You up for an adventure this weekend? That, or some variation of that question, was the message I’d rattled off to a dozen people last week in the hopes of finding someone keen to head to Barker Hut. I’ve been wanting to go here for a long time, and a nice-looking weather window on Friday and Saturday looked ideal. Perhaps naively, I was confident it’d be easy to convince someone to come on a trip to the highest hut in Arthur’s Pass National Park. But noooo, I was dead wrong. “Sorry, got too much uni work”. “Ahh mate, sounds fun but I have other plans”. “Ooh I wish, have heaps of assignments though”. “Yeah nah I kinda need this weekend for some life admin aye”. “Cool bro, unfortunately my knee kinda hurts though”. I’m not exaggerating here, literally everyone I asked had an excuse. Sure, they were valid excuses. But what the hell!? How is nobody free? What was going on? Paranoia kicked in. Was it me? Has everyone conspired against me? This only fuelled my burning desire to get out of town and do something cool. I was determined. Call me desperate, but I wasn’t ready to give up my 10-weekend streak of adventures.
Sometimes it can really suck not having a car. Friday rolled around, and what a beautiful day it was. I knew it would be perfect in the mountains. I didn’t want to, but couldn’t stop myself looking at the Arthurs Pass webcam, and sure enough it was a bluebird day out there. Eventually, I started to come to terms with the very real possibility that I wasn’t going to go tramping.
But wait. A message from Conor. His assignment might be finished by the evening. Might? I was excited, but didn’t want to get my hopes dashed, so I pressed him if he was sure. No reply. For hours I waited. The suspense was killing me. And then at 8pm – “All done. What’s the plan?”. I let out a sigh of relief. Woohoo! I guess my luck was starting to turn.
We left early on Saturday morning. Sheffield Pie shop gave me a free pie – hell yeah, now that’s what I’m talking about. We set off from the Waimak bridge at 9am, ready to boost. I think I read somewhere it’s a 24km walk to Barker Hut. The track to Carrington Hut was familiar travel, even though I’d not been to the hut in a couple of years.
The walk up the Waimak is often described as a slog. It doesn’t help that you can see across the river flats such a long distance, so you get tricked into thinking you’re closer than you are. Walking over the rocky river bed is nice at first, but quickly gets monotonous. But we had a beautiful day and we were excited to get to Barker Hut, so the views of snowy, jagged peaks all around us made up for it.
We reached Carrington in just about 3 hours, smashing DOC time. It felt good to have such a light pack after the last 2 trips I’d done – 10 days in Nelson Lakes involved carrying a lot of food, and Wine and Cheese last weekend involved carrying a lot of… well, wine and cheese, duh. We had lunch outside the hut, basking in the sun and enjoying the dramatic view up the valley towards the snow covered Carrington Peak.
Past Carrington Hut, the route gets rougher and is marked by cairns and the occasional pole. The White river is a pretty cool spot, and before long we could see Barker Hut at the head of the valley, perched atop a rocky bluff. Even from way down in the valley, it looked like a badass place to build a hut.
We were following the guidebook’s description of the route, and took a high sidle above the river for most of the walk up the valley. We were well below the snowline, so we were surprised to find a mound of avalanche debris in the river by the so-called “Black Gorge”, or “Shadow Chasm” which we decided was a far more ominous name. We later realised that boulder hopping in the riverbed would be much easier than awkwardly sidling steep scree and tussock, and eventually we dropped down to the river where travel was quicker. Soon though, we started the climb to the hut.
If only it was that simple. Before long we heard the distinctive cries of keas, and one swooped down close to us. Without an ounce of fear, it bounced over to investigate us. We dropped our packs and out came the camera. This was probably the most curious kea I’ve ever encountered. It circled us, cocking its head and checking us out. It seemed especially interested in Conor’s pack, even when he was wearing it. If you ever needed proof that keas are the cheekiest bird out there, this was it.
As fun as it was watching the kea, we were starting to get cold so we kept on moving. After a couple of minutes we looked back and saw the kea walking behind us. That’s right, it was following us, keeping its distance, but obviously not finished with us just yet. Why are you walking? You can fly!? But no, the kea was quite content following a few metres behind us, clambering over rocks and pretending to be a dog. I think it eventually got bored, and flew off.
We’d barely made it 5 minutes before we had another visit. You could tell by its yellow eye that this was a different kea though. All of a sudden, 2 more landed and we were surrounded. Once again, the camera came out and we spent a little while (or rather a long while) saying hello and watching the keas tentatively come closer and closer.
Ok ok, you don’t flick to this page to hear me talking about keas all the time, I get it. So yeah, we pushed on, negotiated a fun little gorge, and climbed up to the hut. And wowwee, what an awesome hut. Painted bright red and surrounded by big mountains, Barker Hut has the feeling of a proper alpine hut. The wind had picked up by the time we arrived and we’d spent too much time looking at keas to go anywhere above the hut, so we made ourselves comfortable. It’s a small, cosy hut which we shared with one other. We even listened to the mountain forecast and, get this, I could charge my camera thanks to the USB charger (which came with cables – whaaat???). That was actually pretty handy, because all that kea action had used up a lot of battery.
The radio forecast confirmed what we already knew about Sunday – rain was forecast, and it wasn’t going to stop all week. So that confirmed that our plan would be to just return back the way we came, so no alpine start and peak-bag this weekend 😦 We were surprised to see clear weather in the morning though, so we went for a wander up the hill behind the hut. Once again, I was blown away by how incredible this place is. The mountains and glaciers are just majestic, and the view of the hut, framed by Mt Rolleston in the distance, was incredible. We got to a rocky outcrop and managed to get a glimpse of the route over the White Glacier to Mt Murchison, just as the cloud came in. And then the weather window was over, and we returned to the hut, playing around in some pockets of windblown powder.
The walk out was long and uneventful. It rained nonstop, so we were thoroughly soaked. Carrington provided another lunch spot, although we stayed inside the hut this time. Despite the rain, the rivers hadn’t risen too much yet and the going was fairly easy (and somewhat of a slog). And although we couldn’t see the mountains any more, the water was still a stunning crystal blue that has me longing for summer. I guess daylight saving isn’t far away now! All in all, this was a bloody good spontaneous (kinda) adventure, and I can’t wait to go back to Barker Hut!