Sunshine on Bannister
4-6 April 2014
The first Saturday in April turned out to be the last sunny day in the Tararuas for a wee while, but we had the ridges entirely to ourselves when we did the longest day of our Bannister/Tarn/Table Ridge circuit…
We set off after work on Friday for the Kiriwhakapapa road end, with a brief stop for a Subway supper. A trip a month earlier had taught us that if we wanted to have enough daylight hours to traverse Bannister and the Waiohine Pinnacles, the luxury of a night in the campsite was not advisable (but it was that trip over Cattle Ridge, with its clear views of the horizon in every direction, that showed us our route and made us determined to get back and do it). And so we donned rucksacks as fast as possible and got on to the Blue Range track by 8 pm. We made quite good time up to the turnoff to the hut, so continued on the track to Cow Creek Hut with goal of spending the night there and cutting a good two hours off our day on Saturday.
Unfortunately, our head torches were low on batteries (spares being saved for the following night), which inhibited track finding in the dark (those OT’s leap out in daylight but we needed something more reflective for the night). So after twenty minutes of relatively slow progress, we turned back and spent a very comfortable night at the otherwise unoccupied Blue Range Hut (love that solar lamp…)
An early start on Saturday, packs heavy with water for the dry route ahead, had us setting off at first light, and we made good time to Cow Saddle. After a brief stop for breakfast number two, we powered up the path to get to Cattle Ridge, and persuaded our feet to keep going just a little longer before stopping for breath and sustenance at the top of Waingawa, to be able to enjoy the 360 degree view and have a look at the route ahead and see if we could see where the tricky little rock wall was. By this time the sun was high in the sky and we were feeling hot and thirsty and very tempted to take a nice long break basking in the warmth, but we knew we had a long way to go and were hoping not to have to go for plan B with a night at Arete Hut and a challenging walk out the next day. So on we ventured, along one of the most beautiful ridges in the ‘Ruas’, enjoying having the best of days, endless views, and a track with nothing dull about it at all… steep and rocky in places, but nothing too scary, just a bit of careful route-finding at times.
Tarn Ridge Hut was in view the whole way, teasing us with seeming so close but never getting any closer, and then Arete Hut appearing to be not very far away at all… But as we reached the top of each peak expecting to see a clear trail to its door, yet another steep-sided valley would appear between us and it… We had finally decided to just step off this endless ridge and sidle to the hut when we found two pebbles that had the potential to be a small and subtle cairn. Lorraine, always alert to every possible footpad, went on a recce and found the trail that took us straight there, and straight to the water tank (our last hour had been a fairly dry one as 3 litres on an unexpectedly hot day with a fair amount of height gain just doesn’t do the distance). We were also greeted by the first people we’d seen all weekend, a pair of friendly hunters who’d helicoptered in with a vast supply of food and beer and most of their kitchen utensils. They very kindly offered to move up a bit and make room for us too, but after our first proper long stop of the day for food and hot drinks, we reckoned we had just enough daylight to get over the pinnacles, and enough sense to find Tarn Ridge in the dark (aided by some fresh batteries!).
The pinnacles were lots of fun, and for the hour following, the track was a visual feast of views in a spectacular sunset, low cloud rolling down the valleys like fire. We walked the last two hours in the dark, with the assistance of Lorraine’s expert GPS use keeping us on the cairned ground trail (neither of us having walked this ridge before), and allowing us to move faster than we would have with map and compass alone. It also let us know how long we had to go, although the “as the crow flies” distance is a very frustrating one as it doesn’t take the contours into account, so the last 800m seemed to take a very long time. Tarn Ridge Hut was a very welcome stop at 21:00 and we appreciated the warmth from the fire its occupants had made.
The following morning we felt we deserved a lie-in so waited to be woken up by the morning preparations of the other trampers. The cloud was low, with visibility down to a few metres and moisture of the kind that seeps through clothes and boots within minutes. We headed over Girdlestone and then followed Table Ridge to points 1478 and1390, once again using the GPS in the dense mist to confirm our positions. The GPS became less useful from point 1390, where there was a need to enter the bush at a precise location. We followed a bearing to find the spur leading down to Cow Creek Hut, initially small cairns and a ground trial confirming we were on the right track, but soon we were seeing cairns in every scattering of rocks and missed a diversion to a parallel ridge that had us scrambling for a few difficult metres through a densely-vegetated gully once we realised that the lie of the land didn’t seem quite right….
Huge unmissable orange triangles showed the way to the track through the bush, and we enjoyed finally getting out of the wet on the way down to the hut. We met more hunters there with helicoptered supplies for a week or more and all but the kitchen sink. On over the final ridge (I’m sure it grows taller each time that we do it), the thought of a yummy dinner at the Istanbul Cafe in Carterton keeping our pace fast enough to make it before closing time, although once again, we ended up walking in the dark. Day one took us fourteen hours and day two was a ten-hour mission, so long days. Maybe this is a circuit best done in the summer, but a beautiful walk and one we’d thoroughly recommend.
- Party members
- Fiona Girdwood (scribe), Lorraine Johns