Lewis Pass tops and Brass Monkey Biv
18-21 November 2015
This was a trip Alison Davis and I did using some of the tricks Simon Bell specialised in: - Cheap Jetstar flights to Christchurch, shuffled from week to week as plans evolved. - Travelling light with a Jetboil gas stove (white spirits stove in luggage is a pain on Jetstar) and minimal spare clothes. - Experimenting with different lightweight foods, cobbled together from various sources.
In a pattern of strong westerly flow and uncertain weather three days out, we decided to head into the Lewis Pass area where we'd heard about good tops travel and a moderate level of alpine thrill.
Wednesday 18th, we took a cheap Apex rental car and headed to Lewis Pass, camping overnight in the Deer Creek campsite.
Thursday, we climbed from Lewis Pass through beech forest using the easy marked tops track. Within an hour we were on the gentle rolling tops - think Tararuas except with no leatherwood, hardly any discernible scrub band at all actually! Moving along this gentle green carpet, we passed tarn after tarn. There would be abundant fabulous camping along here in fine weather.
As a side trip, we climbed Mt Technical, which consumed a couple of hours scrambling and sidling on exposed ground but did not require a rope.
To finish the day we crossed Lucretia Peak to drop to Brass Monkey Biv. This is a great little (two bunk) orange shed on the bank of a shimmering tarn at 1360m, and not cold in November despite its name. This biv sits on an east-west watershed (Waiau/Buller) and Ali tells me is technically on the Main Divide!
The forecast norwester storm kicked in as expected on Friday so we spent most of day sleeping in the biv, only venturing out in the evening when a brief clearance gave us back views of the tops and surrounding valleys. The Jetboil worked fine, although it wasn't cold we did initially have trouble finding gas canisters as petrol stations don't sell these (Warehouse (Northlands), Christchurch was the solution).
Saturday we had hoped to continue along the tops to Grand Duchess Peak and descend to the Nina Valley. But at 6am it was raining with visibility of only about 10m, making it feel much more like the Tararuas!
Reluctantly we abandoned the plan and decided our shortest option was to drop north from the biv towards SH7 which involved 600m of descent and a west coast bush-bash down One Mile Creek which I thought we'd move through at about one kilometre an hour. How wrong I was! At times, we made painfully slow progress and it was nine hours overall to travel a mere four kilometres from biv to road. The forest travel was impeded by steep slopes (>50 degrees), bluffs, treefall and large firms of bush lawyer.
Ali‘s hands were lacerated and our jackets and packs took a heavy toll from all the lawyering and at times we despaired, wondering if we'd ever get out. The phone GPS app showed we were inching our way down and the prospect of Maruia hot springs kept us going although these turned out to be closed!
We emerged on the Lewis Pass road near Maruia Hot Springs and were glad to be able to hitch back over the Pass to the rental car, and were lucky to get the last two bunks in the Hanmer Springs YHA.
Sunday, after a recuperating brunch, we did a circuit of Lake Tennyson as a "cool-down walk", seeing pippits, falcons, paradise ducks, a black-backed gull and several dotterel pairs along the way. And then a couple of hours in the hot pools, which was bliss.
And back on the redeye flight to Wellington Monday morning and straight into work - another Simon trick!
I'd highly recommend the Lewis Pass tops and Lake Tennyson circuit to anyone looking for things to do when the weather forecast doesn't warrant getting higher up in the Southern Alps.
- Party members
- Dave Grainger(scribe), Alison Davis