My goal is to return to Whitcombe River and complete a crossing of the pass. To get there I’ll need to ford rivers, descend through gorges and scramble over ridges. There is nothing straightforward about what I intend and there are no guarantees of success. Perhaps my lack of second options is more indicative of poor planning than I care to admit but for the most part I’m at ease with my intentions.
The arrival time into Christchurch is ridiculously late. Had I stayed in Sydney I’ve have had a large trophy presented to me by Mark Waugh. Instead of enjoying the convivial bonhomie of an evening of stories and congratulations I’m alone on a plane as it glides silently though the dark night. The YMCA has become my preferred accommodation when staying in Christchurch. It is clean, quiet and carries a purposeful demeanour. Arriving at 2am I’m greeted by the night attendant and efficiently signed in. My room is welcoming and I fall asleep within minutes of resting my head. In the morning I book an afternoon bus to Bealey, stop by at my favourite Korean Restaurant and complete my shopping.
Somehow time gets away from me and I barely have time to stuff my purchases into my pack when I lay them out in the botanical gardens. On my way to the bus terminal I stop off at Kathmandu and am in luck as the back pack covers are heavily discounted. I move quickly and arrive at the bus stop with four minutes to spare. The driver intimates that he wouldn’t have waited.
There are warnings of a storm front hitting sometime soon and it does not disappoint. Just out of Christchurch we are hit by torrential rain. We push into it and I lose consciousness, unable to keep myself awake. I’m starting to think better of my plan. I’ve sent my intentions through to the DOC office at Arthur’s Pass, advising that I’ll be staying at Bealey Spur Hut tonight and assessing in the morning whether there’s any sense in attempting to get through Bristed Gorge in several day’s time. The warnings about Bristed are that it is impassable if there has been recent rain. We hurtle down the road like an unstoppable force.
The bus pulls over to the side of the road and I realise that I’m being beckoned forward. It is too late, I need to get off. The driver has the back of trailer open and I haul off my back. He wishes me good luck and scarpers back to the comforts of his vehicle. With the rain teeming down I need to act quickly. Thankfully my new pack has an easy access zip that allows me to open it up and retrieve my wet weather gear and pack liner with speed. In less than a minute I am fully covered and have secured my gear. In that time I’ve been thoroughly sprayed and my clothing considerably dampened. It could have been much worse. It is an exhilarating way to start a trip, I feel like a marine at a beach landing.
Bealey Spur hut is at 1,400 metres. It is roughly a two hour walk to get there. There is about an hour of daylight left so it is imperative that I make the most of it. There are a number of houses on the early part of the track and it takes self control not to consider the shelter they would provide if I took advantage of them. Instead I continue to advance up the muddy track, side-stepping the funnel of water that has developed during the downpour. The last time I walked this track it was to descend it in the pre-dawn light. It is good to be able to see it and re-construct some of the settings that I’d only been able to sense on the previous occasion. To my right the Waimakariri River rises up in its typical manner. Across the way I can see vehicles parked at Klondyke Corner. Is it too late to sidle across the face of the slope and link up with the track to Anti-Crow?
Despite the presence of the storm the travel is pleasant. Being a ridge walk I have the maximum amount of light available and this provides reassurance. The rain even eases off so that it is not the most pressing matter on my mind.
The track to Bealey Spur Hut moves through bands of beech forest and it is at the onset of one of these that I elect to go with the headlight. It is always a decision I attempt to delay for as long as possible as it destroys peripheral vision and forces a reliance on a tunnel of artificial light. It makes it easier to follow the track but also increases the likelihood of losing it. The footing underneath is surprisingly muddy and it takes dexterity and nimbleness to avoid plunging into mush. The track winds through tree roots and takes unexpected turns around logs until it veers sharply to begin a long sidle before turning downhill. This makes no sense at all and though it would make sense to stop and consider where I am going I continue on my way and after a short period emerge at the entrance to the forest that I have come in on. It’s not often one does a full loop and I’m more amused than annoyed, comfortable enough to take a food break.
