Participants: Mathew Falloon, Sergey White, Clara Voirol, Lisa Wiesent, Jenny Hamilton, Samuel Rademaker, Timothy Manning, Marie Riis, Amalie Watchmann, Andrew Nesbit, Kevin Polak, Dan Goodwin.
Date: 2-3rd August 2014
Words: Matt Falloon
Well shit. Earlier in the week I’d indicated to the club that I intended to lead an overnight trip to Kirwans Hut by the town of Reefton on the Westcoast and at the time the weather forecast looked promising. Alas as most of us know a week is a long time in New Zealand forecasting. By the Wednesday meeting the Metservice was predicting a great big red blob of rainy doom to descend upon the location of the intended trip and loiter for the duration which would probably cause a few issues. For one the track I intended to take followed a reasonably substantial river with a large catchment for most of the second day raising the risk of getting caught by a flooding…Secondly parts of the track were noted as being rather steep and with the sheer volume of rain (40mm+ on Saturday alone) probably slippery by the time we’d get there. And thirdly walking in pouring rain sucks. An alternate trip had to be devised and so I settled on the Jolliebrook Hut.
The Jolliebrook Hut is a seven bunk standard hut and surprising absolutely no one is located on the bank of the Jollie Brook up by Lake Sumner. There are two tracks into the hut forming a loop around a small set of hills between the Hurunui river and the Jollie Brook. Our plan was to walk up the track to Gabriel Hut for lunch and then onto the hut for the night. The next day we would walk out the Jollie Brook track back to the cars thereby completing the loop. Each day was expected to take about 5 hours or so. Some of the group also wanted to head up to a nearby hill top on Sunday morning.
Saturday morning came and the 12 of us gathered in the UCSA car park for departure, only one person was late and a thirteenth person slept in and called to tell me they couldn’t make it. We piled into three cars and set off about 8:15am. A small break was had in Waikari and shortly after we arrived at the start of the track. The wind was blowing so strongly that it cleared out my car of loose paper when two or more doors were opened, it was also raining a bit. The weather was somewhat expected seeing as the storm on the West Coast had a direct line up Harpers Pass to flow and blow down. Some members of the party expressed slightly concerns about conditions while we prepared to set off but were reassured that there were no major river crossings on the first day and should the Jollie Brook prove too deep on the second we could always come out the way we went in. The group set off with me, as is my style when the track is well marked and I am the only trip leader, keeping an eye on things from the rear. We quickly reached the Sisters swing bridge and began to cross. As is DOC standard the bridge had a capacity of one and took about a minute to cross. As the wind was still blowing at this point the crossing could become interesting in the middle when the bridge started to swing terrifyingly. In the end we all got across and started to head for Gabriel Hut.
In any given group some people like to head to the front and lead regardless of whether they know where they are going or not, many others are quite happy to follow whoever is in front of them as well. This was aptly illustrated when Timothy heading to the front lead the entire group past the quite well marked track within a minute of starting off from the swing bridge. A quick yell from the back corrected the course of party. Shortly after setting off when I was counting the group to see that we were all there I only managed to count to 10. This was a problem as I should have been able to count to 11. Sergey had headed off as soon as he got across the river with no one seeing if he went the right way or the wrong way. As he’d had a 15 minute head start there was little point in waiting around in the hopes he might come back or that we’d catch a glimpse of him in the distance so we headed off along the intended track hoping that he A) didn’t get lost and B) stopped at Gabriel Hut for lunch.
As we were walking along to Gabrial Hut the rain started to clear and the wind died down. A prominent rainbow could be seen back the way we came. After walking for a couple of hours over the mostly flat planes next to the Hurunui we arrived at Gabriel Hut stopping for lunch and found Sergey waiting at the hut. After lunch we started on the bushier part of the track with several people being rather fascinated by the black trees and other funguses found in New Zealand beach forests. The walk was uneventful although the group did get a bit spread out particularly when I stopped to take some photos (hazard of being the leader at the rear) but I was not concerned as the track was well marked and we were making good time. Eventually I arrived at a rather new bridge from which I could see the Jolliebrook Hut. The first day had taken 4 hours and 50 minutes according to my watch 10 minutes less than the DOC time.
