Rees-Dart tramp: my new favourite tramp ever

Published: February 18th 2008
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Well, feeling a little nervous, jac and I embarked on this 'moderately demanding' 5 day tramp. Nervous because not only was it my longest and hardest tramp to date (average 6-8 hour days), it was also my first summer tramp, and me and heat and exercise dont normally have a particularly jolly time together.

(Please note, there are three pages of photos, little blue boxes at bottom/top of page)

Day 1 dawns: On a little trepidation
So we set out, the shuttle drove us past the set of the new Xmen movie thats being filmed in Glenorchy at the moment, or was when we were there, and dropped us off at the road-end. Actually not quite the road end, just some arbitrary point where the road didnt end. And we set off.
It was a beautiful day, beautiful scenery, we were walking up the Rees valley, getting ever closer to snow-topped peaks. We managed to stay in front of the crowd (which we later found out was a group from Auckland Uni tramping club, and who would keep us company at all the huts along the way). So that was nice, because lets face it, you go bush so you don't see anyone, so you don't really want to have loads of people in the middle of your isolated panorama view.
Just before lunch we got bogged down a little in the Rees valley. Actually it was just a little ankle-deep mush, but we found ourselved covered in new freckles (mud spatters). Man it would be a lot of fun to go through there after rain! It had basically not rained in a long time when we went, driving to Queenstown the fields were all brown all the way from Dunedin. So its basically as dry as it gets, and it was still muddy! Still, not a patch on my waist-deep puddle of muddle I fell into one valley over on the Greenstone.
After lunch (dang sandflies lunched on us, we lunched on lunch), it got pretty darn hot, but luckily we were into the bush pretty soon, which marks the edge of Mt Aspiring National Park. At this point we both ran out of water, which I was quite shocked at, I'd gone through a whole 2L bag! (This is unheard of in winter tramps, I normally only half fill it and theres still some left over at the end of the day) But there was plenty around.
So, getting false hope from Jac's lonely planet guide, we thought we were pretty much done for the day. A wee climb through the bush, across a couple of gullies, and then you're there at the first night's resting place. It was pretty cool actually, the gullies were awesome. And we were actually pretty much there, except that we were expecting to see a campsite just before the hut, and we never saw it, so we kept thinking we were miles away, until suddenly we saw the swingbridge just outside Shelter Rock Hut, with great whoops of joy and relief. A quick dip in the glacier-melt-can't beleive-its-not-still-frozen-its-so-cold-it-must-only-not-be-frozen-because-its-moving-river, and a cup-a-soup later, we were very happy trampers. We also managed the day in 5 1/2 hours (including quite numerous stops), and so for a '6-8 hour day' this was very encouraging.

Day 2 dawns: On a dark but at the same time light day
So weird to be in a valley, where the valley walls are quite close, so you can see that the day has dawned at the top of the walls, but its still pretty dark at the bottom.
This was a pretty cool day. We followed the Rees river upstream, sidling along one valley wall through low scrub. Kinda like a native rock-garden, awesome. Also, loads of cairns, which I haven't come across before, so that was exciting.
Then eventually once the river was small enough we broke out onto the slip flat, carrying along a pretty surprisingly flat and well-trodden (but ever upward) track beside rocks of all sizes. The final climb up to the saddle was hands-and-feet steep, crazy! But pretty cool. You go a few steps, think you've made no ground, but stop to look around anyway, and you've come such a long way! At the saddle (1447m) we dropped our packs and wind-proofed up (it was gusting something chronic!), and mountain-goated it up the hill next to the saddle. A very-well-worth-it detour, from the top you could see all the way down the Rees valley (where we'd come from), and all the way down two other valleys, the not-quite-Dart-valley, and another which I have no idea what its called. But it was beautiful!
Then it was a knee-crunching hop down across the tarn-lined tussock bench following Snowy creek into the Dart valley. Snowy 'creek' was this huge raging grey-and-white torrent, it was awesome. And then it was a knee/quad-crunching steep drop down to the Dart hut at the top of the Dart valley. Overall, a pretty cool day, the best so far actually. But again, much shorter than expected. We did it in just under 4 hours, for a '4-6 hr day', and with loads of stops.
A quick dip in the Dart 'river' - they must be moving quick, unbeleivable that its not frozen! This one was even colder than the Rees! - and a cup-a-soup later, and we sat down to listen to the timely rain on the roof. What luck! The one spot of rain of the whole tramp and it happened to come after we were already done for the day!