Take two is conducted with more attention to detail and I correct my initial error to continue to press upwards. For some reason I decide to entertain myself by imagining that I’m being attacked by zombies who emerge with ferocious zeal from the undergrowth. I decide that the Bealey Spur track would make an excellent site for a zombie movie and I begin to plot out a narrative that would involve a hardy group of travellers being pursued up mountain and down river by a marauding pack of the living dead. This makes the time pass but it does put me slightly on edge at the onset of every unexplained noise or unidentified shadow.
Ahead I identify a plume of smoke, suggesting that that the hut is inhabited. It is easy to mistake fog for smoke and reflected light for a candle so I remain sceptical of what I’ve observed. In my present mood I won’t mind having company if only to keep the zombies at bay. I arrive at the clearing which holds the old corrugated iron hut. The chimney is definitely pumping out smoke and a warming fire will be welcome on this bleak evening. I knock and enter to find two European trampers, a Chilean male and a German female. They have colonised most of the available space though the girl thoughtfully clears some table space so that I may commence cooking. She explains that they did not expect anyone to be travelling after dark in this weather. They are backpackers rather than trampers but they have taken the opportunity to spend a night in a hut above the tree-line.
Though it is early in the evening they are both in their sleeping bags and not looking for too much conversation. I cook my meal and sit down to better appreciate being out of the rain and back in this terrain. The interiors of the hut are decidedly rustic, the wobbling table, the rough benches, the airy chimney and the rusty nails that serve to hang wet clothing. As it is early I make a point of reading in order to relax, listening to the rain patter against the roof. The backpackers have built an impressive fire that produces a roaring heat that continues to emanate warmth long into the evening.
Glancing up from my book I notice a small mouse scurrying along the narrow beams near my head. It seems reasonably fearless despite my unsociable high beam. Finally when the hut is completely dark the hut creatures assert themselves and there is much pattering of tiny footpads. Despite rising reasonably early the Chilean has already ventured outdoors. Inspecting my bags I discover that the mice have gnawed through the lining of a pack of biscuits and nibbled at the edges of several oatmeal platters. Why they have created three holes in the pack is a mystery only those attuned to animal logic could answer.
My colleagues will be returning to the road-end later in the morning. I have more ambitious plans and must push myself out the door and up the mountain. I’m pleased to do this at a respectable time and to be well above the hut by 9am. The track above Bealey hut offers some of the best spur walking I’ve encountered in New Zealand and it is even more enjoyable during day than it was as a fraught descent in the dark. From the ridge there are views of Power Stream, the Black Range and the Jordan Stream. Beyond these points of interest there is the grandness of the Waimakariri Valley, resplendent in sunshine and under billowing white clouds.
After a couple of hours I break for a meal and shelter on the Power Stream side in order to stay out of the stiff wind. At the head of the valley is Jordan Saddle and though the most adventurous way to reach it is by following the ridge to high above the Saddle, the smarter route involves sidling into Little Jordan Stream and climbing up to the junction between point 1875 and the easy slopes. The further the day goes the more cloud pours over the horizon so that the sun is mostly blocked out. The saddle leads into Galilee Stream and there are multiple entry points from which to choose. I ignore the deeply gutted sandstone and the creek bed to the far right which I have used as an ascent route. Instead I opt for a middle ridge possessing a well worn animal track. Despite being covered by beech forest travel is relatively easy along this and I resist the temptation to drop off either side for a quick descent into the streambeds. Ultimately the ridge leads to a severe bluff and I’m forced to scramble through steep gullies to land in the creek. From here I pause only to build a small cairn at a side-stream juncture that I stumbled up two years previously, lest anyone else find themselves uncertain about what route to take in the future.
Easy travel follows, firstly out to the Avoca River, then up the true left bank. Domestic stock continue to inhabit this valley and there is an established track that leads to a four wheel drive road. This I hadn’t expected. The Avoca is not a big river but it still needs to be respected and despite some reconnaissance I’m force to shed my boots before making a crossing. The hut is tucked away above the river in a small clearing amidst the beech trees. With its earthy brown triangular roof, olive corrugated walls and cream coloured split door with adjacent rectangular windows is has an angular symmetry that is in keeping with the sharp edges and true lines of the nearby mountains.
