Having finally secured a four day Waitangi Day weekend after much begging I teamed up with Volker to head on a tramp to make the most of the long weekend. The weather for was by all projections going to be fantastic. So seeking to maximise on the weather and the long weekend we embarked on a mission to Westland to do the Lathrop/Zit Saddle Circuit.
The whole operation was very last minute and I was still getting my gear together when Volker arrived to pick me up resulting in possibly the worst packing job I’ve ever done (and I’m not known for my good packing). Did I really need two pots? And that change of clothes? And crampons? After a brief stop at Countdown we headed west to err… Westland (Another highly original name brought to you by the early Pakeha settlers of New Zealand).
A few hours, a couple of pies and a hitchhiker later we arrived at the trail head of the Styx River.There began the long walk up the Styx River to Grassy Flats Hut minus a detour to go visit Mid Styx Hut (in great shape thanks to Permolat).
We got to Grassy Flats Hut around mid afternoon were we meet some DOC workers who’d been helicoptered in to do some trail cutting. We found them getting into their Waitangi Day celebrations and, along with some other useful advice, we were assured the track up to BrowningRange Biv was in great shape.
We departed armed with this knowledge and Freddo bars.
Now while I can say that the trail up to Grassy Flats Hut is in great shape, the trail up to Browning Range Biv and Lathrop Saddle is not. I mean sure there are markers… usually… sometimes… on occasion. But flax and hook grass have done their very best to colonise the track.
Finding the correct exit from the stream bed is particularly challenging (well done Volker). Eventually, tired, with the pies and pizza of the previous night well and truly worked out of our systems and weighed down by a thick layer of hook grass we arrived at the biv.
Our reward for our efforts, more antique tramping gear (junk) than I’ve ever seen at a hut, notably a sleeping bag for your head.
Not to mention some stunning views of the Newton Range and the Olderogs.
The next day we track bashed (what you do when you have a track but it’s horribly overgrown) straight for Lathrop Saddle.
Things got a lot easier after we passed the bush line. Lathrop Saddle is a stunning location, a long, deeply cut, U-shaped gap in the Browning Range filled with giant boulders and tarns.
After a quick snack we dropped our packs next to a tarn and scrabbled our way to the summit of Mount Lathrop.
From the top we’d a great view of the backside of Philistine, Rolleston, Pope, Murchison and further south along the coast, a well worthwhile side trip on a clear day (and some fun bolder hoping and scrambling!).
We headed back down into the saddle were we had some lunch in the company of a couple of cute rock wrens on the edge of a crystal clear tarn.
As we set off from the edge of the saddle we could see down the length of Crawford Creek to where it joins the Kokatahi, the location of Crawford Junction Hut and our destination for the day.
Between us and the hut, a steep zigzagging descent from Lathrop Saddle, a brief stop at the stunning Top Crawford Hut and what seemed like an endless track bash down the valley.
Finally we rejoined the Crawford River knowing the hut had to be close.
At last Volker jumped up the bank in front of me and disappeared into the bush. Moments later I followed but I couldn’t see where he’d gone once he’d entered the bush. I was left facing a steep embankment. “Volker, where’d ya go?” I cried to no answer. I figured he must have climbed the bank somehow. I attempted to follow but to no avail. At this point, somewhat grumpy and much tried I decided the best option was to walk around and enter the Hut from the Kokatahi side.If this failed I was just going to hammer through the bush to where I knew the hut had to be.20 mins later I meet Volker just having left the hut going towards the Kokatahi wondering where the hell I was. Mystified he showed me how he got to the hut and at the time of writing I continue to be mystified as to how I missed it. The hut we found was occupied by researchers from Lincoln University who turned out to be gracious hosts, pasta and whiskey in the offing!
The next morning we headed off on a boulder hoping epic to Top Kokatahi stopping briefly to have a go on the Cableway just up the river from Crawford Junction Hut.
After that it was in and out of the river and the bush as we worked our way up the Kokatahi. Again the track through the bush was so overgrown it was often easier just to riverbash/boulder hop our way up the Kokatahi. Given that the weather was fantastic it was a great day to be in and out of the water.
Behind us we could see all the way back to Lathrop Saddle with Zit Saddle starting to appear in front of us. We also passed by some hot pools! Albeit small ones…
We stopped for lunch at Top Kokatahi Hut (gorgeous) before beginning the climb to Zit Saddle.
The climb is steep, rocky and exposed.
We were both reminded of the accident our fellow CUTC member Rose Pearson and her brother suffered here the previous August. The fact that Rose and her brother survived and were even able to slowly make their way towards Top Kokatahi in this place is a testament to how tough Rose is.
Eventually we topped out were the DOC route lead us (slightly to the North of Zit Saddle).
We were rewarded with some truly epic views back down the Kokatahi, across the Toaroha and out to the coast. From here we could see Mullins Hut, Yeats Ridge Hut, Adventure Biv (our destination) and far below us, Cedar Flat Hut.
Volker started down while I paused to take in the scene awhile longer, until Kea’s started attacking my pack after which I followed him down yet another long steep ridge to Adventure Biv.
We had planned on staying the night at the Biv but we still had a couple of hours of daylight left. So with the prospect of leaving ourselves an easy final day we continued down the ridge to Cedar Flats.
Now in comparison to what we’d been going through the previous few days the track up to Adventure Biv is in excellent condition. However emerging onto the Toaroha Track was like emerging onto a highway! Over two metres wide and almost totally devoid of vegetation! An easy way to finish a massive day.
Finally we arrived at Cedar Flats Hut, deciding we were too tired to be bothered with the hot pools nearby. Chatting to the other occupants of the Hut we were told of a mysterious meeting that had occurred on Zit Saddle two days prior. The trampers in question had been attempting a full circuit of the Toaroha and Diedrichs Ranges. While crossing Zit Saddle they encountered a mysterious lone tramper who when asked what he was doing up there merely said something about have bad history to revisit on Zit Saddle. He said he’d come from Top Toaroha Hut and would be returning there that night. However when our fellow tramps got to the Hut they saw no signs of occupancy, no name in the hut book and he never did return that night… Mysterious goings on on the West Coast!
The next day myself and Volker headed out via the Toaroha River, following the track after briefly considering a riverbash down the Toaroha (and now as I write this I’m looking at something called Toaroha Canyon quiet glad we made that call). Our trip out was not uneventfully however. While going for a swim Volker caught sight of a family of five Blue Ducks resting on the riverbank and later on we saw a lone male.
Finally we emerged from the bush to the road head were Volker had (mercifully) moved the car to (after dropping me and our gear at the Styx) on day one.
From there we cruised back to Christchurch with an obligatory stop in Arthurs Pass for ice cream. It was a truly fantastic weekend and I highly recommend the Lathrop-Zit Circuit for those who want to learn what Westland is all about.