A fun loop trip in Lewis Pass, with a walk up beech forest valley and over a pass, a quick paddle across Lake Christabel and through grade 2 to 3 rapids (with some portaging). Thank you to Carey Lintott, Nicole Symon and Martin Peat for the information and photos. This keen group did the trip in two days training for the GodZone Adventure race. Most people will probably find they need 3 decent sized days to complete the trip. 40km of walking, 25km packrafting.
There are plenty of options for accessing the Blue Grey, and the option to continue down the Grey and through the Gentle Annie Gorge (II/III) for a longer trip (and long shuttle!).
One of the best parts of this trip! No shuttle is necessary as with good river levels you can make a full circuit and paddle back to the car.
Alternatively if you wish to skip paddling the Upper Grey section the shuttle is 9km along Palmer Road the Blue-Grey DOC track end and the Robinson Valley DOC track end.
Walk in via Robinson Valley to Lake Christabel
The Lake Christabel loop links the Robinson Valley to Lake Christabel and the Blue Grey Valley.
From the end of Palmer Road (20km/30min from Springs Junction) the Robinson Valley track heads to Mid Robinson Hut (4hr). The track is in mixed condition, overgrown in places and prone to slips and river scour. At times route finding is easiest in the river bed. Top Robinson Hut (8 bunks) is a further 4hr up the valley.
The track then climbs to 1420m and over Robinson Saddle (1300m). Expect alpine conditions during winter months (crampons & ice-axe are an interesting combination with a packraft…). The track then descends steeply from the saddle and continues down valley to Lake Christabel Hut (8 bunks) . DOC times are 4hr to saddle and a further 4hr to the hut.
Rough Creek or Nina Valley could be used as alternate routes into Lake Christabel, but the advantage of Robinson is that the trip forms a loop.
It is another 30min from Lake Christabel Hut to the head of Lake Christabel.
Across Lake Christabel
Although there is a track around the northern edge paddling the lake provides extra variety and interest for the trip. Plus if you’re quick in your transitions and there’s no head wind, its quicker than walking!
Lake Christabel to Blue Grey put in
Lake Christabel has an underground outlet and a very steep initial section, which means you need to join the track again and continue down valley until there’s enough water to paddle.
Blue Grey River (II/III)
There is a lot of portaging around tree sieves in the first half, then stream narrows and fastens into nice grade 2 for the second half of the Blue Grey. Before emerging into farmland the river gorges up into a single tight grade 3 rapid, portaging is possible on the left.
Upper Grey River (II)
The Upper Grey is mainly scenic grade 2 boulder gardens through beech forest, with some shallower shingle sections.
River levels are good if the Blue Grey looks paddleable upstream of the Palmer Road bridge.
The Blue Grey would be too low at summer baseflow and needs a little extra water before it’s good to go. We did it at a comfortable low winter flow, but on a second trip in January it was low and scratchy.
Packrafting the upper section of the Blue Grey should be avoided at high flows due numerous tree sieves that need portaging – some of these would become very hazardous as there can be little chance to eddy out above them.