Combating the Gladiator and the meaning of life

The Gladiator, a four day transalpine loop in south Westland

Sam Harrison
21 min readJan 7, 2023

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“What is it all for?”, a question asked by titans of the arena in the first century AD, and by a travelling middle-aged Norwegian academic armed with a high-powered crossbow that we met at Cassel Flat Hut.

But I get ahead of myself, you may be wondering why we found ourselves at Cassel Flat in the first place. Leading up to the end of 2022 we had been dreaming and scheming of a trip to a remote part of the South Island. Originally we had been set on a trip to the Olivine Ice Plateau, but for various reasons we ended up setting our sights on ‘The Gladiator’, a 2125 metre peak on the Hooker Range in south Westland. To get there we would have to follow the Karangarua River up to Cassel Flat where Tereza would meet me and Mat, before traversing high above the Douglas River to Horace Walker Hut. From there we had to cross the wild Douglas River before climbing the untamed slopes of the Gladiator and ascending to its peak.

1. Roadend to Cassel Flat Hut

Our journey started at the 130-metre long Karangarua suspension bridge, the longest in the country. Over the river was the familiar carpark that marks the start of the Copland Track to the Welcome Flat hotpools. Instead of crossing the river we stayed on the true-left following a reasonable track along the bank of the Karangarua.

We left the Copland behind at its confluence and continued up the Karangarua. It was a muggy December afternoon and the heat was really starting to get to us. Every stream we crossed warranted a stop to take on a precious few handfuls of water. At one of these Mat made friends with an enormous dragonfly that decided to hitch a ride for a few minutes on his hat, much to my amusement.

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Sam Harrison

Tramper with something to say about tramps (of the walking variety).