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Nina River – Boscawen Saddle – Queen’s Birthday Weekend, 1 – 3 June 2019

I hadn’t been over Boscawen Saddle before, and not to Christabel Hut for ages, so I was keen to lead this trip. Kerry had been there twice, and was quick to caution me about the route down to the Robinson and Blue-Grey rivers.

Bill Templeton also commented about the time factor at this time of year. But my immediate concern was the storm at the beginning of the weekend. However, the forecast promised better weather further west and clearing Sunday and Monday. Once again, the forecasters were spot on.

With five in my wagon, we headed north after the final pick up at Ian’s place. Somewhere up the Waiau valley a returning vehicle driver advised that the road was closed and we followed other cars in turning around and driving back east thinking about Plan B. But eventually, we decided to see for ourselves and turned around again. Yes, the road was closed at Engineer’s Camp and Downers were saying three hours before they planned to open it. But I walked up the long queue and after promising we were only going as far as Palmer Lodge, the Downers bloke was happy for us to sail up the side of the queue and drive on. So a late start walking at 11.20am.

There was a token flurry of snow just before we left and some light drizzle for a little while after, and that was it for the weekend and no wind. Once up to the swing bridge for the crossing to the true right and up to Nina Hut, we continued on the true left track, still well marked but often a pain getting on and off open river terraces. But we were running late and we were going to arrive at the Upper Nina Bivvy in the dark. Using our head torches, travel wasn’t easy. Ian was up front finding the way, and we were all happy to arrive at the bivvy at about 7.30pm.

The Upper Nina Bivvy was recently restored by Permolat, and it now sports a woodshed and a toilet. Luxury! Ian and Peter put up a tent in a snow free spot, and I claimed the floor in the bivvy. It was a late night and a late dinner. Getting the fire going wasn’t hard, but with no wind outside to create a draft the bivvy filled with smoke.

Nina 1

The restored Nina Bivvy. Photo courtesy of Merv Meredith

SUNDAY

At this time of year, departing from the bivvy in the dark is not easy so it was 8.00am, before we left under blue skies and continued up the Nina Valley. The side stream we wanted to go up is No.5 on the true right. Three hours later, travel up the Nina River and side stream was not easy. We had a close encounter with a deer and her teenager about here.

After an hour and a half up No 5 stream, the sides steepened up as we approached the bushline, and the Boscawen ridge was visible up ahead. By 1.00pm, it was time for me to discuss a turnaround. But there was a certain feeling in the group about continuing on. Again Ian led the way, plugging steps in the soft snow. By now we were getting wind from the east behind us coming up over the ridge. Finally, about 3.00pm we came over the ridge with a blue sky to the west and the snow covered route around to the Robinson track down into the Blue Grey River, set out in front of us in glorious white.

One suggested route over to the Robinson track is to go 50m up the ridge to Mt Boscawen before turning off west and sidling a scree slope over to the flattish tops to meet the track coming up from the Robinson River on the ridge crest. We even tried it. Or at least Peter went 5 metres in that direction, plowing a channel in the snow. By now, it was obvious our only option was to retrace our steps down the stream. We weren’t going to get anywhere near the bivvy before dark. Maybe a terrace in the bush for a tent site? We didn’t get to a terrace but it’s amazing what you find when you have to. At 5.30pm, we found two promising looking spots by the stream, plus a bivvy ledge on the bank for me. Peter produced a long plastic sheet to make a roof for me. Dan’s turn to cook, and it was after 8.00pm before got into our bags under a starry night.

Nina 2

View from Boscawen Saddle looking across the headwaters of the Blue- Grey River to the Robinson River route. Photo courtesy of Merv Meredith

MONDAY

From our campsite, it was going to be another long day. But it would be good if we could get to the Nina swingbridge before dark, so I was niggling occasionally to keep moving. Up at daylight and walking by 8.50am, it took 25 minutes to get down No 5 stream to the junction with the Nina River. Then we were back at the Nina Bivvy by 11.50am for an early lunch in rather cool conditions. We didn’t reach the swingbridge until 5.55pm. Definitely dark, but the last section of track on the true left hadn’t been hard. By now, we were shuffling the walking order to suit whose head torch was still doing the best. Dan’s big searchlight had faded, but Ian’s was still doing well. Swapping to the spare batteries would have been good, but would add to walking time so it didn’t happen. Walking in the dark, it’s amazing what you don’t recognise on a familiar track, but it was a great relief to see the swingbridge coming in to sight. Back at the lodge and our vehicle by 8.05pm and all is well. 

Not quite. Eventually unpacked, gear sorted and all squeezed back into the car, it wouldn’t start. The snow conditions had killed the battery. After talking around the situation we knew if we weren’t going to spend a night camped under the lodge verandah, we needed a helpful passing motorist. One with jumper leads because I still hadn’t bought new ones for this car. Dan did a great job getting us organised. We pushed thecar out to the highway, put the bonnet up and shined the head torches on it. Dan then walked 30m back up the highway so he could wave. And we waited, the flow of traffic had finished. Then along came a modern 4WD, sailed passed, then, oh joy, braked, turned around and came back. A youngish bloke with a mud covered high tech MTB on a high tech bike rake on the back. And the inside a sight to behold with all sorts of gear and supplies. Dan did the talking. Would he possibly have jumper leads? “I think I have a set of them” Of course he did. A modern heavy duty set suited to both our vehicles. Dan again got us organised and my battery only needed a quick kick to get it back to normal. Our good Samaritan departed with our many, many thanks and the thought that we must make sure we each return the favour next time the situation is reversed, and that the ONLY vehicle that came along STOPPED for us!

So finally at 9.00pm, we left Palmer Lodge. The only food place that was open was the McDonalds sitting out in the empty Ravenswood subdivision, north of Woodend. With me in the driving seat, it was a slightly comical experience relaying messages between the young person at the other end of the intercom and our carload. Particularly when he had a set routine about how many orders we could have against each order. But we got it sorted and the meal was very welcome, sitting out in their carpark. Back around the drop offs and home not too long after midnight.

We had time to mull over the trip. From start to finish we had all sorts of obstacles throw up, but one by one we got over them, including with the help of our Good Samaritan. I don’t think any of us regret continuing on up to the Boscawen Ridge and having that view to the west. But if you do ever get asked to lead a Nina River –Boscawen Saddle – Lake Christabel trip, make sure it’s in the summer with 12 hours of daylight and little snow! 

We were: Merv Meredith(leader), Diane Mellish, Dan Pryce, Ian Umbers & Peter Umbers.