This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper in January/February 2002
Richmond Range Adventures
Labour Weekend 2001
17 of us piled into two vans from Havelock Outdoor Centre at Picton bound for Lake Chalice car park. The night was pitch-black steady rain, and we thought we would all walk from the car park down to Lake Chalice Hut and cram ourselves in there. That was before things started to unravel.
First we lost the other van. We started climbing Staircase Road out of Top Valley. There were occasional DoC signs pointing to Lake Chalice, but there were other forks in the road, and one road looked very much like another in the pitch black and steady rain. We reached a big open flat area and started to go down - something was badly wrong - we knew the roadshould climb steadily. It was about midnight and obviously we had takena wrong turning somewhere. So back down the hill we went. Luckily wefound the other van near the bottom - they had been exploring anotherpart of Top Valley. Sarah (own of our van drivers) said we could spend the rest of the night at her house in Woodbourne. We gratefully acceptedher offer and 2 hours later crashed on her floor.
The rain had stopped and we left at 9am on Saturday morning bound forLake Chalice. Again we reached the open flat area, but this time found the exit leading up the hill. Only a few metres further and we were stoppedby a slip consisting of pine stumps and mud. By levering with branches and using some brute strength we removed an offending stump and got one van past the slip. Clayton (our other van driver) shuttled the M/F party up the hill.
It was about this time that the leader remembered his parka was hanging behind Sarahís front door. A mad dash down the hill was stopped by Adrienne (God bless her!) who had a spare lightweight parka. The leader was only slightly comforted by the fact that the leader of the E party had left his tent in Picton.
Both parties stopped for lunch at Lake Chalice Hut and the sun came out to cheer us up. It was 1pm before the M/F party got started, but it was a beautiful walk around the end of Lake Chalice, which was calm as a millpond in the sun. It took us 2.5 hours up the steep track through the bush to the top of Chalice Knob (1522m). This mist obscured the views from the top. A drop of 200m to a saddle and we had to climb again to regain the height of the top of Old Man (1514m).
It was cold and misty on the ridge so we hurried about an hour along the ridge then dropped steeply through bush to Old Man Hut. There is a tarn here, which is not marked on the map. DoC has made an excellent job of doing up this hut. Heavy rain, thunder and lightening during the night did not bode well for the next day. Low cloud and regular showers greeted us at daylight.
The guidebook ominously advises the route over Mt Rintoul "should not be attempted in bad weather or poor visibility". This was really a red rag to a bull. A steep climb back to the ridge and up farther took us to the top of Rintoulís Wife (alias Little Rintoul) 1643m. There is some dramatic rock scenery here with steep towers looming through the mist. The saddle between Rintoul and his wife is 1470m, so there was another climb of 260m up steep scree to the top of Mt Rintoul (1713m).
Rintoul has a big flat summit plateau which no doubt affords wonderful views and sun-bathing on a good day, but this time we hurried on, in time to shelter from some heavy rain and lunch at Rintoul Hut. Boiling a billy warmed us up and we had a chat with 2 local trampers having a rest day. We braved the rain again and set off for Purple Top (1532m). The tracks here are all very well signposted so we never had any doubts about the route. A sidle across Bishops Cap and a long ridge walk and we spotted the tarn beside Tarn Hut. This is a brand new hut with 5 bunks plus stove, which was soon heating us up. We settled down for some serious eating and comfortable beds, while the wekas and frogs made their presence known outside.
Next morning we made an early start at 7.30 with the sun starting to break through. A long ridge walk over Bushy Top (1257m) and down took us to Goulter River about 11am. We had been feeling somewhat nervous about crossing Goulter but it turned out to be straightforward, just getting our shorts wet. We joined the Easy party for lunch at Lower Goulter Hut and a snooze in the sun.
A 10km walk along the 4-wheel drive track took both parties to Tiphead Creek where we had a rendezvous with the transport at 3.30pm. This was fine in theory, but 4.15pm came and went and no transport! Neil tried his cell-phone but we were out of contact. Gavin volunteered to jog along the road. Ken got a lift in a passing vehicle and found a washout at Patriarch Stream about 4km along the road. The bus and trailer were on the far side. Gavin turned up with a friendly farmer (Geoff Patchett) in his pickup and two vehicles set off to shuttle the party along the road. Great speed was now required to load the bus and get back to Picton in time for the 6.30pm Lynx. Clay (our driver) put his foot down, and we pulled in to the ferry at 6.20pm. Adrienne rushed out with the ticket and persuaded them, with her winning smile to open the booking office. Not exactly hassle free, but certainly not a boring trip!
Parties were E/M: Don & Barbara Crump, Viv Healy, Liz Martin, Allan Graham, Dorothy Kane, Melanie Martin, Jenny Gates, Adrienne Vermeulen, Ingrid Snoek, Malcolm Cunningham (leader).
M/F: Andy Foster, Neil Kane, Bernie Molloy, Sieny Pollard, Gavin Scott, Ken Fraser (leader and scribe).