Arriving at the hut late in afternoon I don’t pause for any extended rest as I want to push on to Morraine Flat where I can observe the Avoca Col and the small glaciers nearby. The track drops through the forest and picks up the upper Avoca River. Boulder hopping across the Hanging Valley Creek a permalat marked route leads up a boulder choked stream. Travel is slow and requires care. The light is dimming rapidly and I haven’t brought my headlamp. Scrambling up the side of the gully is a precarious business and even after I’ve made the top and thrashed through the forest I’m offered only limited views. Getting back to creek requires queasier down climbing and it is difficult to pick up the markers as the valley transforms into a shadowy world of silhouettes.
With relief I pick up the trail and climb the ridge back to the hut. I discover that I’ve been joined by a large party who have arrived after me. They are two male friends in their fifties and the teenage children of one of them. The girl is about thirteen, the boy possibly a year younger. They are relieved that I’m not a hunter but despite one of them being very experienced with this valley they are curiously reluctant to engage in conversation. They are mindful of my space and respectful hutmates. The meal is easy to enjoy after the long walk in. During the night the rain returns and I wonder if I’m going to be able to continue the following morning.
Daybreak does not bring clarity. A fine misty rain continues and it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the day. I already have doubts about the likelihood of getting through the Bristed Gorge having read an account in the hut book that makes it clear that it is an unnerving and slow business in anything other than low levels. It seems madness that I continue but I do. Perhaps I’m influenced by the absurd plans of the other party. Despite containing two children they are determined to venture to the head of the Avoca Valley and cross the Gizah Col. This is at 1,971 metres, more mountain than pass and it is likely to be exposed to high winds and heavy rain.
The morning is getting on and I have much country to traverse if I’m to reach my preferred destination before the end of the day. My plan is to cross the Wilberforce and push on to Moa Hut. The Wilberforce has claimed many lives over the years, crossing it after reasonably heavy rain doesn’t have a lot to recommend it. The trail beyond Avoca Hut is surprisingly effective for a route that is so seldom used. After using a ridge to access the slope is sidles to the edge of the cliff face overlooking Hanging Valley Creek. The trail is overgrown but with regular permalat markings relatively easy to follow. After an hour I stumble upon the only other user of the track that I encounter, a stag who is as startled to see me as I’m heartened to see it. Much as I’d love to shoot this charismatic looking animal it is out of my range and it silently moves into the forest before I’m able to release my camera.
Several times I pause and consider whether to turn back, such is the consistency of the rain. I’m not sure what draws me on. Perhaps it is the idea that I might as well climb onto the pass and make a decision from there. If I so wish it will be a simple matter to retreat and spend another night at Avoca hut. Progress is steady but slow. The stream is easy enough to cross when required but there are many loose boulders along the edges of the scree. I’m shocked when a 200 kilo boulder moves when I put a supporting hand on it. It is so easy to be crushed by a moving rock and I waste no time getting away from the underside of this behemoth. Already this year there has been reports of people being pinned underneath shifting slabs in the park.
Towards the head of the valley is the red tinged shale that is so striking from a distance. There are several attractive waterfalls which I climb onto a bank to avoid. This provides easier travel and I work my way towards Half Moon Saddle. The pass looks slightly daunting at first glance but a tussock ledge leads to a rock scramble before a final sidle across compacted scree. It is slightly hard going getting any traction with my boots but then a pass at 1,851 metres is always going to require some effort.
The bigger shock is discovering the intensity of the wind coming in from the west. This is important because I have been toying with the idea of following the high ridge to Fang Hill before dropping down a scree slope into the Wilberforce Valley. If I’m uncomfortable with the idea of traversing a series of rock outcrops and bluffs for three kilometres the impracticality of this scheme is quickly emphasised when I’m knocked down by the force of the gales blasting across the pass. Crouching down provides me with a little stability but the stinging winds are relentless and it is not until I’ve put on my balaclava that I feel able to face it.
