Mount Aspiring National Park - January, 1998

This year both of our backpacking trips were in Mount Aspiring National Park, halfway down New Zealand's South Island.  These pages tell the story more accessibly than my quite cryptic journal.  Our first trip was a three-day trip "warm up" walk into Siberia valley, near Wanaka. We started by taking a jet boat from Makarora to Kerin Forks, which would be a long slog on foot.  The walk up to Siberia Hut was quite a bit more challenging than we had expected - once more showing that contour lines on a topo map cannot be relied on with respect to the difficulty of a trail.  We camped the first night at the Crucible Stream junction, then stayed in the comfortable Siberia hut the second night (which proved fortuitious since it poured while we were sleeping). 

Siberia Valley Reflection (scale provided by unidentified tramper)
Partially Obstructed View from Lake Crucible The highlight of this trip was a day walk up to Crucible Lake.  A group camping nearby had been up the previous day and all they would say is, "It was not what we expected.  You won't need your swimmers."  Indeed they were right! (But I won't spoil the surprise for you.)
We had the afternoon and evening in Wanaka to wash clothes and enjoy the pleasures of civilization, then were off the next morning to the Matukituki Valley, which Henry, John and I had scouted  several years ago, to begin our big trip, over the 6,000 foot Cascade Saddle and down the Dart River.  After a gourmet dinner at Aspiring Hut, courtesy of Chris, we started the 4,500 foot ascent at 6:00 the next morning.  The delightful hut warden, Mrs. Sandy Legge, advised us to get an early start so that we would be climbing in the cool of the morning, before the cloud burned off. Leaving Aspiring Hut at 6:00 a.m.
Henry and Ian above the Matukituki Valley The climb was indeed delightfully cool - at points even chilly - but certainly far better than it would have been a few hours later in the broiling sun. As Mrs. Legge had predicted, at first we climbed up towards, and then into, a dense cloud.
We were pleased to reach the first patch of snow after only a couple of hours.  [The picture shows Deb, John, Henry, Finn, Ian and Chris] On the way up to Cascade Saddle
Chris with Mount Cook Lillies The Mount Cook Lillies were even more luxuriant than they had been on the way up to Crucible Lake.

We were richly rewarded for our early start as we climbed above the cloud.  It was a perfectly clear day on the saddle, with a stunning view of Mt. Aspiring, across Matukituki Valley still filled with morning cloud.  (The Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire calls this "undercast.") 

Undercast in Matukituki Valley and Mt. Aspiring, from Cascade Saddle
Dart Hut and Matukituki Valley from Cascade Saddle

As we gazed, gobsmacked (as they say in these parts), the cloud gradually dissipated to reveal the valley from which we had started just a few hours before.

We camped at a lovely spot near the saddle. (Camping in Cascade Saddle is neither encouraged nor outright prohibited by the Department of Conservation. The 12-hour walk from Aspiring Hut to Dart Hut would be too long a day with full packs, and would leave you little time to enjoy the Saddle.  We hope that the DOC will establish an official campsite on the saddle, or even build an unobtrusive hut, to make it easier and more environmentally sound for trampers to stay a night on the Saddle.) Campsite on Cascade Saddle
Dart Glacier from Cascade Saddle The next day was just as lovely, and we dawdled around the Saddle all morning gawking at the Dart Glacier 
and the other stunning views from the saddle proper.  Cascade Saddle looking across to the Dome
Typical stream crossing along the upper Dart River

The walk that afternoon down to Dart Hut, along the lateral moraine of Dart Glacier and then beside the glacial stream, was hot, with little shade, but interesting. 

The following day was our "weather layover" day.  Although rain frustrated Henry's plan for a day hike up to Whitbourne Glacier some of us were quite happy to stay indoors and socialize with the other trampers.  Bob winning the second of three games of chess at Dart Hut
Next morning, just an hour from the hut, John lost his footing on a perfectly ordinary track and broke his leg - something which could happen to any of us on any day, but fortunately does not occur that often.  With help from several other trampers (particularly two Israelis and a Quebecker), we broke into the warden's hut, radioed for a helicopter, stretchered John down to the landing spot  and waved him off to Dunedin - seven hours all told. 
The rest of our party continued to Daley's Flat Hut, arriving just before 10:00 p.m. - a long day for all of us! (I'm happy to report that John is fully recovered.) 
Henry's idea of a flat river walk Our last day was another of Henry's "flat river walks"
followed by a surprisingly enjoyable 24 kilometer trip down the Dart in "Fun Yaks," which turned out to be three-person inflatable canoes bearing no resemblance whatever to kayaks..  Fun Yaks on the Dart River
Henry Notwithstanding the accident, this trip must rank as one of our best ever. Many thanks to Henry for organizing it! 


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