Winter on Te Araroa – Lake Angelus and the Blue Lake

Winter on Te Araroa

Lake Angelus to Blue Lake, Nelson Lakes


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Day 35-49 Nelson Lakes National Park


Hello, you've stumbled upon a photo journal from the fifteen days I spent in Nelson Lakes National park while walking on Te Araroa during the winter of 2016. I ended up staying at Angelus Hut for an entire week, walked over Mt. Cedric, and up to Lake Constance. I decided against going over Waiau Pass due to the high risk of Avalanches during this time of the year. I walked back to St.Arnaud to re-supply and then walked the Rainbow road to Hamner Springs.  If you decide to tramp during winter on Te Araroa make sure you have lots of time and a flexible schedule!

Track Information

(If you are tramping during winter on te araroa be aware of the avalanche forecast!)

Pinchgut Track, Robert Ridge Route

Time: 6 hr
Distance:12.2 km

From the Mt Robert car park, a steep zigzag track (the Pinchgut Track) climbs up to the junction with Paddys Track (Bushline Hut is 30 min from junction). The Pinchgut Track ends and the route along the ridge is marked with poles.

The route follows a broad ridge to Julius Summit (1794 m). From here the route has some sharp and rocky sections. Take care here in icy or winter conditions as accidents have occurred on this section. Continue past the junction with the Speargrass Creek Route (30 min from Angelus Hut) onto the ridge overlooking the Angelus basin. Follow the poles down to the lake and hut.

There is no water along the track/route so remember to carry your own. Be prepared for snow and ice during winter and spring. Robert Ridge is very exposed and is subject to high winds and poor visibility at any time of year.

Getting there

From St Arnaud, follow SH 63 west for 2 km, then turn into Mount Robert Road. Follow this for 4.9 km to the car park at the end.

Speargrass Track, Speargrass Creek Route

Time: 6 hr
Distance: 11.2 km

From the Mt Robert car park follow Speargrass Track to the Speargrass Creek Route junction approximately 5 min before Speargrass Hut. From the car park to the track junction takes approximately 2 hr 30 min.

From the track junction it is a poled route with many unbridged stream crossings up Te Horowai/Speargrass Creek; it intersects with the Mt Robert Ridge Route 10 minutes short of the view overlooking the Angelus basin. Follow the poles to the lake and hut. Expect muddy sections below the bush edge.

This way is often used in bad weather.

Getting there

From St Arnaud, follow SH 63 west for 2 km, then turn into Mount Robert Road. Follow this for 4.9 km to the car park at the end.

Travers – Cascade Track/Route

Time: 6 hr
Distance: 9.4 km

From St Arnaud the options are to walk to either Lakehead Hut (9 km, 3 hr) or Coldwater Hut (12 km, 4 hr). From Coldwater Hut to the Cascade Track junction it is 2 hr. From Lakehead Hut it is also 2 hr to the Cascade Track junction. Note this includes crossing the unbridged Travers River. If the Travers River is in flood a swingbridge is located 1 hr 30 min upstream.

From the Cascade Track junction it’s a steady climb for 4 hr min alongside the Hukere Stream. The track ends at the bush edge. Climb the steep poled route to Angelus Hut.

Snow and ice can create hazards requiring suitable experience and equipment to safely negotiate this route. From May to November, the bridge over the Hukere Stream is removed due to avalanche risk. After rain and during snow melt, crossing the river can be difficult – take extreme care.

Getting there

St Arnaud is 88 km from Nelson on SH6, 129 km from Picton on SH63, 157 km from Wesport on SH6 and SH63, and 350 km from Christchurh on SH65 and SH6.

Mt Cedric Track/Route (from Sabine Hut)

Time: 6 hr
Distance: 6.8 km

This is a very steep route to the Angelus basin which is exposed above the bush edge.

The track begins behind Sabine Hut and climbs very steeply and steadily to the bush edge. Poles and cairns mark the route from here, which eventually drops off the eastern side of a high ridge of Mt Cedric (1,532 m) and onto Rotomaninitua/Lake Angelus.

There is no water along the track/route. Snow and ice can create hazards – make sure you have the experience and equipment to safely negotiate this route.

Side trips from Angelus Hut

In summer the best side trip from the hut is the climb of Maniniaro/Angelus Peak (2,075 m). If the mountain is clear of snow, no special equipment or experience is required.

The less energetic could climb to Sunset Saddle and then traverse west for 10 min to the Travers Range. This provides spectacular views of the D’Urville and Sabine rivers twisting lazily to the head of Lake Rotoroa.

St Arnaud is 88 km from Nelson on SH6, 129 km from Picton on SH63, 157 km from Wesport on SH6 and SH63, and 350 km from Christchurh on SH65 and SH6.

What to take

Pack a range of equipment for warm, cold, windy or wet conditions. You will need at least one set of clothes to walk in and another dry set to change into at night. Cotton clothing is not suitable; wool and modern synthetics are better as they dry quickly and give more warmth.

