When one of the lads put out the call for company on a cheeky trip up Mt Bruce we couldn’t help but jump at the chance. Mt Bruce is by no measure a large mountain at a modest 1630m ASL but it offers great views in all directions and the easy access makes this a stunner of a day trip in the Arthurs Pass region. Without snow it would be suitable to take beginners and those with less off-route experience up. The track begins at the Bealey end of the Cass-Lagoon Saddle track, with ample parking at the DOC signposted car park at the end of Cora Lynn road.
The day was clear with blue skies and light winds as we made our way from Christchurch towards Arthurs Pass to the start of the track. Our mate had spent the night at Bealey Hut, five minutes up the track. When we reached the hut he had already started up the track towards Mt Bruce so we wasted no time in chasing him down. The well formed track initially climbs steadily through a mixture of beech and pine forest for the first couple of kilometres and gains about four hundred vertical metres before the bush line is reached. Here the forest makes way to wide open tussock slopes which can become quite muddy after rain.
We chose to follow the track around towards Lagoon Saddle before leaving the track and following the broad northwest ridge towards the summit. The going is straightforward but it is definitely a gut buster at times. We had the odd area where we skirted large areas of steeper snow in order to stay on the rock and tussock as we were wearing our trail running shoes rather than boots. Having negotiated the worst areas we popped out onto the final part of the ridge and covered the last few hundred metres to be rewarded with magic views and an icy snow covered ridge. The obligatory summit photos ensued.
We continued traversing the ridge before dropping down the northeast slopes making a beeline for the point where the track emerges from the bush. The going again was fairly straightforward and the route finding was very easy back to the track. A relaxed wander back to the cars topped off a great day trip.
Allow about 2.5 - 3 hours to the summit, and 1.5 - 2 hours to get back down again. Distance ~11km total.
3am Monday - Poulter Hut.
The rain has been hammering down on the roof non-stop for the past 9 hours. Coming down the valley in great waves, easing slightly every now and then. When it does ease the sound of the rain on the corrugated iron roof is replaced with the roar from the river. The river we rock hopped across yesterday trying to keep our feet dry. The only way home. The forecast was for 20mm of rain overnight - we probably got twice that in the first hour. Shit.
3:30pm Saturday (two days earlier) - Mt White Road car park.
We were blessed with an absolute stunner of an afternoon as we started to mountain bike up the 4WD track alongside the true right of the Poulter River through Mt White Station towards the national park boundary. The track climbs gradually (and sometimes less gradually) all the way up the valley and it wasn’t long before I felt that perhaps I had left my legs and/or fitness back in Christchurch. Just over 2 hours saw us pedaling over Rabbit Flat in fading light before the obligatory stop to don our head torches. With the temperature beginning to drop off and the kilometres starting to take their toll we were well pleased to hear the lads who had started earlier that morning yelling from the Trust-Poulter Hut. The fire was cranking and the beer waiting for us was cold. Legends.
The next morning dawned overcast but dry and we ditched the bikes and commenced the short wander roughly 2km upstream to the Poulter Hut. Having decamped our remaining gear here we took a 45 minute side trip up to Lake Minchin for a gander. We were well rewarded with stunning views further up the valley to the snowy peaks above. Once we returned to the Poulter we went for a cheeky run up river to check out the rather spacious Worsley Biv, still shedding snow off its roof from the falls earlier in the week. By this stage the cloud was building up thick and fast on the main divide so we retired back to the warmth of Poulter Hut and waited for the arrival of the forecast 20mm of rain.
The river is in flood. I get drenched in the ten minutes it takes me to get to the river edge and see the torrent that the river has become. Definitely not crossable. Back to bed.
We send another person out to scout the river. Not a chance.
It has stopped raining but the sky is still threatening. We put our packs on and attempt to ford the river higher up the valley but we are stopped almost immediately by Minchin Stream. Yesterday it was almost dry. Today it has grade 3 rapids. One of our party was meant to start work at 1pm. We are now overdue.
