Like clockwork, the first steep-bastard-climb of the tramp hit us in the face at barely 8am, exactly how our alarms had done just two hours before. Thankfully the scenery was more than enough to distract us from our reluctantly warming legs and lethargic lungs as we stopped at the first flattish bit – the snow dusted peaks glowed warm with the sunrise through the beech trees. Lewis found himself wanting some nitro, and wasn’t fussed whether it came in a pill or a plastic bottle. Meanwhile, Blake started to feel the rumblings of the revenge of the night before’s chicken.
Keeping calm and carrying on, we pushed further up the rooty climbs, avoiding the icy sections where we could and practicing our ski-less skiing where we couldn’t. Eventually we found ourselves descending the valleyside and before long we arrived at Hallelujah Flats. This was a more than appropriate name, as it indicated the start of a welcome flattening of the trail as it meandered gradually up to the Casey Saddle. Hamish broke out into a questionable parody of Hallelujah to mark the occasion, encouraging the rest of the group to pick up the pace as they escaped the audio assault. Lewis’s efforts to preserve his hearing were such to even tear his shorts in the process, dramatically increasing their resale value in some fashion circles.
We continued surely and steadily up to the saddle, the higher peaks revealing themselves over the foothills more and more as we went. Lewis’s geology expertise gave him all sorts of insight into the mountains, while others simply likened the snow and rocks to big piles of cookies and cream.
The decidedly anticlimactic Casey Saddle almost passed us by without notice, and soon we were ducking back into the beech to descend the Casey Stream valleyside. The call of kea and karearea flying overhead could be heard not long after we had a thick canopy above us, cutting our chances of actually spotting them to near 0, as is tradition.
About 10 “just a bit more”s of steep descent later, we emerged onto the Casey Flat. Blake’s fateful chicken dinner still wasn’t sitting well with him, so we considered setting up our tents here and hunkering down for the night. However, we still had a few hours of daylight left, and about as many other options to scope out before committing to camping through a frigid forecast. The DOC websites mentioned that a new Casey Hut was under construction, to replace the old one which burnt down a while back, but that the loos were still present and made the flats a convenient campsite. Nothing was to be found near the old hut site though, and the group came to agree that the answer to the adage “Does a tramper shit in the woods?” was decidedly “Not if they can help it”.
Sam and Hamish dumped their packs and went for a scouting mission towards the likely location of the new hut, while Lewis and Blake defended the gear from a daunting, territorial, piwakawaka adversary. Even if not yet officially open it was hoped that it might be serviceable for the night. Not even 5 minutes later, the scouts jogged around a corner to a beautiful site – jutting out over a slight terrace sat a shiny new hut, it’s double glazed windows sat between freshly painted weatherboards, solar panels out the front suggested snazzy lighting, and the missing loo was seen to be relocated to the new location. The scouts scrambled up the final climb to what was surely to be their comfy slice of luxury for the night, climbed the steps leading up to the roomy deck overlooking a picture perfect valley, turned the huts door handle and: CLUNK.
The hearts of our scouts dropped so heavily that Geonet attributed the impact to the alpine fault. So maddeningly close, to have travelled so far just to be stopped by a locked door (and a prevailing set of morals, no matter how increasingly smashable the windows appeared). A search under nearby rocks, in the woodshed, and even the toilet failed to yield a hidden key, so our scouts returned reluctantly to Casey Flats.
The group decided that a final push to the Trust/Poulter hut would be preferable to camping outside the new Casey Hut, even if DOC said it’s loo had been crushed by a falling tree. A disturbing amount of our decision making seemed to have a digestive deciding factory. Setting off across the only considerable crossing of the trip, the group was undecided on whether the size of the Casey Stream qualifies it as a river or a creek. A unanimous agreement was made, however, that water is wet, and so were our feet. An hour and half of thankfully flat and formed trails lead us up the river valley, our scouts changing careers to part-time porters, as to relieve Blakes dodgy stomach and blistered feet from pack carrying duties. The view of the hut rounding a corner in the fading light was a joyous sight, as was the new loo tucked in behind it.
Though the walls were thinner than Hamish’s squashed sandwiches, and the roof lining was more holey than Lewis’s shorts, a roaring fire was soon warming us up beautifully as we prepped our dinners (or sculled a bourbon and coma’d in Blakes case). Aside from Lewis’s onion infused coffee and Hamish’s cooker attempting to provide a reenactment of the Casey Hut fire, all was well as the group overloaded on food and squirmed into their sleeping bags at the scandalous hour of 8pm.
A brisk 6am start welcomed us the next day, as we knew that walking the river plains before sunrise would be far better than walking the final slippery descent to the car after sunset. Our bottles had formed a refreshing layer of ice despite being inside the hut, which was a nice touch of home for Sam, reminiscent of his flat. Before long we were setting off into the shimmering white plains, the grasses and bushes encaptured in thick layers of ice, the frost crunching satisfyingly under each step.
The sun still had not peeked over the mountains when we reached the Casey Creek/Stream/River, and we were dreading the inevitable chill it’s crossing would bring. Being the only major crossing we decided to quickly strip off our footwear and put it back on dry afterwards, making for a very “refreshing” barefoot dip, accompanied by spirit-fortifying choruses of “IT EEES WHAT IT EEES” between us.
We kept moving to warm up again, thankfully the climb back up to the flats was quite efficient at this. Huffing and puffing, we reached the saddle again, just in time for lunch. An executive decision was made to reallocate some of Hamish’s phone battery from GPS navigation, to blasting some cheeky Dave Dobbyn, as we ate. Before long we were leaving the flats again, sidling down the Andrews valleyside, and jogging the final stretch back to the car, sweaty, sore, but satisfied. A couple hours later we were driving back into Christchurch, all singing along to Hallelujah, rounding off the trip nicely with a questionably “musical” number. Hallelujah!
Hamish “TROGlodyte” Dodd