Showing posts with label Arthur's Pass. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arthur's Pass. Show all posts

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Otira Valley Track: Arthurs Pass N P: 30th January

In the shadow of Mt Rolleston...

On my way back from my recon of the Otira River I took the opportunity to go for a walk up the Otira Valley. The Otira Valley track can be located just over Arthur's Pass on the West Coast side of the mountains. The track goes up valley to the Northern face of Mt Rolleston and is an easy and very beautiful walk of about 2-2.5 hours duration.

Map of the Otira Valley track and surrounding area

Walking the Otira Valley Track

The track can usually be walked in all seasons but there is extreme avalanche danger over Winter and Spring as there are high, steep mountains on both sides of the valley. The track is easy walking but if you are heading up here in Winter/Spring you absolutely need to know what you are doing.

Otira Valley from the car park on SH73

Otira Valley car park, with Arthur's Pass in background

DOC track sign, start of the Otira Valley Track

Start of Otira Valley Track, Arthurs Pass NP

View to West from the Otira Valley Track
About 5 minutes up the track you can follow a side track to Lake Misery, a medium sized tarn on the saddle at the Pass. It is a 20 minute walk and there is a board-walk and interpretive panels with interesting information about the area.

I visited it when I walked the Arthurs Pass Walking Track in 2015.

Track junction, Otira Valley Track - Lake Misery Track

Otira Valley avalanche warning...oh yes...they are not kidding!

Looking west to SH73 from Otira Valley Track

Rocky section of the Otira Valley Track

View onto alpine tussock land, Otira Valley
There are great views across the to the North West side of SH73. You can see Temple Basin ski-field, one of the last club ski-fields in any New Zealand National Park. It is managed, maintained and for the use of the Club which owns the infrastructure. There is a fine access track to the ski lodge which makes another good day walk. 

View towards Temple Basin Ski field

Close up of Temple Basin from the Otira Valley

View of the massive bluffs, west side of Otira Valley

Pt 1728 from the Otira Valley Track
There are some stupendous bluffs on the western side of this valley. They are easily 250+ metres high...these photos really do not show just how massive they are.

Otira Valley, 250+ meter bluffs around Mt Philistine 

View down to the footbridge in the upper Otira Valley

Numerous waterfalls on Eastern side of Otira Valley Track
I thought the flowers below were Mt Cook Lillies but have been informed that they are in fact
Common Mountain Lilly, Celmisia semicordata which are endemic to the Otira Valley. There are certainly a lot of them growing in this area.

Common Mountain Lilly, Celmisia semicordata

Close up of
Common Mountain Lilly, Celmisia semicordata
You cross a number of small side streams on the track, they do not pose a problem under normal conditions but could flood if there was a lot of rain.

Small stream, Otira Valley Track

Waterfall on the East side of Otira Valley Track

Beautiful pool in the Upper Otira River

There is a foot bridge about an hour up valley, this is the end of the track and the start of the marked mountaineering route to the upper valley. You are relatively safe up to this point, past the bridge is the start of the rock/snow fall area. It is not surprising they have avalanches with the massive cliffs which loom over the track on both sides of the valley. 

You should not go past the bridge in Winter/Spring without some knowledge of avalanche conditions as avalanches are a regular occurrence over those seasons.

Who wants to be squashed by a couple of thousand tonnes of rock and snow? Not me!

Footbridge over the Otira River...start of the mountaineering route!
 The bridge over the upper Otira River gets washed away about every 2-3 years and needs to be replaced, when you get a good old Nor' Wester blowing you can get massive amounts of rainfall over a short time span.

Flood city!

Western side of Otira Valley near bridge...

Warning sign, Otira Valley Track
 After crossing the bridge I continued another 2 km's up the valley before turning back. If you keep walking you eventually reach a mountain cirque just below the rocky northern face of Mt Rolleston. 
I've visited the area before so didn't feel the need to go any further up the valley.

I headed back down to the bridge and stopped for a late lunch before starting back to the trail head.

Heading into the Upper Otira Valley...

Pt 1728  on the far side of SH 73 from the Otira Valley Track

Crossing rock fall path, Otira Valley Track
 Mt Rolleston at the head of the valley is not your classic pyramid shaped peak but rather one of the more common extended high ridges we have in New Zealand.. There are three significant peaks for alpine trampers & climbers to aspire to.

 It can be climbed from the northern side but the common route is up the Crow Face which is on the southern, more gentle side of the mountain.

Mt Rolleston, 2275m  from the Otira Valley Track

Jon Moake, with Mt Rolleston in the background

View from my high point, Otira Valley Track
 Below is a photo of the cirque in the Upper Otira Valley taken from  Annette Woodfords photography website. 

Terminus of Otira Valley Track, from Annette Woodfords site
The foot bridge is a nice possie to eat your lunch, it was warm in the Otira Valley and the sounds of the alpine birds and the river was very tranquil...

Lunch at the bridge, Otira Valley Track

View of Upper Otira Valley from lunch spot
 It's difficult to see in this photo but all of those rocks have fist sized chunks of Pounamu (Greenstone/Jade) embedded in them. Pounamu has always been favoured by the Maori for decorative weapons and ornaments. This whole area is rich in Pounamu deposits but as it is a National Park so they cannot be taken.

It is awesome to see them in their natural setting.