It is important to drop further down the slope quickly in order to get away from the most exposed part of the mountain. The slope is broken up into segments and offers a range of options for descent. I toy briefly with down climbing through a line of bluffs but I’m unable to see where the bluffs lead or how feasible is the possibility. My rule of thumb is to never climb anything when I can’t see every part of the route. It’s simplistic but it works for an experienced tramper who has limited climbing experience.
The alternative turns out to be much more fun. Sidling to the left I stick to the edge of a long line of bluffs before stepping out onto the scree and commencing a long and swift moonwalk on the moving, cascading gravel. The slope levels out briefly before reaching a rock outcrop that leads to the next section of scree. When I reach Bristed Stream it is time to celebrate with a break and to set myself for the next part of the descent. When the sun comes out it would appear that nothing can interfere with my passage to the Wilberforce. The Bristed stream is relatively easy to cross but even on the flats it’s apparent that it contains a reasonable amount of water. I don’t regard it as a trifle and I’m apprehensive about the force of the water moving through the gorge.
Travel downstream is relatively easy, first on the true right and then crossing over to the left. The descent is supposed to take place by sticking to the creekbed but I’m unnerved by the difficulty of getting across a side stream and I only just retain my footing on the mossy rocks. The ford to the true left is slightly easier but when it comes time to enter the gorge I elect to scramble to the bank and begin sidling in the scrub, traversing a series of deep gullies. I am high above the gorge and though there appears to be possible travel for part of the way on the slopes a line of bluffs soon merges with the gorge. I will need to retrace my steps and enter the gorge. There is time enough if I’m game, possibly two hours of daylight. Instead of using the time I’m frozen to the spot from where I survey the slopes, the gorge, the line through the bluffs on the left. It is not a good sign that I’m contemplating whether there is any way through the bluffs.
After eight hours of travel the prospect of entering into the gorge and almost definitely getting drenched is extremely unappealing. I make a bargain with myself, camp overnight and attempt the gorge in the morning when the water level will be slightly lower than it is now. Four hundred metres away on the true left there is an excellent campsite. The air cools rapidly with the loss of sun and I’m happy to prepare an early meal and retire to my sleeping bag.
I’m in no rush to rouse myself for the challenge of the gorge in the morning. In effect I’m already beaten and all I need is confirmation. I delay the inevitable defeat until late morning, chased out of my tent by the encroaching heat as the sun reaches the valley. The only way to approach something like a gorge is challenge by challenge, knocking over the impediments one by one and moving purposefully onwards. Unlike the gorge through Canyon Creek there is no gradual introduction to the difficulties. I’m confronted by large rocks, a churning channel of white water and deep pools.
The first requirement is to get onto the true right of the main channel in order to scramble over the unsubmerged rocks. This will require a two metre jump across churning white water onto a large, wet boulder. The thought of it fills me with dread and after five minutes consideration I decide that it isn’t safe. The other alternative is to stick to the left but this will mean dropping into an eight foot pool where the main stream becomes an eddy. It means getting soaked, bag and all. The Canyon Creek has required several thigh deep interludes and that was all. Without an emergency bag it’s almost guaranteed my gear will be saturated. And this is the entry point. I do not know if this is the most difficult part of the gorge or, as is much more likely, just the first of a series of equally deep and difficult immersion points. Worse is the thought that if I drop into the pool there is no guarantee that I’ll be able to scramble back out of it. I’d have to wade to the true left and attempt the leap of faith that is blocking me.
To turn around is no small thing. The entire planned route is dependent on being able to get through the gorge. Retreating to the slopes I spend an extended period gazing at the ridge line, considering the possibility of scrambling to the top and finding a line of scree out to the Wilberforce. If it was possible then surely the guidebook would mention it. Again the unknown prospects upon reaching the ridge line rule out an attempt. I’ve got to re-climb Halfmoon Pass and I can’t afford to expend my energy and nerve on an ascent that may lead nowhere. Much as I hate it I’ll need to backtrack all the way to the Waimakariri. This will take three days and get me back to my starting point.
