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Heels 1963

Matukituki-Dart-Routeburn (X-mas; 1962)

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Matukituki-Dart-Routeburn (X-mas; 1962)

After the usual shambles of preparation, we were abandoned by our taxi at the end of the Mount Aspiring Homestead Road late on 12th February. The first taste of really heavy packs was somewhat alarming for the three novices and unpleasant for the other two. We staggered several hundred yards in overcaste and windy weather, and pitched the tent behind a rock next to the river. Next day we made the short trip up to Cascade Hut over green river flats and alluvial fans, through alarming herds of Hereford cattle.

Cascade Hut was small, cosy, and cheap in contrast to Aspiring Hut which we saw later. The next day (Monday) we had a get-fit trip to Shotover Saddle for the view. The hot, steep slopes brought awareness of our unfitness, but this was compensated for by the magnificent views of the green grassy flats of the Matukituki surrounded by glacier ravaged mountaine. On the other side of the saddle we saw the stark contrast of the dry, brown, narrow Shotover. Our explorations on the saddle were cut short by a sudden weather change to very cold and windy conditions, It hailed on the way down, which was very painful, and progress downhill on the wet snowgrass was very slow despite frequent slides on backsides. We clearly saw the wisdom of taking parkas and jarseys on the finest days.

Tuesday we took four days food up the Valley to Pearl Flat as another get-fit exercise. The peaks looked most impressive in the beautiful clear weather (particularly when seen upside down between the legs).

Leaving our packs at Pearl Flat our relentless leader drove us on up towards the head of the Matukituki, where we rested in the evening sun beneath the towering walls of a mountain cirque. Back at Pearl Flat we lay out in our sleeping-bags in the long-darkened valley watching the last rays of the sun on Aspiring while Nick shot us liver for breakfast and steak for tea.

Wenesday. The fifth day out. Fine and clear. The sun did not reach us till fairly late, so we made a ten o'clock start on French Ridge. The track was very steep but we found it surprisingly good going (without packs) reaching the scrub line in two hours. Magnificent views of Mount Avalanche, Hector Col, Tindall, Cascade Saddle, Aspiring, French, Barff, and Gloomy Gorge from various points.

The following day we wandered back to Cascade Hut where we were greeted by a dog. A deer culler was in our hut! We feasted on his cabbage, peas, and tomatoes with our venison.

At 5 a.m. Ray leapt out of bed to examine the prospects of crossing Cascade Saddle that day. We joyfully persuaded him that it was too wet, and had a glorious rest-day page break eating and reading. This was our only rest day - enforced - we were promised three. The rain came down, the river came up, our packs were geting lighter! Peter Childs passed through to Aspiring that evening promising to come back next day and lead us over to the Culler's route to Dart Hut.

At 5 a.m. Saturday it was raining so we were draggad out at seven by Peter and were half way up Cascade Saddle (our biggest hurdle) in cool, misty weather, before we realised it. Lunch at the top feeling mighty pleased with ourselves. Matukituki, Aspiring, bottomless drops, waterfalls, bush lost in the mist. Even the moraine humps unreal and the Dart Glacier coming and going with the clouds. The Brocken Spectre waved mockingly beneath us. Shiny parkas, moraine underfoot; a mineral world, the hours tangible ahead of us.

Dart Hut was full of large, enthusiastic, and dangerous deer-shooters. To avoid being shot we left early on our long wet trip down-river through dripping bush and soaking grass to Dredge Hut. A half rest day was declared after these two had days, the men-folk going in search of a view, while the women concocted a magnificent meal which transferred the excess supplies from backs to stomachs. The notorious sndflies were in abeyance until half an hour before leaving.

We left late afternoon, crossing the river by Sandy Bluff, making our way down the "wrong" side to a mile above Chinaman's Bluff where we slept out. A bush robin that had joined us above Cattle Flat turned up again and was still with us at Cascade Creek.

A long day through deer-tracked bush and open flats, road, tourist tracks then more grassy flats took us to Routeburn Huts. Their raspberries were much appreciated.

Heavy rain during the night forecast a rest day, but it cleared by ten and we had a pleasant sunny trip over Harris Saddle, and round to the new hut at Lake McKenzie.

Beautiful Lake McKenzie, the Hollyford Valley, Earland Falls, Lake Howden, contrasted with the bleakness of the Dart, made our return to civilisation unwelcome. A return to the Hollyford is considered essential.

Party: Ray Hoare (Leader), Phil. Laird, Nick Bullock, Vivien Jamieson, and Helen Henderson.

H.H. and R.H.