Updated: Jan 18
Day 1 - Roberts Ridge to Hanapouri Tarn
Our plan was simple, if not a bit keen. Hike the six hours along Roberts Ridge to the popular Angelus Hut. Ignore it entirely and freecamp just around the corner at the nearby Hinapouri Tarn. Day two would see us summit Angelus Peak and then descend off trail to Hopeless Hut. Day three; a plod through a valley and into 2022.
The problem was, we left two hours later than Tammy because we couldn't arsed with an early start. There was heaps of daylight and we were on holiday. Drama ensued.
After a hot grind of switchbacks for the first 500m, the ridge itself was way less intimidating than I expected. The word "ridge" conjuring images of knife edges where a simple sneeze at the wrong moment would end me. This one was big and wide and full of hikers. Happy days. The only minor hiccup along the way was discovering I'd "left all my scroggin behind" so we panic rationed our lunch. (I hadn't. It was just in a different pocket and would appear on day two). This meant going hungry and really losing my legs a couple of times!
Despite this, we had a really nice nice day being almost blown off a ridge, hiding behind rocks for shade and taking way too many photos of weird felt-like alpine plants and we eventually made it to the view down on the famous Angelus Hut. I set up for a painting, which nature decided to tamper with by producing clouds from nowhere and changing the colour of everything as I painted!
Then it was time to find camp. We were heading for Hinapouri Tarn, as recommended by our friend Sabrina. So on the way down from the ridge line we spotted a little yellow tent, pitched up on it's own. "Sweet!" we thought. She's already found our camp and we'll get to cook dinner soon!
We bypassed the hut, full of rowdy New Years celebrators as we didn't have tickets and were keen to get set up. I'd also spent the entire day out in nature and the noise of a crowd pouring out of the hut was jarring. We topped up our water, took some comedy photos and proceeded to make our own trail down a creek towards our prize. The little yellow tent.
"On three? One, two, three…. TAMMY!!!". We both screamed as loud as we could down the valley. Nothing. Ah well, it's too windy so we better get closer.
After finally making it to our destination we were in awe of the valley we'd discovered! Wow! But no time to waste.
*brown haired man pokes head out of tent*
"Oh err, sorry, we're looking for our friend. Is Tammy... in there!?"
(Seriously!? Had Tammy gotten lucky in the space of two hours in a hut? Go on lass!)
*man talks to second person in tent*
*woman who is definitely not Tammy also pokes head out of tent*
Despite Tammy owning a little yellow tent of exactly the same make, and there only being one tent in the entire valley... this would appear not to be Tammy's. We'd just deliberately marched off track for half an hour to achieve nothing but interrupt a couple's romantic solitude! Awkward-o-clock!
But more importantly, where the bloody hell was Tammy!?
By now the sun was getting low and the same relentless wind that had been blowing all day started to make us really cold. We needed a camp asap. But we had no idea if Tammy was somewhere else in the valley. When you're in bumpy rocky terrain she could be just around the corner but she'd have no way of knowing we'd made it safely. Especially with no phone signal. Balls balls balls.
OK. Problem solving mode. We decided to head back up to the plateau to get a vantage point. Maybe we'd spot a second little yellow tent all on its own. Cue more stair climbing. And at this point, coming towards our ninth hour on the trail. We found a second flat spot which was relatively sheltered but no Tammy… "OK you stay here and I'll do a quick recce of this section. If we don't find her we're just going to have to eat and work it out later". I ditched my pack and left Georgina tired and hungry. Opting to jog 100m along the side of the tarn. Absolutely bugger all Tammy. Shit. OK. Time to get back. But… this rise looks the same as those ones. Those rocks look the same as these ones… Oh god. Don't be lost! I haven't got my kit! Don't be lost!
My heart skipped a beat as I humoured getting lost with absolutely zero supplies and ending up with all three of us separated.
Luckily Georgina popped back in the view and we went into survival mode. By now the sun was setting and we'd done a LOT of hiking. Realistically Tammy was probably back in Angelus Hut but the priority had now become our own safety. We found a rock big enough to hide us from the wind and we panic cooked two sad looking de-hy meals. Trying to warm our bodies back up from the inside.
Safe to say things got a bit stressful. As rational as we tried to be "I'm sure she's in the hut". "She's probably just waiting there", our cold tired brains went into overdrive and began preparing for worse case scenarios. Tammy was the only one with a PLB. At least if something happened to her, she could get help, assuming she's conscious. If anything happened to us though, we'd be stuffed. If we couldn't find each other at the camp spot, we would likely have to push on to Hopeless Hut the following day as an assumed rendezvous but we should leave our intentions at Angelus Hut first. But it's getting dark. And we haven't even put up our tent! ARGH!!
Meals finished, we loaded our packs and started the walk back to Angelus. But as soon as we did, a little hiker appeared in the distance. Leaving the hut and walking in our direction. I'd spent most of the previous hike thinking her red hood and white peaked cap made her look a bit like a skinny Santa… and there it was! The santa hat combo!
