23rd – 25th June
By Luke Whitehead
Participants: Luke Whitehead, Georgia Prince, Harry O’Neill, Liv Martin, Bridget Page, Conor Handley
Things started off so well this week. With a blanket of snow across most of the Southern Alps, our group of 10 had planned to make our way to St Arnaud to do the Travers-Sabine circuit. Exams were over and we were looking forward to the break. Unfortunately, we’d barely made it past Lewis Pass before Max crashed one car into the other and the trip was over. Oops. Everyone was ok, but the cars were written off and we all hitched back to Christchurch.
So the next day was Round 2. With a smaller group of only 6, we squeezed into Harry’s car and made our way to the West Coast, which seemed to have the only good forecast for the week. We had 3 days to play with, so we decided to spend 2 nights at Cedar Flats hut and do a day walk on the middle day.
We made it to the road-end without incident – our first success of the week! Having stopped off at DOC in Arthurs Pass, we were now all proud owners of back-country hut passes. There were 2 other groups at the carpark also heading to Cedar Flats, including a cute doggo with a backpack, so we got a move on and boosted off.
It’d been less than a month since I was last here with Hovey and Shaun after a walk over Mt Reeves from Boo Boo hut. I guess I was true to my word – it didn’t take long to get back to this awesome region! We stopped off for lunch by the river, had a swim and spent a while skimming rocks.
The rest of the walk to Cedar Flats was pretty standard and we found another group of 6 at the hut! So we all managed to fit, while the other groups (with the dog!) took the historic hut next door. The night properly started, though, when Harry pulled out a bottle of Fireball and 2 goons. We enjoyed a hearty meal and stumbled over to the hot pools, which were amazing as usual. Harry provided the tunes, until he went to change the song and found his phone underwater. There were no tunes after that. Oops.
I’m not sure how time managed to slip away from us, but we broke the previous hot pool record – 6 hours in the pools, creeping back into the hut at 2am. Naturally, it was an early start the next day and we left the hut at 6:30 in the dark. It was a chilly start but before long we were climbing the track to Squall Peak. Higher up, the track had recently been recut by volunteers, and made our life much easier – thanks guys!
Somehow I managed to convince the others to do the 1200m climb up to Jumble Top, and eventually we got up high and had amazing views of the west coast! Along the way we had great views of a kea – and once again, I got up close to it. How good! We also found a frozen tarn, and Harry (who now has the official title of “Packhorse-in-chief”) whipped out his ice skates. Who said CUTC was limited to just tramping?
It was a bluebird day, and we had fantastic views from the summit of Jumble Top, but the wind was crazy. For that reason we didn’t stay long, and Bridget and Harry left us to return to Cedar Flats. The rest of us continued along the ridge. The rough route guide we were following described a “steep and exposed rocky section” and suggested using a rope or making a detour. We did neither. It was sketchy, that’s for sure, but thankfully it wasn’t very windy, so we made it without a hitch. The rest of the route along the ridgeline was similarly sketchy and travel was slow. Eventually the ups and downs came to an end and we had lunch in a not-so-sheltered spot. Despite the wind, we were lucky to have blue skies and amazing views, especially for the west coast!
We found another frozen tarn to play around on, near the rusty remains of the old Jumble Top Biv. We dropped down from here to escape the wind, and ended up in a surreal landscape of vertically slanted rocks – kinda weird. We named them the Devil’s Graveyard because, well, they looked a bit like gravestones. This would be an amazing place to camp and take in the view, but unfortunately we didn’t have the luxury of time, so we boosted on. A bit of interesting nav was needed to negotiate bluffs and gorges in the descent down to Mullins hut. I probably wouldn’t want to do this in poor visibility. The last few hundred meters needed a proper bush-bash through thick leatherwood, but didn’t take us too long. All in all, we were pretty stoked with how we did. Great teamwork guys!
Unfortunately the sun had gone behind the hill by the time we got to the hut, but we spent a few minutes catching our breath and flicking through the hut book. I think Mullins takes the record as the oldest book I’ve come across, going back to 1984! Naturally, we filled it in with tales of our adventure and stuck in a CUTC sticker to show the world how cool and active we are. All jokes aside, I was surprised how little use this hut gets – it’s in a beautiful little valley and is in good condition (although I’m sure a fireplace would be a welcome addition). It was about 5pm when we left Mullins, and before long we were walking in the dark. We did, however, spot a couple of whio just downstream of the hut! And we weren’t even looking for them! It’s great to see they’re around here – just another reason to come back.
The track from Mullins to the Toaroha valley had been recently-ish recut by Permolat volunteers, and was in pretty good condition. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I boosted way ahead of the others – oops, sorry guys. Then came the challenge of crossing the Toaroha in the dark. There was still a lot of water in the river, and plenty of sieves and hazards to steer clear of. With the help of Conor’s bright torch we picked our way across boulders and managed to find a safeish route through shallow water. Still kinda sketchy though, especially in the dark. Now I understand why Mullins hut doesn’t get much use.
The final track along the main valley to Cedar Flats was cruisy in comparison, although we were all a bit delirious and stumbled around a bit. The final 20 minutes before the hut was muddy and was absolutely not appreciated. But eventually, we made it! We arrived at Cedar Flats at about 8:30pm to find the fire going thanks to Bridget and Harry, who made it back safely. And as an added bonus, everyone else had left! So with the hut to ourselves, we pushed our mattresses onto the floor and passed out pretty quickly. What a day! A 14-hour day walk is still technically a day walk.
It was a lazy start the next morning, and the chill walk back to the carpark gave us time to reflect on the previous day’s adventure. We’ve barely scratched the surface of these hills, and it’s exciting just looking at the map and wondering where to go next. Once again, we stopped off in Hokitika for a beer and chips, an activity that seems to be turning into a tradition. And to cap off the trip, we watched a stunning sunset on the beach before returning to Christchurch. Cheers to the rest of the team for the adventure and great company!