This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper in January/February 2002
A climb of Cupola, Nelson Lakes
9-11 November 2001
The 5.30pm Friday ferry and a rental car took 6 of us to the Yellow House at St. Arnaud for overnight accommodation. We were on the water taxi at 8.30am for our ride across Lake Rotoiti to Cold Water Hut where the walking began. It was several years since I had been in this park, and it was lovely gentle tramping up the Travers Valley past the Swing Bridge, the turn off to Angelus, the turn off to Hopeless and on to John Tait Hut - all evoking memories of great trips from the past.
The rain came and went as we moved up the valley but we hoped for better weather for our climbing day on the Sunday. From John Tait Hut we made our final climb up to Cupola Basin Hut at about 1400 metres and just at the edge of the bush line. Low cloud prevented views and rain came and went. We collected firewood, prepared a great dinner and got an early night.
The plan for the next day was that 2 of the group would climb the couloir route on Hopeless, descend into Hopeless Creek, and walk out to the lake head for a 5pm meeting time. The second group planned a climb of Cupola, a return to the hut and then also walking out to the road end. The weather during the night was not auspicious with heavy rain and wind squawls. The Hopeless group were up at 4am for a 5am departure, while the Cupola group emerged at 5am for a 6am start.
With indifferent weather we (the Cupola group) left the hut and headed uphill across tussock, boulders and scree towards our chosen peak. Cloud was still well down on the mountains, and so where our route might lie was pretty uncertain. With a bit of help from map and compass, we headed up soft snow to the toe of a rock ridge. To the right was a basin full of avalanche debris probably triggered by heavy rain from the night before. The route guide suggested that for this part of the climb, one could either mount the rock ridge and ascend ledges, or climb one of several snow filled gullies.
We climbed onto the ridge and moved up one side on a ledge which had a decent drop off on one side. At the top of this, Ian proceeded up a little face and back onto the crest of the spur, but the rest of us felt reluctant to follow due to the wet slippery conditions and challenging drop off underneath. After mucking around at this point for a while, a more favorable route was found and we continued up the crest of the spur which gradually eased its angle into an upper basin. Although very much in cloud, occasional cairns confirmed our route - and we built others. Heading for what seemed the highest point ahead, we continued up across snow and another rock scramble to finally follow a snowy ridge to the rounded summit.
We had occasional views into the Sabine side of the range and one brief clearance of Rotoroa. However the intimacy of the retreating snowy ridges and swirling mist made it an attractive spot. Cold wet feet inspired only a brief summit pause - and we returned the way we has come, the weather now slowly on the improve. More of Hopeless, a snowy top of Travers and clear weather in the Kaikouras emerged. We had maybe missed good summit weather by a couple hours.
Some nice running glissades, and trying boulder-hopping got us back to the hut by 11am. A cup of tea, clean up and departure by 12 took us down the valley as the day heated up and the tops cleared. At the Coldwater jetty by 4.30, we waited for the boat and the Hopeless team. At 5.30pm the Hopeless team hadnít arrived (30 minutes late) so we returned to St Arnaud to clean up. The boat returned to the lake head and brought the other late arrivals (one of whom had been slowed with a walking injury) back in time for us to head off to Picton to catch our 9.30pm ferry.
12.30am arrival in Wellington was no joke - but it had been a great weekend - a climb of Cupola or Hopeless from Wellington in a weekend. And I do love Cupola Basin Hut - one of the best spots in the world if you ask me.
Party members: Alistair Betts (leader), Brit Schlagowski, Diana Munster, Mike Wespel-Rose (scribbler), Ian Howatt, Rachel Davidson.