Cascade Saddle New Zealand

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Cascade Saddle New Zealand

Postby wayno » Thu 23 Feb, 2012 3:38 am

http://www.sportzhub.com/site/index.php ... 9&Itemid=1

Trek - Cascade Saddle Print E-mail
Wednesday, 22 February 2012
One of the World's most scenic tracks is right here in New Zealand. Cascade Saddle route is not a well recognised track outside of the tramping world and gets a pen portrait here by avid tramper Wayne Clark.




Getting there:
In Wayne's case he flew down to Queenstown arriving in the afternoon, overnighted there and caught a bus to Wanaka in the morning, and then the shuttle bus into Raspberry Creek in the early afternoon.


http://www.alpinecoachlines.co.nz/wanak ... uttle.html.


Wayne's Cascade Saddle trek report:
Cascade Saddle is just under a two hour easy walk up the scenic Matukituki Valley to Aspiring Hut in perfect weather. I caught a glimpse of the massive broken ice slopes on top of the Rob Roy glacier high above, peering out behind towering, steep knife edge ridge lines. I could see the route needed to be traversed the following day, climbing 1400 metres up the steep sided valley.
cascade1


Aspiring hut has bunks for twenty odd people, and a spacious area for cooking, eating and sitting around on padded bench seats by large windows with panoramic views of the mountains above. From the hut you can see Mt Aspiring turn from orange to red as the sun sets.

The next morning was another fine cool autumn day, with a climb ahead to cascade saddle. The climb begins right next to the hut, (thankfully its gradual to begin with), climbing through beech forest, the sun peering through the leaves making them glow, with gold shafts of light penetrating the canopy.

Off at a moderate steady pace the valley wall steepened as I climbed, the track is a good one, only occasionally grabbing onto the odd root to haul myself up steps in the ground. After an hour in the first stream crossing, (a good place to stock up on water if you want to spare yourself carrying water up the entire climb), 90 minutes into the trek and 800 metres of climbing, you hit the bush line above 1200 metres. Here's where it starts to get steep, resorting to scrambles using your hands become common. The track constantly changes from here on in, from a moderate or steep walk to a bluff requiring climbing. The good news is that the bluffs aren't totally vertical, there's solid rock amongst the tussock in places, with DOC advising not to attempt the saddle in the wet, snow or high winds as it becomes slippery. Unfortunately there have been a lot of accidents and a few deaths in wet weather, usually happening on the descent.
While the climb is straight forward, as long as you've got a head for heights, and at the time I was fit for the climb but could have been fitter, my breathing felt like I was running a marathon up a steep hill and loosing the fight to get enough oxygen the higher I got.

Cascade2Wayne

The steep climbs kept on coming.
The view has to be one of the best in the country, the panoramic view of the Matukituki valley, its steep valley walls climbing a kilometre and a half up to the mountains, the Bonar Glacier and Mount Aspiring and other surrounding peaks are stunning in the clear sunny weather.

From here my pace slowed on the steeper slopes. After three hours I still hadn't completed the final 600 metres of the climb to the beacon at 1800 metres, having to stop to catch my breath for five minutes before continuing the rest of the steep pitches to the top. Murphy's law would have it the highest concentrations of steep sections were at the top.

Finally I scaled a steep pitch and the slope then changed to a gently sloping plateau just below the beacon. After three hours and twenty minutes I was there. From the peak there was a full 360 degree panorama that included the chiseled ridgeline of the Cascade Saddle with the vertical drop from it, and beyond the top of the pale blue ice of the Dart Glacier on its descent into the valley.
It was time for a break and a well earned lunch in the mild autumn weather with hardly a breeze at 1800m. On the climb I took 3 litres of water with me - just as well, I was going through it at a rate of half a litre an hour, sweating my way uphill.

Ahead was a descent, crossing an interesting section of shiny slabs of rock that looked like large tiles, and very slippery and challenging in the wet. Following this, the track dropped a few hundred metres down the slope, with the trail a mixture of rock, dirt and loose stones.
You're then into a valley that by optical illusion has a stream that seems to run into the base of the Bonar Glacier which is several kilometres away. Further on, on the other side of the Matukituki Valley, with a 1200 metre drop in between, you get a better look at the Dart Glacier as you descend to the Cascade Saddle. Finally standing on the Saddle crest there's a massive vertical drop of nearly a thousand metres, it's hard to believe it's so far down.
Cascade3


The descent continues as the track turns more to scree heading towards a morraine wall that overlooks the spectacular Dart Glacier hundreds of metres below. The glacier doesn't have the appearance of a lot of glaciers, being tainted with stones in amongst the ice, its colour is pure white and turquoise, running for kilometres down to the valley floor beneath steep slopes and vertical cliffs that rise hundreds of metres. The cliffs have their own glaciers perched on top of them, occasionally spilling ice avalanches down to the valley floor - and later on I was lucky enough to see one of these spectacles.

