Sunday, 3 June 2012

Neill-Winchcome U-turn

Date: 2-3 June, 2012

Punters: Alayne, Alistair, Craig, Debbie, Kaleb, Phillip & Weimin from the Wellington Tramping & Mountaineering Club.


Unfortunately some trips do not go as well as one hopes. I had looked forward to this trip for months with the Neill-Winchcombe ridge being a major point of missing red-line on the map on my lounge wall. The best trip on the schedule I proclaimed. In different conditions it certainly could have been.


The Neill-Winchcombe ridge is a less travelled ridge which connects Cone Ridge to Mt Hector. Whereas most visitors to this part traverse the Southern Crossing traveling north to south from Otaki to Kaitoke (or Waiohine Gorge), the Neill-Winchcombe joins Mt Hector and provides a path toward the east. Our intentions were to start from Waiohine Gorge, stay at Cone Hut on Friday night, ascend Cone and the travel west along the Neill-Winchcome Ridge to Mt Hector and descend down to Kime Hut on Saturday. Then traverse the Tararua Peaks to Neill Forks on Sunday before returning to the van at Waiohine Gorge on Monday.


After a night walk on Friday night, we arrived at an occupied Cone Hut at which half our party stayed in the hut while Alistair, Phillip and myself camped out in good weather. As we departed camp on Saturday the skies were clear and no wind was present. By the time we reached Cone, we were walking in clag with limited visibility but very little wind. We entered the forest and followed the forested ridge with a brief open patch at Neill. The travel along the marked route on this track was constantly up and down with the odd rock scramble for good measure.



We did not cover this ground as fast as I had hoped, but this didn't become a problem until we reached Winchcombe. The wind was howling in from the west. Walking upright was becoming somewhat of a challenge and we soon found ourselves crawling along the ridge toward pt1378 tightly grasping the tussock. With fading light, gale-force winds and the ridge narrowing toward razorback we chose to turn back for the safety of the bushline for a night of unscheduled fly camping. Unfortunately without a water supply the array of gourmet food carried on our backs had to return with us on Sunday morning while Saturday nights dinner was limited to snackbars and chocolate.



We certainly were not the first party caught in the position, however unlike us according to other blogs I have read  many have camped nearby a tarn for water supply in this area.


All trips are easier with hindsight, and I should have woken the party to leave earlier on Saturday morning and I certainly underestimated the time traveling along the undulating Neill-Winchcombe ridge. I do think that in winter with less daylight, and few bailout options to a cosy hut or a fantastic campsite it may well be a better option to approach this ridge from Mt Hector, thereby being in the bushline later in the day, or if the weather changfes.


As for my red-line, there remains a frustrating 1.2km gap between Mt Hector and .1398 which will be resolved by a future successful completion of this trip.