22-25 October 2010
Dorset Ridge in the middle section of the Tararua Forest Park is approximately parallel to the 'Kings Range' and the tops section of it provides great views of the peaks from Mt Holdsworth to Mitre. The focus of our Labour Weekend trip was to visit Dorset Ridge Hut, which has been upgraded by DoC and Amalgamated Helicopters. For Ken and me it was our second attempt in 2010 to reach the hut, the previous effort being thwarted by high winds at Queen's Birthday Weekend. For this trip Colin joined us and on Friday afternoon we headed to Mitre Flats Hut along the Barra Track, not generally very well spoken of by most trampers, but it has some very striking vegetation to admire while sidling along.
Our plan for Saturday was to tramp to Dorset Ridge Hut over Mitre. Climbing to Mitre is a significant height gain but for the most part it is not all that steep through the forest. Above the bushline the route does climb steeply up a face to join the main spur to the summits of Peggys Peak and Mitre. We had a well-earned rest and admired the views, in particular the snow dappled tops. Small pockets of soft slippery snow made for some slow-ish travel. The summit of Mitre with its commanding views was a logical place for lunch but a cool breeze made us seek a warmer location in the shelter of some rocks in the Mitre - Brockett saddle.
After lunch we carried on over Brockett and Girdlestone, with a view of Tarn Ridge Hut on the climb to the Girdlestone trig. More photo opportunities from the trig before descending to the pinnacles, which had a few patches of snow. After the pinnacles a large cairn marks the start of Dorset Ridge, which offers delightful travel, some ups and downs but not too serious. A light foot pad is evident which never gets enough use to make it muddy. After a steepish descent off Tarn Ridge there is a large tarn which, on a clear day, gives stunning reflections of Girdlestone
After locating the hut turn off we started the descent of some 200 metres. A little local knowledge helps as the initial direction is roughly south of east then a south sidle in tussock between three rocks before a short descent to an obvious trail through low scrub and rocks. The hut was unoccupied on arrival and we were soon enjoying a brew while Colin prepared a meal. Dorset Ridge Hut has been on its current site since 1968; prior to that it was located further up Dorset Ridge closer to the tarn but on the Eastern side of the ridge. The hut on this site was built in 1955, the same year as the Bannister Basin Hut. Don McMaster joined us after about an hour having reached the hut via the Cairn Peak spur. On Sunday Don set off for Mitre Flats Hut over Mitre while we headed also for Mitre Flats Hut via Dorset Creek, Cairn Peak and Baldy.
The spur from the hut to Dorset Creek is well marked with tape but still requires care, in particular when descending off the initial steep section into a flattish area with some long grass about 10 minutes from the hut. A dry boot crossing was found over Dorset Creek. We quickly found a good route from the creek onto the face of the spur and then connected with a good foot pad to the crown of the spur. Travel up the Cairn Peak spur is straight forward following an obvious foot pad.
Once in the tussock, Ken soon found a sunny lunch spot. We shortly were joined by a hunter headed for Dorset Ridge Hut and talked to him about different routes to the hut. We had climbed onto the crown of the spur at about 950 metres, the area being distinguished by a large wind fall. Another route I have used leaves the crown of the spur at about 1000 metres. Its start is marked by an assortment of tapes and ties with cairns and blazes down its length, but it intersects the stream some distance above the start of the marked track to the hut.
On reaching Cairn Peak we discussed the descent via mid King Spur or via Baldy and the Barton Track; Baldy and the Barton Track got the thumbs up. The route through the tussock is straight-forward enough, and the turn off to the Barton track marked with a large cairn. Travel to the bush edge would be a challenge in thick mist as the foot pad is light and cairns are few and small. Thick regenerating beech trees, which at times mask the track, make for slow going at the bush edge. Much of the track is covered by large windfalls, making for slow progress, but the usual collaborative effort of route finding resulted in steady progress. On reaching the hut we reunited with Don, who had experience a good tops day, and had arrived early enough to secure a bunk in the otherwise full Mitre Flats hut.
After a good night's sleep we elected to leave early to avoid the rush on the hut cookers and some of the heavy traffic returning to Wellington following a long weekend. Revisiting the more remote Tararua huts is always rewarding since each experience is always different.
- Party members
- Colin Cook, Ken Fraser, Dave Reynolds (scribe).