Altitude: 677m to 1744m. Gain: 1290m. Loss: 542m . Gradient: 12 deg (Steep)
Skills: Prolonged scrambles (4/7) - Occasional rivers (3/6)
This is a good alternative route to the Mt Kaye summit climb when visibility on the tops is bad or when poor snow conditions make the climb to Mt Kaye tricky. The trip took me 4 hours in poor visibility with the added motivation of impending nightfall. An ice-axe or other means of self-arresting on the steep tussock faces into Fantail creek would be a good idea.
The easiest crossing of the Makarora River is at the braids at Makarora Hut. If its too high to cross here you won;t get across lower down (shin deep in normal flows, but impassable after rain). Follow the north bank of the Makarora downstream. Cross one steep sidecreek 1km below the hut and look out for the next major side creek 2.2km from the hut on the northern side of the valley - near the end of the open flats. A small waterfall is visible 100m up the sidevalley - cross to the western bank of the sidecreek and scramble over the small knob to pas the falls and get into the sidevalley. Continue up the western bank to where a small steep gut enters from the west (1st forks shown on maps). Cross the gut and climb the spur on its northern side - good open beech with intermittent deer trails. Where the beech ends, good tussock begins - no scrub, unlike the next spur south. A prominent knife-edge spur soon joins from the south. Sticking in rolling tussock and rock basins east of the this spur, 2km of easy, gentle ascent leads to the main ridgeline. There are numerous small tarns in this broken country and many good sheltered camp spots.
You hit the ridgeline at the top of Hawk Spur. Cross onto the western face of the ridgeline to Mt Kaye and sidle at the same altitude (~1700m) to find good flat terraces through the heads of the next two creeks (small camp spots available in both), taking you to Portent Spur. From Portent, the descent to Fantail Creek is tricky: find the southernmost tributary of Fantail shown on the map, and follow it downstream on it's true left. The creek descends through a stratum of bluffs via a waterfall but by heading down the next spur west of the creek, then sidling a tussock terrace back to the creek you can get through the bluff system with a little care. From here, follow the west (TL) side of the creek down to the forks in Fantail Creek - crossing to the TR 50m from the forks for an easy descent into the main riverbed. Climb the vague spur north of the creek to hit the Brewster Hut track 100m west of the hut.