I would have loved this to be a happy reunion, and we had managed to get ourselves to a place where we were convinced it would likely be a simple, rational misstep somewhere along the way but by this point we were tired, cold and exhausted. Not to mention concerned for everyone's safety.
"Guys where were you!? I've been in the hut all evening! I've just had the best time, been for a swim and made some lovely new friends! Weee! Sorry I'm a little bit drunk!"
Anger bubbled up deep within me. If I was a cartoon, steam would have burst from my ears. The logical part of my brain knew we'd just stuffed up the communication and it was nobodies fault. Simple! But the thought of her having such an amazing time while we spent two hours overtired in the cold, searching and running through emergency scenarios really cut deep. I. Was. Done.
As our reunited team walked back down to camp at the foot of the tarn, the sunset illuminated its water like a giant pool of gold but even A-grade levels of natural beauty weren't going to snap me out of this mood.
We put the tent up in the howling wind, using rocks to weigh it down. Argued about cooking a de-hy carrot cake in the dark and froze ourselves silly in the cross-wind. Then squeezed into a wobbly, loud tent and hoped we wouldn't take off down the valley.
What a way to see out the year!
Day Two - Angelus Peak, Sunset Saddle, Hopeless Hut
Both the winds and my mood had lifted a little by morning, making breakfast conditions a little more bearable than the shinanagens of night before. It was now 2022. 2021 had ended in a mess of confusion, anger and cold so maybe summiting a mountain would see me right. It usually does.
After packing up, and Tammy walking ahead (you'd think we'd learn!), we followed cairns all the way up to Sunset Saddle. The vegetation and bubbling streams slowly giving way to a dry, arid and glaring hot rockscape. We may as well have been on Mars if it wasn't for the amazing turquoise views behind us.
From here we dropped some of the heavier gear and tackled Angelus Peak. If the previous section didn't have an official trail, this part really really didn't. The summit itself didn't look wildly far. It just involved scrambling over a rocky outcrop and then tentatively tip-toeing up a scree slope. The terrain was really variable so it made it tricky to spot a route or trust where you put your feet. I felt comfortable enough though. Insisting that falling down a slope was much more preferable to falling off a cliff. At least if I battered my way down a load of rocks I might get away with "only" breaking every bone in my body!?
The summit was intense. The midday sun beat down on us with nowhere to hide. We had a look around for rocks to create shade but we settled for heaps of sunscreen and laying our jackets over our exposed bits for lunch. (As a side note, don't open packs of tuna next to expensive waterproof jackets. This does not end well) Talking of exposed bits… obligatory birthday suit photos were taken (Sorry anyone watching from Angelus Hut) and we nervously made our way back down. The conditions were too intense to do a painting up top. I would have probably been a wally and pushed through but it wouldn't have been fair making the others sit through it. We also had a huge day ahead of us.
The rest of our day turned out to be a hell of an adventure. We'd been given instructions to head down the valley and "stick to the right" before getting bluffed out. Assuming this would be a fairly popular tracked out route, we were met with several hours of a huge valley of rocks. The neighbouring peaks had slowly been eroding and dumping rocks the size of a coffee table, completely obscuring any sign of a track. This is where I became *plays fanfair* "CAIRN MAN!". I discovered I weirdly enjoyed spotting cairns. The challenge was spotting a pile of rocks in nothing but a pile of rocks as far as the eye could see. When I'd spot one I'd feel like I had passed a test or won a prize, shouting "cairn!" and bee-lining (B-lining!?) straight for it. This went on for what felt like hours but I never got bored :)
At one point I thought I hallucinated snow, until we found a small, somewhat unbelievable patch of the stuff in the middle of all the glaring hot rocks. Bum sliding, snowball fights and snow angels in the middle of the summer doesn't get much better!
Refreshed from the snow we slowly picked our way further. Dreams of being able to swim were twice dashed by lakes turning out to be too far away for how slow it took to traverse rocks. Eventually though, to our surprise, we were greeted by quite possibly the most beautiful turquoise lake I've ever seen (this opinion may be affected by thirst and desperation to swim). Like an undiscovered jewel, a round, deep looking lake hid high up on our plateau. Its surrounding peaks towering above and easily creating dramatic views that would rival any Great Walk. I was happy to see a previously met French family, who had decided that the same route as us was perhaps a bit of a HUGE day for their two small children. (They'd already been up Angelus Peak!) Wisely setting up camp in possibly the most beautiful place you could put a tent!
We all had an icy swim (where I cut my foot open) and reluctantly pushed on. It was now gone 4pm and in terms of the distance on the topo map, we'd only made it around half way! It was rapidly looking like quite a late one but I tried not to think about it and just kept moving. Just keep spotting those cairns CAIRN MAN!