Fist sized chunks of Pounamu embedded in rock in the Otira Valley
This is a very nice day walk, slightly more adventurous than some in the area but certainly not outside most peoples abilities. You could certainly camp in the upper reaches of the valley and in fact I saw a party of three heading up valley for that reason. Just be careful in Winter/Spring because of the avalanche risk.

Access: Track starts just to the west of Arthur's Pass on SH73, there is a small car-park on the left of the road
Track Times: 1.5 hours to the foot bridge over the Otira River, another 1-1.5 hours to the cirque at the base of Mt Rolleston, same to return.
Miscellaneous:Extreme avalanche danger in Spring/Winter along all of this track. Do not enter the valley in heavy rain or after a late Spring snow storm. I'm really not looks ok but is awesomely dangerous until the snow pack melts.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Otira River Crossing Reconnaisance: 30th January

A look at the ford over the Otira River.... 

My six day trip over Harper's Pass is coming up in two weeks time , so I went to the West Coast over the weekend to scout the crossing points on the Otira River.

(NB: It didn't happen due to a massive sodding rain event...)

The Otira River at Aickens Corner, Arthurs Pass National Park

Travel up the Taramakau means river crossings....

To get over Harper's Pass you must be able to cross the Otira, Otehake and Taramakau Rivers on the first and second days of the tramp. There are no bridges crossing any of these rivers, so you need to utilise those river crossing skills to get through. The Otira is generally the worst of the three, if you can cross this river at Aickens Corner you should be able to cross the other two as well. 

Otira Ford point at Aickens Corner

For more information on river crossing technique you should read the relevant sections of the MSC books:  Bushcraft : outdoor skills for the New Zealand bush and River Safety: Be river safe.

Every serious tramper should have a copy of both of these books at home.

The Bushcraft bible: Bushcraft in New Zealand

MSC River Safety Manual: must know river crossing techniques

The Otira, Otehake and Taramakau Rivers are all killers: numerous people have been swept away trying to cross them in unfavourable conditions. They are always cold and can be deep and swift with even a hint of rain in the surrounding mountains.

This is the West Coast remember: it is always raining in the surrounding mountains.

Track to the Taramakau Valley from near the Aickens car-park

The photo below is of the Otira directly opposite the track from Aickens. The water looks deep but I watched a party of three trampers cross here, the water only reached their knees so this is the first of three potential crossing points.

It is about 20-30 meters wide so it is a long way to back-track if things started to look dicey during your crossing. I would still think about fording here but I would think long and hard before wading in. 

Otira River: First possible ford near Aickens Corner
About 100 meters up the river it is a different story: it looked sphincter puckering! Deep and fast flowing as the river is confined to one very narrow channel. You can see an obvious pressure wave in the river which is a classic danger sign.


Otira river view towards the flood track near Aickens Corner
I headed up the river about 400 meters and found a good crossing point where the river breaks into three braids. You can just see the potential crossing point about 50 meters upstream of this spot, the river crosses a shingle fan and becomes shallow.

View upstream: Otira River ford near Aickens Corner
 I walked over the first two braids and it was halfway between ankle and knee depth. Provided it doesn't rain too much I should be able to get over the river easily enough here. 

The multi braided section of Otira River near Aickens I walked across
Multi braided section of Otira River, Aickens Corner
You would basically cross from channel to channel via the intersecting island's.  Also, there is good run out into relatively shallow water if something goes wrong. Run out is what happens with the water downstream of your crossing. You want it to be clear, preferably shallow with no boulders, snags or rapids..if you go for a swim you don't wont to be colliding with anything.

Piece of piss then: No... not really but at least you would be safer crossing here.You are never 100% safe crossing any river in New Zealand, you need to respect them.

Multi braided section of Otira River looking towards the Taramakau

Just a note, there used to be a small shelter on the tongue of land between the Otira and Taramakau. It was about 300 metres from the river got carried off in a flood in 2014!

 Something to think about....

Multi braided section of Otira River at Aickens,  looking downstream...

There was also a potential crossing point about 50 meters downstream of the straight through route, again the river breaks into two wide channels slowing the speed and force of the water. It is a possibility but I wasn't as fond of the run-out, it looked deep just downstream of the crossing point, if you went swimming you might find it hard to get out again. This would be my least favoured option.

Different day...the Otira River after 1-2 hours light rain in the headwaters...
Please note: If you are unable to cross the Otira River at the ford then you will not be able to cross the Taramakau or Otehake Rivers.
Anyway that's what this beast looks like, whether it is the same in two weeks remains to be seen. 

P.S: I gave a couple of TA walkers a ride from Arthur's Pass to Lagoon Saddle Track. One of them got swept away by the Otehake a couple of days earlier but managed to make it to shore. He freely admitted he just waded into the river and didn't take the time to study it well. Always study a river before entering.

Crossing the Morrison Footbridge just west of Otira

Access: Aickens Corner is approximately 5 km's west of Otira township, there is a parking area on the right hand side of the road.
Track Times: The ford over the Otira River is located 10 minutes along the track to the Taramakau Valley, please follow the marked track as it crosses farmland.
Miscellaneous:The Otira can also be crossed via the Morrison Bridge, this is approximately 1 km west of Otira. Then use the Otira Flood Track to access the Taramakau- note that the flood track is overgrown and in poor condition, it takes 1.5-2 hours.