Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

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Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby Araucaria » Wed 19 Feb, 2020 4:16 pm

Hi!
My partner and I are planning to spend around 3 weeks in March hiking in Mount Aspiring National Park. We're flying to and from Queenstown and are not planning to travel around much but rather stay in one area on longer hikes.

Our preliminary plan is:
1. Get to Glenorchy (hopefully shuttle bus), stay for one night and leave food supplies for the next hikes
2. Get to Routeburn Shelter (shuttle bus or hitchhiking) and hike the Five Passes Route.
3. Get back to Glenorchy, restock.
4. Get to Muddy Creek carpark (shuttle bus or hitchhiking) and hike: Rees-Dart Track via Rees Valley and Cascade Saddle, then to East Matukituki Valley, Wilkin Valley - East Matukituki Traverse, and finally Gillespie Pass Circuit.

We're aware that some of these tracks are unmarked (Five Passes) and/or recommended for experienced hikers only (e.g. Cascade Saddle). We'll not attempt the difficult sections in bad weather. We have proper camping gear and clothes for (as well as experience in) hiking in rain, wind and snow. We also know about the closures, but as far as I understand, all the trails we have planned are open (except for some sections of the Rees-Dart which we'll not take).

I've read a number of trip reports from each of these tracks, but it's always helpful to read more! If any of you completed these hikes, could you comment on:
1) the technical / route-finding difficulty of the Five Passes Route (compared to e.g. Southern Ranges trail to Precipitous Bluff in Tasmania)
2) how many days you would recommend to have for both hikes (in good vs bad weather)
3) whether we can count on hitchhiking to/from the trailheads or should rather book transport (we're happy to do that, it's just difficult to estimate how much time exactly a hike will take)
4) should we expect lots of people on these tracks in March? We prefer solitude over crowds

Any other advice is also most welcome. Thanks in advance!

Cheers!
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby bernieq » Wed 19 Feb, 2020 7:01 pm

1. no real issues with 5 Passes navigation (anti-clockwise) although I can see how one could lose the route near the start of the climb to Park Pass. I'd recommend including Lake Nerine to the plan. There are gpx tracks downloadable from routeguides.co.nz
No issue with Rees Valley and around to Dart hut and up to the pylon - its very steep beyond and (as you've alluded) great care is needed to descend.
2. The number of days really depends on how fast you move and how many side trips you do. It's fabulous terrain so don't rush it - plan side trips and prune if you are pushing the schedule.
3. Do you have enough spare time to wait a day for a ride? IMO, book.
4. These tramps are becoming more popular, for sure, but nothing like the Routeburn - you'll encounter a few groups but won't be tripping over them.

Other advice : take a PLB

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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby Araucaria » Wed 19 Feb, 2020 8:29 pm

Hi, many thanks for all the advice! Very helpful.

The reason I asked about the approximate number of days is that we’ll have ~3 weeks for all the hikes - preferably with two or three spare days. I’m not sure how realistic that is - if hardly, we may skip the Five Passes or the Gillespie Pass.

We’re not super fast, but perhaps a bit faster than average. We recently hiked the Tasmania’s Southern Ranges in 6 days and the Larapinta Trail in 11 days (without food drops, so with 2 weeks worth of food).

We have a Garmin InReach in case of emergency, always take it for multiday hikes. We’ll also have a sturdy 4-season tent in case the huts are full. I hope we’re allowed to camp along the trail (we’ll double-check the rules before departing).
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby Aardvark » Wed 19 Feb, 2020 9:02 pm