Our last roll of the dice before it gets dark. We slowly head downstream for almost 2 kilometres, checking every braid as we make our way down river. Nothing looks crossable. We are getting very close to the confluence of the Poulter river and Thompson Stream when finally we find an area where the river has four braids. If we can ford the second braid we should be okay. The river is swift and brown and we spend some time planning our intended route and ensuring everybody knows the plan.
The first braid is crossed simply enough. The second braid - the one I’m worried about - is carrying a lot of water. We begin to make our way out into the flow as the water creeps up towards my thighs. We are stepping calmly and in time. We pass the worst of the flow and can feel the weight being lifted off our shoulders as we hit dry land and the first round of congratulations start up. We have made it roughly 50 metres from the true left bank to where we are standing and yet I don’t think I have ever been more thankful for having made it such a small distance. The following two braids are swift but now easily manageable and 10 minutes later, having crossed roughly 300m from bank to bank we are having a cookup in the Trust-Poulter hut. Noodles - the first thing I had eaten for the day. I managed to knock them off my stove and onto the table. Meh. I’m just happy that we found a spot to cross.
The ride out was dark but considerably quicker that the ride in. Funny that. Damn gravity. As we dropped to the river flats just before the car park we were greeted with the sight of the Poulter River in full flood - easily 100m of bank to bank swiftly flowing water. Imagine what the Waimakariri looked like.
We reach the cars, drive back to civilisation and the world of vibrating cell phones, missed calls and mild panic. Thankfully everyone at home remained calm and had expected delays in light of the weather.The 20mm of forecast rain had turned out to be more than 100mm overnight alone (Carrington hut got more than 200mm). And all this in the part of Arthurs Pass generally considered to be one of the driest areas of the park.
Information to know:
The track up the Poulter River starts at a car park just before the Mt White Bridge Road crosses the Poulter River - about 25kms from the SH73 across on the true left side of the Waimakariri River.
The journey up the river to Trust Poulter Hut covers roughly 27km and took us just over 4 hours (the last 1.5 hours in the dark). From the Trust-Poulter it is only a further 2kms up river to Poulter hut although mountain bike access is only allowed as far as the Trust-Poulter.
From Poulter hut easy 45 minute side trips can be made to Lake Minchin or Worsley Biv.
The Crow Valley is the perfect weekend excursion into Arthur's Pass for those with limited time on their hands but wanting epic views and an awesome hut to spend the night. At only 4 hours walk from the road at Klondyke Corner, the 10 bunk hut is well situated high up the valley below Mt Rolleston at the end of an easy to follow route directly up the river. Half of our group had the luxury of a three day weekend and headed in on the Friday with more food than they would need for a week. The rest of us were parked on the Arthur's side of the river at a friendly 11am after having a few false starts leaving home that morning (the bacon was definitely worth gong back for). The sun was already out in full force as we began to pick our way up the main river bed towards the junction with the Crow Valley. There's enough water along the whole track that you can get away with a cup over a water bottle all the way to the hut.
If you're heading in on a properly hot day then there are a few spots that would be perfect for a swim in both the Waimak and the Crow if you're brave enough. As we turned north we came across the track hugging the bottom of the spur and made our way around and through the forest. From here the track disappears in places but follow your nose and you'll find a few well placed rock cairns to help you navigate up the valley. We had plenty of time up our sleeves so it was a leisurely wander up until we hit snow and the last part of the track to the hut. This is the only section that gets a little bit steep and slippery in places but it's still pretty easy going. A slip just below the hut didn't bother me too much on the way in but a few stray boulders had me running on the return trip out the next day. This would be a great place not to hang around for too long.
While we had been walking in, the first half of our group had spent the day up the top of the valley practicing basic snow skills in the basin below Rome Ridge. This is where the Avalanche Peak route drops down and joins the Crow Valley from a scree slope just a little further to the north. This is an expert route but one I'd love to come back and have a go at with a bit more gear or less snow in summer. Our two groups converged on the hut late in the afternoon where a smorgasbord of culinary delights were presented as the challenge for the weekend was cooking gourmet hut food. Carrying in the non-stick fry pan turned out to be rather futile when we realised it was no longer very non-stick. Alas the pancakes were a huge fail but the sushi, tuna and wraps were bloody good.
