Cascade Saddle Route
Image: Tahu Taylor-Koolen | ©
This route is suitable only for people with navigation and high level backcountry skills and experience.
The route connects the West Matukituki Valley with the Dart Valley. DOC recommends trampers begin from the Matukituki side as ascending is much safer than descending.
Time: 2 hr – 2 hr 30 min
Distance: 9 km
Follow the West Matukituki Track to Aspiring Hut.
From the bushline, the route is narrow, steep and very exposed - you will need your hands to climb.
Time: 4-5 hr
Distance: 6 km
The track is signposted from Aspiring Hut and climbs steadily up through mixed beech forest. Above the bushline the track becomes a route and is marked with orange poles. It follows a steep snow grass and tussock ridge with some rocky outcrops and ledges to negotiate.
If snow is present, do not proceed without an ice axe and crampons and the skills to use them - slipping can mean falling several hundred metres off the cliffs.
The route reaches the pylon at the top of the ridge (1835 m) via a steep and narrow gully that holds snow for much of the year.
If the route is attempted in reverse (from the Dart) the pylon and orange-poled route MUST be located before descending into the Matukituki Valley. This section of the route is much more difficult to go down than go up.
After the pylon follow the poles down to Cascade Creek, cross it to the easy slopes and flats leading to Cascade Saddle (1524 m).
There is a camping site with a toilet near Cascade Creek where there’s a toilet. It's the only suitable camping site along the route.
The track becomes slippery in wet conditions and a fall can be fatal - turn around if weather deteriorates.
Time: 4-5 hr
Distance: 10 km
The route to both the Dart and Rees valleys veers off to the left, just before you reach Cascade Saddle. Follow the orange poles along the ridge, then the rock cairns through the steep and unstable slopes down to the valley floor and lateral moraines of the Dart Glacier. The traverse from the ridge to the valley floor is above 1500 metres and very exposed to the weather.
Stay on the true left bank of the Dart River/Te Awa Whakatipu – the left side looking down river. You will need to ford several side streams. The water level rises quickly with either rain or afternoon snow melt, take care in particular with streams further down the valley, close
to Dart Hut.
Slightly upstream from the confluence of the Dart and Snowy Creek, a bridge over the creek leads to Dart Hut.
Time: 2 days
Walk out via the Rees or Dart Valleys on the Rees-Dart Track.
From Wanaka it is 54 km to the Raspberry Creek car park – the last 30 km is unsealed. The route is then accessed from the West Matukituki Valley, which is the recommended starting point.
Although much more difficult in reverse, the route can be accessed via the Rees-Dart Track.
Public transport is available to and from all the connecting tracks.
In 1939, from the Cascade Camp in the West Matukituki valley, C.E. Smith and A.P. Harper pioneered the Ernie Smith Route to the Tyndall Ridge. Nearly 20 years later a metal pylon was placed on the ridge to guide trampers safely around the bluffs. The ‘Cullers Route’ was later
established from Cascade Hut. The lower section fell into disrepair after a new route was cut from Aspiring Hut, which meets the Cullers Route midway up the bush-clad slopes.
Cascade Saddle is an alpine crossing and should not be attempted in adverse weather.
Steep snow grass slopes on the Matukituki side become treacherous and slippery when wet or covered with snow and ice. Sudden cold storms with snow affect this area, even during summer.
In early summer, crampons and ice axes may be required.
Multiple fatalities have occurred on this route; make sure you have the right skills and equipment and be prepared to turn back if conditions are unfavourable – failure to make good decisions while attempting this traverse may result in serious injury or death.
There is avalanche danger from June to November. Check the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory website before starting your trip.
Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.
NZTopo50 map sheets: CA10 and CA11