Sugarloaf, Rockburn and Lake Sylvan loop
This is a great little 15Km hike in Mount Aspiring National Park. It takes in the Sugarloaf Pass via the Sugarloaf track, then heads down the Rockburn track to the old Rockburn shelter site. Finally, it picks up the Sylvan track around Lake Sylvan and back to the Sylvan DoC campsite. Apart from the initial 650m climb, it is a moderate (I didn’t find it too easy nor difficult) loop trail, and I made it in a 7 hour day. DoC rates it as an Advanced track and recommend 8-11 hours.
Starting at the Routeburn
As it’s a loop track you can do it in either direction. I started on the Routeburn track and after a short while turned off to the Sugarloaf track up to the left. Note that it’s not a ‘complete’ loop. The Routeburn track is a 5Km walk or hitch further up the road from the Sylvan Road end/campsite.
As extraordinary luck would have it, I got a ‘super-hitch’ this morning. I was heading out to the trail from Glenorchy and picked up a hitchhiker – a farmer heading up the road to pick up a van. He offered to follow me (in his van) to the Sylvan Road campsite, where I would park my van, then he drove me to the Routeburn track 5Kms up the road in his van – Fantastic!
I started on the Routeburn track at 8.30 am and around 15 minutes later turned off onto the Sugarloaf track.
The Sugarloaf Track to Sugarloaf Pass
The trail was well marked and in good condition. It was a steady uphill climb through tree-rooty beech forest, which I really enjoyed.
I was traveling pretty light and going fast this morning. Although I was carrying all the necessities and emergency gear my day pack was tiny and didn’t bring my poles, so I pushed myself. I enjoyed sweating out the little cold I’d been carrying around with me for a couple of days and easily tackled the light scramble sections.
By 9.15 am I had wet feet from crossing the first of many gullies/little streams. It had rained heavily last night and the whole trail was pretty wet.
I was up and out of the bush line by 9.40 am. The climb over the grassy saddle was beautiful. Looking back, there were views across to the Humboldt Mountains and the Dart River valley.
It was pretty boggy over the saddle. If there can be such a thing, it was one of the nicer bogs, with plenty of good foot placements most of the way, and trickling streams and the odd deep pool here and there. The trail itself was more like a little stream.
I took it easy, admired the views, and was over the pass by 10.15 am heading down towards the Rockburn Track. Just before the tree-line, I got a decent look at Mt Earnslaw off to the right.
The track down was a little more gnarly than coming up (I always prefer ascending to descending). I slid over a couple of times – nothing major. There were numerous trees down on this side of the mountain, no doubt because it was the more windy side.
The Rockburn Track
I reached the turning to Theatre Flat by 11 am. Last night I had read about the ‘five passes‘ route you can do from here (Sugarloaf being the first of the five)… continuing on to Theatre Flat and beyond. I added it to my list of must-do’s.
The track continued downwards and crossed lots of little gullies with streams. I heard lots of planes overhead – the mountains and glaciers of Mount Aspiring National Park being a huge draw for tourists. After a little while, I reached the Rock Burn (river) and the track leveled out a little. I could hear the roar of a jet boat speeding up the Dart river a few kms ahead of me.
Just then, I had a rather nice moment with a large black and white Dragonfly. I disturbed him from the bushes and he hovered around me for a while. He landed on my index finger when I held out my hand! Stunned, I brought him in closer for an inspection and we looked at each other for a minute, before he flew off again.
By 12.45 pm I had reached the turning for the Rockburn chasm and old shelter site. I walked to the chasm first, 15 mins away. I crossed a wooden bridge wondering what all the fuss was about, then I looked down!!
Considerably far beneath me in a very narrow gorge, the river raged its way through a very narrow rock passage. It was pretty impressive.
I wandered down to the shelter site on the river for lunch at 1.20 pm. I didn’t stay for long as there were hundreds of sandflies.
The Lake Sylvan Rockburn Track
The final section for today – the Sylvan trail – was a quite unremarkable, flat-ish, wet and often boggy track to Sylvan Lake. I reached Sylvan Lake at 2.30 pm. The clouds had come in, and there was a gentle rain falling.
I hurried on, afraid the skies might open into full rain, and reached the lake outlet and lookout by 2.50 pm.
The Lake Sylvan Walk
From the lookout, the last stretch of trail is known at the Lake Sylvan Walk. The track was around 2Kms to the car park and Sylvan Road DoC campsite. It was so perfect it could have been a ‘great walk’. Behold!! a lovingly graveled, wide, flat, winding path through the forest – a complete contrast to most of the day’s trail.
As I approached the car park, I recognised the swing bridge over the river and realised I had been here before with my family 12 years ago (although we had just picnicked here and didn’t stay) funny how you instantly remember those times…
I got back to the van at the Very lovely Sylvan campsite at 3.20 pm. Today’s circuit had taken around 7 hours. I was pretty tired and extremely relieved that I didn’t have to walk another 5Kms up the Routeburn road to collect the car!
I thoroughly enjoyed the day and was amazed that I didn’t see another human on the entire trail until 1Km from the end. Given that it’s only a few kms from the busy Routeburn track, I felt lucky and privileged to have it all to myself!