It was a full night with two other groups in the hut so a couple of the boys opted to sleep on the well appointed deck while the rest of us squeezed in on the bunks. Not that the sleeping conditions mattered in the end as a chorus of snoring kept most of us awake half the night and had me questioning why I choose to go away with boys at all.
The trip back out to Klondyke Corner was pretty quick as much of the snow from the previous days had managed to melt leaving the track relatively clear the whole way. This is an easy 3-4 hours depending on how much time you want to dedicate to relaxing next to the river along the way. Once back at the car we made a slight detour via the Bealey Pub and later the Sheffield Pie Shop before heading back to Christchurch and real life again.
*I repeated this trip with a group of girls from work a year later and we had the unfortunate (or fortunate depending on how you look at it) experience of being the sixth group to turn up to a very over full hut on a warm weekend in March. We ended up pitching a two man tent with a fly strung up beside it for seven of us to fit underneath. While we had an awesome night and made most of the hut inhabitants fairly jealous with our elaborate dinner set up, it was a good reminder to always be prepared with alternative means of shelter in easy to reach huts! We also found crossing the Waimak early after leaving the cars was reasonably challenging for the shorter members of the group on the way in as the river was flowing higher than our previous trip. I'd recommend linking up for the first crossing until you get a feel for the depth and speed which is quite deceptive and changes significantly in only a matter of hours.
Most tramping trips don't begin with handing over your car keys to a complete stranger you just found wandering out of the bush in his undies. Thankfully Phil turned out to be a stand up guy and drove our car back to the other end of the track for us - also conveniently saving him a 12km mountain bike back to his own vehicle. The Cass Saddle to Lagoon Saddle track is an enjoyable and highly accessible 2-3 day walk in the Craigieburn and Black Ranges. The only issue being the considerable distance between the two track ends. We had driven to the Bealey Hut end beside the Arthur's Pass Wilderness Lodge and left Jeremy's single speed bike in the trees so he could retrieve the car the following day. Unfortunately, we were running pretty late leaving Christchurch after our puppy sitter fell through and we had left it to the last minute to purchase hut tickets. This put us at the Cass river end a little after 2pm negotiating a car swap and ready to hit the trail.
The first few kilometres are easy going along a 4wd track and then up the open river bed. Although there is a well worn path in places it is unnecessary to stick to it until after you pass the two major slips on the true right of the river. Large orange arrows direct you to where the track leaves the river in favour of the much cooler forest. A well maintained path allows for easy walking all the way to the Cass Saddle Hut. DOC suggests 4 hours for this leg of the journey but we arrived comfortably in 2.5. The hut itself is a cozy 3 bunker with a generous fire and separate receiving room for the loud sleepers.
From here we made our way out onto the open tussock of the saddle and our highest point for the day. In the colder months the area is an avalanche zone but there was nothing but rock and shingle above us as we ploughed along the track. Once across the saddle, you can look down at the Hamilton Hut away in the distance and smile because it's still two hours away. It could be worse though, and the four tourists we encountered heading in the opposite direction on our descent proved as much. The first two looked a little worse for wear and the second pair were barely moving up the slope. We gave them a friendly hello as we barrelled back down onto the flat of the valley. Once again we found ourselves following the river and before long it opened up to see the Hamilton sitting on a little rise in an open grassy field.
The 20 bunk hut has a beautiful big stone fireplace in the centre and generous living and cooking areas. We were delighted to find some evening reading material by way of a few issues of Wilderness magazine and settled in to watch the sun drop very slowly in the sky. Dinner consisted of noodles and Outdoor Gourmet Company Wild Mushroom and Lamb Risotto (I highly recommend). With no one else in the hut we had a tranquil sleep and awoke around 8am ready for the stroll out to the road end. Not being in any sort of hurry we took our time over breakfast and were just shouldering our pleasantly light packs before 9.30am.
