12-15 September 1999
This trip was advertised as an extended weekend trip, "Lake Chalice - Old Man Hut - Mt Rintoul - Tarn Hut". As reports came through on the Thursday and Friday of heavy rain and flooding in the Nelson/Marlborough area, this seemed an unlikely outcome, particularly when I rang DoC in Renwick early on Friday afternoon to be told that Lake Chalice Road was closed, it was snowing hard at Old Man Hut, and their advice was to call the trip off! A quick phone call to all the party members confirmed that everyone was keen to go anyway so Vivienne, our efficient transport officer, agreed to book us into a Picton Backpacker hostel on Friday night.
On Saturday morning our shuttle arrived and we were ferried to North Bank Road, only to find a "Road Closed" sign at the very beginning of Top Valley Road. The driver, who turned out to be an adventurous soul, did not take much persuading to carry on and we eventually arrived at the Staircase Stream where a deep ford barred the way for the van. We unloaded and set off on foot to the end of Top Valley Road. A pleasant sidle above the true left of the South Branch of Top Valley Stream found us lunching in the sun before crossing the stream, which fortunately presented no difficulties. After a very steep climb we joined the main Lake Chalice -Old Man track. The rain started soon after we passed the top of Old Man, then got harder and harder, so it was a rather wet and bedraggled party that reached Old Man Hut.
Two DoC officers (doing a sterling job of track-marking) confirmed our suspicions that, after the heavy rain of the last few days, the river at Lower Goulter Hut would probably be too high to cross on Monday. So on Sunday, instead of heading for Mount Rintoul and Tarn Hut we retraced our steps over Old Man and then on to Chalice Knob, where we had lunch on a high ledge with stunning views of Lake Chalice, Mount Patriarch, the cloud-covered Old Man and Rintoul tops (which we had just left), and the snow-covered Kaikouras in the distance. Then down the long sidle to Lake Chalice itself.
As we approached the lake we found that it was some two metres higher than normal - thus a stream crossing, which would normally be a mere trickle, was now an arm of the lake. At this point what little authority the leader thought he had seemed to evaporate, to be replaced by democracy! I was informed that I would have to test the waters! Crossing turned out to be no problem, the water being (for some) a little over waist deep. On the other side, however, we were faced with a line of orange track markers disappearing across an expanse of leaf-covered water - we took to the bush and joined the track further on. One more steep sidle to avoid the inflated lake and we crossed the last stream to arrive at Lake Chalice Hut.
Monday saw us climbing to the Lake Chalice carpark and walking down the Lake Chalice Road. We were lucky (or was it really good planning by the leader?) to be picked up by a 4WD ute which had dropped "Roland" and his mate off to lay poison lines in the bush. We were thankful that "Roland" himself was not with us as the young woman who was driving regaled us with stories of the short cuts he took straight up or down the fire-breaks!
After a leisurely lunch in the sun at the mouth of Staircase Stream and a long hot road-walk, we met our shuttle at the Top Valley turnoff for the trip back to Picton, hot showers, and the ferry.
The party: Bev Daniel, Ingrid Snoek, Caroline Strafford, Kerry Popplewell, and Bruce Popplewell (leader and scribe).