Alpha, Neill-Winchcombe loop meanderings
28-30 March 2022
I’ve never been on Mt Hector when clear or tramped the Neill-Winchcombe ridge, but my age 60|61 plan is to knock off some bucket list items. The Tramper accounts pre-biv were off-putting as was my only hike to Cone Peak where, after seeing the ‘Mt Hector 6-9 hours’ sign in the mist, I sensibly turned back. But encouraged by President Simon’s posting of the new Winchcombe Biv and by Diana Munster, my pre daylight saving end plan was set! I formulated three loop options, departing from Ōtaki Forks (closed), Waiohine Gorge (two to three nights) and Kaitoke (three nights). I chose the middle option, settling on clockwise as I’d never hiked the Bull Mound or northwest from Alpha, plus the longest day is the last.
I discovered there are five sites forecasting Kime/Hector weather – in the end, none were right or wrong, I had three solid days of still and mist with only overnight light rain, my unused spare day (Thursday 31 March) being the best. Some SE wind helped me up the ‘a little steep’ Bull Mound with heavy boots after thigh-deep crossing. I persisted on up, applying anti-cramp tricks, arrived at Alpha at 5:20 p.m. with the hut to myself and slept 12 hours! At 8:35 a.m. I left the ‘bus stop’ and on the way up to Hector heard two roaring stags, saw some hoof prints and wondered when the mist would clear for the afternoon. No such luck; off downhill to Winchcombe peak on an easy, cairned route. With guide notes in hand, I took a ‘left bifurcation’ but not the right one! It was easy enough to go up a bit and sidle back onto the right ridge. With worsening mist, I had fun and games at Winchcombe Peak trying to find the Biv turnoff. I discovered later that my GPS was playing up but, having time, I eliminated left/right possibilities before confirming (using my phone compass) I was on the southward well-gravelled cairned route downhill. It soonish ends, but continuing on you view the orange Biv and its turnoff sign. My notes say finding a route into the bush was difficult but it was easier than finding the Biv toilet! Having somewhere to put wet boots etc outside under cover would be useful and the water tap did not work at first, but it’s a warm, two-floor mattress Biv with shelves, window and ceiling vents, but no woodshed.
Day three was an hour longer than hoped, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Reaching Neill Peak was much harder than I should have realised, the route overgrown with too many bumps to go up and spiderwebs to go through, but easily followable (initially from the Biv you stick to the left). My GPS did not kick in until later, perhaps confirming GPS-unfriendly atmospheric layers. Past Neill white/red wide tape indicates the NE ridge down to Neill Forks Hut. Down and up to Cone west pt 1119 was straightforward. Cone Peak to the saddle has improved since my earlier trip; no problem with fallen trees. If repeating I would do the loop from Kaitoke.
- Party members
- David Wanty (scribe).