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Trip Reports 2016-03-25-Spenser Mountains

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This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper Volume 88, no 4, May 2016

The Spenser Mountains

Easter 2016

On a nearly dark evening escaping the sandfly-infested carpark at the start of the St James walkway, three of us set of for Ada Pass. Arriving to a full hut and a tent camp, we found the one remaining tent site to pitch our tent. After a hurried dinner we were off to sleep, only to be awaken to soon by the cries of “the billy, the bacon where is it?!” Unfortunately the bacon was not for us. Instead oat gruel and tea sufficed. We set off in misty humid weather without a breath of wind for the Three Tarn Pass. Following an intermittent path and the odd cairn, we made our way up the true right of the stream leading to the Pass. We walked through a patch of beech forest that was easy to pass through then onto tussock slopes with speargrass to give us the odd surprise. Then onto scree slopes to the Pass. People coming over the Pass usually drop into the East Matakitaki River but we turned north to tackle a rock-filled basin, then up over a rocky ridge into another basin. At this stage being a bit weary we decided to cross a saddle back over to the east side to camp by a tarn at the head of Camera Gully under Gloriana Peak . This turned out to be a good decision as we found out later as we had originally planned to go over a further ridge to a tarn filled west facing basin. But this would not have been easy without dropping well down towards the bushline.

Dropping down to the tarn, formed from relatively recent glacier retreat, took a bit of step cutting on hard ice that had survived the heat of the summer. We found the one place to site the tent - probably the windiest spot in the Spenser Mts!! Alison was sure there was a taniwha in the tarn but it turned out to be snorer in the party! Next day dawned fine but windy. We decided to give Gloriana Peak a go, and set off around the west side of the tarn, then made our way up a series of scree ramps and rock ledges. A lot of loose rock so careful footwork, moving out of the fall line and the occasional rock-dodging, was required. We reached the summit around 12.00 pm to fantastic views of the Spenser mountains, Opera Range and Ella Range. Way below us to the west we could see the Matakitaki Valley and to the east the Waiau Valley. We found the rock to be very variable - all greywacke but ranging from hard pale sandstone type rock, to shattered almost slatey dark rock. This made for a real hotchpotch of screes with different stability - testing our ability to balance!!

Two of the party decided to drop down the northern scree slopes of Gloriana, and back over the Pass we crossed the day before and from there back to the camp site. From there they would de-camp and move down a series of bluffs to a pretty looking tarn with some vegetation growing there. A more comfortable and hopefully less windy spot. The third of the party had hankered to climb Faerie Queene for many years, so headed off in a easterly direction. A difficult descent to the basin of many tarns, with a few false starts but eventually a route was found down a steep scree ramp. The climb up the eastern face of Faerie Queene was straightforward, and the reward on reaching the summit was a view of the sea and an easter egg (being Easter Sunday). The descent was also straightforward, and the campsite was reached by passing over a low pass to the tarn. Interestingly there was remnant ice under the scree, which would have been quite a hazard if the scree had been thinner.

Two of the party descended to the lower camp via a steep narrow scree slope between the bluffs, while the third party member on spotting the now erected tent below the bluffs took a different route following a series of ledges down the bluffs.

Reunited we enjoyed a good cup of tea and a backcountry meal. Rain came in the early hours and we woke to drizzle and slippery wet rock, a rather daunting prospect as we had a series of bluffs and steep scree and tussock slopes to navigate to drop down into Camera Gully. However, several hours later we safely reached the gully, then over the next few hours made our way down the stream. We stopped for lunch in a meadow near the bush edge; by now the sun had come out and the bellbirds were in full song!

A short trek through the forest, over the Ada Stream and we found the St James walkway. By 4.00pm we were at Ada Pass Hut but decided camping was a better choice than staying in the Hut. Just downstream in a tussock clearing we found the ideal campsite. Waking to the first frost of the season we heard some cheery voices, and walking past was TTC party of 5 on their seventh day trek from Lake Rotoroa to Lewis Pass!

The final part of our trip was an amble in the sunshine down Cannibal Gorge back to the car park. A successful trip all around, climb objective achieved, great country, scenic campsites, good food and company.

Party members
Alison Davis (scribe), Dave Grainger (trip leader) and Stu Hutson.

Page last modified on 2016 May 11 09:38

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