Take a day’s spare food in case of delay due to weather conditions.

Know before you go

Weather

Hospitable and welcoming on a fine day, the Angelus basin and the alpine access routes are prone to sudden weather changes bringing freezing winds and snow at any time of the year. Even small streams are dangerous in flood. Winter conditions or bad weather could slow or stop your progress to or from the hut. A fall onto hard or icy snow could be lethal. Snow avalanches are possible.

Winter Tramping Information

You need special skills and preparation and excellent fitness to complete the route to Angelus Hut in winter (May to October). There are increased risks from snow, ice, avalanche terrain and sub-zero temperatures. The trip to the hut can take up to 9 hours with limited daylight.

Track standard:  Tramping Track, Route

Track surface:  Track is covered in snow and is very icy in sections above the bushline.

Suitable for: People with alpine skills, equipment and experience. You must:

  • know how to navigate if cloud or snow covers the marker poles and you cannot see them
  • know where avalanches are a risk and be able to rescue someone if an avalanche occurs
  • have the equipment and skills to prevent a slide on icy terrain
  • have the clothing for sub-zero temperatures and be able to survive if the weather gets worse
  • be prepared to spend a night in the open or turn back early if your progress is too slow.

Prepare for a challenging tramp

Allow up to 9 hours in heavy snow conditions to complete the Robert Ridge Route or Travers-Cascade Route via Lakehead Hut or Coldwater Hut, and up to 9 hours on the Mt Cedric Track via Sabine Hut.

There are between 9 and 11 hours of daylight in winter, so leave early enough to complete the trip before it gets dark. Always take a head torch.

The snow depth will increase and weather conditions may worsen as you get deeper into the mountains. Be prepared to turn back early if conditions are no longer safe or your progress is too slow.

In whiteout conditions, the tracks can be extremel difficult to find.

Dress for cold, windy and icy conditions

On a calm day, Angelus Hut (1650 m) is at least 6oC colder than at the Rotoiti/Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre. Subtract another 2oC (35.6oF) for every 10 km/h of wind. Subtract another 6.5oC (43.7oF) for every 1000 m ascent.

The routes to Angelus Hut are at altitude in an alpine environment. The weather can be highly changebale - within minutes, the weather can go from clear skies to whiteout conditions. The cold can be intense. Hypothermia is a real risk and can be fatal - recognise the symptoms (people may shiver, be clumsy, confused, have slurred speech, and deny they have a problem).

Layer your clothes to trap warm air in and keep cold wind out. Start with a base layer of polypropylene/merino, add an insulation layer of fleece/wool and finish with a waterproof shell layer.

Expect ice on the track from May to December. Crampons and an ice axe are essential, as is the competency using them. 38% of tramping injuries are from slipping.

Be avalanche alert

Avalanches are a hazard. All tracks/routes to Angelus Hut during winter are subject to avalanches. Carefully consider the the class of avalanche terrain you're getting into (see How ATES applies in Nelson Lakes National Park) and know the avalanche forecast (external site).

Avalanches occur in the park every year normally between June and October but sometimes as late as December. Even if you can't see snow from the track, there may be enough out of sight on the upper slopes to form an avalanche that could reach the track.

Take these essentials

  • Plenty of drinking water - there is no drinking water along Robert Ridge Route.
  • Gas cooker, fire starter, utensils, sleeping bag, and toilet paper for Angelus Hut.
  • Waterproof jacket and pants, hat, gloves, sunscreen, and warm, layered clothing.
  • Sturdy tramping or mountaineering boots.
  • Crampons and ice axe.
  • Avalanche transceiver, avalanche probe and snow shovel.
  • Personal locator beacon (PLB), head torch and spare batteries - there is very limited mobile reception on the route, and only on Robert Ridge.
  • Map, compass and/or GPS.

Make a plan

Talk with someone at the Rotoiti/Nelson Lakes Visitor Centre who knows the current conditions.

Check the latest:

Know the route – deep snow and whiteout conditions can hide track markers.

Know about the hut in winter

  • You may have to dig your way into the hut - snow drifts frequently block the entrance.
  • There is no water inside the hut - the plumbing is disconnected to avoid freezing and cracking of pipes
  • The hut may be cold - firewood may not be available.

For more up-to-date information please visit The Department of Conservation's Website.

If you would like to read more about my adventures during the six months I spent walking during winter on Te Araroa follow this link.


About the Author

2 Comments on “Winter on Te Araroa – Lake Angelus and the Blue Lake”

  1. Although Jordan, you’re far from “home in VA) & we miss you tremendously, I can put a smile on my face knowing how happy that you are. Of course, don’t be surprised if you hear a “knocking on your door” one day!😉
    Your pictures & descriptions are very well to the point & whoever wishes to take on this trek pretty well can gather from your experiences & advice. I wish I could roll back time as it looks so inviting & sounds like a great adventure that I’ll just have to live through the pictures & journeys you’ve traveled through. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for the great comment Mom! And I can’t wait until the day you do finally make it all the way over here! Lots of love!

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