OMer Gerard Smith takes on a classic Kiwi trek in the rain...
Gerard Smith is a British designer working for Icebreaker out in
New Zealand, poor thing. When the weather got in the way of climbing,
he took off for a circuit of the Caples and Greenstone Tracks in the
Mountain Aspiring National Park.
The routes form a big four to five day circuit and are close to
the better known Routeburn Track which crosses the Humbolt Mountains.
Normally it's a pleasant tramp, but in the wet conditions, things got
a bit epic, Gerard takes up the story.
Greenstone/ Caples Track
After sitting in Mt Cook Village, New Zealand chatting to a
friend, with the weather forecast holding no hopes of climbing any
time soon, the Greenstone / Caples Track was suggested ... so after
rummaging for a map, we decided it was a plan.
After a days delay due to the car breaking down in the middle of
nowhere, and an unscheduled night in Queenstown, we finally got under
way - thanks to the great people we met in Glenorchy who helped all
Hmmm, why would anyone choose to live in New Zealand eh...
Day 1: Carpark- Greenstone Hut ( 3.5hrs)
Things went well, we did the track in reverse - up the Greenstone
and down the Caples - most people do it the other way. The walk in to
the newer Greenstone hut was pleasant enough, through sunlit dappled
beech forest with the river running below us on the left.
We crossed a swing-bridge and 3.5 hrs later arrived at the hut
where there were a few people already enjoying the last of the days
sunshine. After a great meal of lamb and couscous with cups of
tea, we settled down for the night in the hut.
Day 2: Greenstone Hut - McKellar Saddle- Upper Caples Hut (
14hrs! - 30.6 km)
Today started with me lying in my sleeping bag in the hut,
listening to the rain pouring on the roof and hoping it would stop
very soon - no such luck. We made breakfast and cups of tea, packed
our new waterproof packs, cocooned ourselves in Gore-Tex and headed
out into the sponge-like world that oozed water from everywhere
Tramping over the river flats became very tiring. Easy travel
normally, but with everything in flood and waterlogged , the track
was not at its best. We were so glad every time we had to head back
into the beech forest away from the incessant rain, and stopping
briefly for snacks to eat.
Mucho greenery on the Caples Track
This continued until we made it to McKellar Hut where, now sodden,
we stopped for some lunch with cups of soup and tea to warm
ourselves, this had taken us around 5 hrs.
We stopped for an hour, before deciding to head off again in order
to make it to Upper Caples Hut, some trampers who had just come down
Steele Creek were surprised at our choice of such a long day ( t
became longer than we thought.....should have been 10 hrs).
A tedious walk to the head of the lovely Howden Lake took us to
the start of the bottom of the upward climb to McKellar saddle -
well, all the side streams had flooded , so getting to the foot of
the hill was the challenge.
Luckily another group were trying to come the other way, so after
some minutes of deliberating the best place to cross ( the water was
2m deep in places! ) we hung onto trees and grabbed each others arms
until everyone was safely across, and then we continued on our way.
Chest Deep Water :-(
The water was now above ankle deep even on the normal track, and
then we came to a spot that looked a bit deep, but since we were
already wet, we though what the hell... Yes, you guessed it, it was
really deep - chest height in fact and very cold, we rushed as fast
as we could , but the mud was also making us sink deeper, we managed
to grab a tree on the back and scramble up onto the hill and track -
very , very wet and cold now!
The Caples River, quite enough water...
Onwards and upwards we went, with water flowing down the track and
us scrambling up tree roots and small rocky outcrops - it started to
snow as well now, we slogged on and eventually made it to the top and
McKellar saddle, where the sun popped out and some cloud cleared,
making it all worth it.
Some benched track now headed across the saddle and down into the
Upper Caples valley where we could hear and see a massive amount of
water coming down the river - the upcoming river crossings were a bit
of concern, and we wanted them out tof the way before dark!
Many Rivers To Cross
After an initially steep descent , the track became more of a
slope and made its wet way further into the Caples Valley, we found
the river crossing - not anywhere near as bad as we thought - knee
deep, still pretty fast flowing, but ok to cross.
With that out the way , we wearily continued down the valley
towards the Upper Caples hut, the root and mud basing went on
unabated, as daylight began to fade and an almost full moon shone
through the trees to light our way. As darkness took hold we
retrieved the head torches and slowly made our way through the beech
forest - which all looks the same in the dark when the track isn't
that obvious in places and we ended up looking for the markers in the
dark which slowed us down.
Salvation - the Upper Caples Hut in daylight...
Finally we reached the bridge over the river and knew the hut was
only five minutess away - and then we frustratingly lost the track
again! At last we picked it up again and fell into the hut at
10.30pm, took off all our wet stuff and started up cups of tea and
dinner before curling up in our sleeping bags and letting our
exhausted bodies rest. What a day!
Day 3: Upper Caples Hut - Carpark ( 5 Hrs)
The sun came out at last and the sandflies came with it, I hung
everything outside to try and dry things off while the sun shone and
there was a breeze.
We drank cups of tea and ate some museli for breakfast, bodies
were aching and we weren't in a hurry to move and put our soaking wet
boots and socks back on. After packing everything away again , we
ambled our way down valley towards Mid Caples Hut, groaning as we
went, across the river flats we saw some deer grazing and plenty of
paradise ducks making lots of noise as usual.
Travel was quick and two hrs later we were at the next hut where
we restocked on water, had some dried fruit and set off again on the
last leg, slowing as we went as the previous days efforts started to
take their toll. A
fter a good walk along the river, through more beech forest and
along river flats we made it back to the car, and more sandflies. A
short drive to Kinloch mean't we could grab a coffee and some well
earned lasagne and feel little more human again - great trip, wet
trip and very memorable.
More of Gerard's NZ pics in his OM Gallery album
For more information on travelling in New Zealand see www.purenz.com
For information on 'tramping' - Kiwi for trekking' see tramper.co.nz