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.