There is still a chance you will traverse the Five passes route without seeing anyone but even if you do they are likely to be of the same ilk.
I've been on the route three times now from different directions and with varying side trips and i would say that you might vary slightly on the route from that stated in Moirs guide Nth but any competent tramper won't find that to be a problem. The parts you might find to be the trickiest might be different to that of someone else. Moirs guide Nth or the more up to date version - The Otago Southern Alps, gives a good enough descripton with enough detail.
That is not to say there is no need for map, compass and even an altimeter. These and the knowledge to use them are absolutely necessary.
I believe you will more likely be centred on the start and finish of the walk in your preparations. For example, the current closure of the Routeburn will no doubt have an effect on the transport schedule of say, InfoTrack (track and transport service from Queenstown and Glenorchy). It is sometimes affected by demand.
Nothing starts really early in NZ as it is centred on the demands of tourists. Therefore, if dependant on shuttle services you will not usually get walking until mid to late morning.
Theatre Flat in the Rockburn is likely as far as the average tramper will go from Routeburn shelter during daylight hours. That is not to say you can't do more.
I have left Park Pass bivvy at midday and arrived at Glenorchy campsite well before dark, after hitching from Routeburn shelter. Ridiculous as it might sound.
Another time i got to Glenorchy pub just before closure after leaving Fohn saddle and crossing the Dart on foot.
In recent times people have suggested Dart River Jet Boat Safaris aren't taking trampers to the Beans burn anymore. It apparently takes a seat from a full paying customer. They pay something like $280 which includes a stopover at the Rockburn confluence and a leg further up river from the Beansburn and more. It certainly means not walking before 11am regardless. I would imagine they might be flexible if demand is slow but March is not that slow in Otago anymore. It is likely you would have to be ON the spot, ON the day.
My partner and i took this service a few years back.
It is for this reason i imagine flagging them from the mouth of the Beansburn and getting a response is unlikely. Communicating by Mountain Radio whilst descending the Beansburn and getting in touch with them through that service is not likely. Getting a signal on your phone similarly will be problematic let alone getting the timing right.
I would appreciate anyone being able to give advice differently on that matter.
That only leaves the options of crossing the Dart on foot. I've only done that myself back in 2003 i think and it was very low flow at the time. I heard at the time it was the lowest for some time. It isn't without its risks and many people have come to grief doing it.
That then only leaves travelling down the Dart on the true right from the Beansburn to the bridge over the Rockburn and subsequently the track around Lake Sylvan.
I've not liked the look of crossing the Beansburn at its' mouth on any occasion i've seen it.
The rivers change though over time.
There is a bridge over the Beansburn between the mouth and the first flat. It is a couple of kilometres back from the mouth. I'd like it if anyone can confirm if travel from there is any good. I would imagine it is a likely route but certainly off track.

I would give a minimum of 5 days for the Five Passes. 6 is more practical in case of a holdup due to weather and a rise in water level.

As for Gillespie Pass, my first walk in NZ in 1999. I would make sure you include the side trip to Lake Crucible.
Rees - Dart. Pretty busy these days. Huts are twice the size they were the first time i was there. The road to Muddy Ck has had a washout too and might need more walking time to be considered. I hope that's had some work before March when i'm there again. I want to go over Lennox Pass and over Turret ridge to the Dart.
If you want to linger in the East Matukituki, consider Dragonfly Peak above South Albertburn saddle and Sisyphus Peak for the views.
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby bernieq » Wed 19 Feb, 2020 9:20 pm

Southern Range - do you mean Lune Bay to PB and out to Cockle Ck via Sth Coast Tk in 6 days? That's not hanging about ! (but a great walk).
So, without pushing it, we took 7.5 days for 5 Passes, Lake Nerine & Nth Routeburn with side trips to Sunset Peak and Park Glacier. For standard 5 Passes, I'd say 5 days minimum (good weather, no nav errors).
Three days from Muddy Ck to Aspiring Hut. Can't help you with Gillespie Pass.

There is some current discussion on plb/inreach on tramper.nz - I'd reiterate that, although nice to have, the inreach isn't a substitute for a PLB (imo, of course).

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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby wayno » Thu 20 Feb, 2020 4:41 am

you need to check with the doc website for alerts for the area, a massive storm has caused extensive damage in the region, a metre of ran fell in 60 hours...

https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recre ... go/alerts/

you can t go onto the routeburn at all for the five passes, its completely closed indefinitely...
check the shuttles because the routeburn is closed there will be a limited service if theres any service at all.
the bridge at the dart hut was damaged and closed., check with doc you may not be able to get to the dart hut in rain
because of closures of various major tracks its made the remaining tracks very busy and huts could well be overloaded.
the dart river is closed at the lower end there aren't likely be any scheduled shuttles running there either.

track status could easily change again there are big storms coming through frequently
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby Aardvark » Thu 20 Feb, 2020 10:17 am

Well at least you can bypass Sugarloaf Pass by taking the Lake Sylvan track and travelling up the Rockburn from the mouth.
Although the turnoff to Sugarloaf Pass is only a few hundred metres along the routeburn from the shelter, the bridge you go over to get onto the routeburn track will likely be fenced off.
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby Aardvark » Thu 20 Feb, 2020 11:46 am

Also the upside of your route from The Rees to Cascade saddle is that you don't need to visit Dart hut. The campsite would still be accessible and it's from there that you divert to Cascade saddle.
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby Araucaria » Mon 24 Feb, 2020 10:51 am

Aardvark wrote:It is for this reason i imagine flagging them from the mouth of the Beansburn and getting a response is unlikely. Communicating by Mountain Radio whilst descending the Beansburn and getting in touch with them through that service is not likely. Getting a signal on your phone similarly will be problematic let alone getting the timing right.
I would appreciate anyone being able to give advice differently on that matter.
That only leaves the options of crossing the Dart on foot. I've only done that myself back in 2003 i think and it was very low flow at the time. I heard at the time it was the lowest for some time. It isn't without its risks and many people have come to grief doing it.

