Red Skies Above – Takitimu Tops Camp

“On a Mish” #142 Red Skies Above. Takitimu Tops Camp. Takitimu Conservation Area. 17.3.2018. Late start. Less than favourable weather forecast. Camping on an exposed mountain side. Factors that might turn some away from going on a mish but for some the call of the wild is so strong that they will use up every second of fine weather. Unfortunately some are caught out when the weather does change. But for us (my Girlfriend and I) on the side of Clare Peak, we saw red skies above and we got out of the mountains as fast as we could…

The peaks of the Takitimu Mountains will always come off second best to the mass expanses of Fiordland. The range might be large when compared with others around the country, but right next door sits it’s much more wild and much, much bigger brother. Having access to Fiordland has kept me out of the Takitimu Mountains until a time when all signs were pointing to a mish in the mountains south of Te Anau.

Our adventure began at Lower Princhester Hut, located on the northern side of the Takitimu Mountains. To get there from Te Anau a short drive along state highway 94 leads to Princhester Farm and a farm track takes you to the start of the track over Princhester / Waterloo Saddle(805m). This is part of the southern section of the New Zealand (Te Araroa) Trail and a quick read of the hut book shows the many nationalities that come to hike New Zealand’s longest hiking trail.

Beyond the hut the track gently climbs south towards the forest covered saddle with the odd view through the trees at the scree covered slopes. At the saddle we turned west and were no longer on a well cut track.

We pushed on through the thick bush in the direction of Clare Peak(1490m). What seemed at first to be some classic near blind bush bashing became easier after I spotted a strip marker tape in the trees. The tape marked a rough route around the worst of the bush and dense scrub, which was very helpful. It seemed that someone else had had the idea of a mish in this part of the world.

After a steep scramble to get us above the trees we had to climb around a small bluff. Above the bluff there was a small tent-sized spot amongst bushes. I was slightly nervous about where exactly we would put our shelter but fate made the decision for me!

Now it was time for an important side mission. A sketchy traverse across a steep scree covered face to a waterfall to collect vital water for drinking and cooking.

With camp all good to go it was now time to enjoy the alpine environment, and also time to enjoy some mountain dinner thanks to the well placed natural spring.

The high cloud and eastern aspects made for an uneventful sunset, but I will take an evening in the mountains over a night on the couch. Our evening was very relaxed and it seemed like our mish was going to be a fairly standard affair. However, during the night the wind of the approaching storm front hit our camp, and it hit hard.

I had been asleep for a few hours when I was suddenly awoken by the sound of the tent flapping violently in the wind. The forecasted storm wasn’t too far away, but at this stage it was pitch black so escaping the storm wasn’t an option. Luckily we only had to wait a couple of hours before it was light enough to start packing up the tent.

The forced early-ish start was rewarded with an evil blood red sky over the Takitimu Mountains. This gave us an obvious warning that rain was on the way. A red sky means leave!

The ever increasing wind didn’t help with the pack down of camp, as the tent would be picked up and thrown around. We had to work as a team to avoid losing any of our gear. After a bit of effort the tent and our other equipment was stowed into our packs and we were on our way.

It was awesome to have a route marked out as we knew we had to move quickly if we wanted to avoid getting soaked. We were nearly at the saddle when the rain arrived and even though we were getting wet, one glimpse back up at where we had camped showed us it was much better to be down in the forest than stuck up in the tops. It didn’t take long for us to relocate the main track and then it was an easy wander back to the car.

For less than 24 hours the mission provided everything that we could have wanted plus the added excitement of escaping a storm. Our time tackling the Takitimu tops showed us that when the sky is red in the morning you better heed the warning!

Tent view of Clare Peak(1490m)

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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