New Zealand – Over the cascade saddle trying not to crap my pants

I have long wanted to traverse the pylon and the cascade saddle – reputed to be the most beautiful pass in NZ – but had been put off by the multiple fatalities that have occurred when people have slipped on the path, as well as not having had the right conditions to make the ascent.  This time, the weather window looked perfect and I had papa scout (a goat on the hills) for company so we thought we would give it a go

Our tents in the aspiring valley

Day 1 – 10k, 2 hours

We had just got out of the Gillespie pass that morning, so we had an obligatory stop at wanaka for Eggs benedict and banana bread and two coffees, as well as stocking up on even more food, and then we got a taxi to raspberry flat.   Being cheap, we strolled the 10k to just before Aspiring Hut and put up our tents next to the river, as it is free to camp anywhere in the park, except next to the huts.

Half way up the pylon. Crapping me pants

Day 2 – 30k, 1900m climbing, 9.5 hours of walking

Up with the dawn, we headed out just before 7.30.  The climb up to the tree line was lovely, plenty of switchbacks and lots of tantalising views of Tititea/Mt Aspiring peeking through the trees.  We came out of the tree line to one of the multiple signs warning us to take extreme care given the fatalities….. with my vertigo it is hard for me to get the balance right between taking extreme care and not having a panic attack.

One of many signs telling me I might die

I would have loved to have taken some photos on the way up between the trees and the pylon but mostly I had my hands too busy holding on to the side of the cliff!   While the path was fine given how dry the day was, it is easy to see how lethal it could be when wet.  Papa scout kept an eye on me and eventually we made it to the pylon for one of the best views I have ever had in NZ.  I rewarded myself with half a pack of ginger nuts and tried not to worry about what the descent down the other side would be like.  Honestly no amount of money would have got me to descend back down the same way.

The view from the pylon

From the pylon to the cascade saddle was a stunning walk, albeit across some hairy slippy sections.  And the view of the dart glacier from the cascade saddle rendered me speechless.   Honestly the best views I have ever had in NZ and worth the near crapping of the pants to get there.   We hadn’t seen anyone since we left the valley, so it was an incredible privilege to be enjoying the view in solitude.


From the saddle to dart hut it was an interminably long and hot walk….. which only took 2.5 hours but felt like longer.  Mostly the trail was fine,  though some sections had vanished so I did quite a bit is swearing as I navigated my way across some of the steeper sidles.


We eventually made it to the dart hut after 6.5 hours (the guide had said 10), and decided to have a huge lunch but keep going.   Papa scout and I could win an eating contest at the moment as my appetite is insatiable.  After most of a block of cheese, more gingernuts, mealmates, and a litre of coffee we headed off again up and over the gentle Rees saddle.   It was an easy and lovely way to end a tough day strolling through a high alpine valley.


We were delighted to get to the hut and only find one occupant – a young Israeli who was still in shock about how tough the climb was over the saddle (he had done it the day before).  Not long after a very skinny Japanese guy struggled in with a 25k pack, a classic case of all the gear and no idea – he was carrying two stoves.   I had a dunk in the river which is the next best thing I could have to a shower and then got eating.  I was in bed by 8pm as we each had our own room and I needed to escape the Israeli who was determined to give me hiking advice.

Day 3 – 20k flat stroll to the carpark, 4.5 hours

I was confused this morning to see a face popping up at my window at ten minute intervals from 6am.  After having coffee in bed, at 7 I finally went out to ask what he wanted.   So it was our Japanese friend, who asked me to call him a helicopter as he was tired and didn’t feel well and didn’t want to walk out?!?!?!?

View down the Rees saddle

Hmmmmm.   So I do have an sos button on my de lorme, but I am not pushing it for a tired guy whose name I don’t know.  I explained I didn’t have a chopper on speed dial and I wasn’t hitting the sos button and incurring the $10k fee unless he was dying.  I asked him if he was dying.  He said he wasn’t.  So I told him to rest in the hut for a day, hydrate, eat and walk out tomorrow.   We gave him some food (apparently he didn’t have much left in spite of a 25k bag) and left him to it.  He decided to walk out and we eventually saw him arrive about 7 hours after he left…. obviously not dying then.   At this point I have a rant on the tip of my tongue about people going to the bush poorly prepared and expecting choppers to come get them but will keep that to myself.


It was a lovely, easy but muddy stroll out, with some stunning views of My Earnslaw.    We made it in four and a bit hours so had ample time for another dunk in the river and some laundry before the shuttle arrived at 2.   Next stop, the caples track

Additional notes

– the start and finish of this track are 2 hours drive apart.  From queenstown you can get to raspberry creek carpark via wanaka with alpine connexions, or from wanaka with Karim at wanataxi (a great deal at $140 for the taxi)

– from muddy creek to glenorchy and queenstown I recommend the wonderful folks at glenorchy journeys 

– for route notes, check with doc, but these are the most recent for the cascade saddle and Rees/dart

February 19, 2017, Muddy Creek Carpark

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