Thanks for the information. As I mentioned we'll have an inReach, so we can always ask a friend to call a shuttle company and flag them for us, assuming that we arrange it with the company beforehand and they're somewhat flexible. I'll start arranging the transport options today. We'll definitely not risk crossing the Dart on foot after the recent rains, so if we don't manage to arrange transport, we'll likely skip the Five Passes. Unless it's possible to hike from Beans Burn mouth to Lake Sylvan/Rockburn trail? Another option, perhaps the easiest, would be to arrange transport to Beans Burn track and hike anti-clockwise. This way we should avoid any river crossings (please correct me if I'm wrong) and can come back via Rockburn/Lake Sylvan, bypassing Sugarloaf Pass.

Aardvark wrote:Also the upside of your route from The Rees to Cascade saddle is that you don't need to visit Dart hut. The campsite would still be accessible and it's from there that you divert to Cascade saddle.

Our plan is to hike the Rees Valley rather than the Dart Valley on our way to Cascade Saddle due to the Dart Valley track closure between Chinamans Bluff carpark and Daleys Flat Hut.

bernieq wrote:Southern Range - do you mean Lune Bay to PB and out to Cockle Ck via Sth Coast Tk in 6 days? That's not hanging about ! (but a great walk).

It was! We loved it, beautiful area.

bernieq wrote:So, without pushing it, we took 7.5 days for 5 Passes, Lake Nerine & Nth Routeburn with side trips to Sunset Peak and Park Glacier. For standard 5 Passes, I'd say 5 days minimum (good weather, no nav errors).
Three days from Muddy Ck to Aspiring Hut. Can't help you with Gillespie Pass.

Thanks!

bernieq wrote:There is some current discussion on plb/inreach on tramper.nz - I'd reiterate that, although nice to have, the inreach isn't a substitute for a PLB (imo, of course).

We've taken the inReach on a number of hikes and like it a lot. Our families can track our location on the map and we've never had much trouble with sending or receiving messages, even in dense forests or valleys. We can easily add contact numbers to local rescue services in case of emergency. Bonus: we get detailed daily weather forecasts from my dad :)
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby wildwanderer » Tue 25 Feb, 2020 9:17 pm

I did the Rees Dart in April last year. The huts were more crowded than I expected. About 15-20 people most nights. Unsure if the partial closure of the rees/dart trail reduces the extra people who might choose it due routeburn closure

However away from the huts there is plenty of time for solitude on the trails. Cascade saddle is brilliant in good weather.

I would allow an extra weather day or at least dont book plane tickets for the day after your due back from your walk especially if its late march. I’ve been to NZ 4 times now in the shoulder seasons and 3 of those times its been touch and go if a weather front would allow me to complete the walk in the time I had allowed. (IE delays due to flooded side streams and mountain passes/ridges being unwise to traverse due to highwinds/low visibility).

Id be interested to see what Dart Campsite is like.. last time the river was eroding the dirt underneath the campsite :shock: With the bridge out you will miss the astounding backcountry luxury of clean flushing!! toilets at Dart Hut.

Inreach should be fine. It can struggle a bit in areas surrounded by high cliffs but I got messages through in under 15 mins in most cases. It can still send a msg out if it cant get a location fix. Just put your grid in the msg.

I wouldn’t count on hitching to the rees trail head. Track transport is fairly inexpensive as long as there is multiple people booked on that day (which there will likely be).

Wilkin Valley / Gillespie Pass has some river crossings you need to be cautious for. Crossing the wilkin R and the makarora R if there has been significant rain can be dodgy. (both are usually slow flowing and about waist depth at the crossing points if weather is good) Can call a jetboat for both. (good idea to have the company contact on your inreach). Or just wait for the streams to go down.. can also cross the makarora via a bridge further downstream at bluepools.. Watch for rocks falling at Lake Crucible or avalanches if early snow. (if snow about dont camp in the crucible valley unless you want a very scary night hearing roaring avalanches all around you.. :shock: :cry: )

I didnt do Rabbit pass/ East Matukituki so cant help there.
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby Araucaria » Wed 26 Feb, 2020 8:39 pm

We've just read that the Sugarloaf/Rockburn Track is also closed due to storm damage. I'll call the national park service tomorrow to ask for details - perhaps only the Sugarloaf Pass is closed, and as far as I understand, this section we can bypass when hiking the Five Passes (resulting in 'Four Passes' instead). I'm still not sure where to book jetboat for crossing the Dart River, so any advice on that would be appreciated.