From the hut, the track winds a little further downstream and then across a wire bridge. We dropped our packs here and wandered up to Mirror Tarn, a 10 minute side trip that circles a small green pond - this may look better in the photo than it did in real life. The trip on to West Harper Hut took exactly 2 hours and we were glad for the mattresses back at the Hamilton once we peeked inside. The fire would be fantastic in winter but the old canvas bunks have definitely seen better days. After taking on some more fuel we kept trekking towards the Lagoon Saddle Shelter with an eye on the weather. Metservice had promised rain all weekend and we were waiting for it to eventuate.
With the exception of a German tourist walking the Te Araroa Trail, we were all alone wandering back towards the Bealey. It was another 2 hours to the Shelter, a tidy one bunk A-frame, and a further 1 hour 50 minutes to the track end. The rain caught us just as we disappeared back into the bush down the final spur. Thankfully our car was in fact waiting for us with keys included and we didn't have to track Phil down or try to walk back to Christchurch.
Cass Road End to Hamilton Hut - 5 hours
Hamilton Hut to Bealey Hut - 5 hours 50 minutes
Hamilton Hut is serviced and requires 3 standard hut tickets or 1 serviced hut ticket per person.
Bealey Spur is a great day trip or easy overnighter if you are looking for a beginner tramp. We decided to head up to Arthur's Pass and take on the the hill in order to try out the new tent we had just bought (because new gear right?!). Although an historic musterer's hut lies at the top of the track, it's two small bunks and cramped interior leave a little to be desired. There are plenty of places to pitch a tent and with far too much food in our packs we began walking in the early afternoon. The track is timed at around 3-4 hours return but without heavy packs most families could manage that time easily. We left the car just off State Highway 73 (14km south of Arthur's Pass Village) at Cloudesley Road. The track begins at the end of this road and winds gently up through the Beech Forest before opening out into tussock
With beautiful weather and plenty of traffic on the track we took our time up the first part of the spur and stopped to chat to many of the tourists and locals coming back from a day trip to the hut. We planned to feast that night and both our packs were heavily weighed down by food and drink making for a slower ascent. When we reached the halfway point the landscape opens up into tussock land with tarns scattered across the hillside. These are fun to explore so long as you don't actually fall into the freezing water! From this vantage point you gain sweeping views of the Waimakariri River towards Klondyke Corner in the East and the Hawdon Valley in the West. After satisfying our photo needs we continued on up to Bealey Spur Hut at just over 1200m.
Upon arrival we found that the hut had been taken over (at four in the afternoon) by two anti-social tourists. We had a quick look around and then made our way 200m further on to our camp site for the night. It was finally time to try out the mighty Mannagum Howqua and I jumped straight into setting up poles and ropes with complete disregard for the instructions. The tent was going to be our answer to tramping in areas where bunks in huts cannot always be guaranteed and was our first big gear purchase. It's incredibly lightweight at 2.3kg and Jeremy can actually sit up in it without hitting his head on the roof which is a bonus. Once the tent was up we lit a small fire and got the potatoes and bacon cooking for an early dinner.
It was a relaxing evening and we managed to draw out the cooking and eating portion for a couple of hours. The night wasn't quite so peaceful with a band of sadistic Kea harassing the boys over at the hut all night. Those birds are incredibly loud on a windless night and we got far less sleep than we had hoped for. The tent proved a winner though with plenty of room for both of us and our packs neatly stuffed under the extended portion of the fly on either side. In the morning we made short work of packing up and missioning it down the hill to the car as we had to be back in Christchurch by lunchtime. Take your time on this walk as the scenery is fantastic and feel free to bring along your less experienced friends as the track is far more achievable than some of the walks closer to Arthur's Pass Village.
Avalanche Peak is a great little day trip for those who like breath taking views and punishing their quads. Starting right behind the Arthur's Pass visitors centre, the Avalanche Peak Track shoots straight up through some quite rocky terrain which is often snow covered before ending on a narrow ridge at 1833m. While this may not be the kind of walk you take your Grandma on as some sections will require all four limbs engaged as you scrabble your way towards the bush line, it's thoroughly enjoyable for anyone with a good level of fitness. Take plenty of water and something in the snack department to bribe yourself to keep going all the way to the summit (a cheeky Snickers Bar does it for me).
