the tops drinking in the experience of unbounded views in still and sunny weather, we discovered our route had been marked just a week earlier by an ex-NZFS culler called Derrick Field. We had been following routes marked on old maps that had not been maintained; there was seldom any footpad and the route was seldom in a straight line for more than a few paces. Derrick’s markers were very well placed downhill and reassuringly strategically placed uphill. What a treat. Our route is outlined on the map.
When we set out at 7 p.m. on Friday 14 January, we had no idea of the exquisite timing of our trip. It started with an enjoyable welcome to Atiwhakatu Hut by a large family group celebrating a child’s birthday around the campfire, with toasted marshmallows and light sticks. Saturday 15 January dawned fine and sunny with a cool easterly wind and off we went up Baldy, to be surprised, ten minutes out of the tree line, to find two young men camping. Not only had they carried up water for the day, they had carried up two days’ water as they expected to shift their camp to the ridgeline by South King that night. On we went to the cairn just below South King and then down the spur a little south of South King. On entering the bush line we found newly-placed permolat markers which we happily followed until they passed the spurlet we expected to go down. At that stage we debated where these permolat markers were leading us – was it the full spur line or was it an alternative way to get to the track to Dorset hut? We decided to follow them until we got to the next small spurlet, where we would definitely turn right if the markers did continue straight down. The markers carried on down that increasingly precipitous spurlet, arriving at Dorset Creek just opposite a newly-marked route up to Dorset Ridge Hut. This route means there is no need to travel in the Creek. All that is required is a crossing. The route up to the hut was not one we would immediately have chosen if it had not been marked, as it is near-vertical at the bottom and thereafter very steep. The uphill route was marked intermittently just where reassurance was needed, and further reassurance was possible by checking over our shoulders for the more frequently placed downhill markers. Eight hours and forty-five minutes after leaving Atiwhakatu we reached Dorset Ridge Hut and read Derrick’s hut book entries setting out his intention to mark all the old NZFS routes in the Dorset and Carkeek area as well as routes to Arete Forks and Nichols. We were delighted to read that he had marked, just the week before, the spur down from Dorset ridge near point 1310 into the Waiohine and up to point 1285 on Carkeek Ridge - the exact route we had planned for the next day.
Sunday 16 January dawned fine and sunny with no wind and it was a quick trip (thanks to the markers) across to Carkeek Ridge where we enjoyed a leisurely sit and a protracted lunch before descending to the hut where we read that Derrick had also marked the route down to Park Forks. Our walking time was about five hours.
Monday 17 January again dawned fine and sunny with no wind and off we went along the surprisingly convoluted but well-marked route down the lower part of Carkeek Ridge to Park Forks. The river section from Park Forks to the base of the spur leading up to McGregor was not as confined by the bluffs marked on the map as we had anticipated. There was plenty of rock hopping and several crotch-deep crossings made perilous by the slime on all submerged stones, but little drag due to the low water flow. (GWRC records indicate that when we were in it the river was flowing at only about 3m3 /second.) Arriving at the base of McGregor Spur we found Derrick had already marked the route. There was again little in the way of a footpad until we reached McGregor Biv, where we had lunch. The remaining trip to Jumbo felt easy, with the established footpad enabling us to walk without needing to check each footfall. I realized how much mental energy I had been using since leaving South King, walking either through waist-high cutty grass, fallen tree debris or fern and scrub cover that occluded visual contact with the ground. Having walked for nine hours, staying the night at Jumbo was more attractive than pushing on to the carpark.
Tuesday 18 January dawned fine and sunny with no wind (again – is this a record for the Tararua tops?). It was a quick trip out.
- Party members
- Tricia French (scribe), Gerald Leather