In case we need to skip the Five Passes entirely due to storm damage, can anyone recommend any other beautiful and uncrowded hikes which we may add to our itinerary instead? We're happy to go on unmarked trails, but we're not too keen on crossing rivers. Apart from the Five (or four) Passes, our plan includes hiking the Rees Valley, Cascade Saddle and on to the Gillespie Pass - all these are open.

We have ¬3 weeks for all hikes and we'd rather stay in one area rather than travel from place to place, but we may make an exception for an exceptional hike :)

Thanks in advance!
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby wayno » Thu 27 Feb, 2020 4:32 am

one end of sugarloaf pass track ends on the routeburn which is completely closed, which i mentioned above...
Rees Valley, Cascade Saddle and on to the Gillespie Pass will all be packed especially with other track closures, they are normally busy through to autumn anyway
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby Araucaria » Thu 27 Feb, 2020 8:11 am

wayno wrote:one end of sugarloaf pass track ends on the routeburn which is completely closed, which i mentioned above...

This we know about, and for this reason we were planning on hiking the other end instead. Still, we need to confirm with the park service and figure out how to cross the Dart river on the other end of the Five Passes trail.

wayno wrote:Rees Valley, Cascade Saddle and on to the Gillespie Pass will all be packed especially with other track closures, they are normally busy through to autumn anyway

We're aware of that. We're not planning to stay in the huts.
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby wayno » Thu 27 Feb, 2020 8:13 am

people drown crossing the dart river, and it doesnt need to be in flood for that to happen.... its a dangerous river to cross around there.
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby Araucaria » Thu 27 Feb, 2020 7:57 pm

As I wrote above, we’re not planning to cross any rivers on foot, certainly not Dart... We wanted to book w jetboat, but got to know this service is no longer available. We’ll find another hike. Btw, the park ranger said that the trail to Lake Sylvan is not accessible due to bridge damage.
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby Aardvark » Thu 27 Feb, 2020 8:40 pm

Hey Araucaria, if you're happy enough to undertake a couple of shorter hikes, take a look at going from the Remarkables skifield to Lake Hope and return. Or exit the Remarkables via Wye Ck South and Two Mile Ck. There are side trips you can do up there. Check out Moirs guide Nth.
I've never encountered many people up there. You can hitch easy enough from the highway at Wye Ck. I've caught the bus to Te Anau but alighted at Wye Ck. If you do that you could walk the leg out from the skifield and go downhill.
Also, consider crossing Earnslaw burn after going over Lennox Pass from the Rees and exit over Turret ridge to Dans Paddock near the Dart. Only two days. There is a rock bivvy in the Earnslaw burn and you could use a really good rock bivvy at Kea basin enroute to Lennox Pass if it suits.
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby wildwanderer » Fri 28 Feb, 2020 8:59 am

Araucaria wrote:We're not planning to stay in the huts.


A tip if you have not walked in NZs South Island before. Some of the areas you will be walking are infested by sand-flies. Rees Valley they are barely noticeable. Wilkin Valley if your camping on the river flats they are overwhelming eg as soon as you stop you will have a cloud of 100s buzzing around you. be prepared with full clothing coverage, head nets and large enough tents to relax in. Siberia Valley they are present but not to bad. Over 1000m and after dark they are not much of a problem. Walking also no problem as the little biters are too slow :P
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby Aardvark » Fri 28 Feb, 2020 10:44 am

Most people will generalise when it comes to the debate on sandflies.
There are people who will not be annoyed in the least by them. The amount of vitamin B in your system has been said to be relevant.
There are many places above 1000m where they are plentiful. It is one of the reasons my partner and i seek to camp at altitude though.
Where they are prevalent is generally going to be a combination of season, weather (wind strength and direction, humidity etc), proximity of tussock or grass, and a few other factors i'm sure. Undoubtedly there is that hour in the dawn and dusk periods when they are more plentiful.
My partner will sit on the ground covered in them and not bat an eyelid. I will stay mobile around camp to avoid them. I find the problem with a headnet is that it also cuts out the breeze.
Hut users are not immune to sandflies. In fact it can be stifling in a hut when no one wants to open a window due to the sandflies.
There are plenty of other reasons to dislike the hut experience though.
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby wildwanderer » Fri 28 Feb, 2020 3:28 pm

I also subscribe to the vitamin b theory. Usually load up about 2 weeks before a trip. Some say it doesn’t work but generally ive found I only get a 6-8 bites on a trip even if there was several hundred that have landed on exposed skin during the walk.