I had set out with my husband and our very energetic friend Ollie from Christchurch at around 8am. The drive to Arthurs Pass Village is around an hour and a half and we parked just off the main road right beside the visitors centre. There was definitely snow on the tops so extra insulation layers were added to our packs before we set off for the ascent. You don't get much of a warm up and my legs were burning in the first five minutes - a feeling that thankfully wore off once we got into it. Conveniently, we took a moment to capture a few shots of the serene waterfall not long into the climb and let the body adjust to the impressive incline. It was 90 minutes to the bush line and also our first glimpse of snow. As the trees make way for tussock you can look back down the valley in both directions and up towards the summit which was well covered in the white stuff. We hadn't taken ice axes as the snow was fresh but the trekking poles came in handy on the steep slope as we made our way towards the top of the ridge.
Unfortunately we missed a good deal of the view as it started snowing as soon as we reached the summit, but Derek the friendly kea stepped up to entertain us. I wonder what tourists think of going all the way to the top of a mountain in New Zealand and finding a basically tame endangered bird. We let him destroy the mud basket on one of our poles while we ate lunch but he wasn't keen to follow us back down. The snow slope we had carefully made our way up half an hour earlier was much more quickly navigated on our butts on the return journey. You can make your way back down the way you have come or instead descend on the slightly gentler Scott's Track which returns you to the road just north of the township. Expect to take just as long to get back down unless you want to swing from the tree branches which significantly speeds up the descent.
I've been thinking for a while of heading off on a solo mission and overcoming a few fears that have been lingering in the back of mind. I wanted to climb something that would be physically challenging but also make me practice my route finding skills without having someone else to rely on. Mt Cassidy was a pretty perfect option for this. At 1850m the summit towers over Arthurs Pass Village and boasts sweeping views across the valley to Mt Rolleston, Avalanche Peak and Mt Philistine. With a steep track leading to only just above the bush line, I was going to get plenty of navigation practice and lots of rock scrambling.
I left Christchurch at 6.30am and headed out to Mum and Dad's for an early morning beacon pick up before making my way inland to Arthurs. It was already 9.30am by the time I parked up amongst all the tourists at the beginning of the Devil's Punchbowl track. The weather forecast was promising rain later in the afternoon so I was already eyeing the cloud cover a bit warily as I headed off on Con's Track just on the far side of the first bridge (if you cross a second bridge you've missed the turnoff - it's a bit overgrown and easy to miss coming from the car park).
If you've ever climbed the popular Avalanche Peak Route you'll be familiar with the part walking part climbing nature of the tracks in this part of the park. Unfortunately having been the first person on the track in a while I was eating spider webs every two metres and had to walk with my trekking pole held out like a light saber most of the way up. While there was nothing too challenging or exposed to worry about the heart rate was definitely up by the time I cleared the tree line an hour later. A warning sign reminding me that this was a mountaineering route was super comforting as I took in the bluffs immediately above me and the sparsely placed poles disappearing into the distance.
I made my way up past the first few poles before taking a wrong turn and having to back track to find where the route began traversing around to the north-east. After making my way across a few smaller scree slopes, three poles indicated the start of the climb up to the main ridge. This slope is reasonably steep and I had to stay off the shifting rock to make any real progress up it. Head slightly to the right when you reach a fork about half way up - there are plenty of rock cairns but I found most of them on the way down rather than on the way up.
Once you pop over the top onto the main ridge the going gets a lot easier with a large boulder field making for some rock hopping goodness. Continue heading straight up from the scree slope and you'll run into the first of several more rock cairns heading to the top of the ridge. Turn here and follow these to point 1810 and then onto the summit itself. I made good progress across the top and made it to 1810 by 12.45pm just as the clouds were really starting to close in and totally obscure the ridge in front of me. I had made it through all the parts of the climb that had made me nervous so decided to call it a day and head back down while I could still see where I was going.
