Benighted on Winchcombe
February 11-13 2011
Map: NZTopo50-BP33 Featherston
The weather forecast promised fine conditions for both Kapiti and Wairarapa. The trip was on! Meeting at Wellington Railway Station, five TTC members caught the very comfortable commuter train to the Wairarapa. Alighting at Matarawa station, we were met by a pre-arranged shuttle and transported to the Waiohine Gorge Road road end. From there we made our way to Cone Hut in 2.5 hours.
Next morning we started at 8am for Cone Saddle and Cone and followed the well marked route toward Neill peak, stopping for lunch beyond Neill Saddle. Heading for Winchcombe Peak, the conditions were overcast and misty. The terrain was undulating and some clambering was required.
By early evening we arrived at a flattish high point. A stainless steel pin embedded in a rock indicated we had reached Winchcombe and Bobís GPS confirmed it. A combination of strong winds and misty conditions made wet weather gear essential although not entirely effective.
After at least one false start we started towards Hector again using cairns. However shortly thereafter the GPS told us we were off track. Making our way back onto the track, it was difficult to find the route forward in the mist.
After a 12 hour day, with night approaching, a decision was made to find somewhere to camp. A hollow area about six metres below and in the lee of the ridge offered shelter and a nearby shallow tarn, protected by leatherwood and spaniards, provided water. One billy pasta was prepared in limited cooking space and sleeping spots were found amongst the tussock and under leatherwood. Pack liners of varying lengths were used as bivvy bags and survival blankets were used as ground sheets. Mist rolled above us all night but we were well sheltered.
Most got a reasonable sleep until drizzle started at 5am. After hot drinks and breakfast, we ventured back onto the track above us, to be greeted once again by strong winds and mist - removing any chance of locating our intended route. We decided to retrace our steps.
Back on Cone, we were delighted to find sunshine and views of the Wairarapa and to learn that Wellington had enjoyed a sunny weekend. A phone call was made to cancel the pre-arranged Paraparaumu shuttle and to arrange for the Masterton shuttle to collect us. For only $20 extra per person (on top of Fridayís train and shuttle costs) we arranged a shuttle to collect us from Waiohine Gorge Road road end and deliver us to Wadestown. After a 10 hour day, this was most welcome.
Nearly all the party is keen to attempt this trip again. CD
Neil Challands points to a relevant entry in the old Forest Service Tararua Forest Park Route Guide which describes the way west from the top of Winchcombe as follows: the route follows the ridge as it climbs a series of humps, the only doubtful place being where the ridge seems to split in two. At this point follow the right-hand (north) part of the ridge, sidle below and to the right (north) of the top of the local knob, regain the ridge, and continue to Mt Hector.
To which Alan responds: This is certainly the area of our problems but I'm not sure that we were well through the small saddle west of Winchcombe. We knew about the split ridge but just could not see well enough in the mist to be sure of the route to follow
- Party members
- Lois Buckrell, Colleen Davey (scribe), Lynne Pomare, Bob White, Alan Wright (leader).