Making the need to turn around even more galling is that it is a spectacular day, cloud free, warm, relatively still. The approach to the pass is daunting. Instead of surfing the scree I’ve got to dig in and find purchase on the loose surfaces. After several hours of this most unrewarding kind of climbing I’m required to make one of the unedifying choices that bedevil tramping. I can either circle the massive bluffs to the right, using the approach I’d employed on the descent, or stick to the stream that makes its way through the rocky outcrops and bluffs that lead directly to the saddle. As the stream looks like it leads to steep, rotten rock I decide to stick with the more familiar route. After fifteen minutes however I realise that getting purchase on thin, steep scree is slow, draining and unnerving. The deeply gutted stream bed appears to offer the better footholds.
To get there I must sidle over the steep slopes but once this is done the travel is relatively quick, stepping up onto the layers of rock that lie about the streambed. At first the stream is underground but higher up the mountain it emerges as a modest trickle. Having access to water at least helps with morale. One of the more surprising discoveries is to find long icicles on the rock, having survived spring, summer and most of autumn; this despite being in the sun when I arrive at the spot. Taking care not to disturb this charming, icy sanctuary I continue to thread my way through the bluffs.
By now I’m attempting to establish footholds in crumbly flakes and often as not rocks are dislodged and sent tumbling with the slightest of touches. Testing one handhold I find that a ten kilo rock is about to give way and I must slide my body well out of the way before I let it go to be sent smashing into the creek below. Any slip will result in a significant slide with little to arrest momentum before reaching the large boulders in the broken stream. Extreme care is needed and only after considering all of the line upwards do I move off. Keeping low to the ground I begin the scramble. So parallel with the slope am I that my pack begins to bang into the back of my head. It is very annoying when I am under such physical and mental strain. Climbing like a spider I aim for the crest and once there I’m onto the plateau that overlooks the broken bluffs. This is the descent I’d rejected the previous day and I can now appreciate the wisdom of this decision.
With the difficult climbing out of the way I can begin to appreciate the surrounding mountains and the snow slopes that are bright in the sun. The unnamed pass at the head of Moa Steam looks as daunting from afar as it is from close up, though I still regret not attempting it today. Conditions are so benign I contemplate camping at one of the small tarns that spot the upper slopes. Only the prospect of an extremely cold and exposed evening and the lost tramping time deter me. There are several hours of daylight remaining and after my late start it would be wasteful not to use them.
From the saddle I can contemplate the ridge line that offers an alternative to Bristed Stream. Perhaps if I’d got here in the morning I could have seriously attempted making the traverse but late in the day I’m not going to compound one failure with another. Shadow already darkens Halfmoon Valley so I must keep moving if I’m to find a decent campsite. In my mind I have formed the view that there will be some flat terrain near where the track emerges out of the forest but this is a three hour walk away and I’m unlikely to reach this spot.
After several hours and with the evening imminent I locate a flat, mossy bed just above the creek and quickly conclude that this will be an excellent camp-site. Within minutes of making this decision I’m joined by a kea and I can only groan at what this means. Several months earlier I’d been tormented by a rogue bird that seemed to take umbrage at my decision to camp on the Cascade Saddle in Fiordland. This had involved a grim evening of fighting an animal with a crazed glint in its eye. Fortunately this bird has a friendlier disposition and after keeping me company during the construction of the tent it amenably takes flight and leaves me be. Occasionally kea flocks can be heard passing through the valley but there is no coordinated landing or campaign launched against me. Instead I’m left to enjoy my meal and to contemplate what route I might like to attempt now that the Wilberforce and Whitcombe Rivers have been ruled out.
In practice I’ve got several days to make up my mind so I’d prefer to enjoy my surroundings, the golden light of the setting sun on the peaks, the immensity of this valley, the stately views that seem to be available in every direction. I retire to my sleeping bag and book with a sense of contentment that the blocked route cannot impinge on.
Just after dawn when I’ve begun the process of telling myself how valuable an early start would be, I’m joined a quartet of Kea who quickly establish themselves on the small boulders near my tent. I have no other option other than to get up and commence packing. Before turning my mind to this however I happily photograph the antics of the birds as they jockey for position on the boulder and play fight in perpetuity. They will do anything to keep themselves entertained, they seem determined to fill their lives with whimsy and mischief. Their approach is illuminating.
