Quoin Ridge - Alpha - Eastern Hutt
18-19 September 1999
For most of our party, this was new territory because of previous water board restrictions on the area. I had been up Quoin Ridge a year or so earlier on a one day Southern Crossing and Peter had wandered around there as an errant youth. However, the rest were new to this beautiful ridge and keen to get going.
Our hopes were dashed very early. Michael was concerned about the speed at which clouds were scudding around the tops and on the very exposed ridge. There was also a new forecast of rain for the Sunday, which would make our route down the Eastern Hutt difficult or impossible. We had met up with another TTC group following the Eastern Hutt route up to Alpha, so we decided to join them, our party of five now expanding to eight.
The Eastern Hutt was a good depth already. In retrospect, I would grade this route as a medium for the middle of summer, but a medium-fit for September. We continually had to cross and the water level was quite high, so we became quite cold - and later quite stumbly as our leg muscles seized up.
Lunch was beside the river, with Peter producing a fire and hot billy of water from what seemed to be a small pile of dried punga leaves.
After nearly eight hours in the river, we came upon an orange DoC marker and a large cairn at the base of a ridge. It appeared to most of us to be the time and place to begin our climb up to the Alpha track. There was some difference of opinion in the group as to where we actually were at the time, and it was decided to go on up the river further. The next ridge had a massive slip at its base, and further up, yet another slip. It was by then clearly getting very late, with the possibility we would have to camp rather than go on up. This was not a practical option, with tent flys being insufficient for the expanded group, and the likelihood of a very high river the next day. We were obliged to go up the slip and endeavour to get onto the ridge we had bypassed earlier.
Time was now rushing on, with a big climb ahead of us. Peter did a fantastic job of jollying everyone along, but even he was by then clearly worried about the sinking darkness. It was overall a pleasant ridge, but we had been set back 3/4 of an hour by our earlier error and the increasing steepness and thick vegetation on the ridge made progress more and more arduous. We were now into mainly leatherwood and the ridge had narrowed, so our passage was very restricted. The snapping of leatherwood made it increasingly difficult to maintain voice contact with party members. The possibility of spending the night on the ridge was discussed by Peter, Tim, Ann and me as the darkness continued to deepen and some party members were clearly still a way down.
Our spirits brightened immensely when Peter called out that he had reached the track. We scrambled up and could just barely discern the route down to Alpha (we were probably 60 vertical metres above the hut at this point). The party was cheered on, and with torches we arrived at Alpha after nearly 11 hours on the hoof, just before the rain really hit.
The one occupant of Alpha was in bed and probably expecting to have a good sleep when we arrived, elated, hungry and cold. A cup of tea, dinner and dry clothes were very pleasant indeed.
It was a wild and wet night. We decided at breakfast that it wasn't going to get any better, so we should leave early and just keep going. We were tired from the cold the previous day and so it was a matter of eyes up front and keeping going to avoid getting too chilled.
The track was a stream punctuated by large pools and the rain kept coming. Fortunately, the bush provided reasonable protection from the wind and we did not get too much of a blast, except for a few exposed places. The Marchant Ridge was not particularly pleasant, but Tim entertained us with 'The Hills are Alive' in good Julie Andrews' style and generally kept us cheerful on our last three hour stretch. We reached Kiwi Ranch at 3.20. We had been tramping for more than seven hours with only a few five minute breaks, so we were glad to sit down!
Members of the party were: Tim Stone (leader), Peter Radcliffe, Michael Bartlett, Margaret Conal (scribe) and Colin Cook, along with John Rippon's group of Ann Opie and Nina Price.