MEC Midwinter Mountain Mission

Day 1

Fernhill Loop and Ben Lomond Saddle

Distance 15.7km

Elevation Gain 1,328m, Max 1322m

Elapsed Time 3:14:34

Flying into Queenstown first thing proved to be a great way to start – a good night sleep and a reasonable wake-up time coupled with getting to the destination quickly. No one misses a long car drive or starting at 4 am! We were at the Ben Lomond trailhead before 11. We whipped off our travel gears and put on our tights and thermals on the side of the road and headed up into the hills.

The weather was very mild, temps 6-16 C in town, good bursts of sunshine poking through the overcast sky and mild Northerlies to keep things crisp. We powered up the smooth Fernhill climb under cover of pine trees, and marvelled at the view from the top before relishing the beech tree forest with roots and occasional bermed corners as we dropped back down.

Descending through the beech forest at Fernhill

We then climbed straight up the Ben Lomond track, again very steep but well graded and under tree cover. It quickly got very hot as we burst above the tree line into the open sun that was melting the snow and making the track quite muddy. We made great progress to get to the saddle (1322m) where the wind was really strong. A quick calculation revealed that if we kept going to the top we would have no time for a second run that day. We opted to ‘cut and run’ and so we enjoyed a second downhill drop back to the carpark.

Ben Lomond looms… we’ll be back

Burgers and beer refuelled us in Queenstown, and then we were on our way toward Mt Dewar (head towards Coronet Peak, its on your left).

Mountain run fuel

Devil’s Creek Track and Mt Dewar

Distance
 14.4km

Elevation Gain 994m, Max 1304m

Elapsed Time 2:35:52

Out of the car by 3pm, we knew the sun would set at 6, so we had to make good speed and check our progress before deciding if we had time for the summit. The track was open 4WD in some grassland/tussock. It rises up from the road and then drops down as you head towards skippers Canyon.
A quick jump across the river and you are brought over through grassland to the nose of the climb that takes you up to the Mt Dewar summit. We could see the snow on the summit, and it got cold as the clouds moved in as we neared the top.

Approaching Mt Dewar

Our steady effort was rewarded as we made the top well before sundown, took some quick pics and then sped down the gravel access road on the north side.

‘Skiing’ back down Mt Dewar

An MTB single-track took us back to Coronet Peak road and the car, a few minutes before sundown. We enjoyed a tasty Indian meal, caught the last half of the Bledisloe Cup match and then showered and slept at Burton and Mel’s place (cheers guys you are terrific).

 

Day 2

Isthmus Peak

Distance
 16.0km


Elevation Gain 1,244m Max 1386m

Elapsed Time 3:15:19

Following a well earned rest, we started Sunday morning’s run at quite a gentlemanly hour. We were taking on the Isthmus peak track, located on the West of Lake Hawea. It’s the small range that separates Hawea from Wanaka. We climbed up from the road carpark on another 4WD farm track, but this was more grassy and less tussock as we followed the switchbacks up. There was a bit more wind than Saturday and the sun was behind the clouds so it got a tad nippy as we crossed over 1000m elevation. We could see the snow on the final ridge run to the peak, so the boys stuck on their micro/nano spikes and I clung to my poles for grip. Although moderately thick, It wasn’t too icy so not bad going and no steep runoffs so we were safe. We hit the 1386m peak, and then blatted back down again.

The cumulative toll of plunging descents struck James’ quads and he was in a bit of pain going down. As was usual for this trip, it took us about half as long to get down as it did to get up, and we were back at the car ready to hit another cafe for fuel before our afternoon mission.

 

Motatapu Track taster

Distance 11.3km


Elevation Gain 537m Max 709m

Elapsed Time 2:03:31

We moved to a non-peak option to give the legs a bit of a rest from the punishment of steep, unrelenting descents. We thought the Motatapu track would be nice and gradual as it winds up from Glendhu Bay to the Fernbern Hut. It looks gradual on the thumbnail elevation chart and it does start off with a gradual climb beside the river on pasture land. However, once it enters the conservation area, it becomes a technical and fiercely undulating track skirting the steep valley edges. The setting was beautiful with cascading waterfalls, leaf litter padding out the trail and little piwakawaka chirping and dancing around you. We had given ourselves a one hour out limit to get to the hut, and with the slow going probably got within less than a km of it but had to turn to get back in good light. A very different trail and an excellent addition.

Day 3

Roy’s Peak

Distance
 15.7km

Elevation Gain 1,275m Max 1586m

Elapsed Time 2:48:26

On the final morning we got up with a bit more haste, as we needed to be done in time to get back to the airport. We gave ourselves 3 hours, expecting about 2 up, 1 down. James was giving his legs a different kind of workout on a MTB track around the Lake Wanaka and the Clutha river. Meanwhile, Sean and I were the second vehicle at the trailhead carpark and we took off up the grassy 4WD tracks. There was hardly a breath of wind at the lower reaches, but again after 1000m this picked up, though not as gusty as the day before. Cloud moved in at the 1300m+ range so our last kms were without views, and across melting snow, thankfully without steep drop-offs (we’re runners not alpinists!). For the final stretch you cross the ridge to approach the summit from the Northwest. This section was in deep snow and it was necessary to follow the previous tracks to avoid dropping to upper calf level. But it wasn’t very long (500m) and we were at the top – success! Our last destination reached, we grabbed some pics, turned around and cut loose on the descent. We alternated running at speed with taking photos and stopping to shed the layers of warmth as we emerged from the cloud into open sunshine without any wind – a scorcher! Sean showed his downhill mastery notching up several sub-4 min/ks and we arrived at the carpark in under 3hrs.

 

Summary:

5 runs, 73km distance, 5350m climbed.

A fantastic trip, outdoor adventures, amazing comradery with great food and drink and comfortable beds – what more could you ask for? This format had its genesis in the Apennine adventure and I only like it more and more! Bring on the next one.

GPS tracks routes available at https://www.gpsies.com/mapUser.do?username=doctamike

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