Mt Maitland (left) and Pakeke Peak (far right) from Gunsight Pass

Finally, a trip that goes to plan. It’s been a while (May 2019).

“There are a few cracker descriptions floating around on the internet”

“The stuff you walk on [to get up the narrow gut to the top of the pass] is like porridge…” — si-dog on an NZ Tramper thread.

“We’ll leave the dregs of uni at 6pm sharp on Friday evening, then drive 3.5hrs up to the Temple Conservation Campsite.”

This is probably the only part that does not go to plan. We leave somewhat later than 6pm due to the addition of a new team member. We decide to stop in Oamaru for Subway. I order a vege sub and am informed it includes avocado for no extra cost. Kerry orders some sort of sub specifically without tomatoes as “they are out of season.” We make sure to interrogate him about whether he has considered that the tomatoes (and other vegetables) are likely grown year-round in a glasshouse and whether this means he now has to forgo all non-outdoor grown vegetables. The debate was inconclusive. We make it to the campsite, set up our tents and go to sleep. Dani and I sleep in my new Exped Gemini II.

“On Saturday bounce up the North Temple and ascend up to Gunsight Pass via a bit of a gut.”

We depart at 8:00. I can’t say we were quite bouncing. But we were moving fairly quickly. The beech forest at the start of the track has buckets of red mistletoe (Peraxilla tetrapetala), as well as falcons (Falco novaeseelandiae), riflemen (Acanthisitta chloris) and tomtits (Petroica macrocephala). After about two minutes of walking through flat beech forest we encounter our first river crossing. Some of us choose to follow the river bed rather than risking wet boots, which probably ends up being the easier way. It does not, however, guarantee you will have dry boots after you eventually have to cross the river to get onto the track that leads up a short incline before you reach the big basin at the head of the valley. To the relief of many, there is a toilet at the bushline, and as we set off after the toilet break we encounter a kind-of-Australian couple who have opted out of the pass. To be fair, it has started to drizzle, there is a bit of cloud creeping in, and they don’t have snow gear.

We deliberate briefly and decide to cautiously attempt the pass. We follow the stream up, then the small branch that leads up to the left and Gunsight Pass. Gunsight Pass is not actually that bad. There is a lot of loose rock, some horrendously deep snow patches which I volunteer to lead the way through, and the porridge near the top of the pass which is probably some of the steepest terrain of the trip, consisting of gravel and small rocks which you sink and slide into; imagining that you are walking up a mound of extremely cold porridge is a surprisingly apt analogy. The pass would be bad if avalanche risk was high or if there was any rockfall happening, neither of which was the case. Helmets are definitely still a good idea, and caution is advised to avoid knocking loose rocks onto those below you.

The aforementioned porridge slope

“Then scream with joy as we supposedly slide down a scree slope into South Temple.”

Kendall is almost screaming with joy. She’s never used an ice axe before but is an absolute natural and loving it. Dani is cautious and careful, Luca is carefully watching the two newbies and bringing up the rear, Kerry is sticking with the pack, and I am racing ahead as it has started to rain and I just want to get off the average soft snow slope to a large boulder where I am planning on layering up and waiting for the others to catch up. A bit of scree running and a little bit of low scrub later we have a great view into the South Temple, and it is about 14:00 when we decide to dig into the wagon wheel that Kerry has brought along for lunch. For some reason it never occurs to me to bring actual bread on a tramp. The rain is light, we have a crumbly eroding stream bank to sit on that gives the illusion of protecting us from the rain, a huge wagon wheel, a bag of buns, falafel that Dani brought, salami and slightly damp cheese.

Everyone “screaming with joy” on the descent into the South Temple

“Can either camp in the head of the South Temple or crank up the fire box at South Temple Hut.”

We continue on our way, scratch through a tiny bit of scrub in order to find some sort of trail and eventually this merges into the actual track. From here the going is super easy with interesting scrub, pretty river flats, a bit of forest and some river crossings where I finally end up getting first one, then both boots wet. We make it to the hut, collect masses of firewood to crank up the fire box and are settled in by 18:00 with the lovely pair of kind-of-Australians we met earlier that morning as company. Dinner is devilled sausages (A Kerry specialty), followed by Edmonds Cafe Style Cheesecake (Another Kerry specialty), followed by boysenberry lamingtons (a Pic’s recipe) which I managed to make successfully in an oven lacking a bottom element.

No one goes hungry tonight. Not even Kendall, who we discover, eats enough for two people her size, and was holding back at lunch time. Dinner is followed by some classic banter until eventually people crawl into their sleeping bags and fall asleep.

“Australians are the best kind of New Zealanders aren’t they?” — Luca

Questionable at best.

“[Kerry] he’s a cracker lad. Cracker” — Luca

Less questionable.

Heading down Temple Stream South Branch

“On Sunday it will be a relatively straightforward plod back down South Temple back to the car.”

We take our time getting ready on Sunday. I go for a quick, extremely refreshing dip in the stream and suddenly it is 10:00 and we had better get moving. It is a delightfully easy walk out, and we reach the car by lunchtime. I am honestly not motivated for more and just want to go home, but the rest of the group appears enthusiastic about an energetic side trip, so we play backpack tetris and head towards Ohau skifield.

A very straightforward plod.
The Barrier Range with Ohau Forest below

“If people are more enthusiastic, and conditions allow it may be feasible to do an energetic side trip.”

We drive to the start of the road to Ohau Skifield which is locked. From there, we ring up Lake Ohau Lodge to enquire about access. While Kerry is on the phone we tackle the question of the day; “Finger toes or toe hands?” — Dani. Finger toes seems to be a significantly more popular option. Anyway, it’s a thumbs up for skifield access so we drive the 30 seconds down the road to the office, lay down a bond, pay like $2 each, grab the key and head off up the steep, winding, very narrow, and exposed skifield road. We park at the top and open the doors to the whooshing noise of a tire deflating slowly but steadily. While the rest of us unpack, repack and devour the remaining food, Kerry changes the tyre, muttering about how he just bought new ones that week.

We head off up one of the ski pistes, to the top of one of the lifts, then straight up onto the ridge. The views are spectacular, and there is a lengthy photo break before we finally get moving again and head towards our goal; Mt Sutton (2007 m). We have a second photo break on a small peak where there is some snow and an obligatory fight ensues, then we get back to the task at hand, climbing up an easy ridge to emerge onto a huge plateau that leads us to the summit of Mt Sutton. There is a short break, we admire Dumb-bell Lake and the small partially frozen tarn just above it, then head down to the car via two variations of the direct route. Kerry et al. head right to some bluffs, then down somewhat stable slopes, while I head down some loose scree slopes which I had been eyeing on the way up. We arrive on the road at almost the same time, pack the car, and hit the road for Dunedin.

Approaching Mt Sutton