After I’ve packed my tent and have turned my mind to setting out for the day the birds sneak towards my orange pack, determined to test the belts, buckles and seams. These are the best photos for they’re prepared to trade safety for curiosity and ignore my looming presence until I start towards them. Just I’m ready to depart another flock of kea joins the first so there are upwards to ten mountain parrots clustering on the nearby rocks. There seems to be some confusion among the group as to whether they constitute separate entities or whether they’re all part of a larger counsel. The discussion is adjourned to the nearby tussock slopes and I’m ignored when I eventually start my journey down valley.
The return to Avoca Hut is quicker and easier than I remember it, gravity and familiarity are on my side and it is only mid morning by the time I have returned to the triangular abode. There is a dusting of snow on the peaks and the promise of adventure should I ever be lured over Gizah Col. The biggest shock upon returning to the orange roofed chalet is discovering that the group including the young children had indeed flagged intentions of going over Gizah Col on the day that I’d been knocked off my feet on Half Moon Saddle. They breed them tough in New Zealand.
As the hut represents a natural spot for the morning break I take my time perusing the journal entries surrounding the search of Corey Foster, a hunter who had gone missing in 2007 and whose body had not been found until Easter 2008. His girlfriend had done everything she possibly could to have ensured his survival but even as she left instructions upon her leaving for help, the roaming hunter had slipped to his death on the broken bluffs of the jagged ridge-line. The story of the search is outlined in the entries contained in the hut book:
Rachel is leaving hut for vehicle to get help – Corey has not returned from hunting as yet, I am heading down stream to Bob Brown property at Glenhorne Station to get help. (Monday Queens Birthday Weekend). Corey if you arrive back at hut just stay here I’m getting help, love you so much.
The next entry lays out the meticulous approach of Search and Rescue:
COREY *Read This* *And do as follows*
->A search is currently underway by the Police to find YOU. Rachel is safe and well and has reported you overdue. The Police have checked this hut at 0915am Tuesday morning. If you arrive back here at Avoca Hut Stay Put Do Not Leave The Hut. We will be periodically checking this hut and will pick you up. Dave Carlick Police Search and Rescue
Several days later there is a further entry:
Corey -> Thursday 07/06/07 -> Corey the search is still underway. This hut will be checked periodically. Remain at this hut Do Not Leave.
After this there is a steady stream of entries from Search and Rescue:
Changeable weather during the day. Approx 5 cm snow around the hut overnight
Some showers all Day
Fine, Clear, Frosty Conditions – From Glenthorne
Up for the day with 2 SAR Dogs to do some more searching for Corey, weather fine.
Have a look for Corey, weather fine, slightly overcast.
Up from Basin’s Hut for lunch, about 10-20 cm of snow in valley. May the going a bit slow. Returning to Basin Hut this afternoon.
This takes the entries up to late June. After this the hut becomes the destination for the occasional hunter and day walker. In November SAR use a training exercise as an opportunity to continue the search for remains:
Using SAR training time to look for Corey.
The only remaining searcher is a loner from the West Coast called Wayne Keen:
Searching for Corey Foster. In and out via Jordan saddle.
Jordan saddle provides access to the Waimakariri Valley in about a day. It is where I am headed now but for the moment I reflect on my meeting with Wayne Keen at Anti Crow hut two years before. He was just about to go back into the Avoca Valley to continue his search. It seemed he wasn’t going to rest until Corey’s body was laid to rest. The meeting with Keen had intrigued me and two weeks later I followed his tracks over Jordan Saddle into the Avoca. It had been a memorable journey, full of adventure, exhaustion and exhilaration. On the day that I climbed over the Jordan Saddle and surveyed the Avoca a helicopter pilot had spotted the remains of Foster. The following day, as I made the early morning descent to the highway Search and Rescue had reached and recovered the body.
