Our planned route was on part of the classic Arthur's Pass Three Passes route over Harman, Whitehorn and Browning passes before leaving the standard route and crossing two extra passes to exit back on Highway 73. The five of us, two from NTC and three from MTC were repeating a great trip I did 19 years ago but this time we encountered a few additional challenges. A mixed weather forecast had us excepting that we would probably end up spending a day hut bound while NW front passed thru. A vehicle was left at either roadend as we started up the true right of the Waimakariri river below Bealey Spur on a fine Sunday morning.
An easy walk up the braided river flats had us lunching at Anti Crow hut, followed by a quick dash to Carrington Hut as the sky darkened and rain threatened. We completed day one in 5.25hrs just as the rain began to fall. Luckily the forecast rain cleared before morning and the White river crossing was only thigh deep at the start of day two. As we worked our way up towards Harman pass the increased flow in the Taipoiti river had us continually crisscrossing it to provide the easiest path forward. Wet boots were to be a constant on this trip but as conditions weren't too cold this wasn't a problem. We arrived at the top of Harman in 2.5 hours and enjoyed the views of the Ariels tarns and surrounding snow capped peaks before heading SW up towards Whitehorn Pass. Doc had issued a warning that the terminal face of the Whitehorn snowfield was collapsing so we sidled across a crumbling moraine wall to gain access to some solid snowpack above.. Whilst we had a number of iceaxes, these weren't necessary as we proceeded up the snowfield with the assistance of our Leki pole/s. We crossed over the pass after 5.5 hours to descend a steep scree slope under a diminished Cronin glacier. It was slow going thru the boulder and tussock covered Cronin streambed and just before arriving at the hut the team has a chance to view the towering face of Browning pass in the fading light. We settled in to Park Morpeth hut after a 9.5 hour day with two additional parties arriving around a similar time.
A cold, blustery day three morning had us making our way up the headwaters of the Wilberforce river onto the cairned and poled zig zag route half way up the face of the pass. From here is got much steeper but plenty of traffic provided an good foothold in the most part as we scrambled to the top in 2.5 hours. The views were spectacular but the job was only half done, we had another 450 vertical metres of climbing to go to get over Popes Pass. As we ascended thru the mist my route of 19 years ago disappeared into thin air, hundreds of metres of the NE face of the mountain opposite Rosamond ridge had crumbled away leaving us with a much higher route bypassing Popes Pass altogether which is now inaccessible from the east. The snow conditions were excellent as we climbed higher taking an easy, low angled route to pass around the flanks of Mt Harman before encountering the bluffs on the above Popes Pass after 5.25 hours. After a bit of investigation and studying the map we decided on the low risk scree slope under the peak of Mt Harman to descend to the valley floor. We had more boulder hopping as we made our way down Julia creek, sidling around a gorge and waterfall. From here we were soon onto the river flats and chest high tussock which provided some muttering as we struggled to keep out of small water courses. Accessing the start of the track had us ploughing thru leatherwood and huge boulders and we finally reached Julia hut after 10.75 hours travel. We had a fellow traveler in the hut, Andrew from Auckland who was looking at going over to Browning Pass the following morning. However, the forecast rain put paid to that and we spent a day in the very roomy Julia hut whilst the rain turned scree slopes into streams.
On day five the rain had stopped and the rivers dropped so another 7am start had us commencing our climb up a not so Dry Creek to top out on Hunts Ridge for lunch. The climb up had been uneventful apart from having to use the not so dry stream bed below the basin as our path up. We had fun descending a good scree scree slope before reaching the inevitable boulder field and tussock laden valley floor. We had now worked out that even though untracked travel had been slow, tracks thru the bush were much slower as they usually provided access away from impassable gorges. The four bunk Hunts Creek hut provided shelter for our last night out after our 8 hour day situated on a grassy swampy hallow below Barron Ridge. Another early start had us sidling and climbing up to Hunts Saddle that provides access to Kelly's creek, our exit route to Highway 73. The track disappears into the riverbed under Spot Height 1409 and from here is washed out most of the way until you climb out of the river around where the Carroll Hut stream reaches Kelly's Creek. We reached the roadend after 5 hours.
This is a great trip for fit, experienced party happy to navigate off track along boulder and tussock laden river valleys and moderately easily accessible tops. Companions for the trip were Murray, Paul and Jill from Marlborough T.C and Andrea from the Nelson TC.
Check out the Trip route and additional images here.
- Trip Grade: Fit
- Trip Duration: Extended Trip
- Trip Area: Arthurs Pass National Park