All good things take time, they say! It took me 10 years to finally drag my ass up Ben Lomond and make it up to Lochnagar and the walk up to Lochnagar took me a life time, not sure if that was a good thing though. Climbing up a steep slope on slippery grass through thick bush and ‘Spaniards’ to remind you of your poor trail reading skills and push their needle sharp spikes in your legs and hands every time you slide back down the hill, which was with every step.
Now this might sound worse then it is! The drive in to The Branches station is spectacular but you will need a 4×4 and some experience on narrow dusty roads. There is not much room to maneuver when the guys from the Bungee or Rafting come out the valley with their busses. We saw a lady driving into the valley with a 2 wheel drive rental, sure she must have been looking for the crown range, and on passing she looked at me like a rabbit in headlights. (Do not take your rental car here!!! No insurance will cover you!)
If you would like to go into the Valley and past The Branches station, make sure you get the Email from DOC and contact James and get in touch with him. This is not a DOC track and there are no markers.
The first bit of the trail is fairly easy, you can follow the river bed when the water is low, or follow the 4×4 trail, I don’t think you can get lost on the first section to be honest and this did not take me much time at all, so I was very optimistic for an early arrival at Lake Lochnagar.
Spirits were still high when I started my climb up to Lochnagar, a wide path was leading into the valley and I’m sure somebody must have tried to take a car up to the lake, those back country farmers have no fear I think. I learned from my previous mistakes and if I loose the trail I go back and retrace my steps to find the trail again before I carry on. Because this is not a very busy route, you have to concentrate, I tend to be up in Lala land when I walk and easily loose the trail when it takes a sharp turn. The Maps show that the trail stops at some stage so when I got to the ‘Goatel’ rock bivouac I could not find the trail and thought, this must be the spot where it ends and took a left here, only to realize on my descend 2 days later that there is a trail and I missed it by 2 meters! In my defense I must say, it was not easy to see, and the guys I met in the hut agreed!
This is where the horrible scramble started and by the end I was questioning why I am doing this? This was not fun, adventure yes, but fun? So when I finally got to the top and the lake and the hut I had a cup of Tea and just went to sleep, I was too tired to do anything. I did wake up just before sunset and knew this must have been an amazing sunset in Queenstown, but I could only see the tail end of it.
I was so tired, I felt I could curl up and sleep for a week, but the wind thought differently and kept me up for most of the night. The views of the lake in the morning with the impressive mountains surrounding it were the reward for all that hard work. I made myself a cuppa and went for a little stroll in the area, and ofcourse, I found the trail I should have take up the hill! At this stage I was not quit sure if I wanted to stay for another day or not and decided I would have a little snooze first . The weather had not been great and I was not happy with my photos and the current light conditions so I did not really want to go down and have 2 photos from the trip that I was happy with, chances that I will be back here any time soon would be pretty slim.
4.30 pm there was a knock on the door and I woke up from my snooze and Bram and Haydn stood at the door and looked like I must have looked the day before. Totally shattered and I was actually quit pleased to hear that they lost the trail too and took an even harder route up. So we had a story to share and it was nice to have some company in the hut. Their plan was to pack raft to the other side of the lake, then climb up the wall and drop into the Rees Valley and pack raft out to Glenorchy, but the wind was too strong and we all got up early and packed our bags for the return trip to the car park
It was so easy and the walk to the car did not take any time at all, we kept laughing how easy the walk on the trail is and how we suffered the day before. We still had to stop a few times and make sure we are on the right trail but we got to the ‘Goate’ rock bivouac with ease and marked the trail a bit better for other trampers. When we got to the Subterranean Outlet Lookout we put some more markers up, this is where the other 2 guys went the wrong way, and we continued our walk down the hill. A flying fox and a few river crossing later and we got back to the car and drove to Queenstown for a ice cold beer! Beer must have been invented for moments like this, it never tasted better!
This walk is for experienced walkers only! Check in with DOC for more info or drop me a line.