Funnily enough the bites take 1- 2 weeks to affect me. Il be home in Australia and come up in red itchy bites for a couple of days. Paw paw ointment works well.

I will say this though.. even if your not getting bitten.. if you have a swarm crawling over your face its dam annoying. Your partner must have a will of steel :D
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby north-north-west » Sat 29 Feb, 2020 6:42 am

So, they're like Dropbears? Dab some Vegemite behind the ears and she'll be right, mate.
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby wildwanderer » Sat 29 Feb, 2020 8:59 am

north-north-west wrote:So, they're like Dropbears? Dab some Vegemite behind the ears and she'll be right, mate.

Little known fact. Vegemite and marmite (NZ version) was developed in 1908 by top secret government scientests to counter the threat posed by the unholy drop bear and sandfly alliance. Back then the threat to the countries was real and the concern was that the drop bears would take over the cities and we would be forced to live in trees with the sandflys biting our butts as a reminder to never question our dropbear overlords again. :shock:
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby Aardvark » Sat 29 Feb, 2020 9:15 am

Has this got something to do with ASIO and their new recruitment for spies? There could be some foreign power influence here. A third party.
There should be a study done on just how those dropbears and sandflies colluded.
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby Araucaria » Fri 20 Mar, 2020 9:37 pm

Thanks again to everyone for your advice. We hiked the Gillespie Pass and the Rabbit Pass. When we arrived at Wanaka to restock before the Cascade Saddle + Rees Valley hike, we learned about the evolving coronavirus situation and newly introduced travel restrictions, and unfortunately had to cancel the remaining hikes and instead immediately rebooked the flight ticket for the very next day.

We loved both trails! We were a bit surprised by the poor trail marking at Waterfall Face (Rabbit Pass) - no standards (poles) for at least 100 m. There was a pile of broken standards at the bottom of the Waterfall Face, so maybe they were taken down by an avalanche last winter? The climb itself wasn't very technical and there weren't many scary sections, but we spent nearly an hour looking for a possible route forward, scared of going too far (having read so many reports of people who died there after going off the trail). For the descent on the other side, we highly recommend carrying a ¬5 m string to lower the backpacks through the most exposed section (a lot easier to climb down without the backpack on).

We expected to see lots of people on the Gillespie Pass trail due to widespread trail closures after the rain events, but we only met 1-2 groups per day. Only the Syberia Hut was crowded, so we didn't stay there. We didn't really like the noise caused by all the air traffic above the valley - we didn't go off the grid to a national park to have planes and helicopters flying above our heads all day long. Fortunately the Matukituki Valley was a lot calmer.
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby wayno » Sat 21 Mar, 2020 5:35 am

areas like rabbit pass are just routes, they arent maintained much if at all by DOC, not enough resource available to maintain them, too much to maintain... its go purely at your own risk. a significant portion of nz mountains have minimally maintained or not maintained tracks and routes... caviat emptor...

From DOC"s website

Description
This route is only suitable for experienced alpine trampers. It should only be attemped in good conditions – even then extreme care is required.

Significant hazards exist all year round on this route and on some sections people choose to use mountaineering techniques. Don't hesitate to turn back if conditions are unfavourable, you have doubts about your ability or you are concerned for your safety.


https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recre ... -traverse/
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby Araucaria » Mon 23 Mar, 2020 4:22 pm

Yes, we’ve read this description many times and knew what to expect :) We knew the route wasn’t maintained and were fine with that.

The reason I mentioned the standards (poles) is that when we enquired about the route at a DOC office, we were instructed to strictly follow the markings (standards) on the Waterfall Face. According to the park ranger the route up the face was well marked. That’s why we were surprised to discover there were no markings on a significant section of the face.
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby wayno » Mon 23 Mar, 2020 4:29 pm

staff at the info center wont be up to date, you climb well to the right of the waterfall face and then traverse across to the pass when you are pretty much level with it.
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Re: Planning a few hikes in Mount Aspiring NP - questions!

Postby Araucaria » Mon 23 Mar, 2020 5:26 pm

Yes, I know, I’ve read the reports and that’s obviously the route we took. Still, there were two or three spots where a standard in sight would have been helpful. Judging by the footprints going in all directions, we were not the first ones to have trouble with finding the correct way forward.

We went there knowing that it’s a wilderness route and I’m not complaining. I just wrote about our observations as someone heading there may find it helpful.
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