Monday, 13 August 2018

Powell Hut and Mt Holdsworth

It was an unsettlingly clear Sunday when I strode up the gravel walkway past Holdsworth lodge. Full sun, no clouds, and damn near warm - this was not the kind of weather one expects from the Tararuas in early August. Deciding it was better not to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, I headed off toward Donnelly Flat and the Gentle Annie Track, enjoying Tararua weather god Huey's fickle benevolence while it lasted.

The Gentle Annie is reached after quick, flat 1.2km, at which point it begins to climb gently up toward the rocky lookout and pig flat. After an hour, I reached Rocky Lookout (3km from the carpark) and stopped for a quick snack and photography break.

The gradient eases up as the track winds its way toward the Totara Creek track and Pig Flat. I was at the track junction (4.8km from the start) half an hour after leaving rocky lookout. Pig Flat, as the name implies, is very flat, so it was a quick 20 minutes through stunted trees and sun-blleached boardwalks from the junction to Mountain House (6.1km from the carpark).

Mountain house, a shelter built on the site of an old WTMC hut, serves as an excellent rest stop before the final ascent up the side of Mt Holdsworth to reach Powell Hutt. By the time I left Mountain House, it had been 2 hours and 20 minutes since I started out.
Immediately after Mountain House, the track begins climbing much more steeply than any of the preceding ascent. It is, at this point, a case of so close yet so far, as the next 2km are the slowest part of the trip. The climb varies in steepness, but pretty much never lets up until Powell Hut is reached. Many sets of stairs, of varying degrees of helpfulness, punctuate the slog. At times I was grateful for the stairs, other times they seemed to make the going harder than it needed to be.
View over the Waiohine River and Totara Flats

Having no need to hurry, I dawdled my my way up the hill, eventually arriving at Powell about 1.5 hours after leaving Mountain House, around 4 hours all up.
About 400m from the hut, the track pops up above the bushline, presenting some fantastic views.

 Powell is a large, spacious hut, that's looking a bit worse for wear these days (despite being only about 20 years old). A whole lot of structural bracing now adds to the hut's worn out appearance, the result of DOC's temporary strengthening before a new hut is built (at this stage meant to be happening later this year - the current hut has become structurally unsound and is no longer fit for purpose). Looking around, the hut doesn't seem to have weathered it's 2 decades of life all that well, both inside and out. That being said, it's still perfectly comfortable, more than adequate, and a great spot to spend a night, especially once the fire is nice and hot, thanks to an abundance of supplied wood and coal. As an added bonus, the gas cookers were still kicking about, a surpise to me as I thought they'd been removed a few years back (along with the gas facilities of other serviced huts in the Tararuas, like Totara Flats).

Somewhat unsurprisingly, given that it was a Sunday, I was the sole occupant of the hut for the night. It later transpired, as I was reading in the dark, that I was not truly alone: a cadre of mice now seem to be calling the hut home. At least one seemed to have set up shop inside the gubbins of an out-of-order gas cooker. Suggestion for new hut: mouse-proof exterior cladding. Thankfully none of the mice broke in to my food supplies, although I did need to give my cup an extra-thorough cleaning before making my moring beverage.
Night-time vista.
Waking up early the next day, which was almost as clear as the previous day, afforded a great view of the sunrise over the Wairarapa.

Deciding to make the most of the clear weather, I packed up my gear and head off up the the top of Mount Holdsworth just after 8am. Remarkably, not only was the minimal cloud, there was barely even a breeze for most of the walk up.
The track initially climbs steeply up from Powell, but eases up after Pt 1330 is reached. With the absence of cloud, incredible views are available for the whole 1.7km to the Holdsworth trig. So omnipresent were the views, that I was stopping to take photos so often that it took about an hour to get to the top.
A frosty-roofed Powell Hut from the track to Holdsworth

Cool sign


Holdsworth trig in the distance

Westward view

Southward view

Vague direction of Powell Hut view


The track (or route if we're being pedantic) along the tops is sporadically marked by orange-capped poles, but its path through the tussock is easily visible.
After soaking in the view from the top, it was time to return to Powell. All up, it was a 3.3km, almost 2 hr sojourn up to the trig and back, and without doubt the best part of the tramp. As cool as it is to be on the tops in any weather, a clear sunny day up there really is something to behold.

After stopping briefly at Powell to remove a now-superfluous merino thermal, I began the trudge down to Mountain House at about 10am. Somewhat expectedly, the walk down was much quicker than the walk up, albeit much more jarring on the knees. Mountain house was reached after ~50 minutes.
I stopped for a few minutes to have a quick snack and top up my water supply, and then it was off to the carpark. With only the briefest of stops at the rocky lookout, I was back at my car by 12:40pm.

Day 1 - Carpark-Powell - GPS log in red.

Day 2 - Powell-Holdsworth Trig-Powell-Carpark - GPS log in red
 GPS Altitude Profiles:

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