Thursday, December 10, 2020

Pottering around Pisa

There has been a little gap in my adventures, because the NZ early summer weather has been somewhat unsettled, with nasty gale force winds that make being out in the elements unsettling to downright dangerous. One day I went for a very lazy float down the Clutha River between Clyde and Alexandra in glassy warm weather.

The following day was blustery, but I still got a couple of hours walking up Conroys Dam loop track to visit some old mining ruins and a dryland skink sanctuary. A plan to also walk Flat Top Hills at Butchers Dam got shelved, though the waves of water spilling over the dam wall made for nice photos. 

My plan to head up to the exposed Kopuwai Range got well and truly shelved! Though I did visit the beautifully restored Mitchell Cottage on Symes Road, which features superb stonework and some lovely drystone walls.

Luckily I could return back to Wanaka for a few days and watch the forecasts for the next weather window. This time I didn't venture far, visiting the Pisa Range, a place I can see from home in Alberttown, and usually experience when it's covered in snow. I'm keen to do more ski touring next winter and the Pisa Range is considered pretty mellow terrain not particularly avalanche prone so a good place for me to work on my skills. Scoping it out over the warmer months seemed a great idea.

I started with a walk from the carpark at the bottom of the Snowfarm road up Tuohey's Gully to the saddle, then down to Meg Hut. The track winds its way up through a working farm, past sheep and lambs and even some cattle, until you reach the barren top of the saddle, cross a stile and head down into the Meg River valley where the cute old hut is. It's quite a popular hut, and I passed a group of 9 people walking out when I walked in on Sunday. I was pissed off to see they hadn't written in the hut book, so I doubt they paid the minuscule $5 per person either!

I was joined in the hut by a couple from Nelson and a Canadian from Auckland. The Nelson couple had planned to walk in the day before but after seeing the crowded carpark had opted to wait a day. Lucky they did! We had a nice evening hunkered down in the hut, as the norwester was blowing quite hard, though not quite with the intensity of earlier in the week.

The next morning the others headed back, but I did a day trip to Deep Creek Hut. The walk was more a route than a track, with poles being quite a distance apart and the track not always easy to find. It's a very scenic walk, past some water races and great rocky tors, before descending to the old musterers' cottage at Deep Creek, where I had lunch.

My original plan was to do a loop, walking up onto the Pisa Range and back down to the track halfway back to Meg Hut, but it was another windy day, though not too unpleasant with only a day pack and not being right up on the main ridgeline. I decided not to make my day unpleasant, and returned along the same track, which was such an enjoyable walk anyway.

There was no-one at the hut on my return. It felt kind of lonely overnight after enjoying such convivial company and conversation the evening before. The Canadian chap was doing a PhD on brain injury management, which was fascinating to hear about, and the Nelson couple had generously shared their bottle of wine with us.

Day 3 was another clear sunny day. I headed off early, walking downstream along the Meg River until it joins the Roaring Meg Packtrack where there is a small wooden miners hut on a terrace above the stream. This route isn't marked, and the track is pretty dodgy in places, requiring quite a few crossings of the river to avoid bluffs. There are a couple of stone cottage ruins along the way, and what looked like an old water race, as well as a few small cascades and swimming holes. Definitely a nice spot to go camping in warmer weather.

The climb up to Tuohey's Saddle is a longer, but more gentle climb than that from Meg Hut, and in less than an hour I had gained the saddle and the full force of the norwester. Then it's a long descent through the farm back to the carpark, where I restocked my backpack with another couple of days worth of food and drove up the road to park at the Snowfarm carpark.

From the Snowfarm carpark I headed out down the cross country ski trails, now completely devoid of snow, back to the Meg Stream, which at some point as I head upriver becomes the Kirtle Burn. I stopped for lunch at Meadow Hut, one of two private huts you can book and stay at (see Snowfarm website) but open to day trippers as well.

From Meadow Hut I continued along the cross country trail then turned off on the track to Kirtle Burn Hut, which perches in a little gully not far below the top of the main range. The track was mostly sheltered from the wind, and gave me the opportunity to check out the terrain for ski touring missions next year.

I arrived at Kirtle Burn Hut a few minutes before a group of day trampers staying at Bob Lee Hut. They had just been up to Mt Pisa and said the winds were quite icy and unpleasant. They were returning via the more sheltered route I had come up on.

I was treated to a magnificent sunset from my mountain hut that evening.

Day Four I headed up to Mount Pisa myself, an easy one hour amble along some rutted 4WD tracks. The views were stunning, but the wind was indeed icy, although there were some spots to shelter from it behind the rocky tors at the summit. My plans to explore some nearby tarns got shelved due to the icy winds and my failure to bring gloves to keep my hands warm. 

Instead I wandered back to the hut, where I met a family out on a bike packing overnighter and enjoyed a couple of hours in the sun out of the wind, warming back up again. Then I had lunch, packed my bag and walked back the same way, to keep out of the wind. And drove back to Wanaka.

I'm definitely keen to get up there touring next winter, so to seal the deal, I went and purchased a SnowFarm season pass. This allows access up the road, and to use the trails during winter to get to the touring terrain. Without the pass there is a $20 daily access fee and you can't use the main trails for access. At the early bird price it will pay for itself fairly quickly, plus I can go cross country skiing or snowshoeing as well.

So I'm back in Wanaka again, waiting out a cold front due to hit on Friday, before heading off again. 

Where to next?

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