Watch the descent to the valley, as at one point I followed a false track that crossed a steep crumbly slope that was borderline to cross. In hindsight I should have recognised it then as a false track and turned back rather than risk crossing it with its large steep drop off that ran down to a near vertical drop for hundreds of metres. In the wet it would be a recipe for disaster. At another point the track came to a short scree bluff next to a creek, another dead end. If anyone stuffed it up they risked a fall and injury. This time looking around I found the real track with a gentler slope into a stream about twenty metres away.

After a couple of hours zigzagging down the slope in the heat of the day, I'd gone through my three litres of water and was still getting dehydrated. I didn't plan on stopping for long, as I was unsure how long it would take me to get to the hut and there wasn't the endless daylight that's available in the summer. DOC estimates were for eight to ten hours on the 17k's and I didn't want to have to find the track to the hut in the dark, so the only option was to push on.

Later the dehydration got the better of me and I was forced to stop to fill up with more water. I thought half a litre would be enough, as once you're past the glacier you can follow the valley floor most of the way down towards the dart hut.

There's still about 600 metres of descent down the side of the morraine to the base of the glacier and valley floor. A word of warning: do not attempt to remain on the valley floor in the rain. In heavy rain or flash floods the river can extend across the whole valley floor very quickly, and there are steep moraine bluffs that can't be climbed in some places. A tramper was caught out and died here a couple of years ago. Extensive searches failed to find her over the summer. It wasn't until the searches were resumed the following summer using a trained rescue dog that her remains were found in a gorge most likely kilometres from where she was swept into a swollen Dart River.

There is a sidle track over the rocky scree-covered morraine, which has cairns marking the way, but they are sporadic and you will have to keep an eye out for them.
Even the sidle track is not passable in heavy rain, the side streams have etched their own steep gorges into the scree from the volume and force of water in them during floods. They cannot be crossed in heavy rain and are prone to flash flooding, so you may have to wait out any heavy rain for however many hours or days that may be.

At the time it was unclear how easy it was to follow the valley floor so the choice was to stick to the sidle track, which climbs and falls through the various streams and mounds of rock, making for a more tiring afternoon. I was feeling refueled by more water and by day's end I'd drunk about four and a half litres.
The temperature would have been in the twenties in the shade, and in the sun it felt hotter even at this time of year. The valley must get very hot in mid summer, - there is enough water along the valley floors, but very little over Cascade Saddle apart from the stream you pass part way up the climb.

The walk down the valley became flatter and easier as it went, which is just as well as I was running up toward the limit of my endurance after the morning climb with 15 kilos on my back for the four day trip. As always I was carrying more food than needed in case of holdups from injury or bad weather. I recall once when I was on the Milford track, the track was closed while I was at the last hut and I had no spare food. Luckily it was reopened in the morning, but the final day is a twenty km walk, so its not one you want to make on an empty stomach in cold weather...

I heard a very loud peel of thunder behind me, strange I thought, there isn't a cloud in the sky - there was a weather front due but not for another day. I looked around to see a big torrent of ice cascading over the valley cliff wall hundreds of metres above. It kept pouring over the edge for a couple of minutes making a loud roaring noise that reverberated around the valley. It was probably a good kilometre away, but with the scale of the scenery its hard to tell, as everything is so vast in scale you loose track. The maps tell the true story, mountains towering steeply everywhere over a kilometre above. The valley floor is hundreds of metres wide in places, flat and featureless, increasing the distortion of distance unless you see something you recognise in the distance, like a person that appears like a moving spec in the distance.

Closer to the dart hut you have to leave the river bed as there are steep rock slopes that have to be climbed around on the sidle track, - keep an eye out for rock cairns on your left when these steep sections appear. The last half hour of the track is entirely above the river on a hillside.
Eight and a half hours after leaving Aspiring Hut, I came round a corner and spied the welcome relief of Dart Hut and the bridge that crosses over the river to it. By that stage I was tired and didn't want to have to travel any further so it was a pretty welcome site.