The next section got a little sketchy as we siddled around the imposing bluffs but there was always at least some form of track to follow. I loved this section as the drama of the rocks around us really made it feel like an adventure. Plus… more spotting cairns. We entered the growing shade of our right hand flank which was a welcome reprieve from effectively walking through an oven since breakfast. Eventually hitting some scree slopes. And OH MY were they scree slopes. The biggest ones we'd ever seen! The little cairns edged us across the particularly steep ones. With one wrong foot potentially sending us whizzing down a very long way. It wouldn't have ended well. Until we came across a wide open option that seemed to lead straight down the valley. Going was slow at first as we worked out the best way to navigate loose stones of varying sizes. Until… SCREE RUNNING was discovered! If you gave it enough welly and trusted the slide of each foot, you could run diagonally straight down the mountain, lobbing in a ski turn and running back across the way you came. Running in zig zags you could fairly safely control your speed and the feeling of legging it down a sliding mountain after such a slow plod through the valley felt joyous! Weeeehee!
Soon after, we finally reached the tree line and the experience was somewhat trippy. After spending six hours in an environment where literally nothing grows, to suddenly walk into a forest of beech trees… It was like I'd never seen a plant before! Everything was so lush and full of life! I wanted to touch everything. To somehow invent a way of swimming through leaves. It really made me appreciate why people travel the world to see this stuff.
And then we got to Hopeless Hut. And it was Hopeless. After our long day having space in the hut would have been great but we were greeted by a huge pile of bags and ten people trying to fit in a six bed. Sod that. We'd spoken to DOC beforehand and heard of camping slightly further down the valley.
A final plod later and we found a "flat" area in the middle of a river bed. Except the river had gone. It was on the map. Blue squiggly line and everything. But it definitely wasn't here. And we'd run out of water on the way down. Bugger. A couple more dramas later. Georgina badly twisting her ankle and us completely running out of gas (turns out when you have a girlfriend you need twice as much!), Tammy had scouted ahead to discover the river reappeared a little further down the valley. It just vanished under the ground at the one place we could camp. Earthquakes tampering with the maybe?
De-hy meals consumed, we wound down for a good night's sleep. There wasn't a breath of wind in the valley and we didn't need to run around trying to find missing people this time! Phew!
Day three - Hopeless Hut (ish) to Roberts Ridge Carpark via Coldwater Hut
Our final day from somewhere near Hopeless Hut to the Roberts Ridge carpark was much easier going. It was a big one, but at least it was all on established valley trails by this point. Bumping into so many other hikers on the main circuit was a bit of a shock to the system after doing our own off-route adventure but the friendly hello's were fun enough. It made me wonder what it would be like when the country opens back up and is swarmed with even more people. We really are experiencing things at the luckiest of times. Often having trails completely to ourselves.
The only thing we really had to worry about was Tammy "feeling near death". We suspect she got the makings of sun stroke on the previous hot exposed day in the rock field. She really wasn't in a good state which concerned Georgina and I a little, but she seemed able to keep on plodding on. The prospect of a car park, a shower and a hot meal being a strong goal to aim for. We had several rest breaks to help her along… stopping in meadows of long grass. Which she was also allergic to! Not so helpful! Haha.
Another comedy highlight was using some rocks to cross a stream. I proclaimed "look out, these rocks are slippy!.... oh wait, no they're fine..." as I slipped so quickly I flipped and landed in the water on my back like an up-turned turtle. Fully submerging my pack and glancing my elbow off a rock! It's a good job it was the last day!
Although our New Year's Eve wasn't exactly the romantic tent-by-a-lake experience we were hoping for, finishing this hike with three twisted ankles, zero gas, a wet bag and sun stroke, some valuable lessons were learnt.
- Losing Tammy was super stressful, as our brains ran through all kinds of emergency scenarios. But it would have all been saved if Georgina and I remembered to stop in the hut to leave our intentions. It's good practice to pop in and just write your objectives in the book so if anything did happen, rescue teams would be able to retrace your steps. We saw what we thought was Tammy's tent so could only think of dinner and rushed straight for it.
- Even a conversation before we left would have made all the difference. It's easy to assume you're all on the same page but simple, unexpected things can throw plans out the window.
- And carrying a PLB. If anything happened to Tammy, as the one in our group carrying a locator beacon, she could have been rescued. Losing her meant Georgina and I would have no way of calling for help should anything bad happen. I've since bought a Garmin inReach Mini which allows messaging to the outside world via the iridium satellite network. Happy days.
- Take enough gas. We ironically listened to Touching the Void straight after this and it's better to take excess and not have to worry about feeding yourself or keeping yourself warm.
- Carry a first aid kit. It's the first time I've ever needed mine but simply having a bandage on me really did wonders for both our twisted ankles.
- Pack in a sensible way and have a pack that allows it! My MacPac 50l just has one big pouch, which created the illusion that I'd lost all my scroggin. This forced dangerous food choices that could have been avoided. Time for a new pack.
All in all, I'd really recommend this route. It was a hell of an adventure and I don't regret it for a minute. Just take enough gas. Leave at the same time. Or actually have a plan that consists of more than "see you up there!" :)
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