05-Jan-2016 -- The Browning Range Confluence (off the side of a steep rocky mountainside)
This was a confluence visit quite a long time in the making. I first attempted to visit this in December 2013. I originally chose the southwest approach to the Browning Range, on the north of the Turnbull River. That was because the old 260 series Department of Conservation maps show a track in the area that gets quite close to the bushline. It is no longer maintained and removed on the more recent maps. However I found it quite easily, and gained a lot of height quickly. Unfortunately I suffered an injury and couldn't continue, so I abandoned the attempt.
This year I was in the South Island again, so I decided to give it another crack. This time I took the longer and gentler northwest approach to the same ridge towards Mt Warren.
It was quite a monumental undertaking to embark on solo without the ability to share some of the burden with communal gear. I knew from my previous experience here that the going would be tough, and the attempt would likely take 3 to 5 days, even though it is only really a handful of kilometers. The confluence is located a little to the south of a saddle along a ridge near Mt Warren, down a steep mountainside. It is very rocky and I expected there would be climbing involved so I took full climbing gear (including 60 metre rope). My calculations showed that with food and sufficient water I would be carrying well over 30kg, which is really too much to climb steep slopes with so I prepared special high density food that doesn't require cooking and took many other measures to lighten my load with the lightest gear available. I also sacrificed quite a lot of food and water and got my pack weight down to 22kg, which is still heavy but workable. Hopefully I would find water along the way.
The route starts out with an easy track walk from the gate, and then goes off-track into hellish scrub. Beginning at an altitude of only about 20m, the bushline ends at around 1160m so there is over 1100m of vertical gain to be made by good old bush bashing. The trick is to gain altitude as quickly as possible because at the lowest levels the ground is boggier and thick with Supplejack (a tough vine that likes to trap hikers). Fighting through the Supplejack is very slow going; progress is perhaps around 100 metres per hour. Eventually with altitude gain the Supplejack gives way to dense abbrasive ferns and a large amount of treefall that still takes a lot of time to navigate around or climb over.
I had started quite late that day and after about 8 hours of bush bashing, I settled down for the night.
The next morning I pushed on up the slope and reached around 900m. At this point the flora turns quite suddenly to Leatherwood. I battled on in case there wasn't much, but after a little way it becomes very thick and impassable. It turns out there is about a kilometer of this stuff. It would require a chainsaw and a lot of time to cut through it, and I couldn't fit that in my meagre food/time/weight budget. The Leatherwood also affects my first approach in the same way.
So unfortunately that was mission pretty much over. I had to abandon the ascent and go back down, which takes nearly as long as coming up, thanks to the Supplejack.
After two failed attempts, I didn't want to just give up so the next day I hired a helicopter and got dropped off on the tops, above the Leatherwood.
The tops here are very impressive with massive building-sized rock slabs. It is quite rugged and dramatic. I didn't go all the way along the ridge, but although there seem to be routes along much of it there may be places that require climbing gear.
For me cheating now, I just needed to get to the saddle and climb down the side to the confluence. There was a lot more snow up here than I expected, and I didn't have crampons with me so I had to make do with a walking pole and steps kicked into the steep steep snow slopes. There were a few pitches to climb and lower my pack down, and it probably would have been quite dicey without climbing gear.
After a few cliffs, I rappelled down the final 30m cliff and made my way across a steep snowy slope to the confluence point.
Finally after this time, I made it. Mission accomplished. Body covered in hundreds of cuts and scratches. Eaten alive by sand flies. Now I just needed to climb back up and get off the mountain...
Additional information about the route and accessing the Browning Range can be found on my blog.