There are so many walks, tramps and climbs in Arthurs Pass that I should really stop being surprised when I find another corner that I'm yet to discover. Sitting on the Otira side of the park, Carroll Hut was the perfect option for a solo overnight mission at the beginning of September. There had been plenty of snow falling in the weeks prior so I was surprised to drive over Porters and find the snow line sitting well above 1300m. The upside was that I could leave my crampons and ice axe in the car and take more chocolate instead. On the west coast side of Otira, take a hard left immediately after the first bridge onto a gravel 4WD track which leads to the car park at the start of the track. If your car has low clearance it might pay to park on the far side of the road and walk the short distance instead as some heavy machinery had been gouging holes in the access way.
You will get attacked by sand flies as soon as you exit your vehicle - don't say I didn't warn you! Thankfully my gear was all sorted but I still managed to lose some blood just trying to yank my gaiters on before hightailing it to the start of the track. Typically for the area, the track heads straight into a steep but steady climb up an often quite rocky trail. If you've been up Avalanche Peak, which most visitors to the area generally start with, then you'll have a good idea of the quad burn to come. Whilst there are no steep drop offs, some fallen trees and a good bit of mud require some scrambling, climbing and semi-controlled sliding in places. I had a pretty good sweat on after fifteen minutes and appreciated the sparsely placed horizontal sections of track that allowed me to catch my breath and actually take my pack off at one point during the ascent.
DOC suggests 2-3 hours to the hut but this is dependent on if you're just up for a day trip or staying overnight and carrying the requisite gear. I took less than two with a 13kg pack and a couple of five minute breaks but the incline was definitely challenging. Once you break out of the bush and gain the tussock the track winds around towards a waterfall high above Kelly Creek. From here you pop up and over the bluffs and find the hut sitting on a small plateau near the saddle. A tidy little 10 bunker with fantastic views from the loo, Carroll Hut made for the perfect lunch stop before I began along the range to the south-west. You could easily base yourself at the hut and climb Kellys Hill, an impressive looking summit at 1408m for an alternative day trip or overnight excursion.
I left my intentions in the hut book and set out towards Kellys Saddle where I planned to find the route heading along to the tarns where I was going to camp that night. When I got to where I could see the map showing the way I turned and walked along the ridge in the direction of point 1385. Unfortunately there was no sign of either a route marker or a track up on the top which struck me as a bit strange. It was a clear day and I was pretty confident of my bearings so I followed the map along where I thought the track would have been (more on this later) until I arrived above the four alpine lakes I had been searching for. The tarns are nestled in a valley of tussock and rock which was incredibly picturesque but offered the challenge of finding a flattish spot for my tent.
I ended up right beside the edge of one of the tarns on the stony bank where someone had already flattened out a bit of a tent site (I'd recommend an inflatable mat). Getting tent pegs in wasn't easy though so I was glad for my tiny Macpac Sololight which doesn't take much to set up. It was from here that I finally found the aforementioned track, not where the map had it but further north and lower down from the ridge. I know what you're thinking but I used the GPS on my Map Toaster App to mark the actual track on the way back just to make sure I wasn't having a navigation fail.
I went to bed early since it was bloody freezing and got dark around 6pm. I woke a couple of times in the night feeling a bit cold and when the sun finally came up the tarn was frozen over along with my tent. The process of de-icing it took a couple of hours so it wasn't until mid-morning before I was packed and ready to find out where the track went. Marker poles that were sometimes difficult to spot in the bright sunlight led back past the tarns before sweeping around the side of the ridge and coming back up from the north side of Kelly Saddle (see map below). Although the gradient was easier it was actually further than I had walked the previous day and took about the same amount of time (1 hour each way).
This would be a great trip to try if you have a moderate level of fitness and want to experience tramping up on the tops without the worry of having to find water. To find the route from the hut just keep following the original track the whole way over the saddle as it turns and heads to the tarns a few hundred metres past where current topo maps place it. I'd be pretty keen on a swim in the summer months so maybe pack a towel as well.