I found the rest of the group sitting by the fire looking rather downtrodden and a little bit soggy from the light rain on the way to the hut. Everyone quickly warmed up and banter began to flow. On reading the hut book we found the previous entry from when the CUTC held Freshers at the hut in 2012 and a small novel which took up nearly two pages of the hut book but managed to leave absolutely no useful information about the group other than that they had no idea about geography nor any navigational skills (or a map.) Key lessons from this tale – bring a map and a few brain cells next time you head out into the hills.
As the night wore on the part everyone had come on this trip for began. The game of Power Grid. We divided into 4 teams of between 2 and 3 players each and started playing, about 3 hours later team purple emerged victorious although it was a close game as it usually is. One more turn might have seen any team win. After the game we all went to sleep in the hut as it was raining quite a bit by this point. When morning came about half the group headed off to try and climb a nearby hill but it was still a bit cloudy and nothing much was seen. The group was mostly soaked when they got back 3 hours later from all the wet vegetation they were scrambling over. I’d re-lit the fire so the hut was warm and some of the group tried drying their gear out on it before we left the hut at about 12:30.
The plan for day two was to proceed down Jollie Brook to the intersection of it and the Hurunui River (point 8) then head up the true left of the Hurunui and reach the swing bridge we originally crossed at the start of the track. From the map this route looked like it involved 3 or so river crossings and would be about the same or a bit longer than the previous day. My estimation of the number of river crossings quickly proved inaccurate as we crossed the brook for the first time less than 100m from the hut and crossed it twice more within the next 200m. The crossings did not cease as we proceed downstream and all up we crossed it maybe 25 times. Such wetness, much moist. After two hours of walking down track that alternated between river flats and crossings we reached the turn off to Cold Stream Hut and had lunch there.
Not too long after setting out after lunch we reached a small prominent ridge which crossed the valley forcing the brook into a gorge. A problem arose as there was no track marked either into the gorge or over the ridge. We decided to head over the ridge and found a way up encountering a fence at the top. Descending the other side was tricker as the bush was thicker and plaths less clear. The reason for the fence quickly became clear in the form of the large volume of cow dung found in the rest of the valley. Continuing down stream the track remained pretty much the same with frequent river crossings punctuating otherwise flat valley track and one more ridge similar to the one mentioned above but without a fence. The second ridge caused a bit of concern not for the ridge itself but for Timothy deciding to just charge up it afterwhich he was impossible to find by sight in the dense foliage. Directing the rest of the group up the ridge he was eventually found on the top.
It is a problem in many groups where someone perceives themselves to be a leader that that individual will act like it whether or not they have the experience, knowledge and specific information about what is actually going on or where a trip is intending to go. Another problem is that people will follow who ever seems to know where they are going usually without checking for themselves if a path is the best way or not. A case in point is the final hill our group encountered before reaching the Hurunui intersection. Everyone in the group following Timothy headed up the hill of about 20m. I followed the marked track around the base of the hill and got to the other side well before any of them. In this case it was a simple thing to get back to the track on another it could have gotten the entire group lost or stuck in a difficult position.
Finally we were at the Hurunui. It had taken about 4 hours and we were all soaked from the knees down by the repeated crossings. The remaining path promised to be drier and take about an hour. The downside of the lack of river crossings came in the form of mud, lots of it and unavoidable on the track. We pushed through it driven by the closeness of the cars and the end of the trip. Darkness was just falling as we reached the cars and began swapping out wet clothes for what dry ones we had. In short order we were ready and set off on the long dusty road to home. Rural roads can produce a number of issues not seen in the urban setting such as cows standing in the middle of the road which is more startling at night as the first thing you see are the white patches reflecting the car lights giving them a somewhat ghostly appearance. We stopped again at Waikari for a bite to eat (for future note the shop is open till 8pm 7 days.) and then returned to our point of origin, the UCSA car park.
Overall I think everyone enjoyed the trip despite the average weather at the start and the amount of time spent crossing rivers on the second day. The key lessons learned from this trip is having an alternate plan in mind incase the weather packs in and if leading a group of unknown individuals do explain what is expected with regards to checking on the group, keeping together and when and with whom to make decisions when the way is not clear.