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My 16-year old sons Olly and Jasper are Venture Scouts, and part of their Chief Scout Award involves planning and carrying out a journey. They organised to take three days off their holiday jobs, but as the time came closer the weather forecast narrowed down our options. Luckily the Cascade Saddle was a possibility - I had wanted to do this walk for years, and the boys eventually succumbed to my arguments.
So as soon as Olly got off work on Wednesday 26th January, we loaded up the truck with our gear and set off - in pouring rain. It's about two hours drive from our home in Arrowtown to Raspberry Creek, and Nicole ensured our undying love by dropping us off - then driving all the way back again. After having my shorts licked by a cow as I did up my boots (a good omen?), we set off in showers to walk the two easy hours up to Aspiring hut. Arriving just before dark, we made some hot chocolate in this prince of mountain huts, chatted to a group of Dunedin Sea Scouts, and bunked down ready for the big day.
We were woken at 6:30 by raucous keas, only to find they had taken to Jasper's orthotic insoles. Luckily they were still mostly intact, and we were glad to see the weather had cleared according to plan. After a quick breakfast we set off at about 7:30.
The day was broken into four main sections: a steep climb from Aspiring Hut to the pylon; across Cascade Creek to the viewpoint; descending alongside the Dart Glacier to the valley floor; and a flat walk along the valley to Dart Hut.
As often happens, the last section was the hardest, despite being pretty much flat. We had put on sun-screen when we left the bushline that morning, but because we hadn't brought enough, we didn't apply more. The sun was hot, there was no breeze and the raw rock we were walking over reflected the heat straight back at us. Jasper's toes were very sore by this stage, so none of us really enjoyed the experience at this stage.
We were all relieved - Jasper's boots came off in a flash, and we stumbled down to the river for a wash. The cold water was heavenly on our necks, arms and legs, and we realised how burnt we all were. All up we'd taken ten hours and ten minutes to get from Aspiring Hut to Dart Hut, including a good three-quarters of an hour idling at the viewpoint.
That evening was a bit of a blur - we rustled up some macaroni cheese with sliced cabanossi sticks, wolfed a pottle of mango on top of creamed rice, and hit the sack.
After a solid night's sleep, we cooked porridge on the trusty coke-can cooker, and packed ready for the rain that was forecast. It was overcast as we set off, and after a hour it started drizzling. We marched on, through alternating beech forest and grassy flats, and the rain got stronger. My gaiters had kept my boots dry through all the streams the day before, but I stupidly didn't put them on when we started out. My boots got soaked just from brushing past the grass on the flats, and putting them on halfway along closed the stable door after the horse had bolted.
We had a leisurely lunch of soup, ryveta, cream cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. Then an afternoon snooze as the rain poured down, not waking till late afternoon. Dinner was dehydrated something (who can tell!) and a bar of chocolate. Jasper and Olly played werewolves (a version of mafia) with the rest of the hut inhabitants, then we went off for another good night's sleep.
And before we know it we were skirting Chinaman's Bluff, seeing parked cars through the trees, and sure enough there was Nicole waiting patiently for us. It was lovely to see her, and even lovelier to see the fine feed she had brought with her - bacon and egg pie and a potato salad!
It was a good trip. Apart from Jasper's toes and sunburn all round, we had no injuries, and my knees handled the climb and descent without a murmur. We got the weather right, doing the potentially dangerous Cascade Saddle on the one fine day we got. We learned not to leave orthotic insoles anywhere keas can get at them, and apart from Olly's mug cracking, our gear performed well. The boys did a sterling job of organising and executing the walk, and I was proud to have such capable companions for this unforgettable adventure.