After getting into Arthur’s Pass at 2:30 pm from completing the Lake Mavis circuit I headed back to the DOC information centre, since I’d left a bag of food there. (For $1 per night, such a good deal.) With the weather forecasted to be good for at least five days I decided to ditch my plans to move on from Arthur’s Pass. Further, the helpful man behind the desk came up with an exciting 7 day circuit I could start that afternoon, filling me in on a great place to camp. I bought another gas canister, a few more lunch supplies and a sneaky egg & bacon sandwich from the local store (crazy expensive) and re-packed my bag. I was now kitted out for 7 or so days and my bag was pretty heavy. As I was finishing up with my pack and recharging my iPad I chatted with the guy sitting at the table next to me. He offered to give me a lift to the start of my track to save me looking for a hitch or walking (thank you!). As we approached the trail we both chuckled as we realised what I was supposed to climb before camp. It was 5pm and I had 980 vertical metres to climb!
It was a steep climb and my bag was feeling pretty heavy. At some point before my intended destination low cloud rolled in. Thankfully I’d just passed an area with a nice patch of flat grass that would fit my one-woman tent perfectly. I’m not going to lie, I was happy to have an excuse to stop trudging, set up camp and eat my way to a lighter bag. Step one, all ‘gourmet’ items were the first to go. So dinner started with eating a carrot and breakfast the next day ended with eating an apple. The egg & bacon sandwich was delicious.
The next day was a tough one and I was definitely challenged. I spent a decent chunk of time walking along an incredibly thin and undulating ridge line of fragile rock that kept breaking off. The irony of the situation was that I could see Arthur’s Pass village almost the entire day. At 4:30pm I called it quits, having found the flattest piece of ground I’d seen all afternoon and not far from a saddle with gorgeous views. I could see a stream about 400? vertical metres below me but I was too lazy to walk down and back up, so I set about melting some snow. I watched a beautiful sunset, ate a yummy dinner and curled up for the night.
The next day I awoke to a cloudless sky and soon-to-be 24 degrees! I continued along the ridge to Avalanche Peak before hanging a left and awaiting my decent to the Crow River. When I had last been at the DOC centre working out my trip itinerary, I’d been given only one piece of advice for the whole trip. Make sure you take the correct route down to ensure you don’t get bluffed out. You’ll see Crow Hut but don’t descend there. Then he showed me two photos of what I should be able to see when I descended: the moraine going steeply, but uninterrupted by sight, down to the river and the photo of (what I remembered incorrectly as Phillastine) Punchbowl Falls. As I trudged along the ridge I realised why he’d given this advice. Once I saw the hut I had a strong urge to descend, surely there’d be a way? I disregarded this and continued. I saw the hut again and kept walking along the ridge. Mt Rolleston was getting quite close now, and so too the pretty Crow Glacier. Surely I had to descend soon ?!? Again the bush walkers before me answered this inner voice – someone had used rocks to make a large arrow indicating that one should keep up on the ridge. Down, up. Somewhere along the way I also saw a small avalanche off Mt Rolleston (no where near me). It was quite something to see. Down, up. I was at lot further along than I thought I should be. Traverse. Another large, stone arrow! Hehe. Up. Down. Then I saw the point I was looking for.
Descending along a moraine can be a lot of fun if you can find a run of small rocks. Or it can be an ankle buster on the large rocks at such a gradient. I found the small rocks and started my slide down into the valley, every now and again having to traverse over large rocks until I found the next “fun vein”. And then I found myself at the bottom and made my way along to Crow Hut for an early lunch. At some point the river started. It was that beautiful aqua colour that glacial melt gets. I sat by the pool for ages just enjoying my surrounds.
I contemplated spending a night at Crow Hut, the surrounds were so pretty. As I was finishing up my lunch two DOC workers showed up to service the hut and do some track maintenance. They’d carried up a chainsaw! We had a very good conversation about conservation in NZ and then I continued on my way – the thought of an afternoon of chainsaw noises gave me motivation to move on. I was now headed towards Carrington Hut and more river crossings. Further down the river I found a good spot for a dip and then had to coax myself to keep moving. The landscape was so good and the weather so nice and warm. Eventually I hit the confluence with the Waimakariri River. I was a little nervous about what the crossings would be like, it looked pretty big on the map. I followed the path of shortest distance, cutting corners of the river passage wherever possible. The crossings were all pretty easy where I’d chosen. I had one more crossing to go and then I’d be on a track that would take me the last of the way to the hut. Hindsight is one of those annoying things. If I had of stopped and pulled out the map sooner I would have seen that there were better places to cross the river than near the orange markers – I almost went for a full swim !!!! I did get quite a reception waltzing in at 8:45pm half wet. Everyone else had merely done the 4 hour walk from the road end.
It was night 6 for me and the first night where I had company (Lake Mavis doesn’t count since I didn’t meet the group until after breakfast). I obviously still looked like I needed to eat 3 roast chickens as one of the blokes donated a whole day’s worth of food to my stores. Bagels, Vegemite, peanut butter, carbonara pasta and apple & cranberry porridge. Mmmm. I could now stay out another night.
