Sylvia Tops is a lesser-known route that leads up to the ridges of Lewis Pass. It is very similar to Lewis Tops Track – it also goes steeply up through the bush until it reaches the grassy flat and welcoming, grassy ridges of the (sub)alpine country. On Sunday, March 20th, I led a group of 8 CTC members up there with the intention of bagging Devilskin Biv in a day.
We met at the Z Petrol Station at 7 AM. During a bathroom stop in Culverden, I asked Chris to text the Culverden pub owner that we would be arriving around 6 PM. The last time we were there, the owner requested that we let her know ahead of time what time we’d be coming. How foolish of me to think that we would be there at 6 PM. Anyway, we parked at Palmer Lodge, crossed the Lewis river on a fancy swing bridge, and followed the Nina Hut track until a DOC sign pointed us to Sylvia Tops. The track was heading towards Nina River, and it was slightly overgrown, but we managed to find the river and cross it. The water level was okay, but later in the day, we met a tramper who said that the day before it was impassable.
The start of the Sylvia Track is indicated by a big orange triangle. It is a pretty straightforward, reasonably marked track through steep bush. It is probably easier to follow the track up than down, and I wouldn’t recommend it for kids (unlike the Lewis Tops track, which is okay for kids). The exit / entry point of the bush track is marked with a big cairn. Once on top, it’s free for all. We followed the tops along pt1624, pt1561, pt1524, pt1662, pt1484, and pt1625. Some of the tops were easier to slide around on their northern side rather than go across the top. There was no exposure, and as Chris pointed out, it was runnable. About 100m before pt1625, there was a steep drop-off to Devilskin Biv. To the 1500m contour, it was just steep tussock, nothing too bad actually. Between 1400m and 1300m, there was another drop-off, which was pretty steep and overgrown with scrub. Again, nothing too bad, just a lot of slippery scrub with hidden 1-1.5 m vertical drop-offs.
From the biv, the first 500m of the track towards Nina Hut was pretty boggy, with heaps of hidden holes that each of us had the pleasure of exploring at least once. The day after, I found out about a tramper who broke his ankle here. Once in the bush, it was a decent exercise of ups and downs. I quite enjoyed it, actually, but I can see that this part could be underestimated. The track eventually got better and better. When we arrived at Nina Hut, we regrouped, got some snack and continued along Nina Valley Track. An hour later, we found ourselves swimming under the bridge across Nina River, just by Nina Valley Campsite. I always feel so refreshed after a good swim (read: 20 seconds dip)!
We reached the cars at about 8 PM, so “only” 3 hours later than I originally estimated. Some members looked very happy, while others looked more like “Oh God, finally it’s over.” Quite understandably, it was a challenging, long tramp with a very diverse backcountry. I’d even say it was a pretty chilled day actually with plenty of long stops for the Mod/Hard grade. We agreed not to stop at a pub, which was pretty smart as all the pubs on the way were closed. Culverden Takeaway shop closed at 8.30 pm, but we still saw a light on at 9 pm, stopped, and they sold us some sweet drinks and well-needed and deserved ice cream.
Stats: 25 km, 10 h 7 min, 1550 m ascent
Participants: Michal Klajban (leader, scribe, GPX), Emma Rogers, Hamish Bennett, Byron Harvey, Chris McHarg, Andrew Ecker, Benjamin Still, Jimmy Philpott, Simon Barr
The route taken on NZ Top Map. Download below.
Tramped on 19th March 2023.
Max elevation: 1632 m
Min elevation: 632 m