I hadn’t had time to go upvalley to the hut and it is fair to say that my interest in Keen’s motivations formed a large part of the reason why I had chosen this route into the Wilberforce. His had been an unsung part of the search. Ultimately he had been unsuccessful and it had required the omniscience of the aerial view to locate what had for so long remained hidden. Keen returned home, anonymous and unrecognised. He’d acted out of civic duty, according to his own private code. It was this that I was acknowledging with my visit.
Leaving the Avoca Valley via Jordan Saddle turned out to be far harder than entering it. The walk downriver had presented its own fun as I’d sought a spot where I could get across the stream without getting my boots wet. After admitting defeat I’d entered the strong flowing water and been alarmed by the force as I’d manoeuvred through submerged rocks and out of the channel of churning rapids.
The approach to Jordan Saddle involves following Easy Stream as it threads its way through the beech forest of the lower slopes. For the main part it is easy travel and the creek crossings require nothing more than nimble footwork. The boulder hopping provided entertainment and enjoyable spatial challenges. Intermittent sunshine warms my back as I make steady progress, finally emerging in thick clumps of tussock that lead onto the upper scree slopes. From here the ascent is a slog, plodding footsteps in search of traction on the tightly packed pebbles and occasional line of rock. Two hours after leaving the valley I reach the saddle and though the skies are cloudless the stiff breeze is icy and already the shadows loom over the eastern slopes I’ve just traversed.
With so much energy required to reach the top it’s rewarding to set off down the scree slope, skiing long easy lines that allow me to quickly reach the mountain base with the minimum effort. Reaching Jordan Stream requires careful passage through an avalanche chute and then slow negotiation of eroded side-streams but then I’ve rounded the corner and am walking parallel with the main creek. From my last venture into this valley I’m aware that there is a fine camping ground nearby and after a fifteen minute walk I’m setting out my tent on level moss, laying down wet clothing in the late afternoon sun and boiling the billy for a much anticipated meal. Ends to the day don't come much better than this and it’s a rare thing to be able to enjoy dinner while sitting outside, soaking in the views and the last lingering rays of warmth. A chilly evening ensues but I’m content and at home in the mountains.
After three significant saddle crossings in three days the following morning sees me electing to lie in and relax, taking stock and considering what route I’d like to attempt over the next couple of days. At my most ambitious I could well contemplate pushing on to Ariels Tarns on the Harman Pass. Ambition requires energy however and I need an easy day of recuperative rambling travel. In this spirit I emerge from my tent only after it has been warmed by the sun and a light sheen of sweat has moistened my brow.
The downstream travel is surprisingly involved. Though I’m aware that the snaking stream provides numerous hairpin curves that are best handled by the direct route I have such success with the forest route that I’m tempted to continue all the way out to the Waimakariri without dunking my boots. At times this involves precarious sidles on eroded bank or quick stepping boulder hops to the opposite bank. The most hair raising evasion of the stream bed route involves climbing high above a bluff and shimmying across a thin band of soil on steep slopes. On the descent off the slope I rest on a large boulder only to have it come loose and have it go tumbling explosively into the river. Not long after I step into the stream and walk out to the juncture with the all weather Waimakariri route.
Following afternoon tea I turn to the west and trace the track through thick bands of pine forest. The pancake level river flats are tantalisingly close but remain inaccessible on the high route. Eventually I emerge at Anti-Crow River and quickly embrace the vast Waimakariri Valley. The valley always provides awesome travel as eventually the tramper must confront the river itself. When I first enter the river flats I’m adjacent with a couple of trampers who are in the process of wading across the river from the opposite bank. Leaving them quickly behind and losing track of them I wonder if they are heading out rather than in. Only much later in the afternoon do I spot them making ground as I relax on the approach to Carrington Hut.
The crossings of the Waimakiriri are never pleasant for the river carries large volumes of water and its not possible to always judge the speed of the flow or the depth. It’s always best to approach on the angle and to move with purpose. At its most efficient only two crossings are required before reaching the cavernous hut. On the way I encounter the patch of moss where I camped out several years ago. I’d been confronted by a roaring stag in the dead of night and been cowed to keep well within the confines of my flimsy barricade. I reach Carrington hut by 4pm.