TIme up to hut - 1hr 55m
Hut to Tarns - 1hr
Tarns back to car park - 2hrs 40min
There are a few classic New Zealand trips that have been on the to-do list ever since we started exploring the harder to reach parts of Aotearoa. The Three Passes is a 4-5 day tramp across the beautiful Southern Alps, taking you from the wide open rocky banks of the Waimakariri River all the way to the lush green valleys of the West Coast. The obvious issue is then of course how to get back to where you started. With only four days off work over New Year's and an aversion to hitch hiking after not showering for several days, Dad finally came to the rescue. We would leave our car at Klondyke Corner and meet him three days later at the bottom of Lake Kaniere - all going to plan.
The first part of the plan went out the window when the third member of our party called in sick at 3am the morning of our departure. Having worked right up until New Year's Eve we barely had time to pack our gear, let alone change anything - the three man tent was going to have to do. We made a small detour on the way to Arthur's Pass to pick up another Beacon (since our missing comrade was responsible for this essential piece of kit) and leave a detailed map of where we intended to be and when.
By 12pm we were bumping up the gravel road to the car park at Klondyke Corner with a couple of hitch hikers in tow. They had been into Harman Pass and out via Julia Hut a few days earlier and needed a lift from the main road to their car. Assuring us that we would smash out the first day's walk in no time, we bid them farewell and set off up the river under a burning midday sun. The low river level allowed us to shoot a relatively straight line for the corner just past Anti-Crow Hut and we passed several groups heading out after spending New Year's Eve in the Crow Valley or up at Carrington. If the river level is higher it would pay to make your way to Anti-Crow Hut and follow the track from there to the river where you need to cross below the bluffs. If you cannot find a safe spot to cross here you probably need to wait for the river level to drop as you may get yourself into trouble.
I made a mental note to enjoy the fine weather as the next two days were forecast for rain on both sides of the divide. Our destination for the night was the top of Harman Pass and the Ariel's Tarns so we were happy to make it to Carrington at 3.45pm with plenty of daylight and energy left. This is the obvious stopping point if you're going to take 4 or 5 days to do the trip and the hut is a very accommodating 36 bunks in capacity. After chatting to the only couple there (where was everyone - it's the middle of the holidays?!) and grabbing a bite to eat we set off on the track to the Clough Cable Way. Positioned just below the Taipoiti River, the cable way allows safe passage over the rapids if needed. We were lucky enough to be able to cross easily through the water as I have a thing about heights - and falling from them.
From here we turned up the near branch of the Taipoiti and began the long rock hop up to Harman Pass. The heat was almost claustrophobic in the narrow valley and it was all I could do to be distracted by the near mythological beauty of the place. Stunning waterfalls cascade from the high walls either side of the river and alpine daisies lay nestled in beds of soft green moss or sprout from the sides of boulders. Peter Jackson obviously missed this place when picking film locations, although it's probably for the best that it gets minimal human disruption. As we popped out at the top of the pass, poles marked the way to our campsite to the left, and down into Mary Creek on the right. When we arrived, we found one lone gentleman ensconced in a little rock hotel for the evening and two pristine pools of freezing cold water.
The Ariel's Tarns are a stunning spot to spend an evening and we cooked a surprisingly sumptuous dinner (with actual meat) looking up at Mt Isobel and Whitehorn Pass. At about 6am the next morning the first ominous drops began to hit the tent and spelled the end of our weather window and my ability to take photos. We decamped, donned the heavy duty rainwear, and set off towards the permanent ice of Pass number 2 for the trip. When we actually hit snow, it was soft and slippery so we threw our crampons on to speed up the journey to 1753m. Visibility wasn't ideal but we found our way easily through the chunky scree and over the other side where a track could be found winding down into the valley below. Between gaps in the cloud cover we caught glimpses of the Cronin Glacier beneath Mt Rosamond as we skidded our way down the wet scree.
Although not particularly dangerous, this section of the route may be an uncomfortable introduction if you haven't had to slide down shingle slopes before. A good rule of thumb is to just go with it... unless you're precariously close to a cliff... then get the hell away from the cliff. We were fairly damp by the time we reached the river and as the track had petered out into nothing we began boulder hopping our way along it instead. This was a slippery and energy draining exercise but with the rain still unrelenting we were reluctant to stop for a break. When we rejoined the track just east of Park Morpeth Hut, it felt like a highway. By the time we arrived at our first shelter for the day we were soaked through and well overdue for a coffee. Another sodden tramper had just turned up after coming over Browning Pass and we took a break to swap information about the track in either direction.