Day 3 dawns: On excitement
This was the day we were to head up to the very head of the Dart valley, on a day trip to where the Dart glacier begins, and then a climb up to Cascade saddle which is between the Dart and Matukituki valleys (where Mt Aspiring is). It was amazing, the best day of the tramp, and well worth adding an extra day in for. In fact I would go so far as to say it would be a huge shame and stupid miscalculation to miss it out just for the sake of making the trip 4 days. We walked up the Dart valley, one gloriously light pack between the two of us, getting ever-nearer to the Dart glacier. Soon we got into this weird shale/slate-built land, where everything was silvery-grey, and no plants grew. This explained the huge amount of silvery sediment in the rivers, and also the silver-grey colour of the water. The sediment is so fine, powder almost. We climbed up the valley wall opposite the Dart glacier, which meant we got an awesome view of it. The climb up was nuts though, steep, no path, just follow the cairns and make your own way, clamber over rocks, don't look down. Actually if I didn't have to watch where to put my feet so carefully I would have been freaked, and I'm not scared of heights.
Millions of 'I think we just have to go to that point and then we're at the saddle' later, we actually did arrive, and managed to snap a picture of (what we think was) Mt Aspiring before the clouds covered it. Good timing, because it didnt come back out again and we stayed at the top for a while.
Now, if I got excited about the scenery at the top of the Rees saddle, Let me tell you about Cascade saddle! It was amazing, with the dart glacier one side, and this beautiful valley on the other. In fact, just look at the pictures, I'm inadequate!

Day 4 dawns: on a little stupidity
Jac and I, so excited by the day before's side-day-trip, decided we'd like to fit another day trip into our next '5-7 hour day'. Which was on the way, so, it should only 'add 1 more hour on'. But this was a slight miscalculation, in that we were calculating one-way times not return times. But, we decided we'd go to another glacier, the Whitbourn, where apparently we would actually be able to go to the foot of the glacier, ie not just be able to see it but also touch it, walk on it, whatever. So we set out, dumped our packs at the turnoff to the Whitbourn valley... where the track became very much a route. It was quite a steep drop, 4-limb sort of tramping, tree-hugging, a little rockclimbing, a rope for some abseiling wouldn't have been out of place, fun! Across the swingbridge, and then similar up the other side. Then we get into the valley proper, and begin sidling along above the Whitbourn river. Where all of a sudden the 'route' became scarily precarious. Also about this time we realised our time calculation mistake. But we carried on, until I slipped a little on the 'track', and slowly we got very afraid, out of our depth, and realised we didnt have any first-aid gear, food, water, warm clothes, basically the essentials. Although we did know that one of the Auckland group was in front of us and he would have to come back along where we were, although he didnt have his pack either. So, we saw a cool torrent of a river, no glacier, and turned back. we found out later that the glacier was a lot further even than the guide said, the track never got any better, so that was a consolation.
So, we eventually got down the scramble, and up the other side, and back to day 4's actual agenda. Which was pretty tame after all that! But STINKING hot! Jac and I both got very moody about midday, because of the heat. We saw an awesome rock Biv (Deet-encrusted trampers only I recommend to actually stay there), and then managed to get off the track a little by following a river instead of crossing it (cooked brains, also the crossing wasn't very clear). So we decided instead of back-tracking we might stop and have a dip so we could be civil again. It was amaaaaaazing, best swimming hole scenery ever! Took some water from that stream too, it was so metallic-tasting! Aaaaaaand basically as soon as we got out of the river we were as hot as before we got in. Never mind. The day continued over up-and-down grassy 'flat', with the very-occasional very-short respite from the heat in the bush. And then we made it to Sandfly Hut. actually it is called Daley's Flat Hut, but don't let the name fool you. The sandflies there are vicious! And they were all through the hut, which sucked big time! No respite anywhere. We also went down for a swim and got eaten alive before we could even get in the river, those sandflies were crazy, unlike anything I've seen before! Actually the whole of the Dart valley seemed to be overridden with the creatures, next time I'm definately taking Deet. None of this Dimp crap, they actually land right on it and start sucking through the stuff!
Once again, under-time, although the sandflies really cut all our stops very short.

Day 5 dawns: Dang sandflies!
The short walk out to the roadend (this one actually was a road-end) was nice. Early start though, because the sandflies were again biting, and it's much nicer to just keep moving. Except then of course we got to the end way too early and had to suffer the sandflies there instead while we waited 2 hours for the shuttle to come. Nice walk though. I always find that down the valley (Dart) is never as cool as up though, you have to turn around for the views, and you know your trip is nearing its end. I was also a little pernickety as I had semi-twisted my ankle the day before, so I had this weird sore lump (hematoma???) at the front of my ankle, which was pushing on my boot the whole way and got very sore. But it was nice. and of course the usual last-day conversations about showers and not-stale food and no-pack-carrying sprang up, which are always comforting.
So that was that, another night at Ilana's in Queenstown at her new flat with the most-amazing-view of lake Wakatipu, and then the next day it was back to good old dunners

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