Its a flash recently upgraded hut - a lot of the new huts are double glazed to keep the worst of the cold out at night, with separate sleeping quarters that are nicely noise proofed from any noise coming from the main hut at night. I wasn't planning on having much of a night life, so grabbed a bunk in one of the two rooms.

There's plenty of bench seating on a spacious deck to cool off in on a hot afternoon like today.
After dinner I had an early night and a great sleep, ready for the five hour tramp down the Dart Valley above the river gorge and along the 5k's of open ground of cattle flat to Daley's Hut.
The following day was another four hours easy tramp through more stunning vistas, moss covered bush and rocks , and a very scenic climb up Sandy Bluff. Then on out to the road end to wait for the info track shuttle back to the luxury of Queenstown.

This is definitely one of the best tracks I have ever walked, highly recommended if your fitness and head for heights is up to the task. I'm still amazed by the grandeur and beauty in the photos I took. Next time though I might just do the Cascade Saddle as an easier day walk. Instead, a lot of people tramp up the Rees valley and over the Dart Saddle to the Dart Hut, and some will then make a 20k round trip day walk up to Cascade Saddle and back before continuing down the Dart Valley. The less ambitious will wander up to the glacier avoiding the climb up to the Saddle.

My trip was a total of 65k's over three and a half days walking. The Rees Dart trip is the same distance, not counting the trip to the Cascade Saddle.

I made use of the following sites to work out a favourable forecast for my trip:

http://www.mountain-forecast.com/

http://www.metservice.com/
from the land of the long white clouds...

NZ Tramping News https://www.facebook.com/groups/208124842637462/
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Re: Cascade Saddle New Zealand

Postby forest » Thu 23 Feb, 2012 6:17 am

Very nice Wayno.
Nice write up.

I've my flights booked flying into Queenstown on March 28th.
Hit the Rees Track on the 29th.
Planning to get up to cascade saddle on 31st March for the day... Finger crossed on the weather.

Keen as !!

Reading your report sadly isn't making the dates come around any quicker...... :mrgreen:
I am a GEAR JUNKIE and GRAM COUNTER !!

There, It's out. I said it, Ahh I feel better now :lol:
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Re: Cascade Saddle New Zealand

Postby Tony » Thu 23 Feb, 2012 8:03 am

Hi Wayno,

Great report, makes me want to go back, I am sorry I did not make it up to the Cascade Saddle when I did the Rees-Dart last November, we thought we had some weather coming in so we left it for another day.

Tony
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Re: Cascade Saddle New Zealand

Postby wayno » Thu 23 Feb, 2012 3:10 pm

Tony wrote:Hi Wayno,

Great report, makes me want to go back, I am sorry I did not make it up to the Cascade Saddle when I did the Rees-Dart last November, we thought we had some weather coming in so we left it for another day.

Tony


good news is, hte saddle isnt going anywhere, it will be waiting patiently for you next time...
from the land of the long white clouds...

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Re: Cascade Saddle New Zealand

Postby bernieq » Sun 03 Feb, 2013 9:07 pm

No talk of Cascade Saddle is complete without at least a photo or two.

We were extremely fortunate to strike a completely calm day in April 2009 – not a breath of wind on the Saddle. The previous day we had slogged down Snowy Ck into the teeth of a howling gale and torrential rain.
CS2.JPG
Cascade Saddle - April 2009

CS3.JPG
looking over Cascade Saddle to Dart Glacier April 2009


wayno wrote:Closer to the dart hut you have to leave the river bed as there are steep rock slopes that have to be climbed around on the sidle track
One small point, Wayno. The narrowing (not really a gorge) in the Dart between 2 and 3km up from Dart Hut doesn’t have to be climbed around(although, as you say, it is where the track goes). In April with low flow, it was quite easy, and much quicker, to rock-hop down the river. In fact, after the initial descent from Cascade Saddle to the floor, we stayed on the floor until the last km before the hut - where you do have to sidle over the ridge to get the the bridge over the Snowy and to the hut.

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Re: Cascade Saddle New Zealand

Postby wayno » Mon 04 Feb, 2013 5:04 am

yeah thanks for clearing that up. i was refering to the last piece, it was teh only place i left the river lower down once i realised i didnt have to go up and down on the wet weather track
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