It was only 2.30pm so despite the temptation to stay at Park Morpeth we shouldered our wet packs and continued up the Wilberforce to Browning Pass. I'll admit I didn't believe I was looking right at Browning until I had eliminated all other possibilities, it looks more like a mountain than a potential alternative to Arthur's Pass. The wide zigzagging track maintained a generous gradient for the first two thirds of the climb and I was lulled into a sense of disappointment at how easy the going was. The last 200m was a completely different story as the distance we had traveled, the rain and a distinct emptiness in my tummy all contrived to make the final slog much more interesting. The bluffs directly below the top of the pass were steep and difficult to negotiate in the rain as the rock was understandably slippery. I took a lot more time picking a stable route to the top than would have been necessary in the dry. As we finally topped out and caught sight of Lake Browning through the rain and mist I was rejoicing for having brought a massive tent.
We set it up in a hurry and collapsed inside to finally dry out and eat properly for the first time in 7 hours. It hadn't been a particularly long day by tramping standards but we were both reasonably sore and ready to smash some calories that night. The rain never stopped.
When we woke up on day three of our journey, the tent was sitting in a puddle of water (thankfully the bottom was totally waterproof), none of our clothes had dried overnight and even less of the lake was visible through the cloud. Putting on cold wet pants first thing in the morning wasn't ideal but after we had stuffed the dripping tent into our packs and set off again we soon warmed up. The poled route led around Lake Browning towards the north before descending steeply into the Arahura River. Water was flowing over the track as we dropped down into the valley to commence even more boulder negotiation - if you're into rocks, the three passes is the trip for you. By the time we were halfway to Harman Hut the rain began to ease and then stopped altogether. We also came across a pair of Whio, the endangered Blue Duck, surfing the rapids and diving for food. All throughout the track, traps are dotted around to keep the area predator free for these little guys so it was cool to actually see a couple.
We hadn't planned to spend long at Harman but I couldn't pass up the chance to dry out some of my gear. After half an hour we were refueled and significantly less water logged as we made our way towards Styx saddle. The track is pretty amazing from here on out, wide enough to walk side by side in places, with the exception of the muddy swamp at the top of the saddle. With no rain and plenty of room to stretch our legs we arrived at Grassy Flats Hut mid afternoon, well ahead of schedule. Walking out would have been an option but we weren't being met until the following morning so we ditched the tent in favour of the hut for the night. Grassy Flats is easily accessible from the Hokitika side and as such is full of hunting magazines and, God bless someone, a Marian Keyes novel. I whiled away the evening quite happily with my book and the leftover pick-n-mix before settling in to the most comfortable of our three sleeps.
We were up early, eager to meet Dad and be in Hokitika by lunch time. With the weather looking great we left our rain jackets in our packs and marched off down the well worn track. Although the path is beautifully groomed much of the way, a few slips made life interesting as we passed over crumbling banks and down a few steep drops to pass side streams. The large slip at the very end of the track, where it meets the 4WD track, was easy to negotiate following the true right side with low river levels. It felt great to see Dad's truck waiting for us at the road end and we stopped for a well earned beer in town before heading back to our car in Arthur's Pass.
The DOC route guide for this trip gives really good information and realistic times for each leg of the journey. We went in average weather but we knew that the actual total rainfall wasn't enough to bring the river levels up on the west coast - this is definitely something you need to check before you go.
Klondyke Corner to Carrington Hut - 3hrs 45min
Carrington Hut to Ariel's Tarns - 2hrs 45min
Ariel's Tarns to Whitehorn Pass - 1hr 40min
Whitehorn Pass to Park Morpeth Hut - 4hrs
Park Morpeth Hut to Browning Pass - 1hr 30min
Browning Pass to Harman Hut - 2hrs 15min
Harman Hut to Grassy Flat Hut - 2hrs 30min
Grassy Flats Hut to Road End 3hrs 30min
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