The following day was another hot one and I crossed the river once more and headed up the gorge. It was magnificent. There was water tumbling over the boulders, which had to be negotiated quite often, the walls were quite high and it got quite narrow (in that lovely gorge-like way) at one point. Every now and then there were these moss and fern covered walls with a waterfall spilling down them. In the distance I could see more snow capped mountains.
Up on the pass I ditched my pack (first hiding it with large stones from the keas!) and tried ascending Whitehorn Pass and Mt Isobel. I boulder hopped my way up the valley and eventually had to stop, it was clear that I needed snowshoes or crampons. I was right up next to the glacier by now. Sooo cool. I turned back and found a glorious camp spot with views of the glacier, the tarns, Mt Isobel, and other snow capped mountains. On the return I started to question why I seemed a little strange and my footing wasn’t as good as usual… I was getting heat stroke in NZ ?!?! I braved the icy water and managed to find an equilibrium between the chilly water and the intense heat of the sun. It was an absolutely gorgeous region to go for a swim in and very refreshing once I’d acclimatised. Once out I set about washing all my clothes. The walk back and forth to the waterhole to collect fresh water worked up a sweat so I went for another swim. It’s not often one can swim with a glacier right next to them :) (Disclaimer: it was quite nippy!)
As the evening wore on I devoured the carbonara pasta. I think it could have been two dinners but I was having a “hungry day”. I was sitting in the shade of the tent (there were no trees about) enjoying the serenity when I heard thunder. I looked up to see a band of dark clouds approaching the pass. I quickly got all my gear together and was happy to find that all my clothes were dry. I waited, but the storm never hit where I was. Once it got to the pass it stopped – less than 100m metres from me. I watched the lightening and rain and heard the thunder. I was clearly on the west side now and the winds were still in my favour.
When I emerged from the tent the next morning there were four keas making their way towards my tent. They clearly are intelligent (and beautiful) birds. They were essentially playing the kid’s game Red Light with me. Whenever I looked at them they turned in different directions and pretended to be eating the seeds in the grasses. Whenever I turned away they stealthily crept closer. What a treat.
The rest of the hike wasn’t nearly as stunning as the days preceding, I was now descending down the valley and the terrain was slipperier. I found civilised 3-wire bridges and a suspension bridge for almost all the remaining river and creek crossings. I was now at Mid Taipo Hut and I was starting to worry again. After so many sunny days the weather was starting to turn and I had a few more creek and a river crossing to negotiate the next day before I left the river once and for all. Sure enough it rained most of the night and was heavier after sunrise. I wasn’t sure if this was enough rain to warrant concern or not – the track notes made such statements as: “After heavy rain, Hura Creek quickly becomes impassable”. Mostly I was worried about the river crossing near Dillon’s Hut. The track notes didn’t make it sound solo-hiker friendly: “An extremely steep track takes you up and over a bluff to Scottys Cableway. Crossing a cableway is quicker and easier if a companion winds the carriage from either bank. Most people will have the strength to do this. If you are by yourself there is a lever and instructions on its use in the cableway cage. It is really only possible to use the lever if you have strong arms!”
A cableway is a steel wagon suspended in the air. There’s a wheel at each end of the wagon that runs along the wire. Between the wheel, a solo driver can use a leaver to climb up the other side once the wagon has descended with gravity to the middle of the traverse. I had seen one of these near Carrington Hut. The length of the cableway was quite long and the slack quite large. The last thing I’d want to be is stuck in a steel wagon, looming over the middle of a river unable to make either end! It’d be an embarrassing situation to have to call a helicopter from. To avoid this test of my arm strength I decided that I would cross the river wherever I could find a safe point. Most likely where the river split into two water courses. The map showed a track on the other side of the river bank a few kilometres upstream from the cableway. I chose my crossing point of attack and then went in search of a 2m stick. I was not going to make the same mistake I made a few days ago. The first of the two watercourses I negotiated without too much concern. The second one had me questioning my sanity once more. The current was strong and I was up past my waist again. It took a long time and I almost turned back … but at last I was over without ever feeling that I wasn’t in control. I made my way along the river bank, occasionally having to negotiate more spiky-trees. As I rounded the bend a few kilometres later I couldn’t help but exclaim – the cableway line was not nearly as long to negotiate and there was almost no slack in the line. I could have saved myself a river crossing!
The final full day was a battle with rain and visibility. At some point I had to whip out the GPS – I was about 2km from the hut but had nothing to navigate off. The hut was occupied with a very lovely Danish family who donated fresh broccoli (!!!), lettuce, rockmelon, tea and chocolate to my stomach. Mmm yammi. In return I taught them 5-handed 500. They picked it up rather quickly! The next day, in the pouring rain, we descended to the carpark together and the family gave me a lift back into town to a very